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Hurricane Proof Homes Could Revolutionize Florida’s Housing Market

February 29th, 2008 by flanews

A Florida Business is building one of a kind hurricane proof homes right in the panhandle. The houses are being assembled at a factory in Carrabelle, but as Whitney Ray tells us, the homes will be shipped all over the Southeast.

Hear it here: Hurricane Proof Homes Could Revolutionize Florida’s Housing Market

Green Steel Co-owner Bud Chiles says his homes can withstand a hurricane.

“They’re capable of withstanding impact winds of up to 150 miles per hour,” said Chiles.

Chiles and his partner got the idea to build the steel structure cottages from the string of hurricanes that ripped through the gulf in 2004 and 2005. Their idea is to build safe, environment friendly, affordable housing. The two bedroom homes sell for a hundred thousand dollars. Not only is the home storm proof, Chiles said it will also withstand fire.

“There’s no paper of no OSB, no wood in it, so if you had a flood basically there’s nothing in this to get wet and you might have to replaces your floor or your cabinets,” Chiles said.

The assembly line swings into full gear in about a month. It will produce 600 homes a year. The windows and walls are assembled in this 65,000 square foot factory. They’re picked up by cranes and moved out the door. Green Steel Production Manager James Auth said the hard work is done in the assembly line.

“At that point it’s just a matter of siding the gable ends and moving in the furniture,” said Auth.

The homes can be assembled on site in just a few days, and even though the materials in the homes cost more than traditional building products, the final product doesn’t because they are built on an assembly line.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News | 8 Comments »

Ring Tone Crackdown

February 29th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Thousands of AT&T Wireless customers could be in line for credits on their bills after Florida’s Attorney General reached a settlement with the company over fraudulent advertising. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, other wireless carriers are now in the attorney generals sights.

For wireless customers who download ring tones, It is an all too common case of free not really being free. Elizabeth Jones of West Palm Beach found out the hard way. “You thought a ring tone was free?”

“Yes Sir”
“And it wasn’t?”

Internet solicitations promise free ring tones. The fine print hits you in the pocketbook.
After hundreds of complaints to the attorney general’s hot line, an investigation turned up widespread abuse by all of the major cell carriers. In announcing a settlement with AT&T, Attorney General Bill McCollum called the ads blatant.

“This is very misleading advertising. This advertising is wrong, it’s unfair, it’s deceptive. It’s everything else, and it’s all over the internet today.” says McCollum.

AT&T has agreed to being policing the ads, make heir billing more clear and transparent, , and to refund somewhere between 10 and 45 million to customers.
AT&T customers should be hearing from the company within the next 60 days. If you don’t, the Attorney General says call him.

Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Group calls the settlement a step in the right direction. “It’s precedent setting to have a company as large as AT&T and Cingular Wireless taking this sort of step protecting consumers. “ says Ashwell.

The deal with AT&T now gives the Attorney General leverage to go after the other big players in the cell phone industry. Cell phone companies typical keep between 40 and 45 percent of the payment for ring tones as a fee for handling the billing.

Posted in Business, Children, Education, McCollum, Politics, State News | 1 Comment »

Civil Rights Groups Want to Make It Easier For Felons to Get Jobs

February 28th, 2008 by flanews

A senate committee is considering legislation to make it easier for convicted felons to get their business licenses. Because of current laws, some past offenders have spent decades jumping from job to job. As Whitney Ray explains, changing the system could help keep some felons from reoffending.

Hear it here: Civil Rights Groups Want to Make It Easier For Felons to Get Jobs

The Clemency Board’s hearing was full of people who asked that their civil rights be restored. Convicted felons came with family members and pleas. Some left the hearing with their rights restored. Others went home empty handed. Last April Governor Charlie Crist made it easier for non violent offenders to have their civil rights restored. Now civil rights groups want the governor to help convicted felons get business licenses. Crist says he’ll take a closer look at the issue.

“Obviously it’s important that we make sure people have an opportunity to move forward. That they have a second chance to have gainful employment, be productive citizens,” said Governor Charlie Crist.

