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High Tech Hurricane Response Equipment

May 29th, 2009 by flanews

The state is testing new technology that will help first responders focus their efforts. The states Emergency Operation Center can now receive images of neighborhoods in harms way and as Whitney Ray tell us, just minutes after the storm hits, the center will receive picture of damaged areas.

First responders are preparing for a historic storm a Category 4 hurricane that hit Miami in 1926. Unlike emergency crews during the Great Miami Hurricane, Todays first responders have technology on their side.

A new Smart Board utilizes Google Maps to show pictures of neighborhoods in harms way. Then just minutes after the storm hits, the Emergency Operations Center will be able to download pictures of the damage.

It gives us ground truth of what has actually taken place and helps us figure out where supplies need to go, said Ben Nelson the state meteorologist.

And when the message is sent to people in the field there is more assurance it will be received.

Obviously everyone has a cell phone but as we know in storms what happens with phones, they go down, so we have a satellite phone to back system, now we have a radio system to back up that technology, said David Halstead, the Deputy Director of the Division of Emergency Management.

Emergency workers can only do so much. Theyre asking Floridians to take matters into their own hands and come up with a plan for hurricane season.

According to a new Mason-Dixon poll more than half of Floridians dont have a disaster plan. The EOC has also doubled its number of work stations and training space to allow more agencies access to the center during a storm.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News | No Comments »

Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

May 29th, 2009 by flanews

500 people died in motorcycle wrecks in 2008 and thats why The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is trying to make the roadways safer for bickers.

The department held a news conference today to recognize the end of Motorcycle Safety Month. Tina McElhenny’s son died in a motorcycle wreck in 2002. McElhenny says a careless driver killed her son.

“When you get behind the wheel of that car, your number one goal is to pay attention. You’re there to drive that vehicle. You’re not there to be putting on makeup, or eating your hamburger, or , yea, talking on your cell phone- which is something we all should think about. We just really need to just focus on what’s in front of us, what’s beside us and what’s behind us, said McElhenny.

Motorcycle awareness month ends Sunday, but the Department of Motor Vehicles hopes drivers will look out for bikers year round.

Posted in Health, Highways, State News | 1 Comment »

TB Trouble at DOE

May 29th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Nearly two dozen people have been tested for exposure to Tuberculosis at
the state Department of Education in Tallahassee, and at least five have
tested positive. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the infections came to
light only after one who tested positive was laid off.

19 people at this Department of Education office have been tested for
TB. Five were positive. The other 14 are being retested. Employees we
asked were reluctant to talk with us.

Darrel Wallace isnt surprised about the fear of retaliation. He was
laid off last week and is fighting his termination.

The issue with me is, one, being fired as a retaliation to my whistle
blower activities, Wallace said.

His concern is that he will lose his heath care after testing positive.

If I lose my health insurance benefits, I cant afford to go out and
have COBRA benefits paid for,” Wallace said. “Ive still got a house to maintain.

A Tallahassee judge spent Friday afternoon listening to testimony about
the TB cases. A state health nurse was quizzed about the investigation.

Isnt it true that the CDC strongly recommends prophylactic treatment
of those people for 12 months? Steve Andrews, attorney, said.

Its encouraged,” Health Dept. nurse Jan Kibble said. “For some people its strongly encouraged.

More than a half dozen other employees from the center were also
expected to tell their stories. Like Darrel, none of them want to be
identified because of the stigma of being exposed to a dangerous disease.

Posted in Health, State News | No Comments »

Home Sales Up, Prices Down

May 28th, 2009 by flanews

Statewide home sales rose 18 percent last month. To keep the momentum, the state has set aside 30 million dollars in down payment assistance for first time home buyers. As Whitney Ray tells us, starting in July the state will advance an 8,000 dollar federal tax credit to people buying their first home.

After 10 years of renting Andrew Kadunc is ready to own.

I started looking around and I saw that a lot of places fell into my price range, said Andrew.

Andrews timing couldnt be better. Prices in Florida are down 50-thousand dollars from a year ago and remain below the national average.

The price right now is 140,000 in Florida compared to the national one being 170-thousand and Florida is still the best place to live compared to other states,
said Vani Ungapen a researcher with the Florida Association of Realtors

Thursday Governor Charlie Crist signed off on legislation giving home buyers more incentive to act now.

