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Trimming the Fat

October 1st, 2014 by Matt Galka

State officials want to make sure Floridians aren’t loosening their belts and packing on the pounds this fall. As Matt Galka tells us, the department of Health will ramp up their healthiest weight efforts this fall, and numbers show we are on the right track.

Jennifer Santa Cruz is trying to make exercise part of her daily routine.

“Bring up the cardio, trying to get fit,” she said as she went for her daily walk outside.

That’s exactly what the Department of Health wants to hear. They are reminding people about their Healthiest Weight Florida initiative this fall.  Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong says only 36% of Floridians are at a healthy weight.

“What concerns me even more is that on that trend, by 2030, six out of 10 babies born could be obese or overweight before graudating high school. That’s not the future anybody wants for our state,” said Dr. Armstrong.

But there’s hope.  Since the program started last year, Florida has made strides in the right direction.

:We are bending the weight curve in Florida. Currently, the obesity rate in Florida is nearly 2 percentage points less than the United States. We are the healthiest weight state in the south,” said the Surgeon General.

Experts say the solution to the problem is an easy one. Something as simple as a five minute walk per day can help.

Dietitian Katie Snyder sees patients every day about weight loss. She replaced her chair with an exercise ball to show clients how easy it was to burn a few more calories.

“Even if you put your shoes on and you walk down to the driveway to get your mail, that’s something.” she said.

Since the program started, Florida has moved into the top 15 for healthiest weight states in the country. If you want to see how you’re area is doing, you can go online to www.floridacharts.com and click on “Healthiest Weight.”

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62 Year Old Grandmother Hit with Taser, Officer Placed on Leave

October 1st, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

A Tallahassee police officer is on administrative leave after being videotaped using his taser on a 62 year old grandmother who appears to be walking away from the officer. The woman approached police inquiring about her daughter, one of three people being arrested.

Officers are seen telling 62 year old Viola Young..who is off camera to stay back. Then, Officer Terry Mahan approaches her,  grabs her hand, and as she breaks free, he pulls out his taser. A loud snap is heard on the video.

No one at this house where the cell phone video was taken would talk with us.”I don’t want to go on camera” said witness William Gibson,  but Gibson did agree to talk with us, as long as we didn’t put his face on camera. “and what did you think as you saw it?” we asked.  “Ah, my lord. They done tased this old lady for no reason.”

Officers were in the area because of suspected drug activity.The incident began when they stopped three people for walking down the middle of the street…on a street with no sidewalks. The daughter of the woman hit with the taser was one of the three. She was charged with resisting arrest thus violating her parole.

Once the video was given to police, TPD Spokesman David Northway says the officer was put on administrative lead. “We are providing you with this information, along with the video, so that we can be transparent” says Northway.

A year ago, another TPD video made national news. Christina West was charged with DUI, and was then thrown to the ground. She sued in Federal court and recently settled for 475 Thousand dollars. Her attorney Fred Conrad says the video was important. “Yeah, I wonder if we didn’t have the video if we’d probably still be litigating” says Conrad.

The taser victim in this case was charged with resisting arrest without violence, taken to the hospital and released. She has since hired an attorney.

Following the brutal takedown in 2013, then Police Chief Dennis Jones resigned. The current chief, Michael DeLeo took over on December 30th, 2013.

Community activists are calling on the State’s Attorney to file charges against the officer rather than take the case to a grand jury. They argue a grand jury has never indicted a police officer for unreasonable use of force.

 

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Public Service Commission Under Fire

September 30th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Energy companies have been able to do just about whatever they want with ratepayer money in Florida, but as Matt Galka tells us, legislators are starting to cry foul, and it could make a difference in your wallet.

Florida’s Public Service Commission and the utility companies they oversee are coming under fire from both sides of the aisle. Clearwater Republican State Senator Jack Latvala pointed at the state’s second largest utility, Duke Energy, as a reason why he had to introduce legislation that tightens the screws on utility companies.

