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A Look Back At Gov. Crist’s First Year In Office

December 31st, 2007 by flanews

In his first year in office, Governor Charlie Crist vowed to drastically cut property insurance and property taxes. But so far, the jury is out. As Chris Casquejo explains, the governor is betting that voters will change the state constitution in January to slash property taxes.

Hear it here: A Look Back At Gov. Crists First Year In Office

Charlie Crists first year began with a lot of promises. He wasted no time signing insurance reforms into law, trading higher risk for the state for premium cuts. But rates didnt drop, and insurers are still public enemy number one for the governor.

I think that they have violated the law,” Gov. Crist said. “I think a class action lawsuit might be the appropriate way to go. And were investigating that option.

The governor also tackled high property taxes head on, repeatedly promising that they would drop like a rock. But when homeowners didnt see big savings, lawmakers went back to work in October.

On January 29th, voters will decide whether to double the homestead exemption and allow their Save Our Homes benefit to go with them when they move.

You want a property tax cut, vote yes on 1. Its that simple, Crist said.

Despite the lack of progress, the governor is optimistic.

We still gain 1,000 new people every single day,” he said. “Jobs continue to come to Florida. The climate is fantastic. Where would you rather be than here?

At least one cloud hovers over the start of the governors second year. The stalled housing market and lower tax collections mean lawmakers have to slash the budget again after already cutting more than a billion dollars.

December 31st was the deadline to register to vote in Januarys primary.

Posted in Amendments, Charlie Crist, Elections, Insurance, Legislature, Politics, Property Taxes, State Budget, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Fewer Highway Deaths

December 31st, 2007 by flanews

Floridas highways are getting safer for drivers based on the number of highway deaths. Preliminary numbers show that 2,631 people died in 2007. That compares with 3,365 deaths in 2006 and 3,533 in 2005. The state also saw a drop in the number of alcohol-related deaths on Florida highways.

This is the first time in 10 years that we realized a decrease in the number of fatalities,” said Lt. Ron Castleberry of the Florida Highway Patrol. “In 2005. we had 1,239 fatalities. In 2006, we had 1,099.

Final numbers for 2007 will not be available from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles until next summer.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Stay Safe On The Roads On New Year’s Eve

December 31st, 2007 by flanews

State and local law enforcement are reminding drivers to be safe this New Years Eve. They have increased patrols and sobriety checkpoints throughout this month. December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month.

Through this evening, weve got increased patrols, looking in particular for DUI drivers, aggressive drivers,” said the Florida Highway Patrol’s Lt. Ron Castleberry. “People that are driving that are not properly restrained. People that are following too close.

If you see trouble on the highway, you can call FHP at *FHP (*347) from your mobile phone.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Restore Your PIP Coverage on Jan. 1, Or Else

December 31st, 2007 by flanews

New Years Day will bring a not-so-new law for Florida drivers. After three months away, personal injury protection insurance will once again become a legal requirement. If you canceled PIP after October 1st, and dont pick up the coverage again on January 1st, you risk losing your drivers license. And you could pay anywhere from $150 to $500 to get it back.

Its going to affect the people who havent had insurance since October 1st,” said insurance agent Corey Tyre. “Theyre going to have to go get it, or theyre going to get a letter from the Department of Highway Safety that says, you have 30 days to provide this insurance coverage or were going to suspend your license.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has set up a consumer help line, (877) 693-5236, to handle questions. Or you can find out more on the web at myfloridacfo.com/NoFault

Posted in Insurance, State News | 17 Comments »

Sexual Predator Driver’s Licenses

December 28th, 2007 by flanews

Since summer, Florida law requires convicted sexual predators and offenders to have a code on their drivers license that identifies them. Florida is the only state with this requirement. As Chris Casquejo tells us, the sheriff who pushed for the law hopes other states follow Floridas lead.

Here it here: Sexual Predator Drivers Licenses

You have to look closely to see whether a person is a sexual predator or offender by their drivers license. The identifier, a small number in the lower right hand corner. Jefferson County Sheriff David Hobbs came up with the idea. It became law in July. He believes it helps officers quickly identify if someone could cause trouble when computer systems go down, like during a hurricane inside a shelter.

