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Gas Gamble

June 30th, 2008 by flanews

The Florida Lottery will buy a few lucky winners gas for their rest of their lives.
Tickets are now being sold for a massive gas give away. As Whitney Ray tells us, the gas gamble has people who never play the lottery buying tickets.

Hear it Here: Gas Gamble

While there are few winners in the gas game, for a few drivers luck will change. The Florida Lottery’s Summer Cash game offers a lifetime supply of fuel for people with the winning tickets. Sharon Devore said she never plays lottery, but when she heard gas was up for grabs she decided to gamble.

“I would be willing to buy a ticket once a week now in order to get gas for a lifetime,” said Devore

Prices over four bucks a gallon have some drivers feeling their luck is down.

“It’s very difficult between the grocery store and the gas station,” said Leslie Sullivan.

Michael Henry hopes this five dollar ticket can turn the tables.

“I want to play and see if I could win it. It would save me a lot of money in the long run,” said Henry.

Forty lifetime gas prizes will be awarded over the next two months. Four hundred people will win gas for a year. Winners will be given prepaid gas cards worth a hundred bucks a piece.

Lifetime winners will receive 26 cards every year. Some drivers say winning a lifetime supply of fuel wouldn’t change their driving habits.

“I’m definitely into conservation. I think it’s necessary,” said Sullivan.

To put it into perspective the gas giveaway may be the winning ticket for some drivers and the lottery. Sales for Florida’s Lottery are predicted to be down 43 million dollars this year. Drawings will be held on Wednesdays starting July 9th. The odds of winning depend on how many people buy tickets.

Posted in Gas Prices, State News, Transportation | No Comments »

Police Union Blames Budget Cuts For Correctional Officer’s Death

June 30th, 2008 by flanews

A Florida correctional officer was killed on the job last week. A Florida Police Union says budget cuts are to blame. Donna Fitzgerald, a correctional officer in Daytona Beach, was stabbed to death by an inmate last Wednesday. The Florida Police Benevolent Association says her death could have been prevented if the prison where she was working had more staff. While budget cuts were harsh, no correctional officer positions were cut. The police association says vacancies aren’t being filled and it’s making an already dangerous job worse.

“Officers are working at critical staffing levels at some places. They’re over worked. They’re tired. We really need to get the staffing levels up and again we think that’s done by paying quality salaries,” said Matt Puckett with the Police Benevolent Association.

Gretl Plessinger a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Corrections said the prisons have enough correctional officers.

“The prisons are staffed where they need to be staffed as far as correctional officers positions go. We have staffing matrixs in place and so our prisons are staffed,” said Plessinger.

The victim had 15 years experiences as a correctional officer. She leaves behind an 18 year-old son.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, State Budget, State News | 25 Comments »

Florida Resumes Executions

June 30th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

After 18 and a half months, Florida is set to resume executions tomorrow night at 6 p.m. Mark Dean Schwab is set to die exactly 16 years after being sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping and killing 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, controversy still surrounds the execution.

Mark Dean Schwab killed 11-year-old Junny Rios Martinez just a month after being released early from prison. He had already been convicted of raping a 13-year-old boy.

Executions in Florida have been on hold since December 2006 after the botched execution of Angel Diaz. Since then, the state says new procedures are in place; the execution chamber redesigned.

“The team warden will check the inmate to make sure he is unconscious before moving onto other drugs. Basically he’ll shake the inmate, call his name,” DOC spokesperson Gretl Plessinger said. “It’s similar to what a first responder would do.”

New video of the death chamber shows TV cameras above the gurney to help monitor the inmate.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected Schwab’s last minute appeal on Friday. His only hope lies with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union says Florida could have made the execution process more open and didn’t.

“All the protocol now says if something goes wrong, immediately pull the curtains,” Larry Spalding with the Florida ACLU said. “Don’t let the press, don’t let the public see what’s happening.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court has said executions are legal, it has sent the message that problems could trigger another review, which means Florida officials are on notice to get it right.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Bad DL Pictures Least of Drivers Worry

June 27th, 2008 by flanews

There are concerns the state’s drivers license database may not be safe in coming months. The company that makes Florida drivers licenses is up for sale and it could go to a French corporation. As Whitney Ray tells us, the Department of Motor Vehicles says they will keep your personal information under lock and key.

Hear it Here: Florida Drivers License Contract Could Go Overseas, Drives Worry Security

For many Floridians the biggest fear when getting a new drivers license is taking a bad picture. Digimarc, an Oregon company, makes the equipment that makes Florida’s ID’s, but the company’s on the market, and a French firm could buy it, raising fears that private information will be shipped overseas.

