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No Hurricanes In 2007, No Insurance Relief For Owners

November 30th, 2007 by flanews

For the second year in a row, Florida avoided a big hurricane hit. But homeowners continue to pay high insurance rates, despite lawmakers’ efforts and the governors promise of rates dropping like a rock. As Chris Casquejo tells us, the insurance industry is not banking on another quiet hurricane season next year.

Here it here: No Hurricanes In 2007, No Insurance Relief For Homeowners

State emergency response team leaders breathed a sigh of relief as they closed the book on another hurricane season with no damage. The last two years were a big change from 2004 and 2005, when insurers paid $36 billion in claims and homeowners saw premiums double and triple. Now, state leaders are asking where is the relief?

These prices have to reflect the reality,” said Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. “Not just these models that are based on Armageddon, or some other, I dont know what theyre based on.

State meteorologists say Florida lucked out this year. High pressure forced Category 5 Hurricanes Dean and Felix further south. They slammed into Mexico and Nicaragua instead of Florida.

Homeowners insurance companies will make more than $3 billion this year. But they say those profits wont offset the couple of years they spent deep in the red.

Sam Miller is with the Florida Insurance Council.
He blames re-insurance costs. They went up on average 76 percent in 2005. But Miller says re-insurers have lowered rates from 10 to 15 percent this year.

When private reinsurance rates go up, the rates we have to charge consumers go up,” Miller said. “When private reinsurance go down, the rates we charge consumers go down.

And the insurance industry believes Floridians cant bank on another quiet hurricane season in 2008.

Later this month, several insurance companies will appear before state regulators to answer possible collusion charges.

Posted in Hurricane Season, Insurance, State News | 3 Comments »

Hurricane Season Ends

November 30th, 2007 by flanews

Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp and state emergency response team leaders marked the official end of the 2007 hurricane season. For the second straight year, Florida avoided a direct hit. Meteorologists say the state was lucky, because high pressure systems forced Category 5 Hurricanes Dean and Felix further south. But with two quiet seasons in a row, state leaders want to remind Floridians to stay prepared and not forget what happened in 2004 and 2005

Its still fresh in the minds of a lot of people,” said Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. “And I think that because of the work done by this amazing emergency response team to keep people prepared and continually pressing to have a family plan, we see a far greater level of preparedness and understanding of how quick this could happen and how significant it is.

The state emergency response team wants to remind people that the end of hurricane season is the start of wildfire season, and to also prepare accordingly.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Property Tax Swap Plan Floated

November 30th, 2007 by flanews

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission is considering a plan that would exchange some property taxes for a temporary hike in the sales tax. The proposal from member Carlos Lacasa would give very homeowner a tax exemption worth half of their property’s market value. The state’s six-cent sales tax would increase by a penny. The commission is also floating other ideas.

Whether we want to introduce a proposal for numbering into the full commission on sales tax enclusions,” said chairwoman Susan Story. “And the second piece will be some property tax issues, like portability, highest and best use.

Last month Former Senate President John McKay proposed doing away with some of the property taxes that pay for education. He wants replace the money by getting rid of existing tax exemptions and placing a sales tax on professional services.

Posted in Property Taxes, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

Local Government Investment Blues

November 30th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of Local Governments, including many school boards, cant touch their cash reserves for the second day in a row. The State Board of Administration froze a state investment account yesterday after panicked local governments withdrew large cash reserves, threatening the solvency of the fund. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, at least one county had to cancel payments to vendors to make its payroll today.

Hear it here: Local Government Investment Blues

It was business as usual in Derrick Martins 8th and 9th grade Jefferson County math class. But Martin almost didnt get a paycheck Friday. Jefferson is just one of hundreds of local governments with money invested in a state operated account. The fund was frozen Thursday after a 1920’s-style run on the bank. The small county had to scramble to make payroll.

I had almost a million-dollar pay roll today, Jefferson County Schools CFO Hal Wilson said. The only way I could meet that payroll was to stop payment on checks issued to vendors.

The way the fund works is that counties empty their checking accounts every night. And then when they need to pay bills they call up the fund by eleven in the morning and the money is back in the account by two that afternoon.