The state is offering money to first time home buyers money to help with their down payments.

30 million state dollars has been set aside to advance a federal tax credit to first time home buyers. The credit is worth up to 8,000 dollars, but right now people cant get the money until they file their taxes.

Andrew says getting the money up front will go a long way in helping him make a decision.

Its definitely going to help bring the purchase payment down and therefore make my mortgage payments lower, said Andrew.

The money will be availed starting July 1st. People taking advantage of the advance will then have to repay the state when they receive their tax refund.

The money will be available through the State Housing Initiatives Partnership or the SHIP program. SHIP has an office in every Florida county. To find an office near you go to our website. http://www.floridahousing.org/Home/HousingPartners/LocalGovernments/

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

Housing Sales Provide Hope for Home Builders

May 28th, 2009 by flanews

The spike in home sales is giving hope to unemployed construction workers who have taken the biggest blow from the economic downturn. There are an estimated 300-thousand empty houses in Florida all but eliminating the need for new construction. The Florida Home Builders Association hopes home sales will continue to climb. Spokeswoman Edie Ousley said the advance on the first time home buyer tax credit will help put construction workers back to work.

In Florida construction is the states second largest economic engine. This is going to put people back to work. Concurrently weve got more than 150,000 construction workers out of a job. It puts them back to work it puts essential dollars back in the states coffers and our economy will rebound, said Ousley.

The Florida Home Builders Association is also supporting a proposed constitutional amendment to cut property taxes for first time buyers. The amendment will appear on the 2010 ballot.

Posted in Economy, Housing, State News | 1 Comment »

Foster Kids Using Drugs Without Consent

May 28th, 2009 by flanews

Hundreds of Florida foster kids are being given psychotropic drugs without parental consent or a court order.

The Florida Department of Children and Families began investigating psychotropic drug use among foster kids after a 7-year old boy in Margate committed suicide. The boy was taking prescribed drugs at the time of his death, even though the state hadnt received valid consent from the boys mother parents. DCF released a report highlighting the mistake that were made. DCF Secretary George Sheldon said the state will begin seeking permission for the hundreds of kids taking psychotropic with out valid consent.

The first thing we have to do is bring every single case of a foster child in compliance of the law. Our current review indicates that about 16 percent of Floridas foster children who are on psychotherapeutic medication do not have either parental consent or a court order, said Sheldon.

DCF will also form a work group to find better ways of keeping tabs on foster kids who are taking mind-altering drugs. The report found that 13 percent of foster care kids take mind altering drugs. Thats compared to 4 percent in the general population.

Posted in Children, State News | 3 Comments »

Truckers Face Steep Increases

May 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Motor Vehicle fees in Florida are on their way up for everyone who owns a vehicle, but truckers face the steepest increases, as much as 35 percent. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, some of the increases hitting truckers will likely be passed along to consumers.

There are almost 900 thousand commercial trucks registered in Florida. Registration fees for every one of them are going up 35 percent. For the heaviest trucks, thats a three hundred fifty dollars a year. The association representing the truckers says they are being hit harder than anyone else.

When they go to pay these fees in December of this year, it is going to feel like a 35 percent tax increase,” Mary Lou Rajchel with the Florida Trucking Association said.

70 percent of the trucks are run by independent operators who will be unable to pass on the increased costs right away. But Grocery chains, produce dealers, rental trucks and delivery companies are free to build the increases into their costs.

We depend on the trucking industry for from vegetables to furniture, to electronics to road building materials,” Jose Gonzalez of Associated Industries of Florida said. “Everything. So its going to be across the board.

Lawmakers who approved the fees are quick to point out that its been 36 years since they were last raised.

This trucker would only tell us that his name was Ernie, but he says 35 percent is just too much to absorb when he cant pass it on.

Thats my business. Id just go ahead and stop doing it,” Ernie said. “Because were running now, we havent got a rate increase, a freight rate increase, in years.

The association worries the higher fees will cause even more operators to drive into the sunset for the last time.

The fee increases total 35 million dollars. Truck registrations in Florida are already down by about 50 thousand.