I think the public needs to be made aware if it, at any costs,” Sheriff Hobbs said. “Thats a lifestyle that individual chooses. And I personally have no tolerance or patience for an individual that would do anything to a child.

Sexual predators and offenders already have to register with the state. They also have limits on where they can live. Some parents like Jason Knowles wonder if the law goes too far.

I dont know if thats the best way to identify who sex offenders are, by putting a marking on their drivers license,” Knowles said. “But I think it is important to identify who the sex predators or potential child molesters are.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles says there are no known issues with the requirement.

Because kids often cant protect themselves, the sheriff behind the law hopes other states adopt similar measures.

If you stop a car on the interstate and theres a small child in there with this individual, do you know if its his child, do you, asked Sheriff Hobbs.

A sexual predator or offender who fails to register with DHSMV could face up to five years in prison.

You can look at the states sexual offender database online at www.offender.fdle.state.fl.us

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 2 Comments »

State Senator No Longer a Felon

December 28th, 2007 by flanews

The Florida Senate no longer has a convicted felon among its ranks. An appeals court threw out Senator Gary Siplins conviction on grand theft charges. The Orlando Democrat was accused of illegally using state workers to help his 2004 re-election campaign. Siplin still could be tried for a misdemeanor. The ruling also means he may be able to keep his law license and removes any reason for the Senate to strip him of his office.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Judge’s Ruling Means 14,000 Can Cast Ballots Next Month

December 28th, 2007 by flanews

Florida has lost the latest round in the ongoing legal battle over the states voter registration law. A federal judge issued an injunction that prevents Florida from enforcing the no match law. Information on a voter registration application had to match information found in state or federal databases in order for a voter to be eligible to vote. The latest ruling means that 14,000 voters who were initially deemed ineligible can cast a ballot next month.

The essential focus from the states perspective is just to prevent fraud in the election process,” said Sterling Ivey, a spokesperson for the Florida Secretary of State. “To prevent someone from registering, non-residents, non-human beings, in order to sway the votes cast.

Monday is the deadline to register to vote for the January 29th primary.

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

PIP Becomes Law Again Jan. 1

December 27th, 2007 by flanews

The requirement for drivers to carry personal injury protection insurance, or PIP, will once again become law on the first of the year. But as Chris Casquejo tells us, most of you will probably not notice any big changes.

Hear it here: PIP Becomes Law Again Jan. 1

Some 700 accidents happen on Florida roads every day. And some predicted mass confusion when the states no-fault auto insurance law to cover medical expenses expired October 1st. But insurance agent Corey Tyre said very few customers were affected, just those who renewed policies in the past three months.

There were those carriers who removed PIP from the policies for people that renewed after October 1st,” he said. “Just understand that on January 1st, PIP is going to be automatically added to your policy, which will create an additional premium.

If you canceled PIP after October 1st, and dont pick up the coverage again on January 1st, you risk losing your drivers license. And you could pay anywhere from $150 to $500 to get it back.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles says law enforcement will be asking for proof of insurance if you are pulled over. But thats not all.

Their insurance carrier is also supposed to inform us should they not have it or they let it lapse,” said Ann Nucatola with the Florida DHSMV. “And then thats a fiscal responsibility issue. And we are going to take action, which is to suspend a license and registration.

If youre not sure about your coverage, you have a couple of days to call your agent before PIP once again becomes law.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has set up a consumer help line, (877) 693-5236, to handle questions. Or you can find out more on the web at www.myfloridacfo.com/NoFault

Posted in Insurance, State News | 39 Comments »

Holiday Millionaires

December 27th, 2007 by flanews

In a couple of days, some Florida lottery players will find out if they are lucky enough to be millionaires. 12 people will take home $1 million. Another 25 will win $100,000 dollars. And 200 will take home $10,000. Each ticket features a unique number that will be automatically entered into the random, computerized drawing on Saturday. Tickets first went on sale in mid-November.

