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Drug Switching

July 31st, 2009 by flanews

Everyday thousand of Floridians walk into the pharmacy expecting one drug only to walk out with something different. Its called drug switching, and as Whitney Ray tells us, its perfectly legal in Florida but medical professionals are seeking change.

When Rose Delaney came down with Pneumonia her doctor wrote her a prescription for a powerful antibiotic. But when she went to get the prescription filled, her pharmacist gave her a weaker drug.

I was so ill at the time I was just thinking Im just not understanding this, said Delaney.

Rose was the victim of drug switching. A practice started by insurance companies to save money by switching original drugs to cheaper generic or sometimes a completely different drug. Since Roses insurance wouldnt pay for the stronger drug, she had to take the weaker antibiotic and her pneumonia stayed with her for three months.

I actually even fractured a rib because my cough had gotten so bad, said Delaney.

Drug switching can be even more dangerous for patients suffering from Mental illnesses or neurological disorders.

Neurologist Lucas Koberda says the medication he prescribes his patients is so specific, a slight change in the chemical makeup can cause major problems.

Even generic brands between themselves they may differ a lot especially for the patients with epilepsy its very crucial and important that the medication which are brand or trade names are not substituted by genetic medication, said Keberda.

Three states have already passed legislation to ban drug switching for epilepsy patients. Last year legislation to prevent the practice was filed, but never taken up by the Florida legislature.

There are some things to you can do to make sure you prescription isnt switched. Have your doctor write DAW on the prescription. It means dispense as written. The note will direct your pharmacist to follow the doctors orders but it doesnt mean your insurance company will pay for the drug.

Posted in Health, Insurance, State News | 3 Comments »

Boating Safety Changes

July 31st, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Unless you are receiving Food Stamps or other government assistance, today was the last day you can fish from shore in Florida without a new seven dollar and fifty cent shoreline license. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, there are also new safety regulations taking effect.

As many as 338 thousand people are expected to need a shore line license. But because the requirement is so new, anglers may get a break for a couple of days.

The officers are not going to lock you up,” Henry Cabbage, Fish and Wildlife Spokesman, said. “Hes going to suggest that before you come back out here tomorrow, you need to get the license.

Boaters also now face a host of new regulations.

Tearing up seagrass beds will cost you 50 dollars for the first time. A fourth offense will clip you for a thousand dollars.

Current law says anyone under 21 must take a boating safety class

But evidence shows the majority of boating accidents are caused by people over 21 who started boating later in life.

From now on, anyone born after January 1st, 1988 will have to have had a boating safety class.

David Lewis took a safety course years ago.

Well it was a good course and it taught a good deal about seamanship, but it didnt have the components of the course that involved the practical realities of operating a boat, Lewis said.

Kids will now have to wear life jackets until they are ten instead of just six. Shonja Metcalf says the lifesavers are a must for her kids.

If the boat’s in gear, if the boat’s on, theyre wearing life jackets, Metcalf said.

Finally, the state is also lowering the blood alcohol level to make it easier to throw the book at really drunk boaters.

The legislation also increases the fee to register a boat from another state by six dollars.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

War on Texters

July 30th, 2009 by flanews

A congressional plan to ban texting while driving could cost Florida more than three- hundred million dollars. The legislation would penalize states without a ban by withholding 25 percent of their federal highway funds. As Whitney Ray tells us, state lawmakers have already responded with a bill against driving while texting.

This Florida State Senior is so addicted to text messaging, he keeps typing away, even from behind the wheel.

I keep the phone by the steering wheel and Im texting and looking at the light and its giving me something to do while Im driving, said the senior who didnt want us to use his name. Do you see any danger in that at all, asked a reporter. Oh yeah. Im a risk management major and I think its probably one of the most dangerous things to do, the senior answered.

People who text while driving are 20 times more likely to wreck. 14 states have already ban texting while driving, but not Florida. Congressional legislation would penalize states without a ban by withholding 25 percent of their federal highway funding. Doug Calloway, President of Floridians for Better Transportation, says thats not fair.

