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Adoptions Hit All Time High in Florida

July 31st, 2008 by flanews

More kids were adopted in Florida last year than ever before, but the Department of Children and Families is still trying to find homes for more than 3,000 children. As Whitney Ray tells us, DCF is focused on finding homes for older kids, and keeping brothers and sister together.

Hear it Here: Adoptions Hit All Time High in Florida

These six boys are inseparable.

Theyre my brothers and I love them so much, said seven year old Michael Polston.

But it wasnt long ago the Polston brothers were living with foster parents. The oldest, Kevin, tried to keep his family together as they moved from home to home.

Wed come home from school one day and theyd be like okay were moving were being transferred to someone else, said Kevin.

Now things have changed. Deborah and Ricky Polston adopted Kevin and his five brothers.

When I got on the internet and saw the faces, and the sea of faces of children out there. It just broke my heart, said Deborah.

People across the state have been moved to adopt in record numbers.

Thirty six hundred children, who were fearful of facing this world alone, can lay those fears to rest, said DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth.

Now DCF is focused on finding homes for harder to place children such as; minorities, older kids, and children with disabilities.

The department is also trying to keep brothers and sisters together the state lucked out when the Polstons decided they could raise six boys.

Its a lot of work, but very rewarding, said Ricky.

A reward for the parents, and piece of mind for six children who now have a place to call home. In May DCF launched its Explore Adoption campaign and set up a website for people interested in adopting children. More than 8,000 people have visited the site. If youre interested in adopting, you can check it out at http://www.adoptflorida.org.

Posted in Children, State News | 2 Comments »

Man in the McCain Mask

July 31st, 2008 by flanews

Political antics by Democrats and Republicans are in full swing on the eve of visits by Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama. Today a guy wearing a John McCain mask visited the Republican Party of Florida in Tallahassee. The group Progress Florida named the McCain caricature Millionaire McCain. Damien Filer, A spokesman, for the group said the stunt was meant to draw attention to claims that McCain is out of tough with middle class families.

We wanted to make the point here in the states capital, its the Republican Party here thats raising funds for John McCains campaign in Florida and supporting his efforts, and unfortunately, the fact of the matter is his efforts, his campaign, his policies are out of touch with working families in Florida, said Filer.

The Republican Party of Florida set up its own stunt. While in Missouri this week, Senator Obama said Americans could cut down on gas costs by keeping their tires aired up. The state Republican Party put tire gauges in a bucket and posted signs calling Obamas idea, hot air.

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

Family Seeks Help Saving Home

July 31st, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

More than 3 thousand people have called a state hotline looking for help saving their homes since the line opened a month ago. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, many have nowhere else to turn.

11 month old Haley Allen may soon be homeless. Her parents are three months behind in their mortgage and looking for answers. When the housing bubble burst, dad Quintin job as a carpenter evaporated. A Sub prime loan isnt the problem, a lack of work is.

I cant get a job to save my life, Quintin Allen said. I cant get a job to save the house of course. Im not only behind on the mortgage payment, Im behind on a lot of payments.

The Allens house is for sale or for rent. Lacy Allen says the family will take whatever deal they can get.

Anything to try to avoid foreclosure and get somebody in here that can afford that payment, Lacy Allen said.

Where do they go from there?

We dont know right now. Were trusting in God.

The Allens are one of three thousand families who have called the state hotline for help this month alone.

The hot line for people facing foreclosures recommends legal services attorneys to try and help people stay in their homes. Operator Tracy Brim hears panic everyday.

Theyre scared. A lot of them have been in their homes for many years. Some have only been in their home a couple years, Brim said.

The Allens have been in their current home 18 months. The bank told them to expect foreclosure to begin August 1st, thats Quintins birthday.

Posted in Housing, State News | No Comments »

State Swindled

July 30th, 2008 by flanews

Five million, eight hundred thousand dollars were stolen from the state treasury and the man suspected of taking the money was nabbed just minutes before his flight was supposed to leave the country. As Whitney Ray tells us, FBI agents are trying to figure out if the man acted alone or if a state employee helped him steal the money.

Hear it Here: State Swindled

FBI agents say 35 year-old Ali Hammoud tried to pull off a caper worthy of the big screen. Last Thursday Hammoud was minutes away from boarding an overseas flight in Miami, agents say with millions of stolen dollars sitting in a Beirut Bank account.

Hammoud is accused of taking 5.8 million dollars of state money that was to be paid to Anderson Columbia, a road construction company. The money was supposed to be transferred into the construction companys account at Wachovia bank, but ended up in a Regions Bank opened by Hammoud.

