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Amendment 5 In Trouble

August 29th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Two Florida counties said yes to tax initiatives this past week. The votes came at a time new poll numbers show Amendment 5, the tax swap amendment, could be in trouble if it gets back on the ballot. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the question about taxes comes down to what voters know.

Voters in rural Gadsden County on Tuesday approved a half cent sales tax increase. The cash will fund a hospital. Amos Brown was one of the nearly 7 thosuand people who said yes.

“Well, we need a local hospital because right now it’s very inconvenient for us to travel all the way to Tallahassee,” Brown said.

It’s not just little places like Quincy Florida where people are saying yes to a tax increase. Voters in huge Miami Dade on Tuesday also said yes.

Nearly 9 out of ten voters in Miami Dade also said yes to keeping a half mil on their property taxes to fund child care issues. Florida Taxwatch says it’s all about accountability.

“Government officials made the case, we want this money to go to this specific purpose and the tax payers responded accordingly,” Harvey Bennet with Tax Watch said. “It’s really power to the tax payers.”

Next week, the Florida Supreme Court will hear an appeal on Amendment 5, the amendment swaps school property taxes for higher sales taxes and other unknown assessments. The amendment was thrown off the ballot for being vague. Even if it gets back before voters, a new poll suggests it could have a hard time passing. One reason is voters like Selena Jenkins.

“I’m against that,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think we need to cut our education. Anywhere.”

Ironically Selena voted no on the Gadsden half cent sales tax, but she is not so hungry for a tax cut that she’s willing to risk funding for schools.

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

Storm Damage Creates Small Business Boom

August 28th, 2008 by flanews

Tropical Storm Fay damaged more than 17,000 homes across the state, but it could prove to be a savior for some small businesses. As Whitney Ray tells us, roofers, landscapers, and tree trimmers will have their hands full fixing the damage Fay caused.

Hear it Here: Storm Damage Creates Small Business Boom

Mario Menduni owns Mendunie Tree Service. He and his crew have been busy cutting up trees, ever since Tropical Storm Fay ripped through the panhandle.

“First call was Friday night at 11:00. A guy had a huge pine tree split in two. He was afraid it was going to hit his house,” said Menduni.

Fay damaged thousands of homes across the state. Mario says the storm’s been bittersweet.

“Financially this is good for us. Its much more dangerous work though. I definitely welcome business, but these are not the circumstances I’d pray for,” said Menduni.

Huge jobs like removing this giant tree will keep businesses like Mario’s busy. Especially once homeowners begin receiving their insurance checks. More than 17,000 claims were filed with the state’s top five insurance companies.

“People will benefit as the policyholders start getting their claims paid. Specifically we’re talking about people in the construction industry, people in the supply industry, as well as the economy as a whole,” said Ed Domansky, a spokesman for the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The storm will help Chris Waters will put extra money in his pocket. Chris picks up tree limbs for Mario’s company as a second job.

“Two weeks ago I wouldn’t even call him for a job to be honest with you because there really wasn’t much to be done. Now that I know he’s busy, I call him every once and a while, see what what’s going on. If these storms keep coming he’ll be busy for the next year or so,” said Chris Waters.

While people in the tree trimming industry say the last thing they want is a dangerous hurricane season, when it comes to their economic health a storm could be the saving grace in a state where the majority of the unemployed are blue collar workers. Menduni Tree Service cleans up debris statewide. They can be found at www.mendunitreeservice.com/

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News, Weather | No Comments »

Governor Appoints Conservative Judge to State’s Highest Court

August 28th, 2008 by flanews

Thursday Governor Charlie Crist made his first of four appointments to the state’s highest court. Appeals Court Judge Charles Canady will replace Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero. Canady was appointed to the 2nd District Appeals Court by Former Governor Jeb Bush. The conservative judge graduated from Yale University in the late 70’s. He served in the Florida House and Congress. Canady said his life of public service has prepared him to be a Supreme Court Justice.

“The job in many respects will be similar to the job I’ve had as an appellant judge on the 2nd district Court, but its of course I think a more demanding job, but I’m looking forward to meting the challenges of this new responsibility,” said Canady.

Governor Crist will make three more State Supreme Court appointments over the next six months.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | 2 Comments »

McCain Leaves Crist in Florida

August 28th, 2008 by flanews

Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain is expected to announce his running mate tomorrow in Ohio and it appears Governor Charlie Crist won’t be on the McCain ticket. Crist told reporters today he plans to be in Florida tomorrow, not at the McCain rally.

