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Perky the Lucky Duck

January 29th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

perky-the-lucky-duck2.jpg

A ring-necked duck nicknamed Perky is garnering international fame after surviving at least three brushes with death. Perky was shot, left for dead in a refrigerator, then, As Mike Vasilinda reports, stopped breathing while a vet repaired her broken wing.

Hear it here: Duck of the Dead

Watch the story: www.wfla.com

Perky spends most of her time huddled in the corner of her cage on a heating pad. She was shot by a hunter January 15 and spent the next two days his refrigerator until his wife discovered that Perky was still alive. Noni Beck has been caring for the duck ever since.

She would normally be outside now, so that the cold doesnt really surprise me that she made it through. You know? I guess theres enough oxygen in the refrigerator to keep the ducking going, so says Beck.

The ducks story has traveled around our daffy world. T-shirts went on sale with the cash going to wildlife rehab. Then it appeared Perky was no longer such a lucky duck.It was while Perky was being operated on over the weekend to have her broken wing fixed that she stopped breathing temporarily.

She looked dead says Doctor David Hale who performed the operation. But then, he says Probably 30 seconds later, you know, up comes the head and her little wings start to move and lucky the duck does what lucky the duck does so well.

So there she sits: safe and sound, recovering from a broken wing. The prognosis is good in every way, Beck says Its just a very quiet little bird, with just a strong will to live. But it is highly unlikely Perky will ever return to the wild.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

January 24th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

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Attention Turns to Property Tax Bills

January 24th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Just two days after passing a massive insurance package in hopes of saving you money, state policy makers are turning to the problem of skyrocketing property taxes.

Hear it here: Property Tax Reform

Hundreds paid their way to the Capitol last week to protest high insurance rates…but they also had plenty to say about their property tax bills as well. One of them was Jesus Ceballos. Insurance premiums and taxes theyre causing housing prices to come down he says.

The top leadership at the House is calling for a special election this summer to change the homestead exemption and give homeowners more savings. Speaker Marco Rubio says People need the relief right now as badly as they needed property insurance relief, they need property tax relief.

In the last five years, property local governments have collected 83 percent more while the population has only increased 12 percent. One plan will tell local governments that just because property tax values are up, you still cant spend all the money.

Two committees met to talk about solutions, the Senate has a place on its website to submit comments on property taxes, and it has scheduled 8 public hearings in the next month. Senator Mike Haridopolos will chair the hearings and says One thing we have found in our studies which is very clear we do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.

Charlie Crist campaigned on doubling the 25 thousand dollar homestead exemption. He also wants to let homeowners to take it with them when they move. Today he told reporters I heard, you know, all last year that people feel trapped in their homes. They dont feel like they have the freedom to move.

Crist says local governments will have to spend less and do it more wisely. Before there can be a special election this summer, 3/4ths of the legislature will have to agree.

The schedule of public meetings is:

Thursday, January 25, 2007
6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
Panama City
Gulf Coast Community College
Language Arts Lecture Hall

Thursday, February 8, 2007
6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
Jacksonville
Florida Community College

Monday, February 12, 2007
9:00 a.m.12:00 noon
West Palm Beach
Palm Beach Community College
Dunkin Theatre: Lake Worth Campus

and

6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
Ft. Lauderdale
Broward Community College

Tuesday, February 13, 2007
6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
Miami Dade
Miami Dade Community College
Chapman Center

Thursday, February 15, 2007
6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
Tampa
Hillsborough Community College

Friday, February 16, 2007
6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
Ft. Myers
Florida Gulf Coast University

Thursday, February 22, 2007
6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m.
Orlando
Valencia Community College

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Special Session Ends

January 22nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers have ended their special session on insurance and the governor says their work will result in lower rates for you. As Mike Vasilinda tells us there is agreement more will need to be done.

House members streamed from the chamber after their 116-2 vote for the insurance package. A few minutes later, the Senate voted unanimously and the traditional hankie drop ended the session.

Legislative leaders praised each other and the bi-partisanship. Senate President Ken Pruitt says they understand what voters want Because on November 7th, we got it. We fully understand what the people said and youre gonna see a bipartisan spirit. said Pruitt.

