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  • NAACP Says No To Confederates 1, February27, 2015
    Should Confederate soldiers from Florida be recognized as Veterans enshrined in the state’s hall of fame? Matt Galka first told us about the story earlier this month, and now tells us the NAACP is saying no. We first brought you the unique story of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans asking Florida’s Governor and Cabinet […]
    Matt Galka
  • Solar Wars 1, February26, 2015
    A dust up between solar advocates and a state Senator is erupting on the eve of the annual legislative session. The fight is a window into the often unintended consequences in state politics. At the center is legislation that would allow greater use of solar resources, but advocates worry utilities could end up being the […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • Ray Sansom Gets Day in Court 1, February26, 2015
    Former House Speaker Ray Sansom of Destin spent the day in a Tallahassee courtroom. He and his lawyer are arguing they deserve more than 817 thousand dollars in legal fees stemming from criminal charges later dropped that alleged Samson misrepresented a six million dollar item in the state budget when he was appropriations chairman. The […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • Housing Funds Getting Slashed Because of Amendment 1? 1, February26, 2015
    Affordable housing funds could be taking a hit this year, and as Matt Galka tells us, it could be because of environmental amendment 1. But both sides say that isn’t fair. Theo Anderson was down on his luck, inured, and living with two children in a run down home before state housing assistance helped him […]
    Matt Galka
  • Test Anxiety Take Two 1, February26, 2015
    Despite complaints from School Superintendents, teachers and parents, the state says new statewide testing that begins Monday will count toward school grades and teacher evaluations. This is not the first time testing changes have been an issue. The Florida Student Assessment test replaces the FCAT this year. Some testing begins as early as Monday. And […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • Tax Dodging 1, February25, 2015
    Who’s really paying for Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, a new report about the state’s biggest companies says its not them, and they’re dodging taxes.   Florida’s Governor makes his agenda pretty clear. “The most important thing you can do to change lives is give someone a job,” said Rick Scott at January’s inauguration. […]
    Matt Galka
  • Testing Anxiety Hits Home 1, February24, 2015
    Florida’s testing scheme is getting a “D” or an “F” from a majority of parents, teachers and school employees. The results of the online survey sow the frustration of parents as Governor Rick Scott cancelled one test and is asking lawmakers to  consider eliminating others. Rick Scott’s executive order suspends the Florida Standards English Assessment […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • A New Retirement Problem Down the Road? 1, February24, 2015
    New data suggests that Florida could have another crisis for retirees on its hands. As Matt Galka tells us, it goes beyond local pensions and into the world of healthcare. Pension problems have been ongoing in the state. Unfunded liability for local governments have put future benefit burdens on taxpayers.  The problem is so bad […]
    Matt Galka
  • Big Sugar Buy? 1, February23, 2015
    Everglades advocates opened up what could be a legislative session – long fight over funding.  As Matt Galka tells us, the push is on for the state to make a land buy…and time is running out. Environmentalists are making a full court press and will attempt to get the Governor and the legislature to buy […]
    Matt Galka
  • Pennsylvania Paper Declares War on Rick Scott Jobs “Poaching” 1, February20, 2015
    Governor Rick Scott will spend Monday and part of Tuesday in Pennsylvania, his first trip since being reelected to try and recruit businesses to move here, But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he’s getting a cold reception in more ways than one. One of the major themes of Rick Scott’s second inaugural was his continuing […]
    Mike Vasilinda

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Food Deserts

March 2nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Food deserts are defined as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee in Tallahassee approved giving grocery businesses located in low income areas tax breaks of two thousand dollars or more if they stock healthy produce. State Senator Dwight Bullard offered the bill because he says even those with less money need to eat healthy.

“We want to be able to have some sort of grocery or vegetable option somewhere within ten or fifteen minutes of where they live, by foot, and we’re not seeing that in a lot of places, In rural communities naturally they area expands, but we still want something where they don’t have to drive 20, or 30 or 45 minutes away from home just to go to a good grocery store” says the Miami Democrat.

Only stores with sales of 15 million or less can qualify for the tax break.

 

 

 

 

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Fight over Charlotte’s Web Continues

March 2nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Lobbyists, parents, and medical professionals packed a hearing at the State Department of Health to speak on proposed rules for the growing of low thc marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web. January first was a legislative deadline for having the rule ready, but challenges continue to delay the medicine. Bridget Bateman came to speak up for her soon to be 8 year old son Preston.