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

If it Looks Like A Tax Increase

May 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

It must be. Florida’s Trucking industry says the 35% across the board increase in registration fees sure feels like a general tax increase. Some companies will eat the hike, others will pass it on to consumers, and some may go out of business when the increase hits in December. Here’s a list provided by DHSMV on all of the new motor vehicle fees. dl-fees

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Rate Cap Awaits Governors Signature

May 27th, 2009 by flanews

With just five days until hurricane season, legislation to lessen the states exposure is still awaiting the governors signature. The bill will allow state run Citizens Property Insurance to raise rates 10 percent a year. As Whitney Ray tells us, charging Citizens customers more will lighten the burden on the state, and private insurance customers if a big storm hits.

The state has promised to back more than 400 billion dollars in hurricane exposure through Citizens Property Insurance, but Citizens customers only contribute two billion dollars in yearly premiums. Floridas Chief Financial Officer says thats a problem.

Certainly a category 3 storm hitting a heavily populated area in our state is going to wreak havoc, cause billions of dollars worth of damage and then will put us into a financing situation, said Sink.

If Sinks scenario played out everyone will have to pay more.

Citizens policyholders could see their rates increase up to 45 percent and then assessments on everyone elses homes, and even their cars, could go up by 18 percent. Part of the problem is Citizens rates have been frozen since 2007.

Their rates arent actuarially sound, theyre too low. To raise them where they need to be would be too much it would be 40 to 50 percent possible, said NAIFA Florida Spokesman Bob Lotane.

Legislation to cap the increase at 10 percent a year is awaiting the governors signature. Crist is likely to sign the bill, even though he thinks the risk to the state has been exaggerated.

I think we are in pretty good shape, Crist said.

A ten percent a year increase will slowly force people out of Citizens, and increase the chances Florida can keep its promise to the customers who remain. The legislation also allows the state to decrease the amount of money in the Florida Catastrophe Fund. Decreasing the fund would force insurance companies to buy reinsurance from the private market and pass some of the cost on to consumers

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

Sansom Faces Perjury Charge

May 27th, 2009 by flanews

A third person has been indicted in the case involving former House Speaker Ray Sansom.

Wednesday a grand jury indicted political contributor Jay Odom. Sansom helped secure six million state dollars to build an airplane hanger for Odom. The hanger was disguised in the budget as classroom space for Northwest Florida State College. Now Sansom, Odom, and the schools president Bob Richburg each face a felony charge of official misconduct. Today the Grand Jury also added a perjury charge for Sansom. State Attorney Willie Meggs said theres proof Sansom lied under oath.

The charge will be that he testified that this was never going to be for private use and he testified to that numerous times over in the transcript and thats why Im a little hesitant to try to get into those areas because it may not be appropriate at this moment. Well, what did you find, asked one Reporter. We found documents to the contrary, Meggs replied.

The six million dollars for the hanger is being returned to the state. The school has since fired Richburg, but he has asked for his job back.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Civics Education

May 27th, 2009 by flanews

Two out of every five Florida adults cant name the three branches of government and more than half cant name one of their US Senators.

Former US Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham is on a campaign to education the public about how government operates. Graham was in Tallahassee Wednesday to award 20 middle school students for excelling in civics education. Graham said schools should begin teaching civics education early in a students career.

If you wait until theyre in high school, they havent had foundational information about history, about government, about economics in elementary and middle school. They are going to be crippled in terms of their ability to fully understand what it means to be a citizen in a democracy, said Graham.

Wednesday was the first time the Bob Graham Award for Excellence in Civic Action was handed out. Graham hopes the awards will encourage young and old to learn more about their government.

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

Governor Signs Budget, Vetoes Pay Cut

May 27th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Charlie Crist today signed a 66.5 billion-dollar state budget
that relies on a dollar a pack cigarette tax hike and raisers most
drivers license and car tag fees. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the
Governor also canceled a 2 percent cut for state workers and a
six-million-dollar cut to a fund for concealed weapons permits.

Cigarettes are going up by a buck, raising almost a billion dollars. Car
tags and drivers license fees will also go up, some by a third.

In signing the budget, the Governor axed just two items. The first cut
six million from a trust fund for concealed weapons permits. The NRA
asked for the veto, saying felons could have ended up with a permit
because of poor staffing.