Philip Bain has two felony charges. It’s been ten years since his last arrest. Because of his record he can’t keep a job.

“Today you’re the bead winner. Tomorrow you’re at a labor pool trying to make ends meet,” said Bain.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is working with state lawmakers to find a way for felons to get a business license without waiting for the clemency board to restore their rights.

“Redirect them out of the clemency process toward the state agencies and licensing boards that actually have oversight authority already of these occupations,” said human rights activist Mark Schlakman.

On April 1st, civil rights groups will hold a rally at the capitol, and try to convince legislators to change the law. About one million Floridians are living without their civil rights because of past convictions. Florida is only one of three states where a felony conviction can keep a person from ever having all of their civil rights restored

Posted in Charlie Crist, Criminal Justice, State News | 1 Comment »

Economists and Teachers alike Say Hold Education Harmless

February 28th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Education Association and the United Teachers of Dade issued a white paper today calling on the state to hold education harmless from budget cuts. Schools stand to lose about 350 million dollars from their current budget because of a lagging economy. The paper calls for an end to some sales tax exemptions and taking the steps to being able to collect tax from internet sales. Author Antonio Villamil says schools serve as an economic engine for the state and they are being shortchanged.

United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz is also calling for lawmakers to stop messing around with the class size amendment. There is discussion about asking voters to change the amendment and allow for overcrowding to be measured at the school rather than the class level. Aronowitz says that would be wrong.

“Because we are losing, according to Taxwatch, billions of dollars a year because of lost sales taxes, and putting at a disadvantage, Florida Retailers,” Villamil said. “Because obviously, people are buying from catalogs and the internet and those taxes are not being collected.”

“I have high hopes that they will abide by the desire of Floridians who have expressed it through their vote, that they will let this be fully implemented,” Aronowitz said. “And if we need to talk about other situations, then that’s a separate discussion, but just to say everything must go back in, that’s the wrong direction to move.”

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission is also considering putting changes to class size on the November ballot.

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

Touch Screen Voting Machines to Be Resold

February 28th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Starting Monday, more than 40 thousand touch screen voting machines across the state will start being delivered to a warehouse in Tampa. The machines have seen their last election and the state will now start trying to market the machines to other jurisdictions, the companies who made them, or it will take them apart and sell them as spare parts. Secretary of State Kurt Browning says the money the state makes will go to the counties who still owe vendors for the machines.

“Sequoia had offered this secretary a dollar a piece for the sequoia units and I refused that offer,” Browning said. “ I will assure that what we get from the marketing of touch screens, or wheels, or circuitry or printers off the Sequoia systems will far exceed the dollar a piece Sequoia was going to give us”.

All total, counties who bought the touch screen machines still owe between 32 and 33 million. The state and federal government are covering the cost of replacement machines.

Posted in State News, Voting | 1 Comment »

Emergency Crews Pleased With Response To Power Failure

February 27th, 2008 by flanews

Wednesday’s power outage knocked out electricity to people well outside the problem area. Four million people in more than 30 counties were without power. As Whitney Ray tells us, the electric lines were tripped in the southern part of the state to keep from destroying the system but the preventive measure meant more Floridians lost power.

Hear it here: Emergency Crews Pleased With Response To Power Failure

Florida’s Emergency Operation’s Center was activated within ten minutes of Tuesday’s power failure. Emergency manager Craig Fugate said the key is preparation.

“You’ve got to practice, you’ve got to train, you’ve go to have the facilities, that’s the lesson of always doing exercises and not always doing announced exercises,” said Fugate.

The alert included putting the national guard on stand by. A guard spokesman said 5,000 troops could have been on the ground to direct traffic and protect homes by rush hour Tuesday. The troops remained on stand by even though emergency managers were assured power would come back quickly. The problem originated at the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point, but the outage spread, to more than 30 counties. Power was restored in some areas with in 30 minutes, in others, just a few hours. The reason electricity came back so quickly is also the reason why so many people outside the damage area lost power in the first place.