“I plan to be in Florida,” Crist said.

A reporter asked “Does that mean you’re not the VP choice then?”

“That means I plan to be in Florida,” Crist said.

Later in the day Crist says he’ll put his full support behind the McCain ticket.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | No Comments »

Gambling On Seniors

August 28th, 2008 by flanews

State Regulators will decide if stricter rules are needed on a rare life insurance policy called stranger owned life insurance. The insurance targets seniors. It allows an investor to take out a life insurance policy on an older person. The senior can then draw money from the policy. The insurance can pay off big for the investor if the person they’ve insured dies soon after the policy is written. Office of Insurance Regulation spokesman Ed Domansky said the insurance could open the door for people to victimize seniors.

“It’s something that’s been out there, I can’t say that it’s not been a prominent thing. Generally the people that market this product market to seniors and often time they tend to victimize senior because there’s various tax consequences and other insurability consequences moving forward once a senior has entered into this kind of arrangement,” said Domansky.

Thursday, State regulators listened to public comment about stranger owned life insurance. They’ll decide if stricter regulations are needed.

Posted in Insurance, State News | No Comments »

St. Francis Helping Fays Other Victims

August 27th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

This week old baby buck was found in a Tallahassee backyard Wednesday morning. He ended up in Donna Cross’s care at the wildlife rescue organization St. Francis Wildlife.

“He’s scared. He’s not sure what’s going on. He was found drenched,” says Cross.
“Because of Fay, there’s so much flooding that the mothers are able to get away but the babies, they can’t follow.”

It’ll be 6 to 8 months before these fawns are ready to be released into the wild.

The orphaned baby buck is not alone. There is a baby raccoon, which Cross says barely survived. “She was brought in drenched, wet, coming down a drainage in the street. And somebody found her. They thought it was a kitten.”

Add a hawk with an injured wing. “She’s dehydrated, she’s emaciated. Not finding food in the storms right now so we’re force feeding her.” says Cross.

There are also hundreds of baby squirrels. Brandy Weaver of the Northwood Animal Hospital took in a hundred in three hours on Sunday.

“Typically,” says Weaver, “From the wind from the storm, their nest was blown down.”

Volunteers are braving a muddy dirt road out in the country that more often has them getting stuck then getting through just to try and save the animal. Volunteer Amy Beach  her husband came to feed the squirrels.

“Our girls are quite anxious for us to get home and take some home with us so they can help feed them” says Beach.

In all but a few cases, the animals are released back into the wild after regaining their health. The 30 year old organization depends on volunteers, donations and some grants to stay in operation. You can learn more about it and how to care for and help injured animals at its website:


Posted in Business, Children, State News, Weather, Wildlife | No Comments »

DUI Crackdown

August 27th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Police across the state are cracking down on drunk driving this Labor Day weekend and they have a new slogan: Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest. The crackdown on impaired drivers has already begun. Last year, more than 13 thousand people nationwide in alcohol related deaths. Randall Smith with the Florida Department of Transportation says there is just too much to lose driving drunk.

Sot: Randall Smith
Fl. Dept of Transportation

“People need to think about the responsibility they have to keep themselves safe and their fellow motorists.  Also, if you drink and drive and get arrested, you gotta go home and explain that to your family and your employer.  So, it just makes sense just to not drink and drive.  There’s far too many risks involved.”

Labor Day Weekend in Florida is among the deadliest for drivers – with 39 people killed on Florida roads last year.

Posted in Business, Criminal Justice, Gas Prices, Highways, Insurance, Transportation | No Comments »

Voters in the Dark

August 26th, 2008 by flanews

Voting across the state went mostly without incident Tuesday. Three polling sites opened late because of power outages. Others had electrical problems after polls opened. As Whitney Ray tells us, flooding from Tropical Storm Fay kept some people from getting to the polls and others had to vote in the dark once they got there.

Hear it Here: Voters in the Dark

These voters are in the dark, literally. A tree weakened by Tropical Storm Fay fell on an electrical line, knocking out power at the polling site. But voting continued with emergency battery power.

“They accommodated those of us who don’t see very well,” said Tallahassee resident Dot Carroll.

Ninety two year old Nathaniel Lofton didn’t let a pesky power outage keep him from the polls. Fay damage didn’t stop him either.

“I just get out and vote. I’ve been doing it ever since I’ve been big enough,” said Lofton.