Fears over sub prime mortgage investments caused local governments to withdraw more than half the fund’s value over the last month. If the withdrawals hadnt been frozen, there wouldnt have been enough cash to pay everyone.

Jefferson County High School Principal Juliette Jackson says no one panicked.

Now, we know that its probably going to cause some implications later, Jackson said.

A meeting Tuesday will decide the next step. It cant come soon enough for the Jefferson County School System, which just wants the 4. 3 million it has in the fund.

But more withdrawals could sink the fund, causing widespread losses…and almost guaranteeing that Derrick Martin wont get his next paycheck.

A consulting firm was being hired late Friday to make recommendations. Counties with cash in the fund were invited to participate in a conference call to raise their concerns to the state.

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

Oystermen Meet With Gov. Crist

November 29th, 2007 by flanews

More than a dozen oystermen met with Governor Charlie Crist at the state capitol. Pointing to maps and explaining how a reduced flow from the Apalachicola River is already hurting the oyster crop, the group is looking for the Governor to stand up for them when he meets with the governors of Alabama and Georgia over the water flow issue next week. Crist told them he hears what they are saying.

“We’re gonna fight for you,” the governor said. “We’re going to make sure that we protect the water that we have a right to have, and that you truly deserve and that your families depend upon. I get it. I understand.”

State Representative Will Kendrick represents Franklin County in the state legislature. He wants the Governor to tell our neighboring states to start looking further ahead so water isnt short before action is taken before the water runs out.

“It’s not been that big of an issue here in North Florida, but across the state we’ve already put our money where our mouth is,” Kendrick said. “So, I just hope we would see those other states step up to the plate and institute some conservation measures and not just 30 or 60 days ago realize you’ve only got a 90 to 120 day supply of water and all of a sudden want to cut off the gap.”

Crist also told the oyster delegation he looks forward to hearing more from the community before his Dec. 11 meeting with governors Purdue and Reilly.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Property Tax Cut Fight Heating Up

November 29th, 2007 by flanews

Voters will head to the polls in exactly two months to decide whether to change Floridas property tax law. Groups in favor of an amendment to cut property taxes could spend anywhere from $5 million to $15 million on their campaign. But as Chris Casquejo tells us, educators are gearing up for a fierce fight.

Hear it here: Property Tax Cut Fight Heating Up

Public library leaders are upset. They say theyre already doing more with less. They worry there will be less money for books if voters approve a property tax cut in January. Educators also fear schools will lose big, and are finalizing a campaign against the amendment.

Florida will continue to be falling further behind other states in comparisons of school funding,” said Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association. “And it will be making it much harder for us to keep and recruit the best teachers.

The plan would allow homeowners to take their Save Our Homes benefits when they move. It also doubles the homestead exemption.

Under the amendment, business and other non-homestead property owners would have their annual property tax increases limited to 10 percent.

Business interest groups believe the amendment does not help enough. But theyre willing to get behind it and spend accordingly.

Its better to get half a loaf than no loaf at all,” said Barney Bishop with Associated Industries of Florida. “So is this something thats still important for the business community? Yes, because our employees are impacted and our companies are still going to be impacted to the extent that at least well have a cap of 10 percent.

Many polls, including the Florida Education Associations most recent one, show that the amendment would not pass. But many voters remain undecided.

60 percent of voters have to approve the property tax cut amendment for it to become law.

Posted in Amendments, Business, Education, Property Taxes, State News, Voting | 1 Comment »

State Investment Fund Withdrawals Halted

November 29th, 2007 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum voted to temporarily stop withdrawals from a shaky state investment fund. The three top leaders make up the State Board of Administration. Cities, counties and school boards have taken out $10 billion from the fund in the last two weeks, and $3.5 billion on Wednesday alone.

Weve seen this fund depleted by several billion dollars in the past few days,” said Gov. Crist. “There was sort of a run on it, if you will. I think our main fiduciary responsibility is to stop that from occurring. No matter whats motivating it, whether its factual or not factual. Its almost irrelevant from this point. We have a duty to be good fiduciary board members on the SBA and protect the investment of the people.