“It begins to put a framework that the utility has to live within when dealing with their customers,” said Sen. Latvala.

Duke has collected billions of dollars from customers for nuclear plants that were never built. Their latest meter reading gaffe resulted in overcharging and a near one million dollar refund for consumers. The Public Service Commission will discuss refunding customer’s nuclear cost recovery fees on Thursday.

Duke collected $54 million dollars for nuclear equipment that was never used. Democratic State Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda was one of the first to call for a repeal of the fees.

“Everyone’s been pretty quiet about this but I think the people have actually let their voice be heard. There’s now this rush to do something to reform the PSC, get the utility bills under control and get the utility companies under control,” said Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee).

Consumer counsel Charles Rehwinkel is asking for the PSC to order Duke to refund the equipment money to customers.

“No money was spent, the law doesn’t allow for customers to pay an advanced recovery for phantom costs,” said Rehwinkel.

Utility companies pump millions of dollars into campaigns for both Democrats and Republicans that have a hand in selecting Public Service Commission members.  Part of the legislation proposed Tuesday would put a regulation on lobbyists working with people connected to the PSC.

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Prepaid Costs Dropping

September 30th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The letters are in the mail and checks soon will be to more than 40 thousand Florida families that will see lower Prepaid college costs. The lower fees are a direct result of a new law.

Nate Friedel of Tampa is one of 110 thousand students attending a Florida college on a pre paid scholarship. “I know for my family it would be a lot more difficult. It’s nice not having to worry about the finances for college…as much.”

Now letters announcing a drop in costs are going out to 22 thousand families who purchased a PrePaid plan in the last six years. This five year old plan is seeing  monthly costs drop from 189 dollars to just 108.

18 thousand families who paid in full will see refunds ranging from three dollars to as much as 28 thousand. Lower payments kick in with this months payment. But for those getting a refund, they’ll have to wait until late October or early November.

PrePaid spokesperson Shannon Colavecchio says the drop is a direct result of legislation limiting future tuition hikes. “It allowed us to say, okay, those projections we had made about college cost are actually going to go down, so we can lower the price of the plan.”

The lower tuition was championed by Rick Scott, who said during his State of the State in March “We have to make it more affordable”.

He crowed about it when it passed on May 2nd. “Lower tuition for every Florida Family”

And The Republican Party has made the drop a central theme of Scott’s reelection with a TV spot slamming Charlie Crist and promoting the Governor.  “Now Governor Rick Scott is making college more affordable” chimes the ad.

So, it is no surprise Scott also included a letter to plan participants letting them know he signed the legislation making tuition more affordable,

Overall 200 million is being refunded and another 700 million won’t be collected under the lower prices. People who purchase a plan when enrollment opens on October 15th, and before the end of the year will have the 50 dollar application fee waived.

 

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GOP Shadowing Crist

September 29th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

For more than two months, GOP inspired protestors have been showing up at Charlie Crist events. The shadowing of a candidate isn’t new, but the level of intensity is unprecedented in Florida politics.

It began in July…The Republican Party of Florida sent a handful of sign waving protestors to a Charlie Crist event in the State Capitol.

Tre Fenske was at first a little unsure of why he was there. When we asked, he turned to the person next to him, who offered “To protest Charlie. To protest Charlie.”

So, when Crist arrived at the event, we asked… “Ah, no. I don’t get greeted by that very often. How are you?” Crist asked demonstrators.

But the not so often has turned into almost every day.

When Charlie Crist launched a school but tour, protestors greeted him at every stop along with a surrogate. This day it was State Rep. Matt Gaetz doing the shadowing. He was asked about his role in the increasing negativity of the campaign. “Well, this is politics and we don’t pitch underhand. Certainly Charlie Crist knows that.”

Both sides admit to using video trackers. Last week, the protestors showed up at a Crist fundraiser, at the home of Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.

Gil Ziffer was one of the attendees. “And then there was someone shooting video of me, and there were people arranged, clearly shooting video of our license plates. And it was something I hadn’t experienced before.”

