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Holiday Toy Warning

November 26th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Across the country last year, 80,000 children were sent to hospitals after choking on parts of a toy or being exposed to toxic chemicals. As Mike Vasilinda tells us. Toys made with toxic materials lead the 23rd annual Trouble in Toyland report.

Hear it Here: Holiday Toy Warning

Laura Loy is shopping for her sons first Christmas, and she’s finding it to be a challenge.

“I was actually wanting to buy that gift set, that has a lot of little balls and I’m thinking, I don’t want to have to pick it up,” Loy said. “So I want something big that he won’t choke on and that’s big enough for me to pick up.”

The aisles are packed with toys, some of them dangerous.  New Federal regulations are on the books, but not fully in place yet, says the Florida Public Interest Research Group. That means parents need to be careful.

“This pony contains nearly ten percent of the toxic chemical called phthalates,” Brad Ashwell with FPIRG said.  “A lot of other countries have banned it for awhile, but are sending their toxic toys over to the U.S. to sell them, moving the product over here.

Choking remains a concern for parents of small children.

There’s more to worry about than just small pieces. Parents also have to worry about parts breaking off.

Budgets may be a bigger concern for some this Christmas then seasons past. It’s what’s top of mind for mom Julia Marsh.

“I would say the price and how much they’re actually going to play with it,” Marsh said.

Last year, 33 Children across the country choked to death.

New Federal regulations will provide a database for parents to check which toys have been a problem, and there will be some toys banned from import, but those regulations won’t kick in time for this Christmas.

Posted in Children, State News | 1 Comment »

Cyber Safety

November 26th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

In the last three months, more than 75 thousand students in 1150 schools have been through the Attorney General’s Cyber Safety presentation. The course’s goal is to teach teens how to surf the internet safely. Sandi Copes, a spokesperson for the Attorney General says the course succeeds because it offers real life stories from real teenagers.

“They can relate to the students in the presentation,” Copes said. “They can relate to the information in the videos. And it’s interactive. We have some tell us about what they use the internet for, whether or not they actually know all 250, 300, even sometimes up to 1000 friends on their MySpace or Facebook pages. And usually they realize that no, they don’t actually know those people in real life. They could be chatting to people who really may not be who they say they are.”

The Attorney General says if your child has not had the internet safety course, parents should ask their child’s principle to schedule one.

Posted in Children, McCollum, State News | 4 Comments »

Living Within Your Means

November 26th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Shoppers can avoid stress, potential scams and overspending by planning in advance says Florida’s Attorney General. The AG’s office recommends doing some research on any new holiday-related scams and potential pitfalls. Sandi Copes, a spokesperson for the Attorney General is also suggesting families make a shopping list ahead of time and stick to a budget in order to avoid excessive debt.

“One thing that’s important for consumers to do is make a budget and keep to it, just because we don’t want people to end up with excessive debt for the holiday shopping,” Copes said. “It’s always fun to go out and find the perfect present for the people on your list, but we want to make sure that consumers are keeping in mind that their finances are impacted by these purchases and not get in over their heads.”

Tips for a successful shopping season include:

Reading sale ads carefully. Some ads may say “quantities limited,” “no
rain checks,” or “not available at all stores.”

Look for price-matching policies. Some merchants will match, or even
beat, a competitor’s price.

Ask about sales adjustments. If you buy an item that goes on sale the
next week, can you get a credit or refund?

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Foreclosure Moratorium On Horizon

November 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

On Monday, Governor Charlie Crist is expected to announce a plan to keep families who can’t pay their mortgage from being kicked out of their homes. Yesterday, Crist used the term moratorium. Today, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the Governor met with Florida bankers to hammer out a strategy.

Hear it here: Foreclosure Moratorium on Horizon

With 54 thousand homes in foreclosure in Florida, the state ranks 3rd in the nation. The rate jumped dramatically in October.

Now, Governor Charlie Crist wants to put a hold on kicking families out of their homes through the holidays or longer. Florida bankers met with the Governor Tuesday and say kicking people out of their homes is the last thing they have ever wanted to do.