Crist, Sink and McCollum also voted for an independent adviser to look into the fund before they take any action.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Pulling Petitions

November 29th, 2007 by flanews

A Leon County judge has ruled that a law that lets people take their signatures off petition initiatives is constitutional. A group called Florida Hometown Democracy leveled the legal challenge. Their proposed amendment would require local referendums on land-use changes. Their main opponent, Save Our Constitution, has used the new law to try to cut the number of signatures its supporters have collected to get on the November 2008 ballot. Associated Industries of Florida is bankrolling Save Our Constitutions effort.

The legislative intent behind the law is very clear,” said Barney Bishop of Associated Industries of Florida. “People are allowed to sign a petition. You can tell them anything you want to, to get them sign a petition. People should be able to have the opportunity to hear the other side of the argument, to decide if they dont want to have their signature on the petition anymore. Its whats called a democracy, a free flow of ideas. You hear both arguments.

Supporters need 611,000 signatures to get on the ballot. As of Tuesday, they had nearly 394,000 filed with the state.

Posted in Amendments, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Cyber Monday Sets Record

November 29th, 2007 by flanews

More people are buying holiday gifts online. Consumers spent more than $733 million on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving. Online retailers consider the day the start of the internet shopping holiday season. The number represents a 21 percent increase over 2006. But the Florida Retail Federation says the U.S. Congress needs to change sales tax laws.

That is costing Florida about 2 billion, billion with a B, dollars a year. So that needs to be changed,” said Rick McAllister with the Florida Retail Federation. “Now, all those brick and mortar retailers who operate in Florida and have an online presence are collecting sales taxes, are remitting those to the state. But those other online retailers who do not have a presence in Florida do not have to collect the tax that is owed by us as citizens of Florida.

ComScore, the research firm that conducted the survey, also found that 60 percent of the money spent on Cyber Monday came from work computers.

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

Green Housing Comes to Florida

November 28th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

The U.S. Green Building Council has certified Floridas first Silver Home in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. At a time when home sales are sluggish, environmental friendly sales are on an up tick. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, one reason might be the 30 percent energy savings every month.

k2_photo_for_mike-2.jpg

Hear it Hear: Green Housing

This home is just over 21 hundred square feet. It costs just over 4 hundred thousand dollars. And from the outside, it looks like most other homes.

But inside, there are low volume toilets, energy efficient lights. Special windows. At the dedication, builder Dave Wamsley says the saving can be surprising.

This home will be 30 percent cheaper to run, month to month, than a normal code compliant home.

There is also no traditional hot water heater. This is the entire hot water system right here. No big tank…when the faucet inside is turned on, this unit heats just enough water for that faucet.

Around the perimeter of the house, a rain garden, designed to keep most water runoff on the site. The concept impressed former Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen Castille. Storm water is what really creates quality problems without water statewide.

The house is the first in Florida given a silver rating by a national non profit group encouraging energy efficient building. Charles Patterson of 1,000 Friends of Florida says the home is the future of building.

“This is a big part of what we need to do to have a sustainable community statewide.

The new owners will move in just in time for Christmas

Posted in Business, Property Taxes, State News | 1 Comment »

Does Social Networking = Effective Presidential Campaigning?

November 28th, 2007 by flanews

Republican presidential hopefuls will face off in a debate Wednesday night featuring the YouTube website, which didnt exist until two years ago. And every major presidential candidate has a Facebook or MySpace page. The sites have more than 160 million users combined. As Chris Casquejo tells us, some college students are skeptical, but others are using the pages to learn more about the candidates.

Does Social Networking = Effective Presidential Campaigning?

110 million users log on to MySpace. Another 56 million use Facebook, which until earlier this year, was only open to college students.

In 2004, voters under 30 cast 20 million ballots for president, a 9 percent increase over 2000. Every major presidential candidate has a presence on Facebook or MySpace. Students are taking note.

I definitely havent made up my mind,” said Wes Schaffer, a Florida State student from Lee County. “I guess if one of them were to message me, Id take a closer look at them.

But others arent impressed.

I just wasnt really interested,” said one FSU student.

One sure way to reach the younger crowd is to send them a text message. In 2006, a study found that 4 percent of younger voters were more likely to vote if they received a text reminder.

But experts say the audience on social networking sites wants more than slogans and pretty pictures. Lance Dehaven-Smith teaches political science at Florida State.

