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  • Special Session Preview 1, May29, 2015
    Lawmakers return to Tallahassee on Monday, kicking off their 20 day special session in order to craft a state budget. Matt Galka tells us what they’ll be focusing on. An abrupt end to Florida’s regular session at the end of April left lawmakers with plenty of unfinished business. Lawmakers are constitutionally required to craft a […]
    Matt Galka
  • Healthcare Battle Escalates with Slick New Ad 1, May28, 2015
    A slick new ad in the battle over healthcare expansion portrays Florida Hospitals as greedy and responsible for an increasing national debt. The ad was produced by a political committee called Florida Roundtable, which is tied to powerful Florida State Representative Richard Corcoran of Pasco County. As Mike Vasilinda tell us, healthcare advocates call the […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • Medical Marijuana Could Be In Patient’s Hands By End of Year 1, May28, 2015
    A year long battle to get medical marijuana into the hands of needy families in Florida could finally be ending. And as Matt Galka tells us, lawmakers could be considering expanding marijuana in the state when the medicine rolls out. It’s been a long road for a low-THC strain of Medical Marijuana known as Charlotte’s […]
    Matt Galka
  • Amendment One Battle Plan for Special Session 1, May27, 2015
    Three out of our Florida voters said yes to spending an existing real estate tax on purchasing environmentally sensitive land, but then state makers tried an end run, using the money for existing operations. Now, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, and upset environmental community plans to start pushing back. Here’s why environmentalists are upset….they recommend […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • High Tech Hurricane Relief 1, May27, 2015
    Florida could soon be changing the way they tackle some relief efforts following hurricanes and other disasters. As Matt Galka tells us, Florida State University is helping state officials in getting more involved with drone technology. Drones are becoming increasingly popular for hobbyists, but Florida State University has bigger plans.   David Merrick is the […]
    Matt Galka
  • Oysters Still Hurting 1, May26, 2015
    Florida oysters from the Apalachicola Bay on the gulf coast have seen a disastrous decline – leading to litigation among Florida, Georgia and Alabama over freshwater use. As Matt Galka tells us, a new federal plan aims to help water flow into the area…and restore livelihoods and oyster production in the state. It wasn’t a […]
    Matt Galka
  • Sea Turtle Nesting Season Begins 1, May22, 2015
    In addition to being the traditional beginning of beach season, Memorial Day is also the start of turtle nesting season in Florida. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, hundreds of dedicated volunteers protect nesting areas that would otherwise go unnoticed and likely be damaged by unsuspecting beach goers. As the sun rises most mornings, you’ll find […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • Audubon Urges Caution for Beach Goers 1, May22, 2015
    Florida Audubon is urging beach goers to stay out of areas posted as bird nesting areas. Unlike many species sea birds lay their eggs directly on the sand and are often invisible to the untrained eye. Julie Waithmell of Audubon Florida says disturbing the birds could be catastrophic.   “Most people don’t even realize that […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • Memorial Day Travel Heaviest in Ten Years 1, May21, 2015
    More Americans are expected to travel this weekend than anytime in the last ten years. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, expect more traffic and a bigger police presence this weekend. The weekend traffic has already started flowing. ”33 million people”  Thats the number of Americans AAA says will be traveling this weekend. Can you guess […]
    Mike Vasilinda
  • Disaster Ready 1, May21, 2015
    Florida has been lucky since 2005 when it comes to avoiding hurricanes, but every year could be *the* year the state gets hit again. As Matt Galka tells us, state officials are always at the ready. Florida’s emergency operations center was a flurry of action Thursday. Two hurricanes had just walloped Florida. Luckily it was only […]
    Matt Galka

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Special Session Preview

May 29th, 2015 by Matt Galka

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee on Monday, kicking off their 20 day special session in order to craft a state budget. Matt Galka tells us what they’ll be focusing on.

An abrupt end to Florida’s regular session at the end of April left lawmakers with plenty of unfinished business. Lawmakers are constitutionally required to craft a state budget and will return next week to do so during a special session.

“The Speaker and I both have said that we intend to get a budget done. I know there’s  a lot of talk about a continuation budget and things like that but the dialogue we’ve had is that we’re going to get a budget done and we feel very strongly about that,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner on Wednesday.

A healthcare battle caused the budget breakdown. The Senate wants to expand Medicaid, the House doesn’t.  But more than healthcare will be discussed over the scheduled 20 days. There are 32 bills on the table – like one allowing nurse practitioners to write prescriptions.

“It’s about allowing individuals who are trained to practice to the full extent of our training and medical care for Floridians who need it. It improves access and maintains and quality and can reduce costs,” said Robert Weissert with Florida TaxWatch.

