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State Awaits Swine Flu Test Results

April 30th, 2009 by flanews

The state is awaiting test results from three people suspected of having swine flu. The tests are being conducted at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. As Whitney Ray tells us, Governor Charlie Crist is considering an executive order to bring more Tamiflu into the state as the number of suspected cases continues to rise.

State labs are testing 70 samples from people who could have swine flu. Three of the more severe cases have been passed on to the CDC. The cases are out of Broward, Lee, and Orange Counties

“The three cases we are even concerned about, every one is at home, has been treated,” said Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros, the state’s surgeon general.

Viamonte Ros is asking people to stay calm as the state awaits the test results.

“There is nothing to panic about. The symptoms have been extremely mild,” Viamonte Ros said.

Much of the focus has been on Central Florida. South Carolina students who came down with flu like symptoms after a trip to Orange County are now in the clear. There is still no word on the health of an Orlando tourist.

The state is staying tight lipped over the possibility of any cases coming out of Disney World.

Health Experts are asking people to wash their hands regularly and to stay home if they’re sick. Governor Charlie Crist is preparing for things to get worse.

“We’ve talked about the possibility of signing an executive order that would free up more Tamiflu if that would become necessary,” said Crist.

The state also has a stock pile of protective gear, including face masks and gloves should an outbreak hit Florida. Federal Customs and Border Agents continue to watch Florida’s air and sea ports, but for now our borders remain open to all travelers, including those from Mexico.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Health, State News | 1 Comment »

Pill Mill Bill Ready For Governor

April 30th, 2009 by flanews

Legislation to stop doctor shopping and shut down prescription pill mills is headed to the governor’s desk.

The Florida House passed the pill mill bill Thursday afternoon. Florida is one of only a dozen states that doesn’t have a prescription drug monitoring program. People from as far away as Kentucky are traveling to Florida to load up on painkillers. Representative Ronald Renuart said the state has a responsibility to the surrounding areas to control our narcotics.

“This is not the kind of business we want to attract here in Florida. How many children and young adults do we continue to lose in our state and also how many are we losing in other states because people are taking the pills out of the state of Florida to their own state. This must end,” said Renuart.

The legislation requires doctors and pharmacists to keep track of people would use prescription narcotics. It’s estimated that between 5 to 7 Floridians overdose on prescription drugs everyday.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Health, Highways, Legislature, State News, Transportation | 7 Comments »

Legislature Snubbing $444 Million Stimulus

April 30th, 2009 by flanews

Time is running out for the state legislature to secure 444 million in additional federal stimulus dollars.

In order to receive the money Florida would have to lighten its unemployment qualification standards. Legislation to change the standards and allow more people to qualify for unemployment is being snubbed by legislative leaders. House Sponsor Kevin Radar said there’s still hope.

“The governor likes it, which is probably a good thing to have on your side on an issue, but you know a lot will happen over the couple of days and we’ll have to wait and see,” said Radar.

Radar said his legislation could help keep the state’s unemployment compensation fund afloat. The fund is paying out 60 million dollars a week in claims because the jobless rate has grown to nearly 10 percent. Lawmakers say the fund will be dry by July.

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

Former Senate President, House Speaker Dies at 84

April 30th, 2009 by flanews

The only man to serve as House Speaker and Senate President following reconstruction in Florida died Thursday. Mallory Horne passed away in Tallahassee this morning.

Horne was 84 years old. Horne is credited with fighting south Florida legislators to keep the state capitol in Tallahassee. Here is Horne in a 2001 interview talking about his time leading both chambers.

“The Senate is overall a much more powerful job, in reality and in perception, but being Speaker of the House is in fact more fun, Senate is more powerful no question about it,” said Horne.

Two weeks ago the state senate honored Horne for his service and named a room in the Capitol after the legislative legend.

Posted in Legislature, State News | 2 Comments »

Family Ties

April 29th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Three families bound together by tragedy have worked tirelessly for years to change traffic laws in Florida, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, their efforts are about to pay off.

The seatbelt bill is being named for Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti. The Red Light Camera bill will carry Mark Wandall’s name.