“The system did what it was supposed to do. It protected itself by the circuit breaker going off, so it didn’t destroy or damage equipment and allowed it to bring the system back up quickly,” said Fugate.

Emergency workers are pleased with the rapid response to the power failure. They hope utility workers can get to the source of the problem and find a better way to contain future outages. Yesterday’s black out was the largest to hit Florida in more than 20 years. In all 20 substations owned by four different power companies were shut down.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Justices Listen to Arguments Against Regional Public Law Offices

February 27th, 2008 by flanews

The Florida Supreme Court will decide if offices created to provide representation to people charged by the state are constitutional. Supreme Court justices listened to arguments Wednesday morning in Tallahassee. In 2007, a state law created five regional offices to handle criminal cases that public defenders couldn’t take on due to conflicts of interests. The attorneys in the offices are appointed. The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said staffing the offices with appointed instead of elected officials violate the state constitution.

“The offices that the legislature created are in contravention with the constitution that requires that they be run by elected officials, the broader issue is we’re worried about the independence of these officers and we’re worried about the funding of the offices,” said Sonya Rudenstine, with the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The hearing ended before noon this morning. Now it’s up to the Justices to decide whether the 2007 law violates the constitution.

Posted in Politics, State News | No Comments »

Voters Call Homeowners Insurance Industry a Crisis

February 27th, 2008 by flanews

According to an opinion poll released by Property Casualty Insurers, or PCI, voters believe the condition of the state’s homeowner’s insurance industry is dire. More than 40 percent of the 800 voters polled describe this issue as a crisis. From the poll PCI assert that the voter’s opinions need to be taken into consideration by policy makers and members of the private sector.

“Voters are looking for a long term solution and a long term consistency of rates rather than immediate, necessary immediate rate cuts. So it is a long term solution voters are looking for rather than immediate band-aid approach,” Neil Newhouse with Public Opinion Strategies said.

Among Florida voters this issue ranked second only to property taxes, beating out health, education, drugs, and crime issues.

Posted in Insurance, State News | 2 Comments »

Retired State Employee, Double Dipping

February 26th, 2008 by flanews

More than 8,000 state employees are double dipping. Because of a loop hole in state law, retired state employees can seek government jobs and still get pension pay. As Whitney Ray tells us when it comes to fixing the law, state leaders don’t see eye to eye.

Hear it here: Retired State Employee, Double Dipping

Nearly 8,000 state employees go home each night with a smile on their face. They are collecting retirement benefits and a pay check at the same time. The four year old loop-hole has allowed employees to rack up three hundred million dollars in state pensions, while receiving their normal pay. Governor Charlie Crist said the law needs to be fixed.

“I think its something that ought to be looked at. I think I have a duty and obligation to always review, those kinds of things,” said Crist.

Former House Clerk John Phelps has collected 350,000 dollars in retirement benefits since 2000. This year his legislative salary will pay him 138,000 dollars. While Governor Crist says the loop-hole should be fixed, CFO Alex Sink said the salaries would have to be paid regardless.

“The reports about expenditures are not quit accurate because we would be employing people to fill those jobs and paying those salaries whether it’s somebody who has retired or not, that’s not really an incremental cost to the state,” said Sink.

Sink said the double dipping problem is being blown out of proportion. In many cases, state retirees who return to work actually cost the state less than a new employee, because the state is no longer contributing to their retirement account. Of the 8,000 state employees taking advantage of the loophole, more than 200 are elected officials.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | 1 Comment »

More Cuts Could Hit State Budget

February 26th, 2008 by flanews

Members from both state chambers will look at cutting more than 540 million dollars from an already low state budget. This comes as school administrators worry about having money for teachers salaries and judges talk about closing court. The bulk of the proposed cuts would come from education. Despite the predictions, Governor Charlie Crist remains optimistic.

“This is just the beginning of the process. Session hasn’t yet begun, but I remain optimistic that the more that we have input into the process, that I shared with our friends here at the mansion, we can in fact increased funding for education. I think it is prudent and responsible. In our recommendation we maintain almost five billion dollars in reserves from that rainy day fund. So I think it can be done and I look forward to the discussion ahead.”

