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Mentally Ill Jail Inmates to be Moved

December 21st, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

After years of being ignored, the mentally ill waiting for treatment in Floridas county jails are about to see a hospital bed. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, one of Governor Jeb Bushs last acts is to ask for money from the states reserves to move the mentally ill into hospitals.

mentally-ill-to-be-moved.mp3

There are 308 mentally ill inmates in county jails in Florida. 260 are long past the 15 day time set by law for transfer to a treatment facility. Longtime DCF critic Karen Geivers says the department has just been ignoring the problem for years.

The recent crisis has in fact been a long term crisis that has become visible.

It wasnt until a Pinellas County Judge threatened the department head with a fine and jail that state policy makers began taking the law seriously. DCF now admits the judge was a big factor in seeing the emergency money.

You know, a lot of attention has been brought to this in the last few months. Maybe the judges decision made a difference, but, the fact of the matter is, for months now, the people at DCF have been trying to solve this problem, even before the first hearing took place. Did that publicity help? Probably. says Zimmerman.

DCF says it will take about three months before it can begin moving inmates. They have plans to send them to hospitals in Chattahoochee, Jacksonville and Miami.

Incoming Governor Charlie Crist says it will make his job easier. Its the right thing to do. says Crist.

The move will free jail space across the state, and keep jailers not trained to deal with the mentally safer.

Pending approval from a legislative committee, the state will use 18 million dollars from its savings account to start moving inmates. The money should be available in mid January.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Video the Vote

December 21st, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

While lawyers argued over who won the Sarasota Congressional seat, several video cameras run by volunteers captured courtroom action. Video the Vote says it will post the video on web sites because mainstream media doesnt always cover the stories they think are important. Leonard Schmiege made the trip to Tallahassee from St. Petersburg to take pictures.

The main reason is to make sure, since the media usually skits elections issues and has been coming and going and only covering a few minutes and sometimes not showing up at all, So there is not really a record for the public, so what I like to do is get and also the media they do get is copyrighted, so what I like to do is get as much media as possible that anybody can use.

You can the video on web sites like YouTube.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Hello Charlie

December 21st, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

8 years ago, Local Tallahassee Democratic Officials made Jeb Bush feel unwelcome and the city suffered from lack of state funds. Now, the Chamber of Commerce is stepping up to make the new governor feel welcome. It is marking roadways from the airport to the Capitol and making visitors welcome. Chamber President Randy Hanna calls the inauguration the superbowl of Florida politics. When visitors arrive at the airport they will see something a little different. Theyll see a little bit about Florida History. Anne McKenzie who is the director the the legislative museum has been very helpful in helping us provide a history a inaugural events and Florida politics.

Tallahassee Mayor John Marks says the City will be prepared. The city is committing resources from our public works, traffic engineering, parks and recreation, solid waste, police and utility departments to insure safe and smooth welcome into our community. The city will be marking the occasion with signs from the airport to downtown. Says Marks.

The celebration begins January first.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Environmental Coalition Questions Lawn Safety

December 21st, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

A new statewide environmental coalition is asking pesticide companies to develop safer chemicals. The group singled out TrueGreen ChemLawn, the nations largest home pesticide applicator as a bad actor, exposing children and pets to a wide array of toxic Chemicals. Dr. Ronald Saff says companies must do more. There is a lot of nastiness with these pesticides. We want people to be aware of it. We want the pesticide companies to be good environmental stewards and develop safer, less toxic alternatives.

The group estimates that 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns each year.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

DEP and DCA gets new Leadership

December 21st, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Elect Charlie Crist today named two veterans of state government to leadership positions. Tom Pelham will take over the job of managing the states growth at the Department of Community Affairs. He held the same job from 1987 to 1991. He says while there are critics, the state has done a good job.

Its easy to lose sight of how fra weve come when we are inundated with the problems of the moment. I think a question we should always ask is Where would we be if we had not done what weve done over the last three decades. I think we are far better off today not withstanding the problems we have, than we would be if we had not undertaken all the environmental and growth management legislation that we did. But there is always room for improvement, and we have to do better. Says Pelham.