Two teenage girls and a 30 year-old husband, all killed in traffic accidents, are about

to be remembered in state law. Irv Slosberg has spent the 13 years since his  daughters death working to tighten seat belt enforcement.

“It’s a bittersweet victory for me because I lost my daughter,” Irv Slosberg said.

Three years ago, Laura and Vincent Marchetti joined the seat belt fight after their daughter Katie was killed in a one car accident.

“She was ejected and run over by another car on 75, and he survived with barely a scratch,” Laura Marchetti said. “He wore a seatbelt.”

The measure would allow police to stop a car simply because its occupants aren’t wearing seatbelts. Right now they have to have another reason.

The fine remains 30 dollars.

Katie Marchetti’s grandmother’s voice still quivers when she talks about her granddaughter.

“You’re not supposed to bury your grandchildren,” grandmother Diane Sipe said. “My daughter is not supposed to have buried her daughter. We don’t want that to happen to other people.”

A second bill would allow cameras to catch red light runners on state roads. Melissa Wandall’s husband Mark was killed by a red light runner two weeks before her daughter was born in 2003.

“I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward,” Wandall said. “I’m looking forward to the people, the children, like my daughter, who are going to have dads that are coming home at the end of the day, because they’re not going to be killed by red light runners.”

Both bills have struggled for years, but because both produce revenue for the state, they’re getting the green light from lawmakers.

Posted in Highways, Legislature, State News, Transportation | No Comments »

State Workers Winning Budget Battle

April 29th, 2009 by flanews

State workers have fought off 300 million dollars in pay cuts, but they’re not off the hook yet. Higher paid state employees still face a 30 million dollar cut. As Whitney Ray tells us, the cut comes on top of three straight years without a pay raise.

They rallied, prayed, and now state workers are winning a budget battle against severe pay cuts. Just a week ago lawmakers were considering a 330 million dollar cut to state salaries.

“Now they’ve gone to a figure that is less than 10 percent of what they were talking about,” said Doug Martin a spokesman with AFSCME.

Everyone making less than 65,000 is off the hook. People making more could see a one percent cut. One percent may not seem like much but the cut would leave nearly 10,000 state employees with at lest 650 fewer dollars to spend on food, clothing, and bills.

Senator Al Lawson said the cuts will have a negative impact on the economy.

“It hurts the economy because people have less money to spend,” said Lawson.

Governor Charlie Crist said pay cuts are better than the alternative.

“I think some reduction is not unreasonable, but it sure is better than losing a job,” said Crist.

And with record high unemployment finding another job could be more difficult than living with less. There are 104-thousand state employees in Florida. 20,000 work in Leon County.

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

State testing 65 Samples for Swine Flu

April 29th, 2009 by flanews

State health workers are analyzing 65 samples from patients who could have swine flu.

So far no cases have been discovered in Florida. Test results from an Orlando tourist who visited Disney World over the weekend are still pending, but could be released any minute. Florida’s Surgeon General Doctor Ana Viamonte Ros said state health workers are prepared to handle the testing.

“Our four labs in Miami, Pensacola, Tampa, and Jacksonville are up and ready and analyzing cultures that are being sent by our providers around the state, They are encouraged for increased surveillance. Nothing from our labs has been sent off to the CDC because at the lab stage we have been able to determine that these are swine flu, the cultures we have received,” said Viamonte Ros.

In the US there are now 91 cases in 10 states. A Mexican toddler that died in Texas is the only fatality connected to swine flu in the US so far.

Posted in Health, State News | No Comments »

Citizen’s Rate Hike Could Affect Your Pocketbook

April 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

A battle is underway in Tallahassee over how much Citizen’s, the state run insurer of last resort, should be allowed to raise rates. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the bigger the break Citizens customers get, the higher the chance all of us will pay more for insurance.

Lawmakers are under some pressure to reach agreement. A freeze on Citizens rates expires in January and without a cap, premiums could rise as much as 40%, although state regulators have the final say.

Citizen’s customers could soon be paying 5, 10 or 20 percent more. How much will depend on lawmakers.

The Senate wants just 5 percent.