The money we are talking about is our money. Those are our state gas tax dollars that are sent to Washington and should be returned to improve transportation in Florida, said Calloway.

Lawmakers have two years to pass the texting ban before being penalized. Legislation to ban texting while driving failed in the state legislature last year, but a new bill has already been filed.

Andrea Miklos isnt waiting for the law to change. She keeps her phone out of reach when shes on the road.

Its annoying. I hear it and it annoys me, but I wait until I stop, said Andrea.

For three straight years legislation to ban texting while driving has failed in Florida.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Swine Flu Update

July 30th, 2009 by flanews

Eight more people have died from the H1N1 Swine Flu virus here in Florida.

Four of the victims were in their forties. One was a child. The deaths bring the total number of swine flu fatalities in Florida to 31. The state is preparing for an even deadlier winter. Dr. Russ Eggert, an epidemiologist with the Florida Department of Health, said the state is still working out the details of its plan to vaccinate millions this fall.

We are talking about potential barriers for a vaccine campaign, and what we need to do to try to overcome those barriers, reach out to our partners and stakeholders to help us. We cant do it all by ourselves in the health department and obviously help from lots of partners to reach out to our populations and make sure they are vaccinated, said Eggert.

The vaccine is expected to be available in large quantities this fall. The state could utilize schools to help administer the doses.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

An Economic Glimmer of Hope

July 29th, 2009 by flanews

The state ended the 2008-2009 fiscal year 90 million dollars in the black. Revenue collections were up slightly in May and June and home sales remain strong. As Whitney Ray tells us, car sales are expected to rise in the following months, but the state isnt out of the woods just yet.

If its stain glass, chances are Susan Frisbee can make it. But lately making ends meet has been her main project.

June of this year when I calculated my sales tax was about half of what it was last year, said Susan.

The recession is forcing Floridians to shop less and art isnt the only thing not selling. Tax collections on beer and cigarettes are down, contributing to a four million dollar decline on sales tax collections.

But home sales continue to pump money into the states bank account and the Cash for Clunkers program is already paying off.

Weve hardly had enough staff to keep up this week with the traffic, said Mickey Atkinson, a Car Salesman with Tallahassee Ford.

The state isnt out of the wood just yet. Even the ever-optimist governor is holding off on a victory lap.

I wouldnt go that far, but it certainly is a glimmer of hope, said Crist.

A glimmer Susan has noticed over the past several weeks.

July seems to be doing better already when compared to last years July I think we are kind of on the uptick just a little bit, said Susan.

But even if the winds of change are in the air, the current economic storm hasnt completely blown over.

Posted in Business, Charlie Crist, Economy, Housing, State Budget, State News, Taxes, Transportation | No Comments »

In Search of Cheap Cigarettes

July 29th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Since the state cigarette tax jumped by a dollar on the first of July, some North Florida convenience stores are seeing fewer cigarette sales. Floridians are streaming across Florida Georgia state line for cheap cigarettes.

At this convenience store a mile and a half north of the border, there were four cars with Florida plates. Jan from Tallahassee pulled in and made it five.

I bet you came to buy cigarettes we asked. Jan didnt want to give us her last name, but responded Yes I did as a matter of fact Its the principle. They dont need to single out smokers for tax.

Kathy McKee started making the 40 from Crawfordville mile trip July first.

We come at least twice a month. She says she buys two cartons each time. That means she is costing Florida about forty dollars a month. Could Be she responds.

Jim Smith from the association of convenience stores says it is still early to pinpoint lost sales in Florida, but…Close to Georgia and Alabama, my retailers are reporting a drop in sales. How big? We ask. Right now, ten to fifteen percent for some of them says Smith.

Another threat to state revenues are internet sales. This site offers cheap smokes and promises no reporting. Marie Carpenter from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation says you could get stuck for the tax if you get caught. The state has hired 7 new auditors to monitor sales.