“If they are willing to work out a payment plan and have it made and that’s their primary residence, bankers are willing to work with Floridians to keep them in their homes. That’s been a long-standing policy,” Alex Sanchez, President of the Florida Bankers Association said.

What bankers are objecting to is the use of the word moratorium. They say it sends the wrong message to people who still have money.

Banks don’t want any action to apply to families with assets or to apply to second homes. Shortly after the meeting the governor was backing away from the word moratorium.

“Well I don’t care what the terminology is, I just want to have compassion for people during a tough time” Crist said.

Charlie Crist was also embracing some of the bankers other concerns.

“Maybe have it apply to homesteads only, instead of some people who are speculating, you know, who have several Lexus in the driveway. You have to be reasonable about this kind of thing too,” he said.

Posted in Business, Charlie Crist, Housing, State News | 2 Comments »

Gerrymandering in Florida

November 25th, 2008 by flanews

State Supreme Court Justices are reviewing a proposal that could change the way legislative districts are drawn.  Since Republicans took over in the mid 1990’s, the districts are setup to give Republicans an advantage.  And as Whitney Ray tells us, the recent Florida vote may be the proof the court needs to make changes for the future.

Hear it Here: Gerrymandering

On November 4th America spoke. Democrats won the White House and gained seats in Congress.  Democrats outnumber Republicans here, but the state legislature remains overwhelmingly Republican. House Speaker Ray Sansom says voters made a conscious choice.

“I commend the voters because they did a great job, in my opinion in Florida, of separating us from the national congress,” Sansom said.

But choice at the state level was slim. One reason Obama lacked coat tails, says ACLU Spokesman Larry Spalding, is because legislative district lines give Republicans an unfair advantage.

“We don’t have competitive districts and the only reason we don’t have competitive districts is because the legislature essentially gets to pick its own seats,” Spalding said.

When the party in power draws lines to make sure they stay in the majority, it’s called gerrymandering.

A proposed constitutional amendment to stop gerrymandering is waiting for a decision from the Florida Supreme Court.

Attorney Barry Richard is arguing to put the amendment on the 2010 ballot.

“Because the Republicans are in power now and because they’ve drawn the districting, Democrats have a higher burden than Republicans in order to change the face of the legislature,” Richard said.

The amendment, if approved by the court, would require fewer political considerations and more fairness when lines are redrawn in time for 2012.

If the anti-gerrymandering amendment is approved for the 2010 ballot it would need 60 percent approval to pass.

Posted in Elections, Legislature, State News, Voting | 7 Comments »

Crist Congratulates Rhodes Scholar

November 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Rhodes Scholar and FSU defensive back Myron Rolle was a guest of Governor Charlie this morning. Crist presented the New Jersey native and newly named scholar a signed football, and congratulated Rolle on his achievements.

“All of Florida is truly proud of you and grateful to you. It’s an inspiration, what you have done and what you’ve accomplished,” Crist said. “I don’t know how you juggle all that you do and do all of it so well.”

Rolle responded by telling the Governor it was a thrill to be invited to meet with a governor.

“I do appreciate this and I do appreciate the opportunity to meet you.
Obviously it’s been a journey, a lot of hard work,” Rolle said. “I’m very proud that I
was able to win the Rhodes Scholarship and represent more than myself,
Florida State University and my teammates and my coaches, everyone who
supported me, and you, and the whole state of Florida. So this is a wonderful, wonderful moment for me. It’s exciting to meet you for the first time.”

Rolle has a 3.75 GPA and got a pre-med degree at FSU in two-and-a-half years while  mentoring Seminole Indian children in South Florida.

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

Toy Safety

November 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Public Interest Research Group is once again warning parents about dangerous toys. This year, the watchdog sited more than a half dozen items, including Pony Land Scented Pony, Silly Fish Squirters, The Red Plastic Super Car, the Halloween Skull earring, and the Littlest Pet shop among others. The toys present chocking hazards to small children, are made with toxic chemicals or lead.

Brad Ashwell says with a tight economy, parents should look to quality, not quantity.

“For parents who are struggling this year, most of them are, I would say they really need to shop around and be more careful than ever. The Representative made a good point, you know, sometimes it’s better that they get one expensive toy rather than a bunch of little ones, because often the little ones are cheaper. They use cheaper materials, cheaper paint, they will often contain led.”

