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National Cat Fund Pushed By Crist

February 27th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Charlie Crist spent the weekend at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington pushing the idea of a national catastrophic fund. The Governor met with President Bush and the speaker of the house as well as Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. As Mike Vasilinda reports, it is the first time a Florida governor has asked the president to push for such a fund.

Hear it here: CAT Fund

During his 8 years as Governor, Jeb Bush never personally talked to his brother, the President about a nation catastrophic fund to cover large scale disasters. Charlie Crist brought the topic up again and again over the weekend while in Washington. “Whether its earthquakes in California or tornadoes in Arkansas or blizzards in New York State… whatever it might be, everybody has a vested interest in this I think.” says Crist.

A national cat fund would cover large disasters and make insurance more affordable to average consumers by making reinsurance less expensive to insurance companies. Crist also pushed and got a resolution for the cat fund from the Southern Governors Association on Sunday. CFO Alex Sink says it is a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s something we have to keep working on. We can’t just go and make one trip to Washington and get the door slammed in our face as we have in the past.”

Unfortunately for some homeowners, insurance rate increases are showing up in their mailboxes. But Charlie Crist says hold on: relief is on the way.

“Some of the increases that people may see in their mailboxes probably were approved prior to the special session or at least prior to the cabinet ruling that was to freeze the rates.” says Crist.

The governor says the national fund is crucial to making insurance affordable.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Insurance, State News | No Comments »

Soldier Tribute

February 27th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

     The governor and cabinet are paying tribute to an Army Sergeant and his wife who helped rescue a teenage boy in Iraq.

     Master Sergeant Dan Hendrex is a 16 year Army veteran who did two tours of duty in Iraq. He’s also the author of A Soldier’s Promise, a critically acclaimed book documenting his relationship with a 13-year-old Iraqi boy who received political asylum and now lives in the U.S.


     “When it was found out that when he had helped us, his family was targeted, he was targeted for death. And so when he lived with us, weeks turned to months and over a four month period is where it became personal. Because at the end of the day, he’s still a young boy, 14 years old… 13 going on 14 at the time and this is where all the cultural issues start coming in. You get to know him personally,” he said. 

     Hendrex and his wife will be at Florida State University tomorrow to speak with students and receive the “Sprit of Pepper” award for their humanitarian service. The award is named in honor of the late Florida congressman Claude Pepper, who was a champion of senior citizens and human rights.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Execution Report Due Thursday

February 26th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

A panel reviewing what went wrong with the December execution of Angel Diaz is expected to recommend only minor changes when it issues its report later this week. As Mike Vasilinda Reports, the Governor’s Commission on the Administration of Lethal Injection has also concluded the condemned man did not suffer.

Angel Diaz was the 20th person executed by lethal injection in Florida. His December execution took almost twice as long as previous executions. Rodney Doss represents the Attorney General on the panel studying what… if anything… went wrong.

“I think that there was a deviation from the established protocol which may have led to the prolonged execution, and by that I mean a 34 minute execution as opposed to three, to five or six minutes, “ Doss says.

During the review, the panel heard the disguised audio testimony from the executioner.
Who told the panel in an eerily disguised voice “I’ve participated in approximately 84 executions. I serve as a resource in five states.”

Published reports suggest Diaz may have felt pain. The panel says it doesn’t think so… but admits it has no way of knowing. During an execution, sound from the death chamber is turned off so witnesses don’t know what’s being said in the room. The ACLU’s Larry Spalding says one way to have better answers in the future is to make the process more open.

“We don’t know what happened to Angel Diaz. If the press had greater access, the questions they can’t answer may have been answered.”

The panel will recommend better written procedures for future executions… it will not indict the execution process. The final report from the lethal injection commission is due on the governor’s desk by Thursday .

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

The Weird Continues in Smith Case

February 23rd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The news just keeps getting weird. A news release arrived this afternoon telling reporters to disregard a phony order from a Los Angeles Court.

Read it here.

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

Tax Plan Reaction Swift

February 22nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Many in Tallahassee are questioning if the Tax Reform plan announced yesterday by state House leaders is serious. The plan completely eliminates property taxes for homesteads, but raises the sales tax for everyone. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, advocates for the poor are hoping the dialog is just beginning.

Hear it here:Tax Plan Concerns

A group of retirees from the Villages in Central Florida spent the day touring the state capitol. They don’t know much about the latest plan to ease property taxes. They are willing to listen, but Carol Strutz has some concerns about paying higher sales taxes.

