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Left Lane Legislation Passes Committee

March 25th, 2008 by flanews

Proposed legislation would make it illegal to drive in the left lane on Florida highways if someone is trying to pass you. The bill was written to cut down on aggressive driving, but as Whitney Ray tells us it could also penalize people who drive the speed limit.

Hear it here: Left Lane Legislation

The speed limit on Interstate 10 is 70 miles per hour. Drivers doing the speed limit in the left lane are routinely passed. Senator Mike Bennett wants to make travel easier and cut down on road rage by turning the left lane into the passing lane.

People have accidents at 70, 80 miles per hour and people die. People get upset. People have road rage and people stop and shoot each other. Were saying this is insane. Why dont we just get people to move out of the left lane, said Bennett.

Drivers like the idea.

It would improve things because everyone would get to work faster, just move it along real quick, Eric Wright said.

The same bill passed both chambers in 2005, but Former Governor Jeb Bush vetoed the legislation. Bush said he didnt like the bill because it would penalize driver who werent speeding. Opponents worry about people stuck in the left lane during traffic jams being ticketed.

Nobodys going to enforce that law then. You just have to have common sense, and most of our laws are enforced by common sense, said Bennett.

Drivers who like the idea say it would be hard to enforce.

It they made the lane, it would be good for people who respect the lane, but youve got some thats not going to pay the lane any attention, They just use that lane for a another exceptions to do what they do, said driver Larry Arnold.

No matter what lawmakers decide it will be up the Florida Highway Patrol to make sure drivers obey. The bill would also make driving in the left lane when someone is trying to pass, an aggressive driving violation

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Lawmakers Pass Stricter Penalties for Insurance Companies

March 25th, 2008 by flanews

Legislators are getting tougher on insurers who deceive customers. Tuesday in Tallahassee legislation passed through a senate committee that would raise the penalties for insurance companies that knowingly mislead or over charge customers. The bill would allow insurance regulators to charge a company as much as 100,000 dollars a day every day the company isnt in compliance with Floridas Insurance Code. The legislation is just a one of several bills amid at inflicting stricter penalties and regulations on insurers.

All of the packages send a message that were very, very, very concerned, said State Senator Mike Bennett. Were tired of you (insurers) making excess profits on the backs of the Florida consumer, and thats really the message were trying to send.

Earlier this year a special senate committee grilled insurers about why insurance rates in Florida went up during at a time when rates were suppose to decrease.

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

State Sheds Risk

March 25th, 2008 by flanews

A senate committee approved a bill to lower the states financial risk in the aftermath of a hurricane and ask the federal government to offer more help. The proposed legislation would lower the states catastrophe fund by more than five billion dollars. It also calls for the US Congress to set up a National Catastrophe fund. Floridas Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, praised lawmakers for passing the bill and bringing the state one step closer to lightening its load.

They are certainly aware of the balancing act that we have. They just cant be taking advantage of this situation. Its an opportunity for the industry to join hands with us and the reinsurance markets, to get us back to a more balanced situation, said Sink.

If five billion dollars is cut from the CAT fund it would be picked up by private insurance companies and decrease the amount of money the state would pay in the aftermath of a major hurricane.

Posted in Hurricane Season, Insurance, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Kids Pledge To Stay Drug Free For College Scholorships

March 25th, 2008 by flanews

Hundreds of kids and their parents were at the state capitol Tuesday to celebrate a one million dollar gift to the Take Stock in Children Foundation. The organization provides college scholarships to needy middle school students, but only after they keep a pledge to do well in school and stay out of trouble. Pasco County 8th grader Mario Martinez has no doubt hell keep the pledge he made last year.

Im supposed to get good grades; stay drug free and tobacco free, and in return we get a scholarship.

The one million dollar check came from the Helios Foundation, which promotes educational initiatives.

Posted in Children, Education, State News | No Comments »

Corporate Tax Credits to Expand

March 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

The state legislature may soon send 30 million more state dollars to private schools. The increase comes as public schools are facing cutbacks, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the teachers union is crying foul.

Hear it here: Corporate Tax Credits to Expand

Twenty thousand kids in Florida are now attending private schools paid for by money that is being diverted from the states bank account. The cost: 80 million dollars. The corporate scholarship program allows companies to make donations to scholarships instead of paying their corporate taxes to the state. Sponsors want to allow another 30 million to be diverted to the program this year.

Youve got a lot of poor kids who are struggling in school and theyre the toughest kids we have to get the learning gains that they need, Rep. Trey Traviesa said. And what some of their parents want is to give them options.

The bill would also allow corporate tax diversions to grow up to a quarter billion dollars over the next five years.

School budgets are already tight. And the Florida Education Association is seeing red

At a time like this, this economy being so bad, to advocate leaving a quarter of a billion dollars of uncollected tax revenue, just doesnt make sense, FEA attorney Ron Meyer said.

Governor Charlie Crist sounds inclined to approve the increase if the plan makes it to his desk.

And give more choice and more opportunity and more education? Everyday, Crist said.