The state wired four huge deposits into the account. The suspect reportedly forged state documents using a name he pulled off the construction companys website. The state was tipped off to the switch when an accountant called about the missing pay checks.

I talked to a representative from the company. He was shocked, no one from the state called his office before sending their money to another bank. A Spokeswoman for Floridas Chief Financial Officer said theyll look at their policies after the FBI finishes its investigation.

That is something that will come after the department is done working with federal authorities. Right now our focus is on making sure we can unwind all those transactions, said Tara Klimek.

Federal agents are also looking at whether or not any state employees helped Hammoud steal the money. The state is still working to recover all of the missing money. Hammoud is being held in a jail in South Florida.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

Insurer Seeks 28 Percent Rate Hike

July 30th, 2008 by flanews

State regulators are still deciding if theyll allow a Florida insurer to raise its rates. Farm Bureau is seeking a 28 percent rate hike. The Office of Insurance Regulation held a public hearing about the insurers request in Tallahassee today. Farm Bureau has more than a hundred thousand policy holders in Florida. The company claims it needs to raise rates so it can cover claims if a major hurricane hits the state. Florida Association of Insurance spokesman Bob Lotane said Farm Bureaus is legitimate.

This is a company that isnt owned by Wall Street investors theyre owned by the policy owners so theyre about Main Street and theyre not about Wall Street and thats the way theyve always operated. So when they ask about a rate increase that adds a little more credence the type of company it is and the history of keep their rates as low as possible, said Lotane.

OIR spokesman Ed Domansky said regulators need more proof to support Farms Bureaus claims.

It really comes down to a matter of not whether theyve had a rate hike or where their rates have been over a number of years it really comes down to whether or not theyve properly documented in their filing the rate that theyre requesting now, said Domansky.

Regulators said they expect to have decision soon. Next month OIR will hold a hearing into State Farms request to raise rates 47 percent.

Posted in Insurance, State News | No Comments »

Head of DCF Resigns

July 29th, 2008 by flanews

Bob Butterworth, the head of the states Department of Children and Families, is stepping down. Now Governor Charlie Crist will have to find a replacement for what he calls the toughest job in Florida. As Whitney Ray tells us, Butterworth leaves some big shoes to fill.

Hear it Here: Head of DCF Resigns

Bob Butterworth was the longest serving Attorney General in state history. He took on the NRA and tobacco companies, but Butterworth says his 18 months as the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families is the toughest job he ever had.

Ive had a number of opportunities in my almost four decades of public service.. But this I believe has been the greatest challenge and most rewarding challenge, said Butterworth.

Butterworth announced his resignation Tuesday. Governor Charlie Crist praised Butterworth and joked about why he appointed him.

Its probably the toughest job in Florida, its probably why people think I appointed a Democrat, Crist joked.

Butterworth took over the troubled agency in January 2007. During his 18 months at DCF, the department has seen a record number of adoptions, finding homes for more than 3,500 children. Under his leadership DCF has been able to cut down on the number of kids in state custody.

We have 22 percent fewer children in foster care, keeping families together and were leading the nation in this arena and others, said Butterworth.

While Butterworth says his greatest accomplishment was bringing more transparency to a department scrutinized for keeping things from the media, the Governor says his legacy will continue through the kids helped under his leadership. Butterworth will step down August 15th. It will be up to the governor to find his replacement.

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

Gun Battle Ends in a Draw

July 29th, 2008 by flanews

The three year gun battle between the NRA and the Florida Chamber of Commerce has ended in a draw, at least for now. A Federal judge upheld the law allowing employees to keep guns locked in their cars while theyre at work but his interpretation weakened the law. When the law took effect in July all employees and customers could keep guns in their cars in the parking lots of Florida businesses. Now only employees who are licensed can take guns to their work places. Florida Chamber of Commerce Spokesman Dan Krassner sees the ruling as a win for Florida Businesses.

The good news is that visitors and customers coming on private property, the court sided with the Florida Chamber in that, that employees should be able to limits those visitors, said Krassner.

At least four Florida companies, including Disney, still claim theyre exempt from the law. Attorney General Bill McCollum has been receiving complaints from people who were told they could bring their guns to work.

We are in the process of looking at, on a case by case basis as the law requires, those who are claiming exemptions under the law, and those are still being resolved. There are about four of them now that were aware of, organizations that believe either a portion or all of their property is exempt, said McCollum.

Governor Charlie Crist said hes glad he was able to sign the legislation.

My reaction is, I think its a good ruling. I applaud the judge and Im glad I signed the bill, said Crist.

The NRA is also claiming victory. No word yet on whether or not either side will appeal the judges decision.