“It concerns me,” said Gainesville native Lee Gordon.

“It doesn’t look safe,” said Behdad Azadi

The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles says drivers have nothing to fear. The DMV says it keeps a close eye on people’s personal information and no matter who buys the company that information will stay in the state. Federal law requires drivers license information be kept under lock and key.

“We’re very sensitive about the fact that privacy is very important. The Driver Privacy Protection Act at the Federal and State levels have a lot of precautions in there and we’re very sensitive to that,” said Dave Westberry, with the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles.

State employees are responsible for recording personal information. It’s the equipment that’s outsourced. Whoever buys Digimarc would take over the cameras, LCD pads, and printers, not Florida’s driver database. The French firm isn’t the only company interested in buying Digimarc. There’s also another US corporation showing interest. The DMV says it will reexamine its contract when the company is sold.

Posted in State News, Transportation | No Comments »

Millions of Dollars in Rebates for Some Florida AT&T Customers

June 27th, 2008 by flanews

There’s millions of dollars waiting for Floridians who paid hidden charges. The Attorney General’s office reached an agreement with AT&T Mobility to pay people who were charged for ring tones and wallpaper that was supposed to be free. Attorney General Spokeswoman Sandi Copes said some people are owed hundreds of dollars.

“There’s several million dollars available for any AT&T Mobility customers and even Cingular customers in the state of Florida. We really want people to take advantage of this offer because if you’re losing 50 dollars a month for continent you thought was free that’s just not acceptable,” said Copes.

To claim a refund you can go to www.thirdpartysubscriptionrefund.com.

Posted in McCollum, State News | 1 Comment »

FAMU Out of Hot Water

June 26th, 2008 by flanews

The state’s only historically black university is out of the dog house. Florida A&M University was on probation for a year and almost lost its accreditation for financial and staffing problems. As Whitney Ray tells us, a taskforce assembled to investigate FAMU says most of the problems have been fixed.

Hear it Here: FAMU Out of Hot Water

There were shouts of jubilation at Florida’s only historically black university Thursday, as the school’s President made this announcement.

“Probation has been lifted,” said Dr. James Ammons, FAMU President
Florida A&M was in hot water for not keeping clear records of finances, firing people without good cause and not paying staff on time. The state assembled a taskforce to investigate FAMU.

The taskforce says the new administration fixed most of the problems that got the school in trouble in the first place. President James Ammons was hired to turn the school around. Ammons says the new administration worked tirelessly to get the school back on the right track.

“This team pulled together, worked extremely long hours and they got it done,” said Ammons.
Students say they had hope Ammons could turn things around.

“I never felt like we would loss accreditation, other people did, but I felt like we would come through,” said FAMU grad student Britney Extra.

Alumni kept the faith, even as the rain came down.

“It’s cloudy, but it’s sunshiny here at FAMU,” said FAMU alumni Diane Hall

While the school is no longer on probation, it lost nearly 3-thousand students in the interim, and now the focus will be on rebuilding the student base. The FAMU taskforce will release a final report on its findings and suggestions to keep the university out of trouble later this month. A copy of the report will go to the governor.

Posted in Education, State News | 3 Comments »

Sewage Leaks Raise Questions About Seafood Safety

June 26th, 2008 by flanews

A Florida Environmental group says the state’s oceans and seafood industry are endangered because of a broken sewage system. The Clean Water Network of Florida investigated more than 2-thousand sewage treatment plants throughout the state. The group says most of the plants it checked out were leaking sewage and chemicals into the water systems that flow into the ocean. They say some of the plants are outdated and too small to handle the state’s growing population. Jack Rudloe, the director of Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory says seafood in the gulf is being contaminated with human waste.

“You don’t poop where you eat. And that’s what we’re doing you know. We have a gulf of Mexico that has one of the riches seafood bodies in the world and were basically destroying it,” said Rudloe.

The group wants the state to pump money into Florida’s 4-thousand plus treatment plants and is calling for stricter penalties for centers that leak waste.

Posted in Environment, State News, Wildlife | No Comments »

Former Bush Spokesman Speaks To Floridians, Warns Next President

June 26th, 2008 by flanews

The Former Bush Administration Spokesman turned tell-all author was in Florida today. Scott McClellan spoke at the Tallahassee Civic Center. McClellan’s book, What Happened, accuses the Bush administration of deceiving the country into a war with Iraq. McClellan has received praises and insults for writing about the two and a half years he served as the President’s press secretary. McClellan says he hopes his book will inspire the country’s next leader.