“The most that anyone can afford in this state is probably no increase at all, but at least let’s put a cap at 5 percent so people can somehow work that into their budget,” Sen. Mike Fasano (R-Pasco County) said.

The House is pushing a 10 to 20 percent hike.

“To go at 5 percent, I think is irresponsible and it’s almost insignificant,” Rep. Alan Hayes (R-Ocala).

Governor Charlie Crist says less is better.

“Obviously, when you’re in a tough economy if there’s less of an increase, that’s better for the people,” Crist said.

What’s going on here is a game of poker between the Senate and the House. Citizen’s customers will end up paying more, but the question is will everyone else?

f this beach house still looks like this after hurricane season, then non Citizen’s customers won’t see an assessment.  But if it looks like this, Citizens likely won’t have enough cash for claims and every policy holder in the state will be paying more. Business interests say  the more Citizens has from higher premiums, the less risk to everyone else.

“We need to start having a real, honest conversation with the state of Florida about what these rates really mean,” Jose Gonzalez with Associated Industries of Florida said.

Most policy holders in Florida are already paying an extra 10 percent. That covers the losses from the 2004 and 2005 storms.

Lawmakers are under some pressure to reach agreement. A freeze on Citizens rates expires in January and without a cap, premiums could rise as much as 40%, although state regulators have the final say.

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

Budget Conference

April 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

After weeks of secret negotiations, state lawmakers have an outline for talking about the budget and for going home. The lack of agreement so far is forcing them to extend their session, set to end Friday, by a week. Higher cigarette taxes and some increased gaming seem likely, but the details are still to be worked out. One winner is the state University System. It was slated for 5 Hundred million dollar cut in the house budget. Sen. Al Lawson says it has been whittled down to 120 million.

“I guess in order for the Senate leadership, the president, to bring the House on, instead of a 500 million dollar cut they agree to go down to a hundred twenty something million dollars,” Lawson said. “But still we’ve got to see how that’s going to work. If it’s still going to cause a lot of problems for the universities, that could really bog things down.”

Exactly what fees are being increased or what programs are being cut won’t be finalized until next week.

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

State Salaries

April 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

State employee pay has been in limbo for the entire legislative session.  The House has been insisting on 4 percent pay cuts for everyone making over $26,000 a year, but as part of the agreement to end a budget deadlock, Senator Al Lawson says the House has agreed to a one percent cut for employees making over 50 thousand a year. Lawson says he is still pushing to raise the threshold to employees making more than 80 thousand dollars a year.

“The House has agreed to change their position from the 26,000,” Lawson said. “Now where we are at right now, is I have asked them if we’re going to have a one percent  cut that’s 80,000 and above. Because what you’re going to do is trap maybe as much as 60 percent of the women who fall into that category, especially single women, heads of households, anywhere from 25,000 to 65,000. And as a result, that’s something that we really don’t want to do.”

The budget is expected to be finalized next week.

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

Growth Bill

April 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

A bill to speed up permitting and put people to work is being held up because of demands by House leaders to cut state review of bad policies. Eric Draper of Florida Audubon says the house insistence could destroy progress made to speed up the permitting process.

“They’ve taken some otherwise good concepts and they’ve put sprawl in there,” Draper said. “They would take away the state’s ability to stop a really bad development from happening in a place where it shouldn’t happen.”

Lawmakers have until Friday to reach agreement.

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

Swine Flu Unavoidable in Florida

April 28th, 2009 by flanews

Florida could have its first case of swine flu, but reports of the Orlando case are still unconfirmed. A tourist, who traveled from Mexico reportedly to visit Disney World, is being tested for the virus. As Whitney Ray tells us, it could be Thursday before results are known.

In a rushed news conference from the state’s Emergency Operations Center, Florida’s Surgeon General was quick to calm fears of a reported case of Swine Flu.

“We have at this time no confirmed cases in the state, neither in Orlando or anywhere else,” said Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros.

A tourist who traveled from Mexico reportedly to visit Disney World is being tested for the virus.

“As far as I understand the Orlando tourist was tested and those results aren’t in yet,” said Viamonte Ros.

It could be Thursday before the Center for Disease Control finishes its tests.