Holiday Millionaire is offered by other states,” said the Florida Lottery’s Alfred Bea. “But Florida has truly made its own, made the game its own, simply because it sold out so fast here and our players have embraced it so much. I think other states have called us and asked us what we were doing right.

Its too late to enter the holiday millionaire raffle. The last ticket was sold Thursday morning. The results will be posted at 3 p.m. Saturday on the Florida lotterys website at www.flalottery.com

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

$8 Billion in Lost or Unredeemed Gift Cards Annually

December 26th, 2007 by flanews

The 2007 holiday shopping season is not over. Over the next 7 days, shoppers will spend an estimated 60 billion dollars worth of gift cards. As Chris Casquejo explains, redeeming gift cards right after you get them may save you a lot of headaches.

Hear it here: $8 Billion in Lost or Unredeemed Gift Cards Annually

Daniel Gay is cashing in his gift cards and adding to his wardrobe. Each year, shoppers lose nearly 8 billion dollars because of unredeemed or lost gift cards. Daniel isnt wasting any time using his.

Clothes, Ill spend pretty fast,” Gay said. “The movies, I kind of drag it out a little bit. Food, well spend it pretty fast, too.

Florida and Minnesota ban outright any expiration dates or fees on gift cards. 30 other states limit those restrictions.

When you first get a gift card, check the back of it to see if it has a toll-free number. That way, you have somewhere to call if its lost or stolen. Also, check to see if the card can be used for purchases online.

Gift cards were so popular at Tallahassee’s Buckle clothing store, they almost ran out.

Its kind of splitting the difference between just giving money per se and being less confident in product purchase,” said manager Bill Abeln. “It allows them to guarantee that someone will pick someone out that they know the like.”

Shoppers like Katie Weilbrenner agree.

Im getting exactly what I want instead of something I just like,” she said. “I get something I love.

The advice from experts, use the cards quickly. That way, youre guaranteed not to forget about them.

The nearly $8 billion lost each year in gift cards is more than double the $3.5 billion thats lost to credit and debit card fraud annually.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

A Crotzer Family Christmas

December 24th, 2007 by flanews

Two years after winning his freedom, Alan Crotzer is once again asking the state to pay up. He spent 24 years in prison for a crime he didnt commit. 2007 was a year of firsts for Crotzer. He got married and moved into a new home. Chris Casquejo explains why Crotzer has no problem going back into prisons as a free man.

Hear it here: A Crotzer Family Christmas

Its a typical Christmas Eve. But the Crotzer family is anything but ordinary. Alan Crotzer spent 24 Christmases behind bars for a rape he didnt commit.

The holidays werent holidays to me,” Crotzer said. “They were blurs. They were just simple days.

After DNA evidence proved his innocence, Crotzer was freed in January 2006.

For the second year in a row, Alan Crotzer is asking the Florida legislature to pay him for the time he wrongfully spent behind bars. But his real Christmas wish, they cant give him.

The money will surely help me build a new life for myself, he said.

Crotzers mother died in 2001 while he was still in prison. But she never wavered, pushing his innocence to whomever would listen.

Compensation means nothing to me,” he said. “Just give me 20 years with her. They could keep every dime. I just want to hug her and tell her how much I love her.

His wife Quebella knows that his mother would be proud of one thing, his insistence on a spotless house.

If this guy sees one spot on the wall, hes like, what is that? Im like, dont even worry about it,” she said. “And he goes over there and wipes it down. Nobody sees it but him.

He now reaches out to others he believes were also wrongfully convicted, even if it means visiting them in prison.

I got to go back,” he said. “Its part of my therapy. I couldnt deal with it if I couldnt face it.

But for now, Alan Crotzer will enjoy a simple thing that he was denied for so long. A Christmas with family in his home.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Avoid Pre-Paid Phone Card Scams

December 21st, 2007 by flanews

Pre-paid telephone cards may seem like a great deal, or even a good gift idea this holiday season. But the Florida Public Service Commission is warning against scams. As Chris Casquejo explains, you need to look closely at the back of the cards to make sure youre getting what you pay for.

Hear it here: Avoid Pre-Paid Phone Card Scams

Pre-paid phone cards are a hot item at Hispanic market La Tiendita, which sells 50 to 100 of the cards a day.