If you spin and just put a surface site up thats not credible, that can backfire on you,” Dehaven-Smith said.

Political scientists say its too early to tell which candidatees are effectively using social networking to campaign. The proof will come next November.

Facebook was launched in 2004. MySpace went online in August 2003.

Posted in Politics, Voting | No Comments »

Sicko Tour Hits Tallahassee

November 28th, 2007 by Mike Vasilinda

A coalition of groups ranging from the League of Women Voters to the NAACP are behind a national bus tour nick named Sicko..after a movie critical of the heath care system. The groups are pushing a bill in the U-S House of Representatives that would create Universal Heath Care for all Americans. Wilson Barnes of the NAACP says heath care is the next civil rights fight in this country.

“We dont, today, worry about sitting in the back of the bus, if you happen to be an African American as I am, but there are may of us, poor and minorities that have to worry about health care.

The legislation would create a publically funded, privately delivered heath care system modeled after the Medicare.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Former Counterterrorism Adviser Visits FSU

November 28th, 2007 by flanews

A top former U.S. counterterrorism official gave a speech at Florida State University. Richard Clarke served on the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush until 2003. He wrote a book in 2004, Against All Enemies: Inside Americas War on Terror. Since leaving the government, Clarke has been highly critical of the Bush administration. Clarke says the invasion of Iraq opened the door to Iran as a major threat to stability in the Middle East. Clarke says bombing Iran is not the answer.

I spent a lot of time negotiating with the Soviet Union when they were our enemy,” Clark said. “So I have the prejudice that we ought to talk to our enemies. And I think we ought to talk to Iran. You never know what could happen when you sit across the table from someone and negotiate.

Clarke currently is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Universitys John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Posted in Politics, State News | No Comments »

Pet Lemon Law Could Protect You This Holiday Season

November 27th, 2007 by flanews

Thousands of pets will end up as Christmas presents this year. To make sure pet stores are giving consumers a fair shake, inspectors from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will be visiting pet stores to make sure they are following the so-called pet lemon law. As Chris Casquejo tells us, the law will protect you if you end up with an unhealthy animal.

rocky-on-dock-for-web2.jpg

Hear it here: Pet Lemon Law Could Protect You This Holiday Season

A pug puppy may seem like the perfect gift for a loved one. But store owner Carol Hoover has a suggestion for those thinking about buying pets.

You might want to think about getting the supplies for the animals,” she said. “And actually wait until after the holiday season to buy the animal.

Under Florida law, cats and dogs cant be sold until they are at least 8 weeks old.

When buying a cat or dog in Florida, look for the official veterinarians certificate. It tells you how old your pet is and exactly what shots its had.

If the pet gets sick or dies within two weeks, the seller has to pay the vet bills. Buyers can also exchange sick animals or ask for a refund. The Department of Agriculture says choose wisely.

If you have small children, there are certain breeds of aggressive dogs you dont want to have,” said Terence McElroy, with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “If you have a small dwelling, say a one-bedroom or studio apartment, you probably dont want a large animal.

Pet store owners like Carol Hoover also want to remind people to consider that pets require a lot of care and a lot of time.

You need to take the animals welfare into consideration before you make this life, lifelong commitment,” she said. “Its a very long commitment. Its like taking on a new child.

Parrot lovers beware. Floridas so-called pet lemon law only applies to cats and dogs. For more information about the pet law or to make a complaint, call the Department of Agriculture at 1-800-HELP-FLA.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Summer Tourism Numbers Up

November 27th, 2007 by flanews

Summer tourism numbers show that more travelers visited Florida in 2007 over the same period last year. From the first of July through the end of September, 21.1 million people came to the sunshine state. Thats a 4.8 percent increase over the same time frame in 2006. State tourism officials at VISIT FLORIDA say rising gas prices did not seem to have the effect many thought they would.

The summer vacation is an American tradition,” said VISIT FLORIDA’s Karen Kirksey. “So even though gas prices might be rising, theyre going to take the trip. But they might cut corners in some other ways, maybe stay at hotel thats less expensive or something like that.

In 2006, tourist related spending brought in $65 billion to the Florida economy.

Posted in State News | 10 Comments »

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