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Drought Hitting Farmers in Pocketbook

May 31st, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

2007 is poised to be the driest year on record. Rainfall across north Florida is more than 13 inches below normal. Many farmers are foregoing planting crops until it rains, and as Mike Vasilinda reports, those who have planted corn or other crops face big losses.

The earth is cracked at what used to be the bottom of this livestock pond. Fields are dry and there is little if any grass left for cattle to eat. Some fields have been plowed, but farmers are waiting for rain before sowing cotton, peanuts or soy. Agricultural official Patricia Sorensen says the clock is running out on this planting season.

On corn, I think its too late to plant. Soybeans and peanuts, I dont think its too late.. or cotton but the time is running out. This corn is dying. And in fields like this where theres no irrigation, if it doesnt rain soon, this corn is going to be gone.

Today was the deadline for planting peanuts. The clock runs out on Cotton June 10th,
Soybeans – June 15 and Grain Sorghum, around June 10th in Jefferson County.

Mac Finlayson is a sixth generation farmer. This is the driest hes ever seen it.
Its rough right now. Were looking for some rain at the end of the tunnel instead of some light

Mac is feeding his cattle expensive and hard to find hay. Grass that his cattle would normally be eating at this time of year is non existent. Our expenses are probably up 50% for this time of year over what they would be in a normal year.

The higher costs mean smaller profits and eventually, smaller crop yields could raise prices at the supermarket, but for now, the impact will be mostly felt in the local economy.

Timber farmers across North Florida are also afraid the drought will aggravate the wildfire season and wipe out a crop that takes years to grow.

Posted in Business, Environment, Health, State News | No Comments »

FSU to be First to Require Heath Insurance

May 29th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Beginning this fall, every new freshman at Florida State will be required to have health insurance. Students who dont will have to buy a 14 hundred and 40 dollar a year policy before being admitted, as Mike Vasilinda tells us existing students will be grand fathered in, but the goal is for everyone to be insured.

Hear it here: Collegiate Coverage

When school starts August 24th, FSU will be the first and only public university in Florida to require all incoming freshmen and transfer students to have health insurance. Mary Colburn, the Vice President for Student Affairs says the goal is to eventually have everyone covered. They think they are invincible and nothing will ever happen to them theyre not going to get ill. So the example of an accident is the best one. This student was just riding his bicycle to class and ended up having 30 thousand dollars plus of hospital cost.

FSU says only those students who really need insurance because they are sick are the ones buying it, driving up losses and making the cost prohibitive. FSU estimates that 10 percent of the incoming freshmen dont have health insurance but for grad students, that number goes to almost one in three.

Senior Alexis Alvarez of West Palm Beach is one of those ten percent. You do not have health insurance? we asked. No.

So we asked How do you I saw you coming out of the health center. How do you deal with medical expenses? Alexis responded. I hope not to get sick (laughter) and then if I do call daddy.

And like tuition, not everyone wants to be paying higher fees, including Phillip Weems of St. Petersburg Shouldnt that be a personal decision for the student?, he asked.

Officials say the insurance requirement will help keep kids on their medications and prevent high medical bills from forcing some to drop out. The newly required policies will sell for 14 hundred and forty dollars and can be paid for with student aid or loans. A task force is meeting this week and may recommend the mandatory insurance requirement be adopted by all of the state universities.

Posted in Business, Education, Health, Insurance, State News | 3 Comments »

Family Gets Apology and a Check

May 23rd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The family of a 14 year old who died after being roughed up in a boot camp will receive five million dollars from the state. Governor Charlie Crist today signed the bill approving payment, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the death has brought about major changes in the Juvenile Justice arena.

Hear it here: Anderson Bill Signing

The day NASA enhanced video became publicshowing even more clearly how badly 14 year old Martin Lee Anderson was roughed up by his jailors, all while a nurse stood by Charlie Crist had had enough. He met with the parents and brokered a 5 million dollar settlement. Its simply the right thing to do. You know, enough is enough. Crist said on March 14th.