Mike Sole, the number two person at the state Department of Environmental protection will step up the agencies number one spot.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Jennings Decision Close

December 20th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

Lawyers for the company that makes the touchscreen voting machines used in Sarasota County say it was the Supervisor of Elections fault, not their machines, that led to 18 thousand undervotes in the disputed District 13 congressional race. Today was the second day of testimony in candidate Christine Jennings lawsuit to get a look at the machines secret source code. As Victoria Langley tells us, the dispute is now reaching all the way to Washington.

Hear the story here: vicpkg1220.mp3

The courtroom felt more like a college classroom as Dartmouth professor Michael Herron explained his theory of what went wrong in Sarasota Countys congressional election. Herron said voters skipped the District 13 race by accident because it was on the same page as the governors race. He blamed their confusion on a bad ballot design. The only evidence Ive seen to explain that is ballot format effect.

Democrat Christine Jennings is behind Republican Vern Buchanan by just 369 votes. Her attorneys blame machine error for the nearly 18-thousand undervotes in the race, and say she would have won if the machines worked properly. But voting machine manufacturer ES & S is fighting Jennings effort to take a look at the machines secret source code. They blame the ballot designed by Sarasota Countys elections supervisor.

Jennings attorneys argue flawed ballot design or not, the bottom line is elections officials had a chance to fix the problem before Election Day, and did not.

Attorney Reggie Mitchell says voters deserve a new election. Whether theyre able, disabled, educated, uneducated, confused or not confused, it should be simple enough that if I want to vote for the candidate, thats the way my vote should register.

Christine Jennings isnt waiting for the ruling. Shes in Washington formally asking Congress not to seat Vern Buchanan without an independent investigation.

The judge in Jennings Florida case ordered attorneys to complete their legal briefs by Friday at noon. Hes expected to rule shortly thereafter.

Posted in State News | 7 Comments »

Poll Finds Mixed Reviews for Citizens

December 20th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

A new survey finds more than one in five voters believe property insurance is the biggest problem facing Florida today. But the Quinnipiac University poll also found many voters do not support the state getting into the reinsurance business to backstop insurance companies. The proposal is geared toward encouraging insurance companies to lower their rates. But pollster Peter Brown says 49 percent of voters who responded to the poll are not on board. It reflects a general skepticism about government getting too much in the reinsurance business and too much putting itself at risk, i.e. tax dollars at risk, in case of another catastrophic storm.

A majority of voters also say theyre unhappy with the states Save Our Homes property tax structure. While 57 percent of voters rate outgoing Governor Jeb Bush as good, or great in the wide-ranging survey, more than one out of five say they expect Governor-elect Charlie Crist to do an even better job.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

State Funds New Career Program

December 20th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

High school students will soon have new options available to help them be ready to work after graduation. In her final news conference as Lieutenant Governor, Toni Jennings announced today that Okaloosa County will be getting a big check to help other school districts modernize their job training programs. Okaloosas CHOICE Institutes offer high school and college credit in programs ranging from aviation and aerospace to construction and hospitality. Okaloosa County has served as a model for these state programs. That’s why I am delighted today to announce a new $1 million grant from Workforce Florida to the Okaloosa County School District to establish the new ‘Employ Florida Banner Center for Career Academies.'” says Jennings.

Supporters say students who have attended Okaloosas programs get the hands-on experience they need to get hired after high school. State Senator Don Gaetz is a former school superintendent. “The unique feature of the CHOICE institutes is that the curriculum is developed by industry and not by public education. Industry tells us what they need and then we make sure it is academically rigorous and that it prepares students for high paying jobs in the regional economy.”

Students like Susan Betsayad a senior at Niceville High School say they feel like theyre learning something that will pay off in real life. “It’s given me ways to earn money whenever I graduate and also just different skills like leadership skills and it really has helped me work in groups all the time and so, it’s wonderful.”