Tax cuts being pushed by the Governor and environmental funding stemming from voter demand will also need to be figured out.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the environmental Amendment 1 but conservationists weren’t happy with dollar estimates during regular session

“The funding is a little light, we believe that both President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli are committed to getting Amendment 1 right in this first year and that means fully funding Florida Forever,” said Will Abberger with the Amendment 1 Coalition.

Time is of the essence for everyone looking for a slice of the budget pie.  Lawmakers intend to have everything wrapped up by June 20th.

Both the Florida House and Senate convene starting at 1 p.m. on Monday. If lawmakers can’t reach a budget agreement before the current year’s budget expires on June 30th, then the state could be forced into a Government shutdown.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Special Session Preview

Healthcare Battle Escalates with Slick New Ad

May 28th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A slick new ad in the battle over healthcare expansion portrays Florida Hospitals as greedy and responsible for an increasing national debt. The ad was produced by a political committee called Florida Roundtable, which is tied to powerful Florida State Representative Richard Corcoran of Pasco County. As Mike Vasilinda tell us, healthcare advocates call the spot inaccurate.

The mostly red white and blue ad says the current costs of the current medicaid program are growing rapidly….

“leaving less money for education”

But that’s not what Rick Scott told us recently. “So now, we have a program that we can afford as taxpayers, two, we have recipients now who are responsible for their care, so it’s exciting what we’ve done” said Scott on May 20th.

The ad goes on to bash hospital profits.

”Growing profits paid for by growing debt” chimes the ad.

Damien Filer of Progress Florida calls the ad misleading.

“Well, its not at all accurate for starters, but more importantly, the people of Florida are tired of the constant bickering, and infighting” says Filer, who advocates for expanded health care.

“We reached out to the Florida Hospital Association because they are being portrayed as the villains here, but we haven’t heard back.”

This afternoon, they issued the following statement: “The Florida Hospital Association advocates every day for our hospital members and the patients they serve. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, thousands of caregivers provide quality care to all patients in hospitals — from babies and their mothers to the most frail and vulnerable among us.

In a state with the third highest number of uninsured in the nation, ensuring all Floridians have access to affordable, quality health care services is our top priority. We stand ready to work with all stakeholders on long-term, sustainable solutions that are in the best interest of Florida’s patients and communities.”

The ad also says kids who need coverage already get it and only deadbeats “Who do not work” will benefit from expanded health care.

Karen Woodall has fought for expanded health care since at least 2011.

“So its just totally misinformation.”

We also reached out to Representative Richard Corcoran, a powerful state legislator who’s behind that spot. Corcoran did text us back but only to say he wasn’t at the Capitol.

We also aught up with the Senate President…who wants more health care…He hadn’t seen the ad…nor did he want to.

“Here’s the question, it they’re already out there attacking you, how can you ever reach a compromise?”  And that’s a question that will remain unanswered until at least Monday when Lawmakers return to the Capitol.

Lawmakers begin a 20 day special session on Monday to pass a state budget. Discussions also include the expansion of healthcare, which have so far gone nowhere and blocked any negotiation on the budget.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Healthcare Battle Escalates with Slick New Ad

Medical Marijuana Could Be In Patient’s Hands By End of Year

May 28th, 2015 by Matt Galka

A year long battle to get medical marijuana into the hands of needy families in Florida could finally be ending. And as Matt Galka tells us, lawmakers could be considering expanding marijuana in the state when the medicine rolls out.

It’s been a long road for a low-THC strain of Medical Marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web in Florida.  The medicinal pot was approved in 2014, but a year long battle between the Department of Health and multiple organizations challenging various sections of their rules has delayed getting the medicine into patients hands. Jeff Sharkey with the medical marijuana business association says it looks like those days are behind the state now.

“It’s been a long process for a lot of people, but I think this rule making process has help clarify – this is a new emerging industry and people wanted some clarification on what they’re going to grow, how it’s going to be fostered, what’s safe,” he said.

A judge dismissed the final rule challenge Wednesday.  Five growers licenses still need to be granted this summer.

 

The medicine isn’t expected to be available until late 2015 or early 2016, around the same time lawmakers will be back for legislative session.
“There’s been an interest with the Senate in expanding the medical marijuana bill, increasing the number of people eligible. Veterans, people with ALS, a number of other folks with debilitating diseases,” said Sharkey.

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) sponsored the original bill of the medicine that is believed to help seizure victims. He says it could open the door for medicinal use in Florida.

 

“Once we get the infrastructure and the systems in place I expect that we can help even more patients in Florida with cannabis,” Rep. Gaetz told us over the phone.