Most of them come here just to buy them and call for two hours to their families,” said Rafael Marte, the store’s co-owner. “It costs them $2 some of them. It costs them $5 some of them. They go up to 12 hours some of the cards.

But the Florida Public Service Commission warns that some of the cards might not deliver what they advertise. The agency conducted a random check of 10 different brands.

We found some of them didnt even work at all,” said Kirsten Olsen, with the PSC. “Some of them, the access number was continually busy. Some of them had additional fees that werent disclosed. Or they had different fees than what the consumer could expect.

When you buy a pre-paid phone card, make sure that it has a working toll-free number on the back. That way, you have somebody to call if you have any problems.

Another tip, check closely for any connection or disconnection fees. Also, find out what it costs to call different countries. Rafael Marte is confident the phone cards that he stocks are reliable.

I buy the cards because people are asking for specific names,” he said. “They are loyal.

The bottom line, taking a few minutes out of your time to read the fine print could save you a lot of money.

For more tips on using pre-paid phone cards, go the Public Service Commissions website at www.floridapsc.com. Or you can call the consumer line at 1-800-342-3552.

Posted in State News | 12 Comments »

State Unemployment Up Slightly

December 21st, 2007 by flanews

Floridas unemployment rate was up just slightly in November. The seasonally adjusted rate was 4.3 percent, an increase of 0.1 percent over October. The national unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in November 2007. Rebecca Rust with the the Agency for Workforce Innovation says Florida needs to attract and keep workers in high technology industries.

The occupations that are growing most rapidly right now are IT, anything internet provided, computer-related, and also the medical industry,” Rust said. “Those are the occupations that are growing fastest at the current time. And those remain strong even when the economy slows down.

Florida had the third lowest unemployment rate of the ten most populous states. It also has been below the national average since mid-2002.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

FHP Stepping Up Holiday Patrols

December 21st, 2007 by flanews

The Florida Highway Patrol will step up patrols throughout the state beginning at midnight Saturday throughout Christmas Day. Troopers will be targeting aggressive drivers, speeders, those not wearing not seat belts or those with children improperly restrained. FHP Major Ernie Duarte also reminds drivers not to drink before taking the wheel.

People think you have to be basically, just falling drunk to be a danger and thats not the case,” he said. “Statistics, studies show that just a few drinks, it does impair the ability for someone to drive their vehicle, to react to danger, to react to someone stopping, to a child running in front of them.

If you see trouble on the highway, you can call FHP at *FHP (*347) from your mobile phone.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Prescription Drug Discount Program Unveiled

December 20th, 2007 by flanews

About 4 million Floridians without prescription drug coverage now have an alternative. No state dollars are being used for a new program unveiled today by Governor Charlie Crist. As Chris Casquejo explains, people over 60 without prescription coverage, those who fall through the Medicare coverage gap, and working families stand to benefit.

Hear it here: Prescription Drug Discount Program Unveiled

The new program will offer discounted prescription drugs to Floridians over 60 without coverage. It will also help seniors in the so-called Medicare donut hole, where prescription costs arent covered between $2,200 and $5,100.

I am in the donut hole right now,” said 85-year-old Mabel Huffman. “I am paying full price for my prescription drugs.

To find out if you are eligible, go the website FloridaDiscountDrugCard.com.
There, youll also find information about which drugs are covered.

The savings will also be available to those under 60 if their income is below roughly $30,000 a year. The governors office says a family of four would qualify with an income less than $63,000.

Those working families are usually not in jobs where they offer prescription drug coverage,” said Chris Kise, counselor to the governor. “So this is intended to fill that gap.”

No state dollars will fund the program. But the program’s manager, Envision Pharmaceutical Services earns $1.50 for each prescription filled. Governor Charlie Crist now turns his health-care focus to Floridas 4 million people without insurance.

It is just one piece of the puzzle,” Gov. Crist said. “And it is the first piece.

The governor says hell unveil a plan to help Floridas uninsured during the first couple of months of the New Year.

Enrollment is also open by phone at 1-866-341-8894.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | 15 Comments »

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