Posted in Business, State News | No Comments »

Crist Calls State Farms Request Appalling

July 29th, 2008 by flanews

State Farm is awaiting a decision on its request to raise property insurance rates by almost 50 percent. State Farm is the states largest public insurer. The company claims it will lose money if a hurricane struck Florida and it needs to increase rates to prepare for a storm. State Farms request came while the governor was on an overseas trade mission. Governor Charlie Crist is asking for the request to be denied.

I was shocked to see them request that high a rate increase. You know overall the average has been a 16 percent decrease in property insurance in Florida, in the last year and a half. And I think its appalling State Farm would ask that rate increase. Ive sent a letter to commissioner McCarty to that affect and I hope that he will reject it, said Crist.

A public hearing regarding State Farms request has been scheduled for August 12th in Tallahassee.

Posted in Housing, Hurricane Season, Insurance, State News | 1 Comment »

Florida Protected, For a Price

July 29th, 2008 by flanews

If a large enough hurricane hits Florida and the total amount of damage reaches the 16 billion dollar mark a Warren Buffet company will come to the rescue, for a price. A reluctant State Board of Administration voted two to one to buy hurricane coverage from Buffets Berkshire Hathaway company. The deal allows the state to borrow four billion dollars from the company if storm damage exceeds 16 billion dollars. As part of the deal the state will have to pay the company more than 220 million dollars a year for the extra coverage. Attorney General Bill McCollum voted against the deal.

The odds of our having to need this money are about three to four percent. Thats what statistics show, thats the relevant study done before we ever undertook when looking at whether we needed more liquidity, said McCollum.

Floridas Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, expressed concerns with the deal, but went along with Governor Charlie Crist in approving the extra insurance saying at this point there are no other options available to sure up the Catastrophe fund.

Posted in Cabinet, Charlie Crist, Hurricane Season, Insurance, McCollum, State Budget, State News, Weather | 1 Comment »

Financial Services Chief Keeps His Job…For Now

July 29th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

The state’s top mortgage regulator is keeping his job, at least for another two weeks. The governor and cabinet gave Financial Regulations director Don Saxon until August 12th to come back with proposals to insure convicted felons are not being licensed as mortgage brokers. In the interim, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the office will be thoroughly investigated.

The number of felons given licenses to be mortgage brokers and why will be the focus of a two-week investigation. With his job on the line, the states top financial regulator is disputing published reports that the number of felons licensed as mortgage brokers could be as high as ten thousand people.

If we made mistakes, they were honest mistakes, Saxon said. Contrary to media reports we do not have a systematic process of licensing felons.

The embattled director is now proposing a rule prohibiting issuing a license to anyone convicted of a felony in the last seven years.

CFO Alex Sink says the proposed change is too little too late.

I happen to believe, and have been told, that there are many systemic problems about the licensing operations, Sink said.

Governor Charlie Crist also indicated his patience was growing thin.

My confidence is shaken, candidly, Crist said.

Over the next two weeks auditors will look at how mortgage licenses are granted, how much scrutiny felons are given, and whether the agency is following the law.

The embattled regulator is confident the truth will reign out.

Theyll find out that weve been making the right choices for the things that we believe are in the best interest of the general public, Saxon said.

His job depends on it.

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

Financial Services Regulator to Keep Job…for now

July 29th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

The states top mortgage regulator is keeping his job, at least for another two weeks. The governor and cabinet gave Financial Regulations director Don Saxon until August 12th to come back with proposals to insure convicted felons are not being licensed as mortgage brokers. Inspectors General from the Governors office, the Attorney Generals office, the CFO and Agriculture Commissioner will use the next two weeks to determine if the office has been following state law. Saxons job will likely depend on the outcome of the investigation. Both CFO Alex Sink and the Governor indicated they have lost some confidence in the office to make sure the public is being protected.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Half a Million Florida Kids Are Living Without Health Insurance

July 28th, 2008 by flanews

A low cost health care service for kids has been expanded to every uninsured child in the state, but half a million Florida kids remain uninsured. As Whitney Ray tells us, state leaders want to get the word out so every kid is covered.

Hear it Here: Half a Million Florida Kids Are Living Without Health Insurance

For years Gena Grant worried about her kids health. She didnt have insurance and her son Timothy was suffering.

When my son was diagnosed with ADHA I was really lost about what to do, said Grant.

Gena turned to KidCare, a public-private health care provider offering low-cost coverage to Floridas youth. The average cost to families is about 20 dollars a month. The price was right for Gena, and now eight year old Timothy is excelling.

Timothy now is on the proper medication dosage and hes excelling. He does excellent in work, in school, Grant said.

