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Energy Efficient Sales Tax Holiday Coming This Weekend

September 15th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

If you are in the market for a new appliance, the state of Florida has a deal for you. Energy efficient appliances are tax free this weekend, and even if you just need light bulbs, now is the time to buy.

From Dishwashers to washing machines, a dozen energy efficient appliances will be tax free this coming weekend Appliance Dealer Mike Munroe compared two washers for us. “It uses a third of the water of a traditional washer. This unit right here costs seventeen dollars a year to operate if you have an electric water heater. Here you go…You’re looking at 46 dollars a year here, so you’re talking about thirty dollars a year in energy consumption difference between the two.”

When it comes to water saving, toilets, faucets, show heads and irrigation controllers are also tax free. Samantha Lee Stratton from the Florida Retail Federation says retailers will also be offering special discounts. “You know, consumers deferred these types of purchases during the economic downturn. And this is their opportunity to upgrade their appliances inside the home.”

This is only the second time energy efficient appliances have been tax free. Light bulbs are included in this go around. But there is a catch on big ticket items. Only the first 1500 of a purchase is tax free, Which means you’ll still pay tax on half of this 3 thousand dollar refrigerator.

Mike Munroe says there are also quantity limitations. “You can buy multiples of items that are energy star rated if the value of it is under five hundred, but if it’s over five hundred up to fifteen hundred dollars, you can only buy one in that category.”

The state budgeted two million dollars for taxes it won’t collect, but retailers say the number is likely to be much larger. Clothes dryers are on the list, but no energy star rated dryers are currently on the market. The tax free holiday begins at 12:01 AM Friday and ends at 11:59 Sunday night.

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Thrasher Faces Campus

September 15th, 2014 by Matt Galka

The FloridaStateUniversity president search is down to four finalists, and members of the campus community go their chances to interview the candidates today. As Matt Galka tells us, the state senator who has received the most heat was up first.

Staff, faculty, and students fired questions at Republican state Senator John Thrasher.  The lawmaker has been heavily criticized by many student and teacher groups for his background as a politician and not an academic.

Thrasher said he wants to work with his critics and compared it to politics.  The questioning also turned to other issues like his plans for the libraries, environmental action, and student unions.

The legislator expressed interest in talking with people who asked in greater detail, but those answers didn’t sway many in the audience.

Those answers didn’t sway many in the audience.

“He didn’t give any specifics, it’s really hard for me to think of any specific answers that he gave to this. Which politicians do often,” said FSU music professor Michael Buchler.

The school’s faculty senate, which represents about 2,000 members, officially came out against Thrasher last week. But it will ultimately be up to the school’s board of trustees.

Despite the criticism, Thrasher felt very confident with his chances going forward.

“I think I have the background to be president of FloridaStateUniversity, and I’m proud of where I am today, and we’ll see where we are a week from Tuesday,” said Thrasher.

Thrasher is the only finalist to have a non-academic background.  The campus community will have the same opportunity to interview the remaining three in the coming days.

Thrasher, who is also running for re-election for his state senate seat, would have to give up his position in the legislature if he ultimately got the president’s job.

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Power at the Pump?

September 12th, 2014 by Matt Galka

It’s been 10 years since a six week assault on the state from four hurricanes which caused problems with the ability for Floridians to get gas at fuel stations. As Matt Galka tells us, the state vowed to make sure that wouldn’t happen again, and he looks into whether or not the promise was kept as we move into peak hurricane season.

10 years ago, four hurricanes slammed into Florida over a six week period. The storms crippled the state and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

Long lines formed at gas stations that couldn’t run their pumps without power.  State officials vowed to fix that. The state’s Department of Agriculture is tasked with enforcing that gas stations on evacuation routes have generators.

There were about one thousand stations that had to upgrade to have the capability to have alternate power, those were stations in large counties by population that were on evacuation routes,” said Erin Gillespie with the state’s Department of Agriculture.

All newly built gas stations since 2007 have to follow the rule as well. The department of Agriculture says that every gas station in the state is currently in compliance.

The Florida Petroleum Council says that generators will help if the situation happens again today, but it’s not a be all end all solution. Executive Director David Mica says that while electricity was a problem, so was supply and demand.

“Had we had power 10 years ago, it really wouldn’t have helped the situation much because we would have just sucked that supply out of the ground even quicker,” Mica said.

The council agrees that the state is better off today than in 2004, but they warn that Floridians still need to prepare themselves for the next storm and have a plan in place at all times.

The Department of Agriculture says every station is inspected every year and complaints about non-compliance are investigated immediately. Penalties for violating the rule could include up to a $250,000 thousand dollar fine.

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Money Matters

September 11th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Your finances aren’t child’s play, but some lawmakers want to start teaching kids about money in school at a young age. As Matt Galka tells us, the proposal will be resurrected next year.

The “Money Course” will be back on the table in 2015, but many say the stand alone financial literacy class should already be in action.

“Research overwhelmingly shows that student that come from states who require a course are less likely to incur debt and make risky financial decisions, and basically are more stable financially,” said Mark Anderson with the Florida Council on Economic Education.