Lawmakers made attempts to expand medical marijuana in the state during regular session this year, but the legislation didn’t get very far.

If lawmakers don’t revisit medical marijuana in 2016, supporters are confident that a medical marijuana amendment will be back on the ballot during election season.  2014’s amendment allowing medical marijuana usage in the state was narrowly defeated.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Medical Marijuana Could Be In Patient’s Hands By End of Year

Amendment One Battle Plan for Special Session

May 27th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Three out of our Florida voters said yes to spending an existing real estate tax on purchasing environmentally sensitive land, but then state makers tried an end run, using the money for existing operations. Now, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, and upset environmental community plans to start pushing back.

Here’s why environmentalists are upset….they recommend 155 million for land buys …the Governor one hundred million…but House and Senate budgets had just 8 and and 15 million. Adding fuel to the fire….a third of the money voters approved is still destined to fund existing operations of  the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Amendment 1 Organizer Will Abberger says lawmakers aren’t keeping faith with voters.

“When Florida voters voted yes to fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund they were voting they were voting for funding to acquire Florida’s threatened wildlife habitat, so funding agency operations that were previously funded out of general revenue seems a little bit inconsistent with that.”

During a conference call, Mary Barley, the principal behind the Everglades Trust promised a full court press to turn voters wishes into reality,

“We will continue to invest and keep you posted, because the cost of inaction could be catastrophic.”

Audubon Florida President Eric Draper acknowledges that dramatically changing funding during a special session is a heavy lift. “Voters should be angry by there fact legislators are not spending the money the way that Amendment one was supposed to be spent” says Draper.

One potential compromise making the rounds is going to a hundred million dollars for land purchases. That’s the Governor’s position. In exchange, he gets the tax cuts he wants.

At a Tuesday news conference, Senate President Andy gardiner  said the tax cuts were still on the table. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re very open to all if it” said Gardiner.

And what is becoming clearer is that the budget,  and money for health care and the environment are all intertwined.

A series of rallies are set for this Saturday to bring attention to the lack of funding. In our area (see below). After the rallies, environmentalists plan a direct mail campaign and robo calls targeting key lawmakers who are following through with funding for land and conservation.

Below is a list of the rallies on Saturday

Alachua

When: Saturday, May 30, 10:00 am – 11:00 am

Where: 15935 NW US Hwy 441, Alachua, FL 32615

(Parking at Lowes, Sonny’s BBQ, or other nearby lots. This is the stretch of 441 that everyone uses to get to Spring Country!)

Bradenton

When: Saturday, May 30, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Where: Manatee County Courthouse, 1115 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205

 

Fort Myers

When: Saturday, May 30, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Where: Lee County Alliance of the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd., Ft. Myers, FL 33919

Jacksonville

When: Saturday, May 30, 10:00 am – 11:00 am

Where: Walter Jones Historical Park, 11964 Mandarin Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32223

 

Melbourne

When: Saturday, May 30, 10:00 am – 11:00 am

Where: Grills Riverside, 6075 N US Hwy 1, Melbourne, FL 32940

On the Lagoon, east side of US Hwy 1, just north of Pineda Causeway.

Miami

City of South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard invites you to a public meeting with the Water and Land Legacy Coalition.

When: Saturday, May 30, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Where: South Miami City Hall Commission Chamber, 6130 Sunset Dr., South Miami, FL 33143

Orlando

When: Saturday, May 30, 10:00 am – 11:00 am

Where: Eagle’s Nest Park, 5165 Metrowest Blvd, Orlando, FL 32811

Stuart

When: Saturday, May 30, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm

Where: Terra Fermata, 26 SE 6th St., Stuart, FL 34994

Tampa

When: Saturday, May 30, 10:30 am – 11:30 am

Where: Cypress Point Park, 5620 W. Cypress St., Tampa, FL 33607

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Amendment One Battle Plan for Special Session

High Tech Hurricane Relief

May 27th, 2015 by Matt Galka

Florida could soon be changing the way they tackle some relief efforts following hurricanes and other disasters. As Matt Galka tells us, Florida State University is helping state officials in getting more involved with drone technology.

Drones are becoming increasingly popular for hobbyists, but Florida State University has bigger plans.

 

David Merrick is the school’s director of the Center for Disaster Risk Policy.  He says the technology could take off for state’s and agencies working during disaster relief

“One of the big things that we think we can use it for is damage assessment. In other words, looking at how bad the disaster impacts were, what extent are residences and businesses damaged, how expensive is flooding, road conditions, things like that,” he said.