Both the house and senate proposed bills that would reduce spending across the board. The proposals would also cut 75 state jobs.

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

Crist Encourages African American Business Leaders

February 26th, 2008 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist exchanged ideas with African American Business owners today. About a dozen black leaders spoke with the governor at his mansion about promoting small business growth. Crist exchanged ideas with the group and told them why he thinks it’s a great time to do business in Florida.

“We have no state income tax. A significantly reduced now property taxes in Florida and a climate that nobody up North can match. The fact that we grow by about 700 people each day, that are going to help businesses across the board continue flourish. That is one of the greatest blessings of all,” said Crist.

Crist said he works with the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund to promote African American education and business growth.

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

Power Outage Hits South Florida

February 26th, 2008 by flanews

The state Emergency Operations Center was activated this afternoon as news of a massive power outage spread. As many as 4 million people were with out electricity at the height of the outage. The EOC called in more than 50 people and prepared to call out the National Guard if power was not restored by early evening. State Emergency Director Craig Fugate said he has learned to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Service Tax Revisited

February 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

It has been 21 years since Florida’s experiment at taxing services failed and was  repealed, But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, rising property taxes has an independent commission taking another took at what items aren’t now taxable.

Hear it here: Service Tax Revisited

Skyboxes and Ostrich Feed get a lot of attention for being untaxed. But the tax code lists 246 specific exemptions.

Boats that come for 20 days aren’t taxed but longer slip rental is.

Newspapers are also taxed, but the ad inserts inside aren’t.

Rising property taxes have a little known group named the Taxation and Budget Reform commission looking at ways to eliminate some exemptions. Jim Scott says eliminating the school tax is a top priority.

“It would be a tremendous 35 percent in Broward County and I happen to know, reduction across the board for all property taxes,” Scott said.

Dry Cleaning is not taxed. But changing that would not matter to Amanda Hammerli.

“I don’t dry clean enough for it to even bother me,” Hammerli said.  “So I wouldn’t care either way really.”

But the people behind the dry cleaning counter worry.

“I think everybody would start cleaning clothes at home, to be honest with you,” dry cleaning manager Yvonne Smith said.

Taxing bottled water would raise enough money to hire a thousand teachers and pay them all 34,000 dollars a year.

Randy Miller was in charge of the state’s revenue department the last time a services tax was tried.

“We did it 20 years ago. It’s a failed experiment,” Miller said. “We need to be looking 20 years forward, not 20 years backward.”

Voters may have the final say, but trading taxes on somebody else for lower property taxes could be appealing to many.

Posted in Property Taxes, State News | No Comments »

Vouchers Die

February 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

In 2000, Florida began giving state money in the form of vouchers to students in failing schools to attend private schools. Vouchers were thrown out in 2005. Since then, Republican localists to Jeb Bush have been trying to find a way to make them illegal. Today, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission dealt a death knoll to the voucher idea. Teacher Union attorney Ron Meyer says even though vouchers appear to be dead, he’ll keep watching until the committee goes out of existence in May.

“I think that’s a strong message in support of public education and stopping this trend away from public education, in favor of private and religious education,” Meyer said. “So I’m not going to count it out until the commission doesn’t meet anymore, but I think this is a very positive move in favor of supporting public education.”

The state constitution prohibits state money from supporting religious institutions.

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

Gas Tax

February 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Gas prices could be going up in some counties. The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission today moved forward with a plan to equalize local gas taxes around the state. Right now, some counties assess a five cent tax on top of the 33 cent state tax, while others levy as much as 11 cents. A proposal by Commission member Randy Miller would set the statewide county tax at 11 cents a gallon.

“What this proposal would do is make them all uniform at eleven cents a gallon,” Miller said. “That way the state of Florida is not having to supplement certain counties that will not raise their own taxes on their own citizens to provide the transportation funding necessary for that county.”

Voters must ultimately approve any change. The idea still has two more votes before it would be placed on the November ballot.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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