Q: “What did you think at the time?”

“I wasn’t bothered by it, but clearly there was an intent to intimidate. In other words, you’re hear and people are going to find out you are here.”

The Republican Party of Florida declined to address trackers directly. But it did  provide a statement criticizing Crist and Democrats.

And those who have shown up to offer analysis of Crist events includes State Senator John Thrasher, recently named the next President of FSU, the GOP party chairwoman, and even Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

RPOF Statement: “Allison Tant is only distracting from the disgusting domestic violence attack made by the head of her party against Rick Scott. We’re still waiting for Charlie Crist to denounce the outrageous statement made by the chair of the DNC.” –Susan Hepworth, RPOF Communications Director

 

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That Ought to be A Law…Now It Is

September 29th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Hundreds of bills are proposed each year in Florida, but just a few become laws. As Matt Galka tells us, a group of high school students passed legislation in 2014 on their very first try, and it’s a stern crackdown on predator teachers that goes into effect this week.

It started off in committees and went all the way to the floor of both Florida’s House and Senate.

The Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act became a law thanks to some students from Tampa’s Armwood High School.  The group was fed up with some of the punishments handed down, so they came up with a law to clamp down on authority figures committing the acts.

“We would really like to see this law be implemented into situations where if a teacher is having inappropriate relations with a student, to see that this law is hit hard and they are truly convicted properly like they should be,” said Simone Girard after the bill passed.

About 50 teachers a year lose their licenses in Florida because of sexual misconduct with students.

“I think it’s very important that we send a strong message to that small, very small percentage of our teachers, who may either be thinking about doing something inappropriate with a student, to recognize that this isn’t going to be a minimal crime, it’s going to be an enhanced crime,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland).

Notorious Florida teacher Debra Lafave got three years house arrest after having sex with a 14 year old student 10 years ago.  The law may not stop crimes like that, but it will increase jail time and fine amounts.

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Degrees Not Debt

September 26th, 2014 by Matt Galka

No More Student Debt, that’s the rallying cry from students around the country. As Matt Galka tells us, a new campaign here in Florida is looking for a solution to the problem.

Students are fed up with the sky high loan amounts and interest rates they’re shackled with upon graduating.

The National Education Association launched the “Degrees not Debt” campaign on Florida A & M’s Campus.  Chelsey Herrig helps coordinate the program around the country.

“33 million people are in debt right now. The Government will make about 1 trillion dollars off the debt,” said Herrig.

The average student will be about 30 grand in the hole upon graduation.  Daisia Harmon says she’ll be one of them.

“It’s a concern for me, it’s my future, not my parents, and I’m in graduate school so it’s becoming more of a reality,” said Harmon, a FAMU grad student.

Professor Elizabeth Davenport says her students need more options – both going into and leaving college.

“We want to see ways of eliminating debt, maybe changing the percentage of interest rates, pushing for more grants because you know in Florida we’re eliminating them,” said Davenport.

A bill being pushed by Democrats allowing for student loan refinancing has stalled in Washington.

Cuts to Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program have not helped the debt problem.  It’s estimated that in three years, just over 83,000 students will be eligible for the program, down from 127,000 students this year.

 

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Ethics Forum Fights Corruption

September 26th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida was ranked the worst state in the nation for corruption in 2012. Lawmaker responded by requiring state and local officials to undergo ethics training. A statewide session was held in Orlando on This week.

From prosecutors to sherifs, tax collectors and even the Tampa Port Authority, more than 150 constitutional officers and their staff are getting a day and a half of ethics training.

Jeff Hendry, Executive Director of the Florida Institute of Government, which sponsored the training told participants “It is going to be no shortage of information”

On top of the list is living up to the promise of open government and making records public. Both can be tricky subjects. One of the biggest problems for elected officials is new technology, they think they can communicate on private email accounts or via text messages, without breaking the law, but that’s not the case.