Last week, FSU became the first school in the country to use the technology during a hurricane exercise.

Merrick and his team were able to broadcast real time video of a mock assessment and recovery effort back to the state’s Emergency Operations Center.

 

This video from the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005 shows a manned helicopter doing the same type of work.  Merrick says the unmanned aerial systems could do the same thing and save money.

“So the concept here is by using relatively inexpensive UAS we can do that job cheaper and possibly faster than some of the manned aviation assets,” said Merrick.

FSU started its unmanned aerial systems program this past spring.  It’s the only state school that currently offers one.

A bill that was signed into law this year limited what drones could film because of privacy concerns, but that restriction would be waived in the wake of a disaster.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on High Tech Hurricane Relief

Oysters Still Hurting

May 26th, 2015 by Matt Galka

Florida oysters from the Apalachicola Bay on the gulf coast have seen a disastrous decline – leading to litigation among Florida, Georgia and Alabama over freshwater use. As Matt Galka tells us, a new federal plan aims to help water flow into the area…and restore livelihoods and oyster production in the state.

It wasn’t a good Oyster haul for Tony Saddler and his son in Apalachicola Bay Tuesday morning.

“Only got about a half a bag, out there about two hours,” he said.

But things are improving…slowly.  The bay used to provide nearly 90 percent of all the oysters in the state, but a recent drought nearly wiped out the industry. Restoration plans are starting to help businesses that almost went under.

 

Congresswoman Gwen Graham wants to kick start the effort.  She announced her bay restoration plan while looking for Oysters with fisherman Tuesday morning.

 

“This is a treasure to Florida, it’s a treasure to our country, and what I hope will happen is that we will get more and more people to come down to North Florida and see how special this place on the world is and want to be invested in helping protect it,” said U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham (D-2nd Congressional District).

The deterioration has caused Florida to sue the state of Georgia – alleging the peach state is hogging too much freshwater for the city of Atlanta and not letting it flow south.

So even though the problem is mainly in the panhandle a lack of oyster production could mean your seafood prices go up.

Restaurant owner Lynn Martina has had to downsize from wholesale seafood to running a raw bar because of the lack of production.

 

“I never dreamed we’d go from selling them by the tractor trailer load to selling them by the dozen but that’s where we are, and it’s just because of the decline,” said Martina.

The Apalachicola Bay was declared a fishery disaster in the summer of 2013 because of the dying industry.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Oysters Still Hurting

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Begins

May 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

In addition to being the traditional beginning of beach season, Memorial Day is also the start of turtle nesting season in Florida. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, hundreds of dedicated volunteers protect nesting areas that would otherwise go unnoticed and likely be damaged by unsuspecting beach goers.

As the sun rises most mornings, you’ll find Bill Wargo walking the sands of Alligator Point, just south of the state Capitol.

“I always hoped that in retirement that I could maybe do something with the environment or nature, or whatever” says Wargo.

Retirement was in 2003. For the last 12 seasons, he’s been walking this beach, protecting the nests he finds. “And there is a certain amount of work and challenge to it, but I’ve always loved nature.”

Sometimes it’s not a turtle track that catches his interest….but man made beach paraphernalia….he tags it to let owners know it could impede a turtles route to a nest.

Nat sot: “because turtles will nest in this area.”

Five years ago when the BP oil spill threatened this beach, all of the eggs here were relocated to the east coast. Most turtles return to the beach where they were hatched to lay their own nest….usually 25 or 30 years later. No one can be sure what the turtles of the 2010 season will do…but Wargo says business has been booming at Alligator Point ever since the oil spill.

“Since since 2010, we’ve had more activity here on Alligator Point than we’ve ever had.”

Turtles begin nesting in the western gulf before reaching Alligator Point.

Along the beach, Wargo met a resident walking his dogs.” Are you seeing any turtles laying yet?” he was asked. “No not yet, but any day. Any day. We’re right at that point.”

And with Bills Wargo’s help, the 58 nests last year on this spit of land sent an estimated 5000 baby sea turtles into the gulf.

“And it’s been a labor of love” he adds.

Bill Wargo is a retired university professor and former director of state education technology. He says the health of sea turtles is important because it is an indication of the health of the Gulf of Mexico’s eco system.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Sea Turtle Nesting Season Begins

Audubon Urges Caution for Beach Goers

May 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Audubon is urging beach goers to stay out of areas posted as bird nesting areas. Unlike many species sea birds lay their eggs directly on the sand and are often invisible to the untrained eye. Julie Waithmell of Audubon Florida says disturbing the birds could be catastrophic.