“Seizures since six months old. He was first diagnosed with infantile spasms, and has morphed into what they call med resistant intractable epilepsy. “

Q:”And you think this offers hope?”“ I do” says Bateman, who son turns 8 this week.

Orlando MD Minh D.Le  told the panel he has seven patients using the drug successfully in Colorado. He asked business interests delaying the rule to put patients ahead of money.

“The law was created for the children, not for the businesses, the greedy money hungry people out there. Yes, you have to sustain a business, but when you start something up, its high risk, high rewards.”

Today’s hearing was a workshop. The rule could take effect in about a month if there are no new challenges. Even then, the substance isn’t likely to be available for patients until the end of the year.

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First Day of Test Spells Trouble, Perhaps for Test

March 2nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

From one end of the state to the other, schools experienced trouble logging in to the first ever computer based standardized test. The troubles come as lawmakers are poised to consider reducing the amount of testing in Florida. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, today’s problems are fueling the calls for less testing.

Escambia County in the extreme western panhandle couldn’t log on to the Student Assessment test. Testing was postponed until Tuesday at the earliest. In the Tampa area, 18 middle schools couldn’t log on..and so the story went across the state. Last week Commission Pam Stewart told us. “We’re ready. The test is ready.”

But A Statement from the Department of Education now reads in part:

“This is a 90-minute test; students have a two-week window, plus a makeup window, to complete the test.” It goes on to say Stewart “is looking into any reported issues to determine the cause and will work to immediately resolve it.”

A handful of bills had already been filed before the first day testing debacle. Now lawmakers here are saying we told you so. State Senator Bill Montford is a former school superintendent. “ This is a problem with the exam itself. This is a problem with the lack of infrastructure. And this is a problem that is not unanticipated and its not unexpected.”

Montford has legislation that allows the test to be taken, but not count the results this year.

“Only a couple of school districts that I’ve heard from have been able to give it. All the rest of them have had difficulties. And this is a good clear indication that we need to slow down.”

Dwight Bullard goes further. He has a bill abolishing state standardizing testing all together. He would replace it with nationally standardized tests given once a year.

“Iowa Basic, Stanford Achievement” are examples says Bullard.

Before the delays, thousands of parents were planning to opt their kids out of the test. More are likely to do so.

Superintendents across the state have been warning of problems for the last two years. In 2012, when the state upgraded the FCAT, emergency action to lower the grading scale was taken to keep hundreds of schools from failing.

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NAACP Says No To Confederates

February 27th, 2015 by Matt Galka

Should Confederate soldiers from Florida be recognized as Veterans enshrined in the state’s hall of fame? Matt Galka first told us about the story earlier this month, and now tells us the NAACP is saying no.

We first brought you the unique story of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans asking Florida’s Governor and Cabinet to let Confederate soldiers into the state’s veterans hall of fame earlier this month.

“Don’t tell me about he’s a rebel and he did all these other kinds of things. Poppycock! He is an American Veteran, recognize him,” said H.K. Edgerton, an African-American supporter of the Confederates.

The request to put Florida soldiers who fought for the South caused the Governor and Cabinet to delay the inductions of this year’s class.  But the NAACP is saying there’s nothing to think about.

“It’s very much a slap in the face,” said NAACP Tallahassee Chapter President Dale Landry

Landry is a US Army veteran who says the Hall of Fame’s rules are very clear.

“The requirement was that you had to be honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces. The Confederate Army was not a part of the United States Armed Forces,” he said.

The NAACP argues that if you let confederates in, where do you stop?

“The Japanese military, the Japanese army, the Japanese navy, you see? The Germans, the Nazis. I’m sorry but that’s the same to me,” said Landry.

Floridians that fought for the stars and bars that could be nominated for the class include former Governor Edward Perry, David Lang who helped form the National Guard, and former U.S. Senator Samuel Pasco.

The NAACP has launched on online petition opposing Confederate soldiers inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

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Solar Wars

February 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A dust up between solar advocates and a state Senator is erupting on the eve of the annual legislative session. The fight is a window into the often unintended consequences in state politics. At the center is legislation that would allow greater use of solar resources, but advocates worry utilities could end up being the big winners.