The legislation is supposed to cut the premium on wind insurance by 25 percent. Other savings are more elusive. The governor praised the work We are gonna lower rates in a meaningful way and its going to actually happen. This is a great beginning.

Crist agreed more work needs to be done and says he will offer a package for the spring legislative session. But for now, he wants to savor the moment.And I, uh, could not be more proud of the members of the house and senate and the people of Florida first. And because of them, this moved. It is only because of them that this happened.

After the session ended, Charlie Crist said that he would sign the bill unless he found a surprise. Savings should show up in a rate reduction or even a check in your mailbox sometime after three months or so.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Legislature Seals the Deal

January 22nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Consumers will soon have more options to choose coverages to save money, companies will be forced to offer discounts for hurricane proofing your house, with the legislative action near complete, it is now Governor Charlie Crists turn to decide if lawmakers have done enough.

Hear it here: Sealing the Deal

With a handshake, the legislative deal was sealed. The insurance legislation requires insurance companies to offer more choices like higher deductibles or eliminating content coverage. Policy holders will also be able to spread the pain by paying quarterly or semi-annually.

Companies that write auto policies here but offer both home and auto in other states will have to do the same in Florida.

The biggest saving will come from the state doubling the amount of risk it is taking in underwriting insurance. Some have called it unsound, but chief Senate negotiator Bill Posey says it will produce results. If theres a big one, people are gonna have to pay for it. But we wont presumably pay for it five times while were waiting for it to happen.
Says Posey.

Action was delayed over an hour by last minute problems with the deal.
For the first time, the state will set standards for hardening your home against hurricanes and then force insurers to give you credit for the work youve done.

Overall savings are expected to vary from 15 to 30 percent depending on where you live and what coverages you choose. Senate President Ken Pruitt says the changes will make a difference. Weve stabilized the patient. And we now have a patient that is not bleeding anymore and from now on out the healing process begins.

It will likely take policy holders six weeks to learn what their savings will be. While Charlie Crist is generally upbeat about the results of the special session, the governor did not get the ban on policy cancellations that he wanted or a ban on new Florida-only insurance subsidiaries.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Government Fix?

January 20th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

As lawmakers in Tallahassee work to come up with a compromise bill to lower insurance premiums, one thing seems certain the state is getting a lot deeper into the insurance business. Lawmakers have agreed to expand the state-run Citizens Insurance Company. It would no longer be limited to hurricane coverage and could sell more profitable types of insurance. Lawmakers have also agreed to use state dollars to provide re-insurance for private firm. Critics say this plan puts the state at financial risk. But Senate Insurance Committee chairman Bill Posey says they cant afford not to act.

When you have people in the hotel business that have six, eight, 900 percent increase in their rates and have to double their room rates to pay their insurance and people can not afford to pay double the room rate. So that people dont fly down here. They dont rent our cars and pay our taxes. They dont buy our gas and pay our taxes. They dont eat in our restaurants. They dont shop in our stores and shop in our malls. You see a big negative impact coming to this state.

Negotiators from the house and senate hope to have a final compromise on Sunday that can be approved by the legislature on Monday.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Saturday Grind making Progress

January 20th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Item by item, State lawmakers were working out differences today in the giant insurance reform package being debated. As Mike Vasilinda reports, some differences have been worked out, others remain, yet a general air of optimism is once again in the air.

Hear it here: Session Update

Lawmakers showed up for work in short sleeve shirts and jeans. Point by point, they were coming to agreement on items like homeowners being able to buy less insurance if they dont have a mortgage or dont want to cover their furnishings.

After the first morning conference broke up, Curtis Richardson had a good feeling.
I do believe well make the six oclock pm on Sunday deadline that weve been given.

Broward Senator Steve Geller worked all day on a compromise to reduce windstorm costs. Policyholders of company A would receive a rate reduction of 36.8%,
Says Geller.

