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BOG Approves Ebooks

September 24th, 2009 by flanews

The cost of a college education in Florida just got a little cheaper. The University Systems Board of Governors approved a pilot program today allowing college students to access some of their textbooks online for free. As Whitney Ray tells us, students whove spend hundreds on books are excited about the potential savings.

FSU Senior Stephanie Smith prefers reading a textbook to studying online, but she spent 200 dollars on books this semester and could be persuaded to change her mind.

I could stand to look at a screen if it was free, said Smith.

Well now some of it is free. The University Systems Board of Governors approved a pilot program giving Florida College Students unlimited access to 120 Ebooks.

Students who still want a book they can flip through can have one of the online books printed for about 50 bucks.

The books wouldnt be the same quality as a typical hardback text, but they would cost about half as much. Students are excited about the potential saving.

Saving money is definitely good. Id put that money toward food and housing expenses, said Michael Lucas.

Some have less dignified plans for the money.

More important things like beer and alcohol, said Senior Dwayne Wolfe.

FSU Business Professor Wayne Hochwarter stopped using textbooks four years ago. Hochwarter says the rapidly changing economy makes it hard for him to find a book thats not outdated.

We try to be as timely and as current as possible. Textbooks dont always allow that, said Hochwater.

But the push for a paperless campus is being opposed by the multibillion dollar textbook industry which wont go down without a fight. The pilot program is called Orange Grove Text Plus and is being spearheaded by the University Press of Florida. For more information on the new program or to see what titles are available for download go to www.theorangegrove.org/

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

NAACP Calls for a Ceasefire

September 24th, 2009 by flanews

The Florida NAACP is calling for a statewide ceasefire.

Several recent shootings, including a double murder in Tallahassee, has community activist fired up. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Corrections joined NAACP representatives at the state capitol today in a call for action. The groups are asking schools, churches and other community organizations around the state to join forces to stop gun violence. Florida State Conference NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze said it will take a statewide effort to stop the violence.

It really is everybodys business in Florida. It really should not be the NAACP or just one department, one individual or one group. It has to be everybody because only when all of us get sick and tired of being sick and tired that we actually begin to address this together, said Nweze.

The call to action comes as FDLE announces a 10 percent drop in violent crime of the first half of the year.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Atlanta Floods May Bring Temporary Peace to Water Wars

September 23rd, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

The is a silver lining in the more than 20 inches of rain that has beset the Atlanta area. The rain is substantially filling Lake Lanier, the primary source of drinking water for Atlanta, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, will bring temporary peace to a three state water war.

Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have been battling for 20 years over the rights to the water that eventually ends up in Apalachicola Bay. Until a recent court ruling, the Army Corps of Engineers has given Atlantas drinking needs priority over the needs of one of Floridas largest estuaries.

Which the Apalachicola Chamber director says has taken a toll on the local economy.

Weve been kept to a very low minimum flow thats not sustaining the environment,” Anita Grove Director of the Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce said. “Weve proved its not sustaining the environment.

Oysters, Shrimp, Grouper all spawn in these shallow waters. Without adequate freshwater flow, the fish dont move into the Gulf.

Crabs and everything raise in the marshland, in the flood plains,” Johnny Richards, president of the Seafood Workers’ Association, said. “When we dont have enough river flow, that stuff stays up there.

After 20 years of begging for water, this could quickly become a case of be careful for what you wish.

With all the rain in Georgia, Lake Lanier is returning to near normal levels. Water managers are expected to increase flow from lower dams in the system, sending more fresh water into the bay.

Because of the way its flooding right now, theyve got to get rid of the water,” Richards said. “They say that crap runs downhill, and were at the bottom of the hill.

In the end, the return of Lake Lanier will buy time to search for a compromise in the 20 year old war between the three states. At least until the next drought.

The Apalachicola Bay is responsible for 10 percent the countrys oysters.