Under Florida law, only regulated utilities can see electricity. The regulation has thwarted stores like Publix who want to install solar on their rooftop, then sell what power they don’t use to stores next door. State Senator Jeff Brandes has filed legislation that would allow just that.

“It’s something that I think is the right policy for the state of Florida. It shouldn’t be illegal to sell power” says Brandes.

But a part of Brandes’s bill has the solar community’s hair on fire. The bill allows utilities to “recover the full actual cost of providing services” which some says would allow utilities to hike the rate for connecting a business to the grid. Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is hoping the bill is withdrawn.

“We don’t want something thats going to put onerous charges on people who want to put solar up” says Glickman.

Glickman’s group is also part of a coalition circulating petitions.

This proposed constitutional amendment allows the sale of excess solar, but it makes no mention of utilities being able to charge you more for hookup. Glickman would prefer the ballot measure over legislation.

“We think the ballot measure is a clear shot to getting the kind of policy that they have in other states.  Again, we are one of only five states that don’t allow this” says Glickman.

That the fight is even happening…in the public…is a testament to how far clean energy advocates have been able to move the legislative priorities in what has been a utility dominated arena.

Campaign records show Florida Power and Light gave more than a million dollars to the Republican Party of Florida Last Year. Duke Energy contributed just over a quarter million to the RPOF. The totals don’t contributions to individual legislators.

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Ray Sansom Gets Day in Court

February 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom of Destin spent the day in a Tallahassee courtroom. He and his lawyer are arguing they deserve more than 817 thousand dollars in legal fees stemming from criminal charges later dropped that alleged Samson misrepresented a six million dollar item in the state budget when he was appropriations chairman. The money was to go to an emergency operations center, which turned out to be a hanger for a political contributor of Sansom’s. The criminal charges were dropped after a procedural ruling. Under state law. Someone accused of a crime while acting in their official capacity can recover legal fees if they are not convicted. The trial is expected to continue tomorrow.

 

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Housing Funds Getting Slashed Because of Amendment 1?

February 26th, 2015 by Matt Galka

Affordable housing funds could be taking a hit this year, and as Matt Galka tells us, it could be because of environmental amendment 1. But both sides say that isn’t fair.

Theo Anderson was down on his luck, inured, and living with two children in a run down home before state housing assistance helped him get back on his feet.

“People need help, cause, you know, you never know when a hard time is going to come upon you,” he said.

The state money used to help Anderson and others could be getting raided again. Business and faith groups, builders, and the Florida Chamber stood with housing advocates to tell the legislature the money is better spent in its own program.  But the passage of environmental Amendment 1 could be changing that.

“We do feel that we’re being pitted, the environmentalists and affordable housing advocates are being pitted against each other and that really isn’t fair,” said Florida Housing Coalition President Jaimie Ross.

Both the conservation amendment and the housing programs get money out of a state real estate tax. Amendment 1 will get 33 percent, housing has been receiving 16 percent.

Affordable housing advocates say there’s no need to slash money, because there’s plenty to go around

A legislative bill meant to pave the way for Amendment 1 would cut more than $100 million dollars from the housing program. But with more than $2 billion dollars available from the tax revenues, Florida Association of Local Housing Finance Authorities Executive Director Mark Hendrickson says it doesn’t make sense to cut anything.

“There’s enough money within the doc stamp distributions to fund both fully.  It isn’t an amendment 1 versus housing, it’s a how are doc stamps to be distributed,” he said.

The Governor’s budget also proposes cutting the housing money; taking it down from around $267 million to only $100 million.

Amendment 1 advocates agreed that there is plenty of money in the tax pool to continue to fund affordable housing fully and provide money to the environmental programs.

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Test Anxiety Take Two

February 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Despite complaints from School Superintendents, teachers and parents, the state says new statewide testing that begins Monday will count toward school grades and teacher evaluations. This is not the first time testing changes have been an issue.

The Florida Student Assessment test replaces the FCAT this year. Some testing begins as early as Monday. And despite calls from school superintendents, the teachers union, and parents, Education Commission Pam Stewart says the new tests will count toward school grades.

“I believe that without a doubt they are ready. So it’s important that we measure their progress” say Stewart.