State officials say the CHOICE programs are helping students at risk of dropping out see the relevance of high school. The million-dollar grant will help Okaloosa schools provide technical support to districts throughout the state that want to start their own career academies. For more information, log onto www.choiceinstitutes.com

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Recivitism Report Urges Education, Training

December 19th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

A new report out today by the Governors Ex-offender Task Force says Florida needs to get serious about educating and training inmates if it wants to cut down on re-offenders. The report points out that funding for programs to keep inmates free of drugs and help them develop job skills has been cut over the last five years, while the population of prison inmates has risen nearly 20 percent. Governor-elect Charlie Crist says he supports a more comprehensive approach to helping inmates get their lives together upon release so they dont victimize more people.
Obviously the more that come out of our system that can stay productive participating citizens with occupations, its better for everybody. Not just the individual themselves, but its better for our state. And so I think if we could have more education, more training while theyre incarcerated so that once they come out they can have the opportunity for productive lives, thats better for everybody. We need to get the recidivism rate down says Crist.
The report found more than a quarter of the 30-thousand people released from Florida prisons each year are back behind bars within three years. Among the recommendations that the Department of Corrections should begin pre-release planning with inmates starting on their very first day of incarce

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Bye Bye, So Long

December 19th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

Today was the last Cabinet meeting for Governor Jeb Bush and CFO Tom Gallagher. Bush was presented with a cedar rocker by Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. Before taking it for a test ride, Bush smiled and jokingly asked if the cutting of cedar trees from a state forest was properly permitted. Bronson said yes and went on to say
50 years from now when your gumming grits for three meals a day, this rocking chair will be around as a remembrance of the Department of Agriculture and the Division of Forestry. Bush leaves office January 2 at midnight.

CFO Tom Gallagher also participated in his last Cabinet meeting today. Gallagher was one of only 4 Republicans from Miami when he was elected to the state house in 1974. He went on to serve as Insurance Commissioner during Hurricane Andrew, As education Commissioner and as the states first CFO. Governor Jeb Bush took note of the service by asking the Cabinet to pass a resolution honoring Gallagher today Tom has been an extraordinary leader. And Ive seen him in many different ways. Ive seen him as a very talented politician and a really shrew and smart public servant, and Ive also seen him as a dad and a committed husband and I think thats a full package and the measure of a man. So tom, were leaving together and I cant think of anybody better to leave with than you. Tom I appreciate your leadership and your friendship
Gallagher responded Its a great experience. Its one I would recommend to people if they have the opportunity to serve, they should. Im looking forward to something else. Thank you very much.
Gallagher has not disclosed his life plan after politics.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Cabinet Approves Power Plant

December 19th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet gave the go-ahead for a new power plant in Palm Beach County today, but not before several residents and environmentalists raised their objections. Opponents urged the Cabinet not to approve Florida Power and Lights new natural gas plant, which will be situated on 220 undeveloped acres west of Wellington. Jayne King of the Sierra Club opposed the approval This is a potential environmental disaster. It is not in our best interest to be constructing this in this particular location. So I want you to think about the potential damage and the impact and consider very very carefully before you certify this plant.
But supporters point out the plant would have the lowest emissions in the state because of new technology. They add that part of the state hasnt had a new power plant built since 1963, and Governor-elect Charlie Crist says the states power needs have grown exponentially since then. We need energy. The people need juice and thats clear to me. You know, we also have a new nuclear plant thats been proposed in Levy County and I think providing energy for a state thats growing as rapidly as we are is awfully important to people. Weve got to keep the lights on.
FP & L still needs two additional permits before it can go forward with the plant.
______________

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

CABINET APPROVES WEKIVA PURCHASE

December 19th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet today approved the purchase and preservation of hundreds of acres of land in Central Florida. The Wekiva Ocala Greenway includes more than 15-hundred acres, some of which will be used for an expansion of an expressway around Orlando. Surrounding acreage will be protected from development. Outgoing Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen Castille says the 74-million dollar purchase goes a long way toward protecting the Wekiva River and pristine surrounding property. Outgoing DEP Secretary Colleen Castille says the purchase fits It is the second of four properties to be recommended for acquisition in the Wakiva report, so thats a significant it is our Central Park, but its Central Park for Florida.
The purchase price of the property will be spread among the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, the state, St. Johns River Water Management District, and Lake and Orange Counties.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Democrat, Butterworth, Named to Head DCF