Still, some who wanted to vote couldn’t leave their homes. Flooding in a Tallahassee neighborhood kept people from getting to the polls, but if they called their elections office and requested an absentee ballot they were still able to vote.

Tuesday’s Primary was the furthest thing from Ronnie Mackey’s mind when Fay swept over his neighborhood, dumping buckets of rain and flooding the area.

“We’ve pretty much been trapped,” said Mackey.

Ronnie plans to get his neighbor’s boat or hike through the woods, whatever it takes, he says, to have his vote counted. Election officials in some counties delivered absentee ballots to people who lived in hardest hit areas and requested a ballot before noon.

Posted in Elections, Hurricane Season, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Uncountable Paper Trail

August 26th, 2008 by flanews

Tuesday’s election is the first in Florida history where every polling site in the state is using paper ballots and optical scan machines. The law eliminating touch screen voting machines was passed in 2007 and implemented this past July. The idea was to create a verifiable paper trail. But the law didn’t keep up with reality and in close races, not all the paper ballots can be counted. Poll workers will only be allowed to hand count over and under votes. Secretary of State Kurt Browning is hoping there isn’t a recount.

“It’s obviously the law we’re looking at and using in this election. That would be an issue for the 2009 legislator to address. Certainly there will be close races in Florida. I hope and pray not, but again there always are and we’re going to cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Browning

If the vote difference between candidates is less than one quarter of one percent, a machine recount will be held and poll workers could hand count just the over and under votes.

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

State Farm Rate Hike Denied

August 26th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

State Farm insurance customers are breathing a sigh of relief tonight. The state has said no to an average statewide 47 percent rate hike, that could have been much higher in some areas of the state. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the denial doesn’t mean rates won’t eventually go up, or that State Farm won’t start dropping policies.

On August 12th State Farm executives told regulators they needed a rate hike to protect their ability to pay future claims for their customers.

The same day, Governor Charlie Crist was asked about the rate hike.

“I think I’ll handle this case appropriately and I think you know what I mean by that,” Crist said. “Rejecting it.”

He was also asked if he would intervene in the case.

“I think I just did,” he said.

Now, regulators are telling State Farm the company is trying to make too much profit, is overcharging for reinsurance and that the rate hike is out of the question.

“I though the filing was just weak. It did not have appropriate support in a lot of the areas,” Ed Domansky with the Office of Insurance Regulation said.

Regulators say the governor’s remarks had no bearing on their decision.

State Farm has basically two options: they can appeal the denial or they can just live with it. Which means they could start dropping policies.

We asked State Farm spokesman Michael Grimes what was next.

“We are now going to review all our options and take the best course to protect our Florida policy holders,” Grimes said.

Then we asked if dropping policies was an option.

“That’s all I can really say at this time,” Grimes said.

Regulators say they will continue working with the company. State Farm has already promised not to drop more than 50 thousand wind customers in the state.

State Farm has 950,000 policyholders statewide.

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

Some May Need A Boat To Vote in Tuesday’s Primary

August 25th, 2008 by flanews

Early voting sites across Florida closed last week as Fay’s winds and rains made conditions dangerous for driving. Despite flooding at several polling sites, tomorrow’s primary election is on schedule. As Whitney Ray tells us, many people will be spending the day salvaging their belongings and clearing roads, not voting.

Hear it Here: Some May Need A Boat To Vote

Jessica Frank owns a women’s shoe store. Her practical pick of the day, rain boots.

“We started flooding this morning,” said Jessica, owner of Polka Dot Shoes.

Jessica spent the day assessing the damage to her store. Tomorrow, she’ll be asked to vote in the state’s primary. Secretary of State Kurt Browning said despite storm damage throughout Florida, polling sites will still open at seven.

“We’re going to continue to monitor with supervisors today, but I don’t anticipate closing any polls,” said Browning.

Despite polls being open, flooding will keep some people from casting a ballot. Jessica said voting is the furthest thing from her mind.

“I should I know, I should, but this is my first priority,” said Jessica.

Joe Mezzina owns a bike shop next to Jessica’s shoe store. He’s not going to let flooding keep him from the polls.

“It won’t take long to go vote. It’s just 5 minutes, so my plan is to go, so we’ll see how things go. I’m not going to be employed for a while,” Joe said.