Holding the line on testing has proven embarrassing for the state in the past. In 2011, 81 percent of the students statewide passed the FCAT writing test. A year later, after changes in how the test was graded, just 27 percent passed the test.

As a result, the state Board of Education held an emergency hearing, changed the grading scale, and kept hundreds of schools from failing.

Then Commissioner Gerard Robinson defended the re-scoring. “I wouldn’t describe it as eating crow. I would describe it as a process that the board and myself took a look at data.”

Now, educators are raising similar alarms over the switch from a paper test to a computer based assessment. Kurt Browning is the Pasco County School Superintendent.

“Addition, subtraction, multiplication, subtraction signs, you’ve got to click on these. It’s not like you just take a pencil and write the sign and do the math. Ah, so it is….the whole keyboarding piece is something our students are not familiar with” says Browning.

The current commission is sticking to her guns. We’re ready, the test is ready. But the real answer won’t be know until the tests are ready” says Stewart.

But the real answer won’t be know until the tests are graded.

This springs test results will be ready in early summer. The changing of test criteria in 2012 forced the state to set up a hot line for parents. On its first day, more than 250 parents called with concerns.

 

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Tax Dodging

February 25th, 2015 by Matt Galka

Who’s really paying for Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, a new report about the state’s biggest companies says its not them, and they’re dodging taxes.

 

Florida’s Governor makes his agenda pretty clear. “The most important thing you can do to change lives is give someone a job,” said Rick Scott at January’s inauguration.

Scott’s quest for more jobs even took him to Philadelphia earlier this week to try and poach more companies. But a new study says corporations in Florida aren’t paying their fair share.

“Floridians should know that there’s more money coming out of our pockets from the public to the largest corporations in this state, in terms of contracts and subsidies, than those companies pay back on their profits taxes to state governments nationally,” said Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida.

The government watchdog’s new study looked at 17 Fortune 500 corporations in the state. It found that the 13 profitable ones paid, on average, below the state’s tax rate. Of the combined $35 billion the companies made, they paid less than a billion in taxes.

“Well the question is who should pay for Florida? Who should pay for Florida today and our future?” asked Krassner.

The study says that taxpayers provided more than $2 billion dollars to the companies in the form of state contracts. The Governor wants to eliminate the corporate tax rate all together. At the very least, exempt more profits from being taxed.

“It’s a mixed bag, which is like a lot of things, there’s no guarantee that a lower rate produces anymore jobs at all,” said Alan Stonecipher, who helped author the report.

If the proposal goes through, it would mean less money for the state budget. Exempting more corporate income has been scoffed at in the past, but a bill that would do just that has already cleared two committees ahead of next week’s session.

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Testing Anxiety Hits Home

February 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s testing scheme is getting a “D” or an “F” from a majority of parents, teachers and school employees. The results of the online survey sow the frustration of parents as Governor Rick Scott cancelled one test and is asking lawmakers to  consider eliminating others.

Rick Scott’s executive order suspends the Florida Standards English Assessment test for 11th graders. High school principal Billy Epps says the students have already proven they can read. “These are the tenth graders who were promised last year who were told if they passed the tenth grade FCAT, they would be done with reading comprehension testing,”

In an online survey, JoAnn McCall, Vice President of the Florida Education Association,  the union representing Florida’s teachers says parents give Florida’s overall testing scheme a D or an F. “Our parents, 64 percent, gave testing an F grade in Florida. And twenty-two percent handed out a D.”

The state is switching to its own version of common core this year. A demonstration test was difficult to maneuver through and instructions were difficult to understand. 0

FEA President Andy Ford says teachers are calling for the tests to go forward, but not count, until the results can be verified. “The way we ask questions is new. I mean everything has changed and now its time to see what the results are without punishing kids in the process,”

And educators familiar with the test say if lawmakers were to sit down and take it, there’s no doubt they would suspend it for at least a year.

Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning says superintendents across Florida would like a moratorium on the new tests. “We have not had the time to prepare our students because we have not really seen what the test looks like” says Browning.

In a report, the state Department of Education calls for the elimination of more tests that it considers redundant.

Lawmakers will be asked to ratify the Governor’s order ending the 11th grade test when they begin meeting next week.

 

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