Starting at 11:30, Lawmakers spent almost an hour waiting for documents to print, but plenty of one on one negotiating took place. The meeting finally got stated at one forty, when chief house negotiator ray Sansom made a big offer. The first bullet point is require Citizens to develop a comprehensive business plan for writing multi-peril policies. Sansom told his Senate counterpart.

For the House to agree to let citizens sell other lines is a big deal. Its a big portion of the Governors plan, and pleased Charlie Crist. Im very encouraged by that because if Citizens has the opportunity to compete, they can offer lower rates for our people and thats very, very important. Crist told us.

The work will continue into the evening. There is hope a deal can be brokered before Sunday, but staffers have ordered breakfast and lunch just in case

If the negotiators can seal a deal tomorrow, it will be presented to the legislature on Monday the final day of the special session.
______________________________________________________________

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Now the Hard Part Begins

January 18th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

State Lawmakers are closer to a deal to lower your insurance rates than ever before. Both Chambers in Tallahassee are now sitting down to negotiate their differences and as Mike Vasilinda reports, Legislative leaders and the governor remain optimistic their will be success.
Hear it here: hard-work-of-negotiating-begins.mp3

For the third day in a row, angry homeowners like Bob Buckley from Brevard County swarmed the capitol, pushing for lower insurance rates. The deal the cards are on the table now for us for the governor and up here to change something. And I got the fire in the belly, says Buckely.

Early in the day, the Senate took all of bills passed by the House, added their ideas, and sent them back, and asked for a conference committee. They got it. Negotiations began in early afternoon and are expected to last into the weekend.

Meanwhile, the governor was keeping the pressure on noting that insurance has been dominating his thoughts. I think I woke up at 2:30am today. The good news is I got back to sleep, so well continue to work.

One of the reasons that lawmakers have gotten so far in just three days is because theres been absolutely no partisan bickering.

But nothing is a done deal yet. Danger still lurks in the air as Insurance Lobbyists try to derail some of the changes being sought. And for lawmakers who might get cold feet, the governor had this warning.

I just want to encourage them to keep working and dont let up because people back home when they go home are gonna tell them what they think. And they wont forget what they did here. They will remember what happened here this week for a long time.

A final vote on a compromise is scheduled for Monday. All lawmakers have to do between now and then is agree.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

State Ready to Assume Risk ?

January 17th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers are into day two of their special session trying to find ways to lower your home insurance bill. The House and Senate passed different bills this afternoon, but as Mike Vasilinda reports…under either version of the reform, the state will be assuming more risk when storms come.

Here it Here: state-ready-to-assume-risk.mp3
For the second day in a row, angry insurance customers… this time from South Florida flooded the Capitol. The governor says their presence is keeping the pressure on.

Slowly and methodically The House and Senate began passing different versions of insurance reform. The biggest argument will be over how much risk the state should bear. The Senate plan, sponsored by Steve Geller, would have the state pay for losses over 25 Billion.

Im willing to take the risk of 100 1 storm and that we get no federal aid if I get an immediate one third reduction. says Geller.

Charlie Crist has been in the halls negotiating. While not specific, he is not troubled by the state or its citizens taking on more risk. Theyre on the hook now and we need to get them off the hook. They are suffering extraordinary rate increases.

Charlie Crist continues to say hell accept nothing short of significant rate relief and he now appears to be defining that as at least 25%. And the governor made it clear that legislative failure is not an option. I wouldnt want to be going back home if I were them. says Crist.

Negotiations on specifics… such as whether companies that sell auto must sell property coverage will start in earnest Thursday, when another batch of concerned homeowners will be descending on the capitol Thursday morning. This time, the buses will be coming from Brevard County.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Pruitt Seals the PSC Change

January 12th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Theres been a lot of grumbling behind the scenes today over the Governors replacement of Bush Public Service Commission appointee Ken Littlefield by Charlie Crist. Former colleague in the House are among the most upset. Some have even talked of the nominating commission filing suit to overturn the Crist appointments.

Then this afternoon comes a statement from Senate President Ken Pruitt supporting Crist in which the Senate President is quoted as saying We look forward to working with our Governor to ensure that his nominees are legally confirmed by the Florida Senate. Sounds like the matter is put to bed for once and all.