The teachers successfully challenged the voucher program that was centered around failing schools. Theyve turned a blind eye to the corporate voucher program, but they say if its to triple over the next five years, they may go to court.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Education, Legislature, State Budget, State News, Taxes | No Comments »

Drivers License Delays Could Be In Floridas Future

March 24th, 2008 by flanews

Budget cuts could make it harder and more expensive for you to get or renew your Florida drivers license. As Whitney ray tells us, the Department of Motor Vehicles is making plans to close up to 12 drivers license offices and raise fees.

Hear it here: Drivers License Delays Could Be In Floridas Future

Monday around noon, folks looking to get a drivers license in Tallahassee didnt have to take a number. The place was so empty people were able to walk right up to the counter. The state said on average it takes 15 minutes or less to get a Florida drivers license. Lines in south Florida are considerably longer and could get even longer soon. State Lawmakers want the department of motor vehicles to shut down 12 offices to save money. The Department and the legislature havent come to an agreement on which offices will get the axe.

Look at offices that have lower volumes. Offices that have other offices in the general area or offices where the tax collectors in the area are willing to take on more drivers license services, said Julie Baker, a spokesperson with the Department of Motor Vehicle.

Offices arent the only place the legislature is looking for budget relief. Lawmakers are also looking at raising the price you pay to get your license. People getting their drivers licenses renewed quickly, arent worried about the fee increase. Theyre just worried about the process taking more time.

People dont have an hour or an hour and a half to wait on a license, said Anthony Kidd, who got his license renews in less than five minutes Monday.

The department hopes to offset any closures by bringing in offices on wheels.

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

Health Workers Recognize Two Suffering From Super TB in Florida

March 24th, 2008 by flanews

Florida Health Department workers acknowledged two people in Lantana, Florida suffering from an antibiotic resistant strain of Tuberculosis. Monday was World Tuberculosis Day and state health workers used the occasion to spread awareness of the contagious disease. About a thousand people in Florida suffered from TB in 2007. The number of cases of are down 6 percent from 2006, but in recent years some TB strains have developed a resistance antibiotics.

Multi drug resistant MDR strains and extensively resistant XDR strains have emerged and we need to be vigilant and prepared to address these infections, said Ana Viamonte Ross, the Secretary of the Florida Health Department.

Symptoms of TB range from coughs to night sweats. Health workers say if you have these symptoms and have traveled abroad or been near an affected person, you should get to a doctor and get check for the disease.

Posted in Health, State News | No Comments »

New Secretary of New Juvenile Justice Wants To Achieve Goals Despite Budget Cuts

March 24th, 2008 by flanews

Monday was the first day on the job for a former lawmaker taking over the Department of Juvenile Justice. Former Florida Representative Frank Peterman inherits the department in the mist of steep budget cuts. Earlier this year the blue print commission released recommendations aimed at revamping Floridas juvenile justice system. Peterman says despite the budget predictions, he thinks the recommendations can still be put into effect. One of his first goals is to get everyone on the same page.

There are some institutional areas that are operating very well in the department. I just think we need to bring more synergy in certain areas of the department. Were getting there everyday. Personal is on board now and were moving forward, said Peterman.

Peterman resigned from the Florida house earlier this year. Hes replacing Walt McNeil as the head of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Posted in Children, Criminal Justice, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Study Says Voters Want More Cigarette Taxes

March 24th, 2008 by flanews

Cigarette Smokers looking to kick the habit may just get the extra boost they need. A proposed bill could increase Florida’s current cigarette tax as much as a dollar a pack. Supporters of the bill hope the increase will prevent teens from smoking as well as persuade those who are already smokers to stop.
First and foremost, the public health community feels the most important thing to do is to raise the price of cigarettes. Doing that alone the public health benefit would be tremendous because fewer people would smoke and you’d have fewer death and disease from tobacco consumption, said Paul Hull with the American Cancer Society.

A recent statewide poll claims that 7 of 10 voters feel the current tax is too low, and 80 percent of voters support a dollar cigarette tax increase.

Posted in Health, Legislature, State Budget, State News, Taxes | 1 Comment »

More Court Cuts

March 21st, 2008 by flanews

Floridas court system may lose ten percent of its budget next year. Floridas judges say the cut would mean nearly a thousand court employees would lose their jobs. As Whitney Ray tells us court employees say fewer people would be prosecuted, and programs would shut down.

Hear it here: More Court Cuts

The court system isnt the only state program dealing with budget cuts. Lawmakers have to find more than three billion dollars from next years budget.

The Leon County Courthouse was deserted on Good Friday. Judges say quiet hallways and empty parking lots may become the norm if their budget is cut, again. Lawyer Jim Banks said another round of budget cuts will severely wound Floridas Court system.

You cut salaries, you cut people. You cut people, you cut services. The court system is known to be slow, at least in the publics mind, this is going to slow things even more, there will just be things that never get to court, said Banks.