Parents can check for more toys and tips on what and what not to look for on the group’s web site. www.toysafety.net

Posted in Children, State News | 1 Comment »

Ban on Gay Adoptions Rule Unconstitutional

November 25th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

North Miami resident Martin Gill won the right to adopt two children today. What makes this case unusual is that Gill is openly gay. A Miami circuit judge ruled the states ban on gay adoptions was unconstitutional because allows different treatment for gay people and the children they raise for no rational reason. Neil Skene, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Families says the agency will appeal.

“I may not like a traffic light that’s installed on the street corner, but I don’t have the right to just ignore it and go through the intersection,” DCF spokesman Neil Skene said. “So, the legislature has made a determination that there are categories of people that can and cannot adopt and it’s not for us to sit here and make an argument to the contrary.

A stay in the case is automatic when the state appeals, but it can be overturned by the circuit court if it is challenged.

Posted in Children, State News | No Comments »

Home Sales Up.

November 24th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Realtors say sales were up in October…by 15%.

10,443 existing homes sold statewide last month, up 15 percent over the 9,118 homes sold in October 2007. oct-2008-home-chart-1

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Demand for Solar Rebates Skyrockets, Fund Runs Dry

November 24th, 2008 by flanews

A state fund used to issue rebates to people who install solar panels on their homes is out of money. More than 1,300 Floridians who have already been approved for a rebate are now on a waiting list. As Whitney Ray tells us, people waiting on a rebate say the state broke its promise.

Hear it Here: Demand for Solar Rebates Skyrockets, Fund Runs Dry

Bill Minion spent more than 50,000 dollars installing solar panels on his home. The state promises Bill a 20,000 rebate. He’s still waiting on his check.

“I figure well I’m doing something for the community here and the state’s not doing their part,” said Minion.

A five million dollar fund to reward people who install solar panels on their homes has been so popular, the fund is empty and 1,300 people are waiting on rebates.

“Hopefully we will be able to give them their money as soon as we have money in the program,” said Sarah Williams, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Energy Office.

The program remains in limbo until lawmakers decide how much money the state can afford.

Bessie Schawarz leads a group pushing clean energy legislation. She says if lawmakers don’t find funding for the program few people will be able to make the switch.

“It’s not feasible right now for people to be stepping in that direction. What we need is for government to support a society that moves in that direction. People can’t make the leap financially,” said Schawarz.

And whether or not lawmakers can make the funding leap will depend on how they choose to balance a budget that’s already 2.2 billion dollars short. If lawmakers vote to fund the solar rebate program, the pending 2.8 million dollars the state owes in rebates won’t likely be available until July 1st, the beginning of the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

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

Crist Shows Interest in a Special Session

November 24th, 2008 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist is beginning to show interest in a special session to handle the budget deficit.

Crist has been pushing the decision back for months saying he wanted state economists’ latest prediction before he made a decision. Last Friday economists predicted a 2.2 billion dollars budget shortfall. Now Crist says he’s just waiting on agreement with legislative leaders before he calls lawmakers back to Tallahassee.

“I’m trying to get the temperature of both the House and the Senate their willingness to do the same. I don’t think it would be bad idea, but I do think it would be a bad idea to come here without you know a real agreement of what to do when we got here,” said Crist.

According to sources close to the governor and political blogs Crist will call a special session for the weeks of either January 5th or 12th.

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

Gaming Continues

November 24th, 2008 by flanews

The Seminole Tribe continues to ignore requests from the state to stop playing Blackjack and other Vegas-style games in Florida.

In July, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the compact giving the tribe the authority to play the games was illegal. Only the Federal government now has the power to shut the games down. Today Florida’s Attorney General sent his third letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission asking them to make the Seminole Tribe stop the games. The AG’s spokeswoman Sandi Copes says the tribe is breaking Florida law.

“The NIGC is the highest authority in these matters and they have the ability to issue the warning to the tribe and they should because this is Florida law we’re talking about. It’s being violated here,” said Copes.