December 19th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor-elect Charlie Crist is tapping the states former top cop to take charge of what many believe is Floridas most troubled agency. Former state Attorney General Bob Butterworth will be the new Secretary of the Department of Children and Families. As Victoria Langley tells us, Butterworth himself admits hes got a difficult task ahead.
Bob Butterworth famously took on Big Tobacco and won a landmark settlement as Floridas attorney general. But now the popular democrat may face an even bigger challenge. Hes been tapped by Governor-elect Charlie Crist to lead Floridas troubled Department of Children and Families. Butterworth admits he had reservations about accepting the position, but hes determined to turn the agency around. Its a lot of responsibility. Its a tremendous management challenge. Its something which means so much to so many people says Butterworth.
Butterworth becomes the fourth secretary in five years to head an agency thats been under fire for the deaths and disappearances of children in state custody. DCF most recently made headlines for repeatedly breaking a law that requires the state to find treatment facilities for jail inmates found mentally incompetent. Crist believes Butterworth is up for it. Hes a fixer. Hes the kind of guy who comes in and can get things done and is a great Floridian says the Governor-Elect.
The appointment of a well-known democrat to head such a critical state agency also sends an important political message. Charlie Crist is clearly setting a different tone from his predecessor, Jeb Bush.
But real reform may come down to money. Crist will have to push the legislature to better fund DCF if Butterworth is to be any more successful than those whove come before him.
Bob Butterworths appointment as DCF Secretary must still be approved by the state Senate. Butterworth served as Floridas attorney general for 16 years until a failed bid for state Senate himself in 2002. Before that he served as a judge and as Broward County sheriff. Butterworth says his first role at DCF may be as defendant in the lawsuit ordering the agency to find appropriate treatment for mentally-ill jail inmates. But he is pledging to find a way to uphold the law.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Congressional District 13 Back in Leon Court

December 19th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

December 19, 2006
Lawyers for the Sarasota Congressional candidate who lost by less than 400 votes were in court today arguing that 18 thousand ballots not cast were a result of machine error. But as Mike Vasilinda reports, human not machine error was what the machines makers says caused the problem.
Neither candidate was in the courtroom. Christine Jennings attorney told the court that it wanted the voting machine code to prove that something went terrible wrong with the machines. Lawyer Mark Heron told the court That the electronic voting system failed to record the votes of a number of voters, sufficient to place in doubt or change the result of the election.
But Miguel de Grandy, the lawyer for ES & S, the maker of the voting machines, told the court that it shouldnt make it turn over confidential data. Your honor will see that even election department volunteers, who were given a script of votes to cast, and who knew exactly the purpose of the test, made mistakes.
Dr. Charles Stewart, a nationally known voting expert from MIT compared how the under voters cast ballots in other races, and then concluded that if they had voted in Congressional District 13, and all of the votes had been counted, Christine Jennings would have won. Lawyer Sam Hirsh asked Stewart, What is your best estimate of Christine Jennings likely winning margin if we had had a normal undervote vote in Sarasota County? Stewart replied Just under 31 hundred votes.
The Hearing continues Wednesday. Regardless how the court rules, Congress will decide who represents Sarasota come January.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Crist Aide to Run AWI

December 18th, 2006 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Elect Charlie Crist today named Monesia Brown, a Crist Aide from the Attorney Generals Office, to head the Agency for Workforce Development. Brown will oversee the state job training . Says Brown, I am honored in the confidence that you have shown in me to serve in this capacity, and I am privileged and grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of the state of Florida in the new role of Director of AWI. In that role, I look forward to continuing and assisting with the mission of providing help and opportunity to the people of Florida.

Under Jeb Bush, AWI was under the control of Lt. Governor Toni Jennings

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

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