If the companies dont pay to us, we can go to the consumers to collect that tax, says Carpenter.

Under Florida law, it is legal to possess 3 cartons of cigarettes without a Florida tax stamp, but it is illegal to buy them over the internet and not pay the tax.

If you feel guilty about not paying the state for cigarettes bought over the internet, you can download a form the Florida Department of Business on the internet at: http://www.myflorida.com/dbpr/consumers.html

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

Oil Fight Rages

July 28th, 2009 by flanews

Legislation allowing oil drilling 45 miles off the coast of Florida is making waves in congress. The plan is just the latest in a series of efforts to open up Floridas coast to drilling. As Whitney Ray tells us, Governor Charlie Crist says hes open to the idea.

There are hundreds of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Legislation has kept them 125 miles off Floridas coast, but Congress will review a plan to allowing drilling just 10 miles out. Governor Charlie Crist says the legislation is worth discussing.

I think there is an opportunity to find a middle ground that is appropriate; that is safe and clean and done right so Im open to reviewing what those opportunities might be, said Crist.

Drilling off Floridas coast could create thousands of jobs but environmentalists say an oil spill could ruin the states tourism industry. Business groups in Florida say drilling and tourism can coexist.

Here in Florida they wouldnt even be visible they wouldnt have to be that close to access these recourses, said Jose Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Associated Industries of Florida.

Colleen Castille, the former secretary of Floridas Department of Environmental Protection, isnt convinced. Castille says 10 miles is too close.

Three years ago we should have implement that law where we were going to protect Floridas shores all around Florida for 125 miles and its unfortunate we didnt, said Castille.

But gas was cheap back then. Any spike in the price of a gallon now will rally support for drilling and put pressure on Congress. The legislation would allow coastal states to receive 37 percent of the rent and royalties energy companies pay to lease the federal land.

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

Stimulus Dollars Hires Florida Cops

July 28th, 2009 by flanews

The want ads will soon be filled with opening for police officers.

Florida is receiving 87 million stimulus dollars to hire 428 police officers. The money will cover the officers salaries and benefits for the next three years. Governor Charlie Crist championed the stimulus package in Florida and is glad the state will receive more officers.

I think that Florida has been extremely successful in terms of support for our police officers, for our deputies across the state. I think as a large result of that we have declining climb as it relates to violent crime and I think people are very appreciative of that and we should always be supportive of our law enforcement officers of the great work they do and the tremendous risks they take,” said Crist

Attorney General Bill McCollum has concerns about what the state will do when the money to pay the officers runs out.

There is a question mark whenever the federal government provides money for additional resources like police officers and only has a three year window. What do you do after three years? But if the police departments choose to employ these agents then they’ll simply have to deal with that when they get to it, said McCollum.

Police departments that accept the money will be required to keep the officers on board for a fourth year without the help of stimulus dollars to pay their salaries.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Criminal Justice, McCollum, State News | 2 Comments »

More Foreclosure Help on the Way

July 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

A four million dollar settlement with defunct mortgage lender CountryWide will be used to hire legal aid lawyers to help fight foreclosures in Florida. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the cash couldnt come at a better time.

There were 41 thousand new foreclosures filed in Florida last month alone. The state ranks second only to California. Kent Spuhler of Florida Legal Services says the Foreclosure boom is stretching legal aid lawyers thin, just when they are needed most.

We are tremendously swamped. I mean its probably ten fold greater than what we saw when this crisis began says Spuhler.

But help is on the way. Attorney General Bill McCollum presented a two million dollar check to the Florida Bar Foundation.

The check is part of a four million dollar settlement with former mortgage lender Countrywide. Two million dollars is for this year, another two million next year fund attorneys in legal aid offices to help those facing foreclosure.

Well, we hope we prevent foreclosure, but most importantly we hope we prevent scams from occurring, but either one says McCollum. If we prevent foreclosures thats even better because people save their homes.