While some may have to take a boat to vote, others may not be able to get out of their driveways, both of which could affect turnout for Tuesday’s primary.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News, Voting, Weather | No Comments »

Bush Grants Aid, Crist Wants More

August 25th, 2008 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist continues to seek more federal aid to help pay for storm damage. This weekend President George Bush declared four counties in Florida major disaster areas. The declaration allows the state to claim federal dollars to fix roads, schools, and government buildings in Brevard, Monroe, Okeechobee, and St. Lucie counties. Crist is asking for every county in Florida to be added to the disaster declaration list. FEMA Coordinating Officer Tom Davies says there hasn’t been enough time to asses all the damage.

“It slows the process down a little bit if the counties have just been working 24/7. Some of them are still in response. We wait till the counties are ready to go to do the actual assessment in the recovery phase. Water is down. We can get into the facilities. We can look at the homes. If at some point we can get individual assistance add on to this particular major disaster declaration we will then send out inspectors to everyone who calls into FEMA,” said Davies.

Davies says it could take months, even years to repair all the damage.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Housing, Hurricane Season, State News, Weather | No Comments »

Financial Services Assist Floridians With Insurance Questions

August 25th, 2008 by flanews

Floridians with property damage from Fay can call the state Department of Financial Services with questions about their coverage or claims adjusters. Fay left thousands of homes and businesses across the state flooded. More than 11-thousand homeowners have already submitted claims to their insurance companies. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is asking people with questions about their coverage to call the financial services hotline.

“We are able to help Floridians with insurance issues and insurance matters and Director Fugate made us aware that the Small Business Administration may very way be having some assistance programs for people to do further mitigation on their homes,” said Sink.

The number is 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.

Posted in Hurricane Season, Insurance, State News, Weather | 2 Comments »

Flooding In Wakulla May Get Worse

August 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Just over 11 thousand insurance claims have been filed so far as a result of Tropical Storm Fay. Allstate has yet to report. About one in ten claims so far involves flood damage, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the number is sure to go higher.

For victims pushed from their homes by rising water, the biggest thirst is for knowledge.

No mail was being delivered along Old Magnolia Road in Wakulla County Monday.
And for Flood victims like Waldo Thomas, who ferried us on his pontoon boat, knowing what’s happening doesn’t make it any easier.

“I’m hoping that it just doesn’t come up anymore,” Thomas said.

As many as 50 homes along the St Marks River are underwater…or soon could be.

Right now this tide is going out, but when it reverses and starts coming in, this water is going to get even higher.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission surveyed the damage by air, while an FWC officer and a Wakulla Deputy Sheriff patrolled the swollen river, checking on people and property.

“We’ll be patrolling the waters, to keep people from looting and all that along the waterside,” FWC officer Eric Johnston said.

“Like Eric said, driver’s license, proof of residence where you live there, if you don’t have it, you won’t be getting in,” Deputy Sheriff Steve Ganey said.

Life long residents of the area describe it as the worst flooding in 50 years. And the worst may be yet to come.

Heavy rains in Tallahassee today are expected to make the flooding worse.

Posted in Hurricane Season, Weather | No Comments »

Fay Continues Its Deadly Trek Across Florida

August 23rd, 2008 by flanews

Tropical Storm Fay continues its deadly trek across the Florida panhandle. The storm has claimed about a dozen lives in Florida already and left thousands of homes flooded. As Whitney Ray tells us, emergency workers are asking people to be cautious.

Hear it Here: Fay Continues Its Deadly Trek Across Florida

Tropical Storm Fay downed trees and power lines as it moved across the capital city. A huge oak tree crashed through the roof of this home, just feet away from Richard Colzie.

“It just exploded, and I saw it coming down and I pretty much just ran to the door,” said Colzie.

No one was injured.

The people in this home were lucky, a downed tree 30 miles from the capitol killed an electrical worker.

At midday Saturday the death count was 10. Governor Charlie Crist thanked emergency workers and expressed sorrow for the man who died trying to restore power.

“Floridians are great people and they continue to put themselves out to help our fellow Floridians, especially in a time of need like this and we’re just enormously grateful and very very sorry for the loss of life,” said Crist.

Emergency crews in the panhandle spent the day clearing roads

“If you don’t need to be out, stay home,” said Leon County Sheriff’s Detective William Punansuia

People who did head out in Fay faced flooded streets and high winds. Some who stayed home spent the afternoon picking up the pieces. Emergency workers are asking people across the state to keep a close eye out for flash flooding and tornados.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News, Weather | No Comments »

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