“I’ll tell you what it did in Canada for us. We didn’t buy anything because their sales tax is 25%. So I think as far as tourists are concerned, it’s going to discourage them from buying anything in Florida.”

To lower property taxes, the plan raises the sales tax by two and a half cents. That would mean higher gas prices. So while no one at the capitol says they’re opposed to lower property taxes, many have concerns. Some businesses could end up paying more of the burden after an initial roll back. Democrat Jack Seiler wants more discussion.

“I would like to see a review of all sales tax exemptions. I think it ought to be part of the proposal. Secondly, I’d like to see us look at sales on the internet.” says Seiler.

And the have-nots… say social service workers like Karen Woodall will get hit the hardest “Who are the losers under the plan?” she was asked. “Well, I thing that the entire state of Florida would be losers under this plan.” says Woodall.

The full plan is yet to be reduced to writing, but initially it appears that anyone who depends on property taxes, such as water management districts or large public hospitals, will also suffer if the plan is enacted as explained.

The legislature convenes in less than two weeks and the property tax is expected to the dominant issue of the two month session.

Posted in Legislature, Politics, Property Taxes, State News | 1 Comment »

Machine Shopping

February 22nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Two new electronic voting machines, both with paper print outs, were on display at the state capitol today. The machines have yet to be certified, but even if they are, they are likely only going to be used for early voting in large counties and for the disabled. Florida’s new Secretary of State, Kurt Browning, says he is committed to making sure lawmakers approve 32 million dollars to replace electronic machines with optical scan machines in 15 counties. Browning also says if not for the debacle in Sarasota’s congressional race where 18 thousand votes were unaccounted for, the conversation would be different.

“They’re defining events… and yes, it was almost the catalyst that just pushed us further down that continuum that said ‘you know what? We need to give serious thought to this.’ I think if Sarasota County had not happened, I’m not certain that we’d be sitting here today with the legislature saying we need to change voting systems throughout Florida in those 15 counties.” says the Secretary of State.

While Browning was a big supporter of electronic machines while he was the Pasco County Supervisor of Elections, he says public perception makes them obsolete, even if… as he believes… they work fine.

Posted in Legislature, State News, Voting | 1 Comment »

Kids Need More Care

February 22nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida democrats are pushing a new constitutional amendment that would
Say every child in Florida is entitled to heath care. In a bi-partisan move today, both Republicans and Democrats said the state needs to do more to reform the Kid Care program to make sure kids who need care are getting it. Mom Tammy Thompson told lawmakers her child has been denied help over bureaucratic snafus.

“It seems like when you send your application in, you wonder is anybody really looking at it? You have everything written on your form and then you start getting all these other letters in the mail and you’re like… well, did they not read my application? The process does need to be a lot smoother. I think people need to start reading the applications more carefully.”

State lawmakers like Loranne Ausley of tallahassee also say the state needs to do more to use federal money that is available to pay for thousands of eligible children.

“There is 140 million dollars that could have gone to cover children in the state of Florida that has gone to other states. We have 500,000 children in the state of Florida who are eligible for one of these programs and they’re not being reached. We have 140 million dollars that has gone back and we have 400 million dollars available now to cover these children.” says Ausley.

Because of the federal match, Florida pays just 21 cents of every KidCare dollar… but in the past, it has chosen not to match all of the federal funds available.

Posted in Health, Insurance, Legislature, State News | 2 Comments »

It’s a Buyers Market

February 15th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Single Family existing home sales in Florida dropped 28 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 compared to the same period a year earlier. Sales were absolutely horrible in the Lakeland Winer Haven area, down a whopping 56 percent. Next worst was Tampa, where sales were off 40%. Orlando, Naples, Ft. Walton, and Daytona all posted worse sales declines than the average. Surprisingly, Miami sales only fell one percent.

Statewide, the average sales price dropped by one percent, from $245,600 to $242,100. Ocala, Orlando, and Tampa St. Pete all saw a slight up tick in the price of a home.

Posted in Business, Insurance, State News | 1 Comment »

The Checks Are in the Mail…Soon

February 13th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The fruits of last month’s special Legislative session on insurance will soon be showing up in some mailboxes across the state. Customers of Citizens Insurance who have renewed their policies in January will be getting checks back. Others won’t see an increase. As Mike Vasilinda reports, the question of who gets what is ringing phones off the hook in Tallahassee.

Hear it here: Citizen Refunds

About ten thousand times a week. The phone rings at the Department of Financial Services. Call volume is up by almost 20 percent since January’s legislative session. Many of the callers want to know when they will see a refund as a result of changes in the law.