Supporters say that the money course can keep students from going broke at a young age.

“Credit cards and student loans, those are things that kids are going to be facing right out of high school, and if they’re not prepared to deal with it they’re going to be facing the consequences of those bad decisions for years,” said Anderson.

Financial literacy, which is currently taught along with social studies, would be a half-credit core high school class under the proposal. The state’s Department of Education says creating the class won’t cost that much. Estimates range from $200,000 to $8 million depending on whether or not a textbook is needed.

The bill had considerable support in 2014. Senate Sponsor Dorthy Hukill lead the charge in her chamber.

“How do I sign a lease, what does it mean? What does a debit card mean? Kids are more in debt now than ever before,” said Sen. Hukill in April.

The Senate wasn’t the problem in 2014. The proposal failed to cash in with members of the House last session.

One big thing still being sorted out: when the class would start in Florida. Even supporters say if the bill passes in the Spring, it will be very difficult to have a class ready for the following school year.

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Marijuana Revisions

September 10th, 2014 by Matt Galka

The Department of Health is responding to questions raised by the legislature over the state’s new non-euphoric medical marijuana law.  As Matt Galka tells us, the revisions don’t get the drugs on the market any sooner.

Following what was supposed to be the final hearing on Florida’s non-euphoric medical marijuana law, the Department of Health is still tweaking some things.

A revision put out by the department addresses questions from the legislature and public about implementation of the seizure medication known as Charlotte’s Web.  The main change clears up ownership rules for who can apply to be a dispenser.  Grower advocate Jeff Sharkey says the change will help businesses and patients, but it’s still a work in progress.

“I think this is an imperfect piece of legislation that was passed, I don’t think the legislature really had the wherewithal to really understand what it would take to get this thing to be a practical, rational regulatory framework for a dispensing business,” said Sharkey.

The revisions may be clearing some things up, but they’ll also be causing a delay.

The change requires a 21 day notification period. Then a legislative committee must certify the new rules and the state department needs to adopt them – another 20 day process. Finally, applicants looking for one of the 5 state issued licenses will have 15 days to apply.

A lottery system to determine the 5 dispenser for the state is still in place. Something the Florida Medical Cannabis Association is on the fence about.

“They believe that it will expedite the process, and so for that I’m thankful, but I’m torn because I want it to be the best applicant but I want it in the hands of kids as quickly as possible,” said Ron Watson with the group.

If all the dates hold, the process will be done November 4th, the same day voters will decide on a broader medical marijuana law. If the medical marijuana ballot amendment passes in November, it is unclear how it would affect Charlotte’s Web.  The medicine is expected to be ready by spring of 2015.

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FSU Round 2

September 9th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Florida State University pressed on today in their search for a new president with day two of interviews. As Matt Galka tells us, the lawmaker who has been bashed by students and faculty tried to make his case as to why he deserves the job.

Before interviews continued, a stern warning was handed down from the Florida State Presidential Search Committee

“Your welcome is extended, provided you do nothing to interrupt this interview or distract this committee or the candidate in any way,” said Committee Chairman Ed Burr.

The search process has been dominated, and sometimes delayed, by outbursts from students and faculty questioning the qualifications of one man: GOP State Senator John Thrasher. The lawmaker interviewed for the job Tuesday.

“If you select me, or the board selects me, I will hit the ground running, I am ready to start,” said Thrasher.

Many of the people who have been protesting the lawmaker’s candidacy throughout the process said after the interview, nothing has changed.

Faculty union president Jennifer Proffitt says teachers are concerned other qualified candidates are still being overlooked.

“I think it is still a concern of faculty and students that the fix is still in,” she said after Thrasher’s interview.

Graduate students didn’t make a scene, but they still managed to pass out anti-Thrasher flyers. The Senator brushed off the backlash.

“I’ve heard from a lot of people who you don’t hear from and these folks haven’t heard from that are incredibly supportive of this,” said Thrasher.

Five other candidates, including the current interim president of the school, were interviewed on Tuesday.

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Missing Children’s Day Mixes Sadness with Success

September 8th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The mothers, fathers, and extended family members from 18 families who lost a child participated in the annual Missing Children’s Day Ceremony at the State Capitol today. While the event allows families to highlight their loss, it is also about preventing future victims.

Teresa Neves couldn’t hold back the tears as she placed a rose next to granddaughter’s picture. Haleigh Cummings disappeared five years ago while a babysitter slept.

“We want everyone to know that we’re still waiting for Haleigh to come home” says Teresa.

It was also a day to celebrate successes. A Bloodhound that saved a child, bus driver Daisy Robinson who stopped her escambia County school bus when she spotted a three year old all alone.

missing00000007“My heart goes out to little kids like that” says Robinson. So we asked

“someone might not have seen him, or someone might have kept going?”

“You know, there was one truck in front of me that just kept going.

Police were honored for tracking down sex traffickers and finding a runaway teen with a  pervert.