“You’ve got to have a plan when you come into office to bring about that kind of bipartisanship if you’re going to make it happen so I hope some people will take away some ideas of how to do that and see how they have to have a plan from day one when they come into office,” said McClellan.

McClellan said he still hasn’t settled on a presidential candidate. His book is third on the Wall Street Journal’s Non-Fiction Best Sellers list.

Posted in Elections, State News | No Comments »

Gun Battle Goes to Federal Court

June 25th, 2008 by flanews

After a three year legislative battle, Governor Charlie Crist signed
a bill allowing people to take their guns to work as long as
the weapons remain in their vehicles, but as Whitney Ray tells us, the battle is now in federal court.

Hear it Here: Gun Battle Goes to Federal Court

The NRA and the Florida Chamber are fighting over two competing rights.
The right to bear arms, and personal property rights. The NRA says
people have a right to keep their guns in their cars while at work. The
Chamber disagrees.

“It limits the ability of the employers to provide a safe work place and
a safe working environment for their customers and their employees,” said Adam Babington with the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

A bill aimed at protecting gun owners from employers who don’t want
weapons at their business was signed by the Governor in April. The
Chamber went to federal court seeking to block the law before it takes
effect July 1st. The law would keep employers from searching employee’s cars for guns.

Signs like these can be found in parking lots across the state.
Restaurant owner Brad Buckenheimer says he would never post a no guns sign in front of his business. Bucknenheimer’s employees have to open before the sun rises, sometimes alone.

“If I’m a little bit late or somebody gets here before somebody else
they have to sit in the parking lot by themselves and I can see were you
know being a young girl they might feel that that’s the only way they
have to defend themselves,” said Bucknerheimer.

Lita Stone owns a barbershop. She’s not against her employees keeping a weapon in their car but she’d like to have the option to say no.

“I would like to be able to maybe have a say since it involves work,” said Stone.

The Florida Chamber says the right to bare arms doesn’t over shadow the
right of business owners like Stone, who want to know if a gun is on
their property.

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

Stimulus Checks Up In Smoke

June 25th, 2008 by flanews

A Report released Wednesday claims the average Florida family has already spent their economic stimulus check, not on laptops and ipods as predicted, but on gas. The IRS began issuing the checks in May. Some families received as much as 1,500 dollars. The Florida Public Interest Research Group also known as PIRG , released the report claiming the money went into people’s gas tanks. Families are spending an average of a hundred bucks a week on gas, up more than 40 percent from last year. The group is asking for more government funding for public transportation. PIRG spokesman Judson Parker said pumping money into bus and rail systems would motivate people to drive less.

“That should increase rider-ship which will give consumers a choice to again decide whether they want to be that slave to their automobile or whether they would rather use public transportation and I think the facts overwhelmingly show people are much more interested in public transpiration now than in any other time in history,” said Parker.

Congress is considering a bill that would provide 1.7 billion dollars for cities and states to expand their public transportation systems.

Posted in Gas Prices, State News, Transportation | No Comments »

Unemployment Pay Remains Low Even as More Floridians Lose Their Jobs

June 24th, 2008 by flanews

Florida’s unemployment pay is among the lowest in the nation at a time when more people are out of a job. The state’s unemployment rate is higher than it was a year ago and as Whitney Ray tells us, it could get worse.

Hear it Here: Unemployment Pay Remains Low Even as More Floridians Lose Their Jobs

For the last six months Renee Bryant has been looking for a job.

“The job market is very tight,” said Bryant.

Bryant use to make more than 30,000 dollars a year. When she got her unemployment check it was less than half of her old salary.

“It’s shocking knowing that you’re normal pay is much much more than what that unemployment check really is.”

The maximum unemployment pay in Florida is 275 dollars a week. Someone whose old job paid 100,000 dollars a year would receive the same employment check as someone with a salary of 30,000.

Two hundred and seventy five dollars a week breaks down to 6.88 cents an hour, that’s just nine cents more than minimum wage. You could make more money working at a fast food restaurant. Tiffany Frazier, who will be a laid off at the end of the month, was shocked at the news.

“That’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t be able to live off of that,” said Frazier.

Work Force Plus is a state agency helping people find jobs and receive unemployment benefits. Kimberly Moore is a regional director for the agency. Moore says the low unemployment wages have motivated some people to job hunt.

“Our numbers in terms of individuals accessing our services though our one stop centers across the region have grown tremendously as a result,” said Moore.