About 1.5 million Floridians are enrolled in KidCare. Still about 500,000 kids remain uncovered. Lauren Baas was living without coverage for months.

I was scared. I hated going to my mom and saying I dont feel good, said Baas.

Laurens mom enrolled her in the program. Shell be able use KidCare until she turns 19. Lauren is just one of 70,000 people who were added to the program last year. Chief Financial Office Alex Sink said hard economic times caused the surge.

With hard economic times here, more families are qualifying for Medicaid eligibility. Also more families will be qualifying for discounted prices offered at Florida Healthy Kids, Sink said.

Health officials in all 67 counties will be hosting events this weekend to enroll people in KidCare before school starts. The KidCare program is now being offered to every uninsured kid in the state. To sign up for KidCare you can go to their website www.floridakidcare.org.

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

Farmers Say Tomato Scare Could Have Been Avoided

July 28th, 2008 by flanews

Florida farmers say the tomato scare that cost them an estimated one hundred million dollars, could have been prevented. Monday in Tallahassee, the state Commissioner of Agriculture and US Congressman Allen Boyd met with tomato farmers. They want the Food and Drug Administration to change the way it investigates and identifies food borne illness. Starting in April 12-hundred people throughout the country became ill with salmonella. The FDA said tomatoes could be the cause but they were never linked to the outbreak. Florida was pinpointed as a possible source but the FDAs investigation never made any links between the sick people and Florida. US Congressman Allen Boyd said the FDA needs to make changes to better protect farmers.

The FDA, they cant just go ruining an industry when theyre no sure about what it is that theyre ruining the public about, said Boyd.

Boyd will ask Congress to compensate Florida farmers.

Posted in Health, State Budget | 1 Comment »

Four-year-old’s Death Prompts State Review

July 28th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

It is every parents worst nightmare. You drop your child off at a day care center and expect them to be safe. A Tallahassee family is still in mourning after saying goodbye to their 4-year-old daughter over the weekend. The child was killed by a fire at her day care center, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the death has prompted the state to warn other day care centers about training and procedures.

Hear it Here: Four-year-olds Death Prompts State Review

150 people, family, friends and just the concerned, came to a candlelight vigil Friday night for 4-year-old Grace Chen.

Grace died July 11th, just 8 days afer her 4th birthday when a fire swept through this Tallahassee day care center. Another child alerted day care workers that Grace was missing, but it was too late.

The Department of Children and Families says both parents and day care providers can learn from what happened here.

Day care centers are supposed to keep track of which children are where in the center and workers are required to take the list with them if they leave. Because of Graces death, every center in the state is now being told to retrain their staff.

This tragedy was a result of an air vent or a ventilation fan, so well point that out to providers, Deborah Russo with DCF said.

Because of the death the state has started developing an online training course for all day care workers. Regulators say parents also have a role to play.

The parents should ask how often they do the fire drills, if they do them throughout the day, at different times of the day, during nap time, during lunch time. You dont know when a fire is going to occur, Russo said.

Any changes will come too late to help Grace, but hopefully not for the brother that Graces mother is carrying in her womb.

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

Investing in Futures, May Not Be Good For Floridas Future

July 25th, 2008 by flanews

The State is considering investing billions of dollars from its pension fund in oil futures. Some say the way oil is traded on the world market is the cause of high gas prices. Because of that fear, Whitney Ray tells us, the state could be helping raise the price at the pump.

Hear it Here: Investing in Futures, May Not Be Good For Floridas Future

Its a question, Congressmen and people at the pump want answered.

Does it have to do with the cost of the oil, said Guthrie Chibanduza.

The oil companies theyre huh, theyve got the prices so jacked up, said John Holley.

Why do I think gas prices are so high, said Anthony Marin. Hum, well you got me.

Jim Smith with Florida Petroleum Marketers says speculators are to blame for 4 dollar a gallon gas.

There are days on that international exchange where that same barrel of oil is traded four or five times, said Smith.

And each time a barrel is traded, the price goes up. Smith says without speculators the price of a gallon of gas would be $2.50. The State is considering investing billions from its pension fund in commodities, like oil.

Weve been evaluating commodities slowly and cautiously now for several years. We currently dont have any investments in commodities nor do we plan any in the immediate future, but we continue to evaluate them, said Dennis MacKee, the Director of Communications for the State Board of Administration.

If Florida invests in oil, there is fear the state would be contributing to higher gas prices.

Oil speculation on those international markets have driven the price of crude oil way up beyond what it should be, said Smith.

Congress is investigating the role speculators play in the record high oil prices. A measure to limit trading in the oil futures market failed in the U.S. Senate Friday.

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

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