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

Swine Flu U

September 23rd, 2009 by flanews

There are hundreds of cases of Swine Flu on Florida college campuses, and we are still weeks away from receiving the vaccine. College students will be one of the last groups to receive the vaccine, and as Whitney Ray tells us, they dont seem too worried about catching the virus.

Florida State Freshman Kyle Wilkes is living uncomfortably close to some sick students.

Right next door, they actually had a note on the door that said swine flu do not enter, said Kyle.

There have been 336 cases of swine flu on FSUs campus since the start of the school year. Florida A & M has reported 80. There are 450 possible cases at the University of Florida. There are even a few unconfirmed cases on the UF football team, which could be the top-ranked Gators biggest opponent this fall.

Last week Wakulla High School cancelled its football game because 15 of its players were out with the Swine Flu. Quarterback Coach Joshua Manning says his team is bracing for the worst.

Eventually they are saying all of them will end up getting sick, and were going to go to Styrofoam cups so you know they are not touching each other, said Manning.

A vaccine is expected by mid-October, but students will be one of the last groups to receive the shot.

First on the list is pregnant women, but it is important to stress that we do not anticipate a shortage here in the state of Florida, said Smith.

So far 92 Floridians have died from the H1N1 virus. There is no confirmation if any of the victims were college students. The Department of Health is advising college students, and everyone else, to get a seasonal flu shot right now even if they plan to get a swine flu shot later on.

FSU: 336 Confirmed
FAMU: 80 Confirmed
FGCU: 1 Confirmed
New College: 2 Confirmed

Probable Cases:
UF: 450 possible cases
FAU: 150 Probable cases:

Flu like Symptoms:

USF: 79 Flu like Symptoms
UWF: 42 with Flu like symptoms

Did not respond to our request for Information:

UNF: 904.620.1000
FIU: 305.348.7236
UCF: 407.823.2000

Posted in Children, Education, Health, State News | No Comments »

13 Week Unemployment Extension

September 22nd, 2009 by flanews

Congress is considering a plan that would extend unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks. Right now people can qualify for up to 79 weeks of unemployment pay in Florida, but as Whitney Ray tells us, without an extension 132,000 Floridians will run out of benefits by the end of the year.

Lilton Duncan is relying on his unemployment check to pay bills and buy groceries. Hes had no luck finding work and is afraid of what will happen when his benefits run out. A plan being discussed in Congress could keep benefits flowing to Lilton for an extra 13 weeks.

Everybody needs all the help we can get. 13 weeks would be good, said Lilton.

The State Agency for Workforce Innovation is watching whats happening in Washington and is ready to jump into action if the legislation passes.

We are monitoring it very closely and whatever the Department of Labor decides as far as implementation, we will be ready to implement, said Robby Cunningham, a spokesman for AWI.

If the legislation fails and the job market doesnt improve 132,000 Floridians will run out of benefits by years end. Less money for the unemployed means fewer dollars going back into the states economy. The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy says the impact will be devastating.

We are talking over 60 million dollars a week of lost economic activity. Thatll have an effect on existing business and people who are employed, said John Hall, the Executive Director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

Its unclear if people who have already exhausted their benefits will be eligible for the 13 week extension. There are 984,000 unemployment Floridians. About one out of every three isnt receiving benefits.

Posted in State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

Progress Rate Case Begins

September 21st, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Its round two for utility regulators in Tallahassee. Progress Energy, the states second largest utility is asking for an increase of more than 13 dollars a month for the average customer, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, many think the hike is too much at the wrong time.

Before a small hike in July, the average Progress Energy customer was paying $122.43 a month. If the company gets everything it wants, the bill would jump to $135.69 in January. The company says it needs the money to make sure the lights come on when you flip the switch.

Theyve only gone up one percent in over 25 years,” Suzanne Grant, Progress Energy spokesperson said. “Weve been maintaining costs for as long as we could. Weve done all we can to maintain our system and keep the rates low.

The rate hike faces opposition from the governor, but hes only got a bully pulpit, not a vote.

The state lawyer who looks out for consumers is also saying no.