Crist and Martins parents prodded lawmakers, and fought back attempts to cut the amount. With the stroke of his pen, the governor made the settlement a reality. And it came with an apology. We will never know what you have endured and what youve had to go through and we are so sorry for your loss. Crist told Gina Jones and Robert Anderson just before signing the claims bill. Robert responded So I want to pay homage to God on this day and I want to personally thank Charlie Crist.

The family had little to say except to thank the governor. Afterwards, their attorney, Ben Crump, spoke for them. Were happy that it ended today with this good visit this is sending a message to the future for the young people of the state of Florida.

More than anything, this settlement is a testament to a mother who just wouldnt accept the official version that her sons death was unavoidable. And everyone involved with the settlement hopes that a message that brutality by officers carries a hefty price tag.
As a result of Andersons death, boot camps as they existed at the time have been closed.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

School Age Families Fleeing State

May 18th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

For the first time in the states history, the actual number of children in public schools this past year will be down from the year before. New data released today at the Tax and Budget Reform Commission shows fewer families with children are moving to Florida and as Mike Vasilinda reports, more families with kids are leaving the state.

Hear it here: Family Unfriendly

Fewer families with school aged children are coming to Florida. Those with kids are leaving in droves, and young adults are either delaying starting a family or they are also leaving. The high cost of housing is getting the most blame. High property taxes and insurance rank right up there as well. Researcher Amy Baker told a state budget committee that they dont yet know how permanent the trend will be.

We dont have proof yet as to why we were looking at several economic factors. says Baker.

Forecasters thought 48 thousand new children would enroll in Florida schools last September. Just 477 new kids did. With all the kids that have left since fall, this is expected to be the first year there are fewer kids in school now than there were a year ago.

Alan Levine runs a south Florida hospital. He says keeping staff who have families is difficult. The problem theyre having is the cost of living, property taxes, insurance, the value of their home. In many cases, the reason a lot of em arent leaving is the cost of their house.

Forecasters still expect Florida to grow, but at only half the rate of the last few decades. They say in 2010, Florida will surpass New York to become the third largest state.

Florida lawmakers passed an insurance reform bill in January and they meet in special
session next month to deal with the high cost of property taxes but theres not much they can do about the high cost of housing.

Posted in Children, Education, Insurance, Property Taxes, State News | No Comments »

Firefighters Gain Ground

May 17th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

11 days and 120 thousand charred acres later, the giant Bugaboo fire in North Florida is 65% contained tonight. Mike Vasilinda went into the site today and tells us firefighters are taking a crucial step to get the blaze under control.

Hear it here: Bugaboo update

Deep in an inaccessible bay to the right of this road, the Bugaboo fire is burning out of control. The response from firefighters: a controlled burn designed to rob the flames of any more fuel.
At the same time, air tankers are waging a relentless battle to keep the other side of the road from burning. Steve Ripley of the state Forest Service says success here is crucial.

So were actually doing a prescribed burn around this bay, so that as it throws chunks of flaming material into the air, it cant get away from us. says Ripley.

Tanker after tanker worked to dampen the unburned area and keep it from igniting.
While most of this ground vegetation is all burnt, firefighters are worried about all these trees that are still standing. Theyre worried that theyll provide fuel is the fire jumps the line.

At a morning briefing, a few raindrops fell but firefighters had much bigger hopes. Bugaboo has also earned a dubious distinction, says Jim Caldwell of the Forestry Service. We have dropped more water, water retardant in Florida than ever before. This will continue because it is helping a great deal.

After burning 11 days, firefighters say it will take at least another 11 days if not longer to mop up the scene. 730 homes are under evacuation orders near the Bugaboo wildfire and more evacuations are possible but so far no homes have been lost to the huge wildfire.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Tuition Hike Still Up in the Air

May 15th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

College students at the states three largest Universities ( FSU, UF, and USF) could find them selves paying up to ten percent more next year. State lawmakers have sent two different tuition hikes to the Governor, but as Mike Vasilinda reports, the governor is appears to be leaning against allowing the hikes.

Hear it here: Tuition Hike

Students at FSU, USF and Florida could face a double whammy. Lawmakers passed a 221 dollar tuition differential for the three schools. Thats on top of a five percent tuition hike for every university and community college.