5th grader Amber Nguyen won a poster contest that nearly brought tears to the Jennifer Cook Pritt, the FDLE organizer of the event. “I want the missing children to never lose hope, and understand that people still care about them and want them home” is what the fifth grader wrote.

And St. Petersburg fifth grader Mia Guarnacciavwon a statewide essay contest on internet safety. She read her essay. “You should not put personal information on web sites or social media.”

The event was inspired by the loss of Jimmy Ryce. Father Don Ryce still attends 16 years later.  I’m happy that they’ve toughened up the Jimmy Ryce Act and that we keep this people away from their victims and potential victims” says Ryce.

missing00000001 missing00000002If there is a tragedy to each of the 16 Missing Children’s Days that have occurred, it is that every year there is a new parent.

For families, the day is a chance to connect with the only other people who truly know their loss.

Since the death of Jimmy Ryce, the Ryce family has placed hundreds of bloodhounds with police agencies. Two more were donated today. Claudine Ryce, who passed away last year, was a believer that her son would have been saved had police had a tracking dog.

missingmissing00000004

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FSU President Interviews Underway

September 8th, 2014 by Matt Galka

The first round of interviews are underway in the search for the next president of FloridaStateUniversity. As Matt Galka tells us, the tumultuous process settled down, but the peace may be short lived.

Eleven candidates will hopefully produce the next President for Florida State University.  Six applicants were interviewed Monday.

The day one interviews were business as usual, but day two includes two high profile candidates.

Interim President Garnett Stokes and State Senator John Thrasher will go in front the search committee Tuesday.  Student groups have been protesting Thrasher’s candidacy for months.

“Each candidate deserves respect, to be treated with respect and to have their candidacy vetted in a proper way. Which is what we’ve been doing,” said search committee chairman Ed Burr.

Grad students briefly shut down a meeting last week for lack of student and faculty representation on the search committee. Finalists will field questions from campus next week. Committee and faculty member Eric Walker says that’s a start.

“It addresses the problem, it does not speak to the voting representation on the committee. But it does indicate that the student and faculty voices will be heard,” said Walker.

Former State Senator Al Lawson called the protesting embarrassing when the search first started.

“It shouldn’t be a protest to interview high profile candidates, I think it’s good to have high profile candidates. It makes you appreciate the process,” said Lawson.

Five candidates will be interviewed Tuesday with three or four finalists being selected after the interviews are over. The search committee will recommend at least three candidates to the school’s board of trustees. The board will then interview the applicants at their meeting on September 23rd.

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Medical Marijuana Hearing Leaves Unanswered Questions

September 5th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The logistics of growing and dispensing non euphoric marijuana moved one step closer to realty with what is supposed to be the final hearing by the state today, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, implementing this springs legislation on time is far from certain.The rules for picking growers and dispensing organizations for non euphoric CBD marijuana are supposed to be in place this fall. Warren Powell from Florida Marijuana Patients.com took issue with transportation issues.

“You can’t expect cancer patients to drive four hours to get medicine” said Powell.

Dozens of people raised concerns at this public hearing about how the state is proceeding. Louis Rotundo has formed the Florida Medical Cannabis Association and took issue with licenses being issued by a lottery. “If you want to stick with a lottery, and I’m not a fan of that, you can not allow the system to be gamed.” Rotundo contends the lottery rule allows nurseries and growers to get their name in the hat multiple times.

But it was two mothers who continue to show up and say they want the state to get it right…and get it right quickly. Holly Mosley of Gulf Breeze lead the fight for medical marijuana in the legislative area. She is the mother of an epileptic child.  “I’m here as a mother today, who daily struggles with a child with epilepsy. There is a patient, two weeks ago, who passed away from seizures” said Mosley, whose daughter Ray Ann can have hundreds of seizures a day.

Clouding the future is a19 page letter from a legislative oversight committee, pointing out differences between the proposed rule and what the law actually says.

We asked Louis Rutundo is the letter has made a legal challenge certain. He responded: ,“I fell like after the JAPC letter, that it has become very problematic that this rule, in this form, can survive a legal challenge.”

A challenge would slow the rule down until voters decide a broader medical marijuana amendment And that’s what many growers want…but not parents, including Holly Mosley. “There are children’s lives at stake. Um, so we don’t have time to think big picture, and think money, and all of that.”

There have been two workshops  and now a public hearing, yet there are as many unanswered questions as there have ever been.

The first low THC marijuana isn’t expected until late spring at the earliest.

The very narrowly written law calls for growers to be picked and licensed by the end of the year. Any challenge could delay the timetable, delaying CBD’s availability.

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Graduate Students Protest Presidential Selection

September 5th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Thirty graduate students chanted and briefly caused the FSU Presidential search committee to recess. The students are unhappy with the makeup of the selection, which they say is composed of corporate or lobbyist interests. Tara Baldrick-Morrone says the students fell left out.

“I don’t have a voice here. In fact, graduate student assistants do not. The only graduate student on the board is a law student so my interests aren’t being reflected” says the graduate student.

The students were angered when a motion to put more students on the search committee was rejected. Graduate assistants teach more than one fourth of all classes at FSU.

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