Customs and Border Protection officers are watching Florida’s air and sea ports, looking for passengers with symptoms of swine flu. Right now customs officers are sticking to visual checks.

In a few weeks Lauren Raines plans to fly to Mexico, where 150 people have died from swine flu.

“I’m going to Mexico because my sister is getting married. So that makes me a little nervous, but we should be fine,” said Lauren.

The CDC is asking people to postpone any non-essential trips to Mexico, but what is considered essential is being left up to travelers for now.

Health experts say people should wash their hands often, cover their mouths when they cough and go see a doctor if they start feeling sick. Symptoms of swine flu are similar to the symptoms of regular flu. Coughing, fever, and loss of appetite are all sign you may be infected.

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

Drill Bill Going Green?

April 27th, 2009 by flanews

Legislation to end a decades old oil drilling ban in state waters is expected to pass the Florida House Monday. The Senate is more skeptical of the plan, but as Whitney Ray tells us, a plan to attach aggressive renewable energy standards to the drill bill could give the legislation a boost through the Senate.

A bill to give the State Cabinet the power to allow offshore oil drilling is being rushed through the legislative process. Proponents of the drill bill say the state needs to buy more domestic oil. But drilling does nothing to break the state’s dependence on oil and that’s why lawmakers want to add legislation that pushes renewable energy standards.

Senator Jim King is sponsoring a bill requiring electric companies to generate 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. King says plans to couple the legislation with the drill bill keep changing.

“It’s a work in progress that changes every hour. I’ve asked the Governor to tell me what he wants to do,” said King.

The Governor is questioning why the legislation is being rushed.

“I would like to see renewable and the oil stand alone and on their own merit,” said Crist.

Environmentalists hate the ideal of marrying the bills.

“They are taking something very good which is renewable energy and they are putting it with something very bad which is a bill to drill for oil off Florida’s beaches. We are not going to buy into that,” said Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida.

Environmentalists say the plan is sneaky and they fear multibillion dollar oil companies are fueling the legislative fire to open Florida’s coasts to oil rigs.

Proponents of the measure say the state could earn hundreds of millions of dollars by leasing the land to oil companies. Environmentalists say an oil spill could ruin the state’s beaches costing Florida millions in tourism dollars.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Environment, Gas Prices, Legislature, Oil Drilling, State News, Wildlife | No Comments »

Prayer Meeting for Governor and Legislature

April 27th, 2009 by flanews

Pastors are sending up prayers for the governor and legislative leaders as the end of session nears. The faithful gathered for a prayer meeting in the state capitol today. Lawmakers still haven’t come up with a budget agreement. Pastors are asking them not to cut state workers salaries. Pastor R.B. Holmes took his questions to the governor.

“You are the moral voice. You are our leading elected official in the state of Florida and if a budget that is that paralyzed, that is irresponsible comes to you desk, cutting state salaries, crippling education my governor, our governor, we are asking you to do the right thing by vetoing those budgets,” asked Pastor Holmes.

“I will do everything I can to work with these great members of the Senate and the House who are with you today. This is a three legged stool, if you will, lead by the Senate and the House and the Executive and most importantly the people,” responded Crist.

But the people will be paying more if lawmakers can’t finish the budget on time. In order to meet the Friday deadline legislative leaders would have to reach a budget agreement by Tuesday so both chambers could vote on it by Friday. If they can’t reach an agreement the legislature will go into special session costing taxpayers more than 40-thousand dollars a day.

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

House Passes Rachel’s Law

April 27th, 2009 by flanews

The House voted on statewide regulations for the recruitment and use of confidential police informants. The bill known as Rachel’s Law was drafted after 23-year old Rachel Hoffman was killed working undercover in a drug sting. The legislation is a watered down version of an original plan to keep people who are in substance abuse programs from becoming informants. The Hoffman family attorney Lance Block says Rachel’s parents aren’t going to give up the fight.

“Irv and Margie have met with House leaders who have interest in this bill and they committed to work with us next year to see if we can’t find a resolution on some of the issue so I really hope that Rachel’s parents are back next year to make a good bill better,” said Block.

If the bill is signed into law Florida will be the first state in the Union to adopt statewide confidential informant regulations.

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

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