We think that that is the wrong thing to do today,” Public Counsel J.R. Kelley said. “Again, because of the severe economic conditions that rate payers are experiencing.

More than 1300 progress customers have already written the PSC to say they cant afford a rate hike. And hundreds, if not thousands more, said the same thing at public hearings.

The Florida Retail Federation told the commission most of its shoppers cant afford a rate hike.

Progresss proposed rate hike is a weeks worth of breakfasts or lunches for their families,” Florida Retail Federation attorney Schef Wright said. “Or a tank of gasoline, or medicine, or food, or doing without.

Progress is asking for the right to make a 12.54 percent return on its investment. No other utility in the country has asked for that much this year.

A decision on the rate hike is expected November 19th. If any part of it is approved, higher rates will show up on your January bill.

Posted in Business, Economy, State News | 2 Comments »

The Changing Face of Homelessness

September 21st, 2009 by flanews

The foreclosure crisis is forcing families onto the street and changing the makeup of the states homeless population. Florida is receiving 65 million stimulus dollars to help combat the problem. As Whitney Ray tells us, part of the money will be used to keep families from being kicked out of their homes.

Anicia Zaprata, A.K.A. Mama Bear, has been living on the streets for a full year. In that time shes seen the shelter she calls home grow past capacity.

Its really overly crowded, said Zaprata.

Mama Bear says more families with kids are moving in.

There are five families with three kids and two kids; girls are pregnant who are getting kicked out, said Zaprata.

During a one day count this summer, Florida homeless shelters reported 58-thousand people using their services. While the number is slightly down from a year ago, the population has changed significantly.

The foreclosure crisis is forcing more and more families out of their homes and onto the streets.

The state is receiving 65 million stimulus dollars to provide food and shelter for people who have nowhere else to turn. Some of the money will go toward keeping people in their homes.

Its targeted to those renters who are behind in rent, to try and keep them from becoming evicted. Lets get in there and provide them some short term rent subsidies based on back rent bills so they can stay in their apartment and not hit our streets, said Tom Pierce, the Executive Director of the Florida Office of Homelessness.

The state is also giving five million dollars to 13 charities across the state to help build free and low rent housing for more than 500 people.

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

African Rock Pythons Found in South Florida

September 21st, 2009 by flanews

Slither over Giant Burmese Python; theres a new king of the Everglades: The African Rock Python.

The snake has recently popped onto the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissions radar after a cluster of them were found in Miami-Dade County earlier this summer. Several magazines and newspapers have reported that the snake is more aggressive than its Burmese cousin. FWC spokeswoman Pat Behnke said the snakes are more aggressive, only when humans try to catch them, but there is no evidence to prove they are anymore dangerous than Burmese pythons.

We knew that there have been some captures and sightings in a neighborhood, there has been four since November 2008, in a neighborhood west of Miami. We have been working with the South Florida Water Management District to allow our permit holders on state managed lands to catch reptiles of concern. Weve worked with South Florida Water Management so they can go onto the property that backs up to these residential areas and are looking for them. The good news is we learned about this much sooner than we did the Burmese pythons and so we will have a handle on it and there is no reason to believe these are snakes that are in the wild. Most likely they have escaped from somewhere, said Behnke.

The African Rock Python can grow to lengths exceeding 12 feet, but arent believed to get as large as Burmese pythons that can grow to 16 feet in the wild and over 20 feet captivity. There are an estimated 100,000 Burmese pythons in the wild; FWC doesnt believe there are near as many African Rock Pythons in the Everglades.

Posted in State News, Wildlife | 4 Comments »

Florida Unemployment Dips Slightly

September 18th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Floridas unemployment rate dipped slightly in August, to ten point seven percent. Job losses slowed, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, there is a glimmer of hope in the numbers.

24 thousand Florida jobs disappeared in August; thats 37 hundred fewer than July. While the picture is brighter for some, Timothy Dukes was laid off Friday morning and rode his bike to look for a new job.