Here is the full text of the Pruitt release:

Statement by Senate President Ken Pruitt Regarding the
Governors Appointments to the Public Service Commission

Tallahassee, FL Senate President Ken Pruitt (R-Port St. Lucie) offered the following statement regarding the Governors Appointments to the Public Service Commission:
We applaud governor Crist for his selection of Philip Nowicki and Jeremy L. Susac to serve on the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC). These are two qualified applicants that the Florida Senate submitted to the Executive Branch following our PSC nominating process last fall. We look forward to working with our Governor to ensure that his nominees are legally confirmed by the Florida Senate.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Crist Forging Own Path

January 12th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Charlie Crist has been on the job less than two weeks, and he is already shaking up the Tallahassee establishment. The difference between Crist and predecessor Jeb Bush is being described as one of night and day, but as Mike Vasilinda reports, Crist will face the toughest challenge of his administration next week.

Hear it here: New Day in Tally

On January 6, 1999, Jeb Bushs first day on the job, The Governor violated the constitution when he met privately with legislative leaders.
On Charlie Crists first day, he signed an executive order creating an office of open government with the words Now its done Barbara Peterson of the First Amendment Foundation is as pleased as she can be. I find it so exciting and really heartening. Its been the last few years have been really, really repressing in the area of open government.

On Tuesday fo this week, Jeb Bush appointee Ken Littlefield was sworn in as a Public Service Commissioner. When he was in the legislature, Littlefield had spoken out for the largest phone rate hike in state history.. a rate hike which Crist Opposed.

On Thursday, the new governor won praise from consumer groups for a controversial move replacing Littlefield and another Bush appointee. Mike twomey of AARP says the move restores balance to the PSC. In the past we have often had utility bias and anti-consumer bias. These changes announced by Governor Crist yesterday will bring us more toward the middle says Twomey.

For many people, the difference between Governor Bush and the current occupant has been like night and day for the past two weeks but Charlie Crist is about to face the toughest challenge of the last decade.

Next week, state lawmakers tackle a growing Insurance crisis. The new governor remains optimistic.

Another major player from the Bush administration turned in his notice today. Education Commissioner John Winn says hell retire from state government at the end of February. Technically, Winn is appointed by the state Board of Education and Crist did not have the authority to fire him outright.

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Crist Names Two to PSC

January 11th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Poor Ken Littlefield. Sworn in as a PSC Commissioner on Tuesday, looking for a job on Thursday. Likewise for Isilio Arriaga. Both were given the boot by the governor on Wednesday. Late Thursday he named two proven consumer advocates to the post. Phil Nowicki and Jeremy L. Susac will face Senate confirmation.

Norwicki has been working in Georgia enforcing the lemon law. He did great work here in Florida doing the same job. Susac currently works for the PSC. Heres the release from the Governors Office:

Crist Appoints Two to Public Service Commission

TALLAHASSEE Governor Charlie Crist today appointed Philip Nowicki and Jeremy L. Susac to serve as commissioners with the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC).

Philips vast experience in consumer services makes him a great addition to the commission, said Governor Crist. He was on the ground level of establishing Floridas Lemon Law, and has also served in leadership roles in state government before heading Georgias Lemon Law Division.

Nowicki has administered the Lemon Law Division for the Georgia Governors Office of Consumer Affairs since July 2002. He previously served as the director of consumer affairs for the Georgia Public Service Commission. Nowicki has 30 years of experience working in consumer services, including working as the division director for Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes in the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and executive director of the Lemon Law Arbitration Program for the Florida Office of the Attorney General. He graduated from the University of Georgia, Florida International University and Syracuse University.

It is an honor to be asked by Governor Crist to serve on this commission, said Nowicki. Its great to once again work to help the people of Florida.

Jeremy brings to the commission hands-on experience in alternative dispute resolution, such as binding arbitration and mediation, said Governor Crist. I am confident that he will thoughtfully handle the complex policy issues facing the Public Service Commission.