State lawmakers are expected to examine the deal between the tribe and the State when they meet in March. If the current deal stays in place, Florida stands to collect more than a hundred million dollars a year from the gaming operations. But if they refuse to negotiate and the Indian Gaming Commission allows the games to continue, the state may end up with nothing.

Posted in McCollum, State Budget, State News | 4 Comments »

Homebuilders Lament Credit Woes

November 24th, 2008 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Homebuilders said today they are being strangled by bad credit policies and that none of the federal bailout going to banks is going into the homebuilding industry. Four of every ten job losses are already from the construction industry and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, builders say without relief, unemployment is only going to get worse.

Hear it Here: Homebuilding Woes

Homebuilding is at a virtual standstill in Florida. Painter Mike Carnes laid off two helpers and is barely keeping busy.

“So it’s just me, so I’m able to kinda stretch the work out ‘til we get another house to do,” Carnes said.

This house was pre-sold, or this lot would still be vacant.

Across the state, the story is the same. Lots like this one, cleared for construction, sit empty.

Florida Homebuilders are blaming banking practices for part of the problem. Builder Earl Snyder was almost in tears at a news conference as he talked about laying off workers.

“I mean we are in dire straits,” Snyder said. “We’ve got to do something.”

Snyder has great credit, pays his loans on time, yet is having his 2 million dollar loan called in by the bank.

“I think, just the rich are going to get richer and us poor are going to just stay in the holes,” Snyder said. “I don’t know the answer to the problem, but they’ve got to start lending us money. It’s critical.”

The State Homebuilders Association says more layoffs are on the way because banks are not opening the credit spigot after the bailout.

“The money is being misused, misappropriated, and misguided,” Valrico homebuilder Chuck Fowke said.

Many banks have also frozen construction loan payments, leaving builders in a lurch
halfway through a project, limiting their ability to finish houses under construction.

The builders met today with Florida CFO Alex Sink and the Bankers Association. Neither returned calls to discuss the situation.

Posted in Business, Housing, State News | 3 Comments »

State Faces a 2.2 Billion Dollar Budget Hole

November 21st, 2008 by flanews

The state’s financial health just went from bad to worse. Sales tax collections continue to drop like a rock, leaving the state with a 2.2 billion dollar budget hole. As Whitney Ray tells us, the budget void will have to be filled; the only question is how.

Hear it Here: State Faces a 2.2 Billion Dollar Budget Hole

Floridians are buying fewer cars, hosting fewer tourists, and even smoking less. The decrease in spending is taking a toll on the state budget. Friday state economists met to discuss just how deep Florida’s budget hole will get.

The state could tap rainy day funds to bridge the budget gap or call lawmakers back to Tallahassee and let them decide how to balance the state’s checkbook. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer wants lawmakers to do the job.

“I still believe it’s going to need a special session, because we can’t wait until March to make these critical decisions about cutting spending and readjusting our budget,” said CFO Sink.

And if lawmakers are called on to balance the budget health care and education could face the biggest cuts.

Educators say they can’t afford anymore cuts. Others say nothing is off the table.

Closing sales tax loopholes or raising the cigarette tax could generate enough revenue to fill the void. But those changes would have to get past the Republican led legislature; then the governor.

“Taxes aren’t something I’m very warm and fuzzy about,” said Governor Charlie Crist.

But with the deficit staring the state in the face there’s nothing warm and fuzzy, about the hard decisions that will have to be made.

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

Environmentalists Push Stricter Emissions Standards

November 21st, 2008 by flanews

The Environmental Regulation Commission postponed a vote today on rules that would require cars being sold in Florida to meet sticker emissions standards.

The rules are in place in California and are aimed at cutting down on greenhouse gases. Deputy Director for Audubon of Florida Eric Draper said if the auto industry doesn’t clean up its act, global warming could drastically change the state.

“We have a goal of reducing greenhouse gases in Florida by 80 million metric tons and that’s a big number but if we don’t do that the oceans are going to rise we’re going to start seeing massive coastal erosions and cities like Jacksonville and Miami will be under water,” said Draper.

The Environmental Regulation Commission will discuss the rules again on December 2nd.

Posted in Environment, State News, Transportation | 1 Comment »

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