The bottom line is this: if someone is trying to take your money and promising to save your house…youre likely to lose both.

New federal legislation means homeowners facing foreclosure have new legal rights that Spuhler says are almost impossible to navigate without a lawyer.

If it has been filed in court, they can file a response Spuhler says of Legal Aid attorneys. And under the new federal program, it the family qualifies, that response is supposed to stop the foreclosure filing.

The money will be spread across the state based on the percentage of foreclosures in the area.

If you just lost a job or fear going into foreclosure, you should contract:
Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program with an on-line intake form or by calling the toll-free hot line from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at 1-866-607-2187. If you are already in foreclosure, call the local legal aid office.

Posted in State News | 12 Comments »

Sanom Hearing

July 28th, 2009 by flanews

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom is asking legislative leaders to push back a scheduled ethics hearing against him.

Sansom also faces criminal charges for funneling 25 million state dollars to Northwest Florida State College. Six million was to be used to build an airplane hanger for a political contributor. Before Sansom faces the court hes scheduled to face a House committee that could vote to remove him from office. House Speaker Larry Cretul was asked if Sansoms situation was causing a distraction.

Do you think that he should resign and spare the House all this trouble,’ saked a reporter ‘There’s a process in place right now. The panel has been appointed. Chairman Galvano has scheduled a meeting on August 4th I think. And I won’t comment any further than that,’ Cretul replied. ‘Would you prefer not to do this,’ the reporter asked. ‘Well again there is a process in place. We will follow the process,'” said Cretul

The House Committee is scheduled to meet August 4th. Sansoms court case is scheduled for September 29th.

Posted in Legislature, State News | 1 Comment »

State Honor Online Protection Group

July 28th, 2009 by flanews

An internet safety group is joining forces with Floridas Attorney General to protect kids from online predators.

Tuesday the state cabinet recognized the group Stop Internet Predators for its efforts to inform parents and teachers about new technology helping predators target kids. The group says predators can use Google StreetView to prey on kids. Google StreetView is a program that shows pictures of peoples homes and yards. Stacy Rumenap, Executive Director of Stop Internet Predators, said its important for parents to be aware of what technology predators are using.

Technology is constantly changing and we as parents and as educators need to make sure we are keeping up with changes to the technology, said Rumenap.

The group says Google StreetView is a good tool when used properly, but they want parents to know they can ask Google to take picture of their property off the program.

Posted in Children, McCollum, State News | 3 Comments »

The Inexcusable Thank You

July 27th, 2009 by flanews

The governors office sent a letter to a white supremacist thanking him for sending an anti-Semitic DVD. In the letter the governor promised to share the movie with others. As Whitney Ray tells us, the governor says the thank you letter was an inexcusable mistake by his staff.

Thousands of letters and emails pour into the governors office every day, more than half a million in 2008 alone. Governor Charlie Crist cant read everyone, but his staff tries.

Last month a white supremacist sent Crist a copy of this anti-Semitic DVD. The governors staff responded with this thank you letter bearing the governors automated signature. Crist is calling the response an inexcusable mistake.

The governors office refused our request for an on-camera interview to discuss the mistake. Alia Faraj-Johnson worked as communications director for Governor Jeb Bush. Johnson says its hard to keep up with every letter and request.

When I used to work there we would get hundreds of hundreds of pieces of mail, emails, phone calls, so it is very easy to over look something like this, said Faraj-Johnson.

But if the governors office can mistakenly send a thank you letter to a racist then whos to say your letter will be taken seriously.

Mary Smith isnt sure her letters get read, but she sends them anyway.

I feel better about it when I do it, I dont know if they feel better about it because sometimes there are nasty comments on it but At least they know how I feel, if they look at them, which I hope they do, said Mary.