Pat Gleason from the Office of the Attorney General explained that “There’s no special standard for these particular communications, they’re subject to disclosure just like paper records.”

One objective here is to keep public officials from making stupid mistakes. Virlindia Doss says the majority of cases she sees at the Ethics Commission are because of a lack of information.“Some cases are willful, but there are a lot of cases where people just didn’t understand what it was they were supposed to do, so this is a good remedy for that problem” says Doss.

The training was mandated by lawmakers after Florida was ranked by Indiana University as the most corrupt state in the nation. It has since fallen to tenth. Dan Krassner of Integrity  Florida says the ethics training sets a tone from the top, but  there is still much to be done. “We need more open budgets and spending so the public can follow their money.”

Four hours of annual training on open records and he sunshine law are now required for Constitutional officers and their top staff. Municipal officials get the same requirement next year.

The Ethics Commission investigates about two hundred cases a year. More investigations would be likely, but the Commission must wait for a complaint and can not initiate its own investigations.

 

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Pot Politics

September 25th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Voters will be deciding the fate of a broad based medical marijuana law in a little over 40 days.  As Matt Galka tells us, one group’s crusade against the drug might be gaining traction.

The Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot Coalition has been listing off negative effects of marijuana all year.

“Amendment 2 not only legalizes the sale of pot, it also legalizes an entire marijuana industry,” said Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger.

The Coalition says their anti-marijuana message is working, and they point to recent poll numbers as proof. The latest survey of likely voters shows Amendment 2 support at 53% with about 15%.  The measure needs 60% of the vote to pass.

“The idea is to have a grass roots campaign, county by county, community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, to educate people. The more we educate people of the loopholes in the amendment, I think is having a positive effect on the election,” said Eslinger.

The coalition envisions a pot shop on every corner if the amendment passes.  Dr. Michael Forsthoefel says he doesn’t see Docs writing kids prescriptions for weed, but it would make it more available.

Michael Forsthoefel, M.D./Internal Medicine Specialist

“The amendment, as I see it, is just a way to get it available, it’s dangerous for kids, and I see it as a high risk of abuse potentially,” said Dr. Forsthoefel.

Another Doctor in the group, James Harrell, is married to a state representative.  He says his wife’s biggest concern is that people think closing a loophole would be an easy fix.

“You’re not going to change it without another constitutional amendment,” said Dr. Harrell.

10 other states have left medical marijuana up to voters who approved it. In five of the votes, the drug had 60 percent approval going in to the election.

The Florida legislature passed a bill earlier this year allowing for low grade medical marijuana to be used as medicine. The legislation is having trouble getting off the ground thanks to rule challenges and lawsuits.

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Freeze That Credit

September 24th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Parents have a new tool to help protect their kids financial future.  As Matt Galka tells us, a new law that went into effect this month will prevent an identity thief from messing up a child’s credit.

Identity theft is a crime that plagues Florida more than any other state in the country.  Someone gets a hold of a social security number or vital information, opens up credit cards or loans, and ruins someone financially. The act is even worse when it happens to a kid.

“Up to 50,000 children in Florida alone have had this happen to them,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Putnam pushed for a new law to help parents protect their children’s identities.  Starting this month, Mom and Dad can freeze Junior’s credit until they’re old enough to start using it.

“Those that we’ve seen exploited the most are kids already in the system.  People who’s files are passed around frequently, kids in foster care, or other types of circumstances where a lot of people have access to their sensitive information,” said Putnam.

Children are targeted because they have a clean credit report.  A fraudster can open up credit cards in a child’s name and it could take years before anyone notices.

Identity theft investigations start with local law enforcement.

“Kids can be targeted because we’re all assigned social security numbers when we’re very young, so yes kids can be,” said Tallahassee Police Officer Dave Northway.

The old law only allowed adults to put a freeze on their credit. It now costs parents $10 bucks to do it for their kids. You can log on to www.freshfromflorida.com/protectyourchild for more info.

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