Tim Mosley says most callers have been decent. “What’s the mood of those people?”

“Well, the temperament is real good.”

Thousands of Citizens customers who have already renewed their policies will see checks this week or next. Citizens’ spokesman Rocky Scott says more will go out in mid March. “Well, a high risk account should be about a 20% cut. In the personal lines account, and that’s home insurance to you and me… everyone who doesn’t live along the coast… probably about 12%.”

If you haven’t already paid your Citizens renewable, there will be nothing in the mailbox for you right now. But when that notice does come, it won’t be any higher than it was last year.

Governor Charlie Crist says he is happy the checks are in the mail…and says “But what I’m more concerned about in the long term is the opportunity to lower rates across the board.”

In addition to the latest round of refund, policyholders are also dodging what would have been another 55 percent rate hike in April.

The battle over insurance is apparently just beginning. The Florida Insurance Council has filed a legal challenge to an emergency rule adopted by the cabinet that prevents private companies from canceling policies before the new insurance reform law takes effect.

Posted in Insurance, State News | 2 Comments »

Poll Finds Voters Want Property Tax Relief at Expense of Business

February 6th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

A new poll tonight says most Floridians agree with the governor’s call to double the homestead tax exemption, but they don’t think people should get a break on their taxes just because they have lived in Florida longer. Unlike the insurance crisis, as Mike Vasilinda reports, there will be no easy or quick fix from lawmakers.

Hear it here: Tax Relief

Property taxes keep the schools running… and police and firemen on the street. A plan to double the homestead exemption is favored by eight out of ten people. But Orlando would lose at least 5 million. Other big cities even more. The plan has all of the cities and counties worried, says John Wayne Smith of the Florida League of Cities
“We’re recognizing the property tax issue is broken in this state and needs to be fixed. We’re concerned, though, that some of the proposals might the ability of local governments to continue to do their job.”

Charlie Crist, who’s pushing the doubling of the exemption, has said it will be up to local governments to tighten their belts. Pollster Peter Brown of Quinnipiac University found most people believe that state government that is the most wasteful in Florida.
“Although they, you know, a lot of them think local government also doesn’t manage money well,” says Brown.

State Senator Steve Geller says the state has only itself to blame for the brewing revolt.
“We in Tallahassee cut taxes by mandating that local school boards increase theirs.”
Unlike insurance, which took just ten days, property tax reform is likely to consume all 60 days of the legislative session… and perhaps even more.

Voters also believe that businesses should pay higher taxes than homeowners… setting up an uncomfortable battle that lawmakers must referee. Voters will have to approve any change lawmakers come up with. That could happen in a special election as early as this summer, or it may have to wait for the November 2008 ballot.

Posted in Property Taxes, State News | 1 Comment »

Tornado Updates Continue

February 4th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

After three days on the ground in Central Florida, Governor Charlie Crist is back in the state Capitol tonight, but his mind is still on the tornados that claimed 20 lives. As Mike Vasilinda reports, the governor plans to be back in the area later this week.


The governor arrived back in Tallahassee at mid afternoon Sunday and went straight to the emergency operations center where he was briefed on the latest news. The first thing he heard from emergency manager Craig Fugate was that the wind from the three tornados that touched down far exceeded current building codes. “And these would be tornadoes that have wind speeds greater than a category five hurricane.”“So 165?” asked Crist.

The next stop was the fishbowl at the EOC itself, where as several hundred people have been working around the clock since Friday. Crist made a point to personally thank as many as possible. Fugate introduced the Governor to the people leading the recovery.
“She’s gonna lead our recovery efforts. She’s getting all our teams together. She’s gonna match up to our federal partners down there.”


“And then Marsha’s gonna go down and she’s gonna move down there for the next couple months, whatever it takes to do this.”

Acknowledging many are tired, the governor implored them not to slack off. “This is not about getting some piece of paper across your desk in a timely fashion. This is about getting aid and support to somebody down there who is counting on us.” Crist told the crowd.

Afterwards he told reporters he had never seen such damage and such cooperation. “With the FEMA Director coming down and approving, Rick, you know, the federal funding through the president yesterday within record time… uh, the local officials… they’re the real heroes.”

The governor cancelled a trip to the Superbowl and will instead watch at least part of the game with firefighters in Tallahassee. Governor Crist says he plans to return to the scene of the disaster on Tuesday to assess the state’s response and recovery efforts.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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