Charlie Crist also canceled a two percent cut in state employee pay.

These 28,000 people and their families are consumers too,” Crist said. “And I want
them to continue to have the ability to make purchases and help
stimulate Floridas economy further.

State agencies must still reduce their spending by 30 million to make up
for employees not taking the cut.

Because of the way lawmakers crafted the budget language, the
governors veto is legally suspect.

The pay cut was championed by House Republicans. Their leadership could
challenge the Governors action in court. For employees who thought they
were losing a minimum 900 hundred dollars, there is relief.

Im excited because my husbands been unemployed for over a year, so Im
the bread winner right now,” Brenda Coleman with the Agency for Workforce Innovation said. “So, Lord, its good. Im very excited.

Billions in federal stimulus cash plugged huge budget holes and
prevented massive teacher layoffs, early prison releases, and the
shutdown of state parks.

The Governor and state Cabinet members will all take a two percent cut
from their 130 thousand dollar salaries. State lawmakers will see a
seven percent reduction in their 30 thousand dollar salaries. The new
fees take effect July first.

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

Budget Turkeys Gobble up Fewer Tax Dollars

May 26th, 2009 by flanews

Even with a six billion dollar shortfall lawmakers found a way to slip 15 million dollars worth of questionable spending into the state budget. TaxWatch, a government watchdog group, is asking the governor to veto the spending items that make up its annual turkey list. As Whitney Ray tells us, if the governor vetoed one turkey on last years list, the legislature may have avoided a lot chaos.

Armed with a turkey call and a stuffed bird Florida TaxWatch released it shortest list of budget turkeys since 1994. The 10 item list includes spending on nonprofit groups, African American history, and schools. The budget watchdog wants the items vetoed not because they are bad projects, but because of how they were passed.

Turkeys are Items that bypass established selection processes, TaxWatch Chief Researcher, Kurt Wenner.

If Governor Charlie Crist would have listened to TaxWatch last year and vetoed one specific turkey a lot of chaos in the House could have been avoided.

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom sneaked six million state dollars through the system to build an airplane hanger for a political contributor. TaxWatch put the hanger on its turkey list, but the governor approved it anyway. A few months later Sansom stepped down under mounting pressure and has since been indicted over the spending.

People are innocent until proven guilty, but it does raise some questions about the integrity of budget process, said TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro.

Governor Crist will review the list before he signs the budget.

There may be a few, well have to decide before tomorrow. Im going to sign it tomorrow, said Crist.

If Crist leaves the birds in the budget, the states spending plan would still have fewer turkeys than last years when TaxWatch identified 132.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State Budget, State News, Taxes | 2 Comments »

Crist Signals Gun Trust Fund Veto

May 26th, 2009 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist is succumbing to pressure from the NRA to veto spending cuts to a gun licensing trust fund.

Lawmakers voted to take six million dollars from the states conceal-carry trust fund to help balance the budget. The NRA and the Commissioner of Agriculture say raiding the fund would slow down the licensing process and allow people to get certified without a background check. A NRA lobbyist met with Crist last week to ask him to for a veto.

I had a very good meeting with her last week and as I said she is a tremendous advocate, and I am a strong supporter of the second amendment, so as I say, I am inclined that way, said Crist.

The raid is part of the states 66.5 billion dollar budget. Crist said hell sign the spending plan tomorrow.

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

Seniors Ask Crist to Lower Costs

May 26th, 2009 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist is promising a group of senior citizens hell do what he can to lower the cost of housing and health care.

Ten seniors from all over the state met with Crist at the Governor Mansion Tuesday morning. The group told Crist health care cost, utility bills, and a lack of public transportation make it harder for seniors to live on their own. Crist said lowering health care cost could help keep people out of nursing homes.

My dad will be 77 years old on June 12th, and he still practices medicine, hes a family doctor in St. Petersburg and I think having good physicians at reasonable prices to try to get insurance rates to be lower, especially health insurance rates, is something we can do to try and makes sure that all of us will be able to stay in their homes in the future, said Crist.

Crist promised the seniors he would continue to work with home builders and health insurance companies to lower costs.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Health, Housing | No Comments »

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