 

“Most people don’t even realize that birds nest on beaches.They expect a nest to be in a tree or bush, but these birds lay their eggs directly on the sand.Park biologists post protected areas, for them, but people will look into the posted area and not see anything and think…it’s okay for me to cross the twine line. When they do that, it flushes the parents from the eggs and chicks. It leaves them exposed to the sun or to predators or even to crushing under foot” says Waithmell.

Most beach nesting birds are on the state threatened species list of rare and declining birds.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Audubon Urges Caution for Beach Goers

Memorial Day Travel Heaviest in Ten Years

May 21st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

More Americans are expected to travel this weekend than anytime in the last ten years. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, expect more traffic and a bigger police presence this weekend.

The weekend traffic has already started flowing.

”33 million people”  Thats the number of Americans AAA says will be traveling this weekend. Can you guess the top destination in the country?

“Orlando”

“just going to Disney World.” is what travelers on Interstate Ten told us. Orlando is the number one destination says AAA, which also says the biggest reasons more people are traveling is because of cheaper gas and an improving economy. But that’s not what we found at this rest area.”

Jo Robinson came from Alabama “Going to my granddaughters graduation in Sarasota” she told us.

Lynn Houston of Mobile, Alabama was on his way to a long weekend getaway with his wife. “Why this weekend?” “I was off my work and we planned this little get away.”

Ladaisha Turner is on active military duty in Oklahoma. She and husband Justin were on their way to meet up with family in Brevard County. “My sister is graduating high school. My dad’s coming back from England, so haven’t seen the family in two years” says Ladaisha.

Jane Street came from Panama City, Florida enroute to Disneyworld with another woman and three boys. “The boys are out of school and we decided to go before the Florida schools got out.”

Ben Franzuela and his wife were on their way home to Jacksonville. The couple timed their vacation to get home before the weekend started.

Q:”Are you trying to get home before Memorial Day to beat the traffic?”

“Yeah” “Yes”

“”We want to be with family.”

The heaviest travel in ten years comes as data from the CDC shows Florida is one of just 8 states where accidents are a definitive cause of death. FHP Spokesperson Capt. Nancy Rasmussen says its a big state with lots of tourists.

“Everything fun from Orlando with Disney World, going down to the keys. Everybody’s going to be on the road traveling, so that just makes this a very traveled state” says the FHP Captain.

Speeding…reckless driving and DUI will be on the patrols radar…W.D. Williams

Of AAA Motor Club South says if you’ve had too much to drink…call for a ride.

“Completely anonymous. We’ll come get both you and your car and get both of you home safely” says Williams.

Last Memorial Day weekend, Florida saw more than 3 thousand crashes that  injured 1300 people and killed 28.

Last Memorial Day Weekend the Florida Highway Patrol made 91 DUI arrests, cited 1868 people for not wearing their seat belt, 20,692 got a ticket for speeding or other offense.

Posted in Economy, Energy, Environment, Gas Prices, Highways, Holidays, State News, Tourism, Transportation, Weather | Comments Off on Memorial Day Travel Heaviest in Ten Years

Disaster Ready

May 21st, 2015 by Matt Galka

Florida has been lucky since 2005 when it comes to avoiding hurricanes, but every year could be *the* year the state gets hit again. As Matt Galka tells us, state officials are always at the ready.

Florida’s emergency operations center was a flurry of action Thursday. Two hurricanes had just walloped Florida.

Luckily it was only a drill. Hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1st, but with one named storm already in 2015, director Bryan Koon says Florida remains at the ready.

“The early season storms is no indicator that it’s going to be an above average or below average season, in fact some of the forecasts indicate that it might be a slightly less than average season, but the message to Floridians is that it doesn’t matter how many storms are in the Atlantic this year, it matters how many impact Florida and impact you,” he said.

It’s been 10 years since Florida was hit by a hurricane. But that doesn’t mean people should be complacent.

 

“Since the last time Florida had a hurricane, millions of new people have moved to the state, and on any given day we have millions of tourists, so we have lots of people in Florida who have never experienced a hurricane before,” Koon said.

If Florida gets hit with its first hurricane in a decade, it will be the first year that lawmakers, who may not have a concealed carry permit, to travel with their gun if they’re forced from their homes.

Lawmakers say they wanted to make sure Floridians weren’t being thrown in jail by just protecting their property.

“If you put it just underneath your seat, or if you put It inside your door, that could be considered carrying a concealed weapon with you, that could be considered a third degree felony,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) in March.
The Governor signed the bill into law on Thursday.

Florida officials encourage everyone in the state to “Get a Plan.” Go to F-L Get A Plan dot com for information on how you can get your own disaster kit ready.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Disaster Ready

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