The governor says hes hearing plenty from the university community. Ive been lobbied on issues before but this is ridiculous, Crist told reporters during a briefing Tuesday.

At FSU, reaction was mixed. Students facing tough times already hate it.
It sucks. I have a hard time paying tuition as it is. I really cant afford it. I dont like it. are just some of the random reactions.

Under the plan, students with prepaid college tuition wont have to pay the higher fee but Bright Futures students will. The tuition differential is supposed to be used to hire more professors, advisors, and generally improve the caliber of education. That strikes some, like student Jeremy Duff of Pensacola, as a good thing. We should be charging more just so that well have more money to better the university so it is top-notch.

And parents Like Chris Roden visiting for orientation from Port St. Lucie say it could do more to make students safer. I mean, when you look at the police department here and its staffed at 62 or 65 and they should be at 80 or 85 then yeah, we should do something about that.

A decision from the governor is still several weeks away. Governor Crist says he doesnt want prices to go up but he hasnt ruled it out.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Education, Legislature, State News | 1 Comment »

Go Figure. Government Acting Like a Business

May 14th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Heres a novel idea: A government agency that actually treats citizens like it wants their business. Starting today, Drivers License offices are open on Monday the first time thats happened in more than 16 years. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the agency has more time saving ideas in the works as well.

Hear it here: Manic Monday at DMV

Adam Kirkland walked through the door of this Drivers License office without a problem. I normally come here at the end of the week, so I was just taking a chance that it would be open today and it was, so its a good thing. Kirkland told us.

Dealing with millions of drivers has always been a challenge for the agency. Long lines still persist in some parts of the state. For the last 16 years, someone showing up here on a Monday would have found this door locked. Not today.

After a lengthy study, new managers found that very few people came in early in the morning or in the evening, so instead of being only open four weekdays….the license bureaus are now open all five and managers are hoping that makes getting a license easier and quicker. A whole additional eight hours is gonna help the lines and the numbers coming through both from an appointment standpoint and walk-ins. says Executive Director Electra Theodolites-Bustle.

The driver license offices still have some way to go before they are completely customer friendly. For one thing, it still doesnt take credit or debit cards. But managers say that change is also coming.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Homes Lost to Wildfire

May 9th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Dozens of panhandle residents are still out of their homes tonight in south Walton County. 3 homes were destroyed and perhaps a dozen more suffered damage when a freak wildfire started late Tuesday afternoon in Seagrove Beach. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, officials are still trying to figure out what happened.

Hear it here: Seagrove Beach Fires

18 hours after the fire began, first responders were still dousing one of three homes consumed by flames that claimed some houses but spared others. Michelle Edwards was one of the lucky ones. Were ok we got pretty lucky. Just some smoke damage on the inside and water damage from where they wet everything down. says Edwards.

Pristine homes surrounded by charred trees serve as a vivid reminder of how narrowly disaster was averted. Bill Ingram says his prayers were answered. I mean, its a miracle it really is a miracle. The firemen said that the flames were shooting 60 feet in the air when they drove up to this place. They said that these shouldnt be standing.

Some renters in this resort area were forced to move elsewhere. Sean Hughes, the Deputy Chief for the South Walton Fire Department says if it wasnt for residents helping out, damage would have been even more widespread. You know, the garden hose was going helping the guys directing the guys in. As we were rolling in, the smoke conditions were you couldnt even see the whole subdivision, so they were kind of directing out guys in you know this house is on fire, this one is gonna be next kind of thing. says Hughes.

These charred home sites are proof that trying to live in a naturally wooded area isnt always a good idea. State disaster planners have issued what they call a red flag warning for the eastern panhandle because of high winds and low humidity.

Posted in Charlie Crist, McCollum, State News | 2 Comments »

Session Ending Blues

May 7th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

With property tax reform on hold at the state capitol the final day of the 2007 legislative session is relatively quite. By the end of the day, some 300 bills are likely to have passed. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, many wont have any effect on your life but some will.