An appropriations committee wants Floridas courts to operate on 42 million less dollars next year. One lawmaker wants defense attorneys to make sure their clients cant pay for a private lawyer before they offer representation on the states dime. One suggestion to help save money is for state attorneys to be more selective about whom they prosecute. If lawmakers approve the cuts the courts mediation system could go. Without mediators, judges would have to pickup extra duties.

Most of the cases that have to go to a judge have to go through a mediator to get there. So if all these cases go through a mediator and you cut out mediation services, its going to increase the work load for the judges dramatically. And they can barely keep up with the work load now, said Banks.

The latest budget battle between the courts and lawmakers ended in a compromise. Lawmakers are listening to judges, but say they dont plan to bend this round.

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Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Olympic Competitor Remains Hospitalized , Family Speaks Out

March 21st, 2008 by flanews

Its been almost a week since Olympic rider Darren Chiacchia was hospitalized. Now his family is speaking out. Chiacchia suffered life-threatening injuries after his horse landed on him at an event in Tallahassee Saturday. Chiacchie has several broken ribs and a brain injury. Despite his condition, his family remains optimistic that hell make a full recovery.

Hes just that kind of kid I mean I dont think youre going to stop him and I think everybodys got to think that way. You know I would never tell my brother that hes never going to do that again because thats his passion thats what hes always wanted to do his whole life so Im confident and were all confident, said Dan Chiacchia, Darrens brother.

Chiacchia was on the U.S. equestrian Olympic team in 2004.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Dismissed: Democratic Delegate Lawsuit

March 21st, 2008 by flanews

A federal appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the denial of delegates to Florida Democrats. The suit was filed by Tampa resident Victor DiMaio. DiMaio says the Democratic National Committee is disenfranchising voters by not counting the parties delegates. DiMaio plans to re-file his suit. National committeeman Jon Ausman said even if the suit is re-filed, the matter will have to be settled by the campaigns before the courts get to it.

The federal lawsuits are a waste of the judges time as well as the citizens money. You have to go through the party because this is an internal party event. And you have to be willing to deal with the rules and bylaws of the committee or the convention credentials committee, said Ausman.

The state democratic party was also listed in the suit. A spokesperson for the Florida Democrats declined to comment about the courts decision.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News | No Comments »

Bill Aimed At Protecting Teens From Themselves

March 20th, 2008 by flanews

It could soon be harder for your 16 and 17 year olds to get their licenses. As Whitney Ray tells us, lawmakers want teens to pass a class before they hit the road.

Hear it here: Bill Aimed At Protecting Teens From Themselves

Sixteen, 17, and 18 year olds have the highest rate of car crashes and are involved in more fatal accidents than any other age group. New legislation approved by a house committee would make it harder for 16 and 17 year-olds to drive unless theyve had a drivers ed course. Sponsor Kevin Ambler says the idea is to protect kids from themselves.

The risk of teen accidents on the road are much higher from 15 to 20 years of age, said Ambler.

Representative Kevin Ambler sponsored a bill, drafted by teens that would keep some of their classmates from driving until they turn 18. In 2006, more than a 130 underage drivers died in wrecks.

Two thirds of those accidents could be avoided potentially by giving proper drivers education, said Ambler.

The bill sets up a statewide drivers ed curriculum. The bill would raise the price you pay for a drivers license to help fund Drivers education. Young drivers say its a small price to pay to save a life.

Theres a lot of teens that dont need to be driving, said Philip Olcese.

T.J. Mouse is a 17 year-old who helped write the legislation.

Well they may not like it but when it comes down to it, its better from them, Its better from everyone if Florida, so they can just deal with it I guess, said Mouse.

Teens under 18 could still drive, but could not carry more than one passenger.

Posted in Children, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Lawmakers Call For Noose Ban

March 20th, 2008 by flanews

Lawmakers gathered at the old capitol Thursday in Tallahassee, to rally support for a bill to ban hanging nooses in public. For many the noose is a reminder of the murders of hundreds of African Americans in the early and mid 1900s. Recently at a south Florida school, a group of teens hung a noose from a lunch table umbrella. Fourteen year-old Moreni Akinde saw the display and was shocked.

At first I was mad. Then I was just disappointed they would actually, put it off as a joke, and then I was inspired that they should be educated, because this hate crime is derivative of ignorance, said Akinde.

The proposed bill would also ban the public display of the swastika.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Crist Says Wrongly Imprisoned Man Should, Will Get Paid

March 20th, 2008 by flanews

Lawmakers will have to decide how much a year of life is worth. A proposed bill would pay a man who spent 24 years in a Florida prison for a crime he didnt committee. Al Crotzer met with Governor Charlie Crist Thursday in Tallahassee, to rally support for a bill that would pay Crotzer more than a million dollars for time served. Crotzer told a group of reporters he wants to give back to the community. But reporters werent the only ones asking questions.

I want to set thing up where I would be able to deal with at risk youth, and trying to ask for a job on the side with criminal justice, with the juvenile justice system, Crotzer said.

What would you tell those at risk youth? asked Crist.

Make the best of the situation that you can, every chance that you get, Crotzer responded.

Crist told reporters he thinks the bill will pass.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

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