Susac has served with the Public Service Commission since August 2003, first as a senior attorney, and most recently as chief policy advisor to Commissioner Katrina J. Tew. Previously, he worked as an associate attorney for Merani and Associates and as a contract attorney for Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper and Scinto, both in New York City. He graduated from the University of Florida and New York Law School.

It has been an honor to serve the people of Florida in my current role with the commission, said Susac. I look forward to continuing to advocate for Floridas consumers.

The Florida Public Service Commission regulates utilities to ensure that Florida’s consumers receive electric, natural gas, telephone, water and wastewater in a safe, affordable and reliable manner. The PSC exercises regulatory authority over rate regulation; competitive market oversight and monitoring of safety, reliability and service.

I am delighted that Governor Crist has chosen two new commissioners with demonstrated consumer sensitivity. This is a great day for Florida consumers! said Harold McLean, Florida Public Counsel.

Governor Crist has scored yet another touchdown for Floridas consumers! I know Mr. Susac to be a knowledgeable, fair-minded individual who will work hard for Floridas consumers. Additionally, Mr. Nowickis resume reflects both solid utility regulatory experience and, importantly, a long history of representing consumer interests, said consumer advocate Mike Twomey.

# # #

Posted in State News | 5 Comments »

Endangered vs Threatened

January 10th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Tomorrow is the deadline for the public to comment on the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions plans to downgrade the status of the manatee from endangered to threatened. Kip Frohlich of the agency says the differences between the classifications are subtle.

<>

Our species definitions for endangered is a species thats in imminent risk of extinction. Imminent. Now, threatened is actually described as it has a high risk of extinction over time. So thats the difference. Theyre both at risk of extinction, but the manatee the biologists that studied the manatees life history have found that its not in imminent danger of extinction.

<>
More than 600 people have commented on the change so far. There is no
timetable for adopting the change.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

McDonough Keeps Corrections

January 10th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Charlie Crist today reappointed Jim Mc Donough to run the state prison system. The former drug czar and Army colonel took over the agency last year amid scandal. He has instituted tougher ethics and physical fitness requirements for employees. Mc Donough is one of only two Bush holdovers. Under Jeb Bush, he inherited a faith based prison initiative . Mc Donough says the faith based prisons are being studied to see if they will continue.

They, of course, are related to getting the recidivism rates down. At the same time were doing that, were doing more on the education more on the vocational training more on substance abuse treatment. So its the entire package that we

Florida has three faith based prison facilities.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Record Manatee Deaths and Changing Protection

January 10th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

2006 was a record year for Manatee deaths. The news comes on the eve of a deadline for people to comment on a Manatee management plan that down grades the Sea Cows status from Endangered to Threatened, and as Mike Vasilinda reports, the downgrade has Manatee supporters concerned.

Hear it here: Record Manatee Deaths

Last year saw a record 416 manatee deaths. The news comes a day before comments are due on a plan that would change the manatees status from endangered to threatened. Kip Frohlich of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission expects the new management plan to be adopted.

You know, if thats not good news. We would like to try and keep the death toll lower. However, this plan is very forward looking and looks over a long period of time says Frohlich.

As written, the new plan would be a success if it keeps the manatee population from declining by 30%. The Ocean Conservancy objects. Groups like Save the Manatee worry that by going from endangered to threatened, the dialogue will change and that most people will be less concerned about saving the sea cow.

The highest number of manatee fatalities are occurring in southwest Florida. Boat makers and dock builders there have been fighting for a change because they say regulations hamper development. Before becoming Lt. Governor, Jeff Kottcamp represented the area in the legislature. Kottcamp says there needs to be give and take.

We are always trying to strike that balance because its a state where people want access to the waterways. At the same time, we want to protect our environment.
Says the Lt. Governor.

As for Governor Charlie Crist, hes against fewer protections for the Manatee
That doesnt make a lot of sense to me. Says Crist, but when asked about a change in classification he responded I havent really looked at it.
So a change in status is something he might support.

The management plan could take months of study before being adopted, and no matter what the plan says, it will take money and effort to keep the Manatee from danger

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

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