But for many without direct access to their representatives, the odds their letters will be read by their elected officials are very slim. After the mistake was discovered the governors office asked the white supremacist to take the thank you letter off his website. He hasnt taken the letter down.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | No Comments »

Florida Loses a King

July 27th, 2009 by flanews

Last night State Senator Jim King lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

King began serving in the Florida legislature in 1986. He was senate president from 2002 to 2004. Kings diagnosis came just days after the end of the 2009 legislative session. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson served in the state legislature with King in the late 80s. Bronson says King was never afraid to speak his mind.

The state of Florida is losing a great legislator and someone who was willing to stick his neck out on issues and follow through. Sometimes in the world of politics today people like to lick their finger and stick it in the air and see which way the wind blows. If it was an issue he felt strong about, even if he was the only person standing, which the way I am on certain issues, then thats the way he was, said Bronson.

King was most famous for fighting legislation that would have allowed the state to reinsert Terri Schivos feeding tube in 2005. The move led to the death of Schivo who had been in persistent vegetative state for more than a decade. King also blocked changes to the class size amendment.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Appliance Rebates in Limbo

July 27th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

17 million dollars in rebates for Florida consumers who purchase energy efficient appliances has been in limbo since the stimulus package became law in February. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, it may be the end of the year before the money starts flowing.        

Nationwide, the appliance business is off 21 percent. Yet nearly 300 million dollars in stimulus money for appliance rebates nationally…17 million of it destined for Florida consumers alone, remains in limbo. Jeremy Susac of the Governors Energy Office says it will be late this year before any money flows.

The first step in the equation is to go to the Federal Government with a plan, says Susac. In that plan we are going to recommend during our workshops of having the rebate at the point of sales to participate customer participation.

Savvy customers have been asking about the rebates, which could run as much as 20 percent on a refrigerator or washer.

Right now there are more questions than answers. Retailers dont know how much the rebate is going to be, when it will start, or if it is retroactive. Mike Monroe of May Monroe Appliances in Tallahassee says the delay is frustrating for businesses.

Very frustrating. Yeah, it would be nice because in these economic times it would be nice to generate a little revenue, says the proprietor of a store in business since 1936.

By making the switch to energy saving appliances, especially refrigerators, Monroe says consumers can save twice. 

Now we are looking at a national average of about fifty dollars a year…and they say ones that are ten plus years old probably cost about two to three hundred dollars a year to operate.

Florida has already appropriated 150 thousand dollars to administer the rebates…which will hopefully begin before your old appliances give out.   

A meeting August 10th in Tallahassee will take testimony from businesses and consumers about what products should be included in the rebates and how the money should be given to customers.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Solar Rebates

July 24th, 2009 by flanews

Hundreds of Floridians who were promised reimbursements through the states solar rebate program will have to wait longer. The state owes seven million dollars to people who installed solar panels on their homes and businesses. As Whitney Ray tells us, a lack of funds and a backlog of rebate applications are slowing down the process.

Bill Minion installed 50-thousand solar panels on his home a year ago. The solar panels knock a hundred bucks a month off Bills electricity cost. He also received a 20-thousand dollar rebate from the state, although he waited months for the reimbursement.

I think it is very important if the state is going to come out and give us a commitment to pay that rebate that they need to pay it quick, said Bill

The state still owes seven million dollars to Floridians whove invested in solar, and the program shows no sign of slowing. There is a million dollars in rebate requests coming into the energy office every month.

Jeremy Susac is the director of the Governors Energy Office. Susac says rebate checks will begin going out in early August.

We have five million dollars to begin rebates for the 7.2 million dollar back log. We are awaiting federal approval for the next 9.4 million dollars, said Susac.

News of the delayed rebate checks hasnt stopped the demand for solar. Al Simpler sells solar panels and business has never been better.

Once people started calling the governors energy office and they said yeah we are going to have some money, then the flood gates opened, said Al.

And for those hundreds of people who are now depending on nature for their electricity, theyve found the sun more reliable than the state. The federal government has until October 22nd to approve the states request for the extra 9.4 million dollars to use for reimbursements.

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

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