Children in elementary school will now have 2 hours of physical education each week, College students wont have to pay a sales tax on textbooks, but they might see a tuition hike unless the governor vetoes it. On the final day, the hallways at the state capitol were not as crammed with lobbyists as years past. Still, several high profile bills remained to the final hour.

Not only did lawmakers fail to lower property taxes, they actually increased them.The new budget requires local school boards to raise property taxes by 545 million dollars. Minority Leader Dan Gelber calls that the irony of this session.And we have put on the backs and the shoulders of homeowners an incredible education burden and we have just walked away from here.

Charlie Crist got his way more often than not. Expensive touch screen voting machines will go to the scrap heap in favor of reliable optical scan machines that have a paper trail, and the state will have one of the first presidential primaries in the nation.
Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster says even without property tax relief, the session was a success. Success is not based on how many laws you pass. Its how you get them.

The legislative break is short. Lawmakers are due back June 12th when the only thing on the agenda will be property tax relief.

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

Video Voyeurism Penalties Under Attack

May 3rd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Enacting Tougher penalties for voyeurs who plant cameras in unsuspecting places such as a girls high school locker room could be in trouble in Tallahassee. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the problem is that two high profile and very powerful groups are knocking heads over who should be held responsible.

Tough penalties for video voyeurs became an issue after a high school swim coach got caught with a camera in the girls locker room. What seems like a no-brainer has gotten very complicated at the state capitol. Thats because Floridas big retailers are asking for an amendment that would have given them blanket immunity from civil liability if someone who works for them got caught with a camera where it shouldnt be..

Sponsor Dave Aronberg is puzzled. Theres an amendment filed that would have given some protection to the business community in case there were an innocent victim of a voyeuristic act. Now, of course, if they had an employee who committed it. If they should have known there was a camera installed without their knowledge, then they would have still been liable.

The retailers demand threatens to doom the tougher penalties this year. Floridas trial lawyers are on the other side of this battle and theyre not giving an inch.

Attorney gary Farmer says it is a matter of fairness. If theres civil immunity, theres no incentive for Bealls or any other business out there to do checks to make sure that this type of activity is not going on. The criminal is going to get prosecuted, but the business that allowed this to happen would escape scott-free.

But even if tougher penalties singling out teachers and those who prey on minors fails this year, the law against shoving cameras under dressing room doors and other places they dont belong will stay in place. The video voyeur bill passed the senate today by a vote of 39 0. The House has one day to act before the end of the session.

Posted in Business, Criminal Justice, Legislature, Politics, State News | 2 Comments »

Property Tax Relief Punted..for Now

May 2nd, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Instead of dropping property taxes Like a Rock as the Governor suggested, state lawmakers have found the issue to complex and are dropping it like a hot potato until next month. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, disagreement and the logistics of putting something so complicated on paper will bring lawmakers back to the Capitol in early June.

Hear it here: Tax Plan Punted

Just before lunch, Senate President Ken Pruitt told his colleagues that property tax negotiators had thrown in the towel. Were going to suspend negotiations on the property tax bill. The issue is too important to our state and for our taxpayers for us to give them a product they would not be proud of. said Pruitt.

Negotiator Dan Webster said even if they had reached agreement, putting it to paper was too daunting in the two days left. And even if we could have come to terms, no matter what we agreed on, what we came to terms on could never have been put on paper.

Instead of rushing a solution by Friday, lawmakers will work informally over the four weeks off. Legislative leaders say they should be able to vote on something the day they come back June 5th, but just in case, theyve given themselves 10 days.

Even with the delay, the House Speaker Marco Rubio says when it comes to lowering taxes, he is more optimistic than ever. Were not there yet, so I dont want to get over-confident. But I but yet very optimistic that we see a big, massive tax cut.

So far being optimistic hasnt led to any concrete savings for taxpayers. But public pressure is so great, the powers that be know they time is limited before voters take matters into their own hands with a petition drive.

While lawmakers are giving up on the tax issue for now, they havent given up on the 2007 session. They have two more days of meetings and hundreds of bills waiting for a vote

Posted in Amendments, Legislature, Politics, Property Taxes, State News | No Comments »

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