As the unemployed search frantically for jobs more people are being laid off and the cost of gas continues to increase. Hundreds of state, county, and city workers are expected to join the more than half million unemployed Floridians as budget cuts go into effect in July.

Posted in State Budget, State News, Taxes | No Comments »

AG Office Implements Job Training To Incarcerated Gang Members

June 24th, 2008 by flanews

The State’s Attorney General will set up seven task forces to try and stop gang activity in the state. Florida has one of the fastest growing gang populations in the nation. More than 4,000 known gang member are in Florida prisons with thousands more on the streets. The AG’s plan is to bring law enforcement agencies together in regional task force to share information about gang members and drug trafficking. McCollum said the old way isn’t working.

“Simply law enforcement on its own won’t do the trick. We can take down the gang leaders and we find the gangs growing back, they’re not completely gone. The kids are still being recruited. They’re still in the allure of this whole idea of a gang,” said McCollum.

Part of the plan is aimed at education and job training for gang members who are in prison.

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

McCollum Calls Fine Unfair

June 24th, 2008 by flanews

Attorney General Bill McCollum’s 2004 Campaign for US Senate had to cough up 50,000 dollars for failing to report money spent on advertising. McCollum says Hurricane Charlie made it impossible to report the more than 700,000 dollars. An evacuation order came down shortly before the hurricane hit. The storm knocked down trees and power lines near his campaign office. McCollum said the fine isn’t fair.

“The reason we didn’t get it reported is because of Hurricane Charlie and the follow up hurricanes. That was right before the primary. I had a problem, my team did. We couldn’t file. We were down. We literally couldn’t file, but in the statute there is no relief for an act of God in the federal campaign finance laws,” said McCollum.

McCollum said his campaign was fighting the feds, but decided to pay the fine to avoid a possible court battle.

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

Move Over or Pay Up

June 23rd, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

The Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies are stepping up
enforcement of the six year old “Move Over Law”. The law required
drivers to move over a lane and slow to 20 miles an hour under the
posted speed limit when passing emergency vehicles on the side of the road.

Tina Lambert of Panama City lost her 23 year son, who was working as a
Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy when he was struck. Lambert says she is
reminded of the tragedy every time she sees people ignoring the law.

“People just don’t care. They think it doesn’t mean them…that they
don’t need to move over…that they’ll never hit anyone. Or, even if I
were on the side of the road changing a tire, I would want people to be
courteous to me. Because you could get hit also and not even be in an
emergency vehicle. So this really saves everybody, not just law

Also at the kickoff event was State Trooper John Baker. Baker has been hit three times. He says he is more careful now than earlier in his FHP career. “My third one happened to be a guy under the influence of methadon and cocaine. Luckily there was another trooper who parked his car behind mine, and it was actually a buffer between my car and the violators car,
which everybody said I would have died in the third  one”.

Trooper Baker is still patrolling the highways over the advice of his
wife. Since 1997 some 151 law enforcement officers have been killed
nationwide on the side of the road. Signs about the law have now been posted in the rest areas along the states Interstate highways.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Highways, Insurance, State News, Transportation | No Comments »

Amendment 5 Opposition Builds

June 23rd, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

The November election is just a little over 4 months away and already a campaign to kill a tax cutting amendment is underway. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the fight against the so called tax swap has created some unusual allies.


Amendment 5 eliminates the majority of local school taxes know as required local effort. The sales tax would likely go up a penny, but that still leaves almost 6 billion dollars that has to be found or cut from the budget.

Some of the states most powerful groups…Hospitals…nursing homes…schools…agriculture

Sen. Mike Haridopolus (R-Brevard County) had this to say: “We view this as as simple bait and switch”

The groups are out in force against the amendment. Wayne Blanton from the Fl. School Boards Association says it is a train wreck for the states economy “Public schools alone employ 360 thousand people, so you are looking at 40, 50, 60 thosuand people being laid off in education. This is an absolute disaster for public schools.”

Virtually every major business group in Florida wants to see this amendment go away…with the exception of realtors. Florida Realtors hung their hopes on Amendment One in January to boost sales….it didn’t…so now John Sebree says they will spent at lest a million dollars trying to pass the tax swap.

“Amendment 5 would definately be good for the real estate market, becaue it not just relief for current homestead peoperty owners. This is relief for every property owner in Florida”. says Sebree

We met Jim Ivey on a street corner. He freely admits he doesn’t know enough about the amendment….still…
he says…I’d rather pay it in sales tax”.

The fight will be bitter..long and expensive. The biggest hurdle supporters of 5 have is that it must pass with 60 percent of the vote.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

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