I think its a lack of work, a lack of work,” Dukes said.

150 new workers are being added to the states payroll to help the jobless. Trucker Dwayne Butler has been out of work ten months. He finally got an interview.

I got called back for another interview and now its between me and two or three other people,” Butler said.

The state reports the number of employers viewing applicants on its website employflorida, is up. There are other good signs as well.

Consumer spending is up,” Rebecca Rust, Florida’s cheif labor economist said. “Retail sales were just released yesterday, are up.

This stereo shop, which depends entirely on discretionary income, has seen an uptick in sales.

Systems here average three hundred to about 24 hundred dollars. With all of the install bays full Friday morning, owner Richard Menasco is thinking about hiring.

Oddly enough, yeah,” Menasco said. “One or two or three people if it keeps improving.

But for many, finding a job is still difficult. And as jobless benefits are running out, Floridas foreclosure rate is rising. One of every 140 homes is now in foreclosure.

Florida ranks second only to Nevada in the number of foreclosures. Thats up from fourth place last month.

Posted in Economy, State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

Florida Foreclosure Ranks Second in Nation

September 18th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Unemployment numbers are not expected to start falling significantly until the middle of 2010 when the economy improves. And even though this months numbers are statistically flat, thousands have exhausted their benefits. Rebecca Rust, the states chief labor economist, says the loss of benefits is part of the reason Florida is now second only to Nevada in the rate of foreclosures.

We did see deterioration in the foreclosure rate over the month of August data,” Rust said. “We had some improvement last month and that did not continue for August. Foreclosures for August are 62, 401. This is up by just over 10 percent over the month and up by 42 percent over the year. These are among the highest since the series began.

One in every 140 homes in Florida is now in foreclosure.

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

Changing Majors

September 18th, 2009 by flanews

The state’s high unemployment rate is forcing Florida college students to change their career plans. Job opportunities for college students are dwindling. As Whitney Ray tells us, many students worry there may not be enough jobs to go around and are opting for graduate school instead.

FSU Junior Jason Kirkendall started college interested in film but decided to pursue medicine for job security.

I know that I’ll have a job after I graduate instead of searching for one,” said Kirkendall.

Others, like International Affairs senior Lars Thrasher, are staying the course.

“I really would like to work for one of the consulate offices in Atlanta,” said Thrasher.

But with so many people out of work, Lars is afraid he’ll be competing for jobs against people with decades of experience.

“It really worries me. I try not to pay attention to statistics but I guess that’s the hand I got dealt,” said Thrasher.

A survey of employers found there will be seven percent fewer jobs for students who graduate in 2010. FSU Career Center Director Jeff Garis has seen a surge in students seeking career counseling. Often times they choose to stay in school.

“We believe that should be an individual choice. We don’t’ think people should overreach and assume there are no jobs out there and use that as a
reason to go to graduate school,” said Garis.

But it’s not just graduates going back to campus. Many people have abandoned the job hunt are enrolling in Florida colleges as undergrads.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is pushing the state to attract more science, technology, engineering and math based businesses to the state. The chamber is also working with educators to create better technology based programs in Florida schools.

Posted in Education, State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

Unclaimed Treasure

September 17th, 2009 by flanews

The economic downturn has Floridians searching for treasure. The state has millions of dollars worth of unclaimed silver, gold, jewels and other property locked away in Tallahassee. As Whitney Ray tells us, peoples interest in the forgotten treasure has increased as the economy has soured.

Whether its solid gold, really old, or just never sold, chances are it belongs to someone who may not know it exists. The state has more than a billion dollars worth of unclaimed cash and property locked away in this vault, that someone has forgotten about.

The bank holds the contents for three years, by the time we get them and process them, thats another two, two and a half years, so it takes us that long to try and find the owner, said Tom Egler with the Bureau of Unclaimed Property.

Often times the property is never claimed and the state if forced to auction off the goods to create more space in the vault. But better promotional efforts and a souring economy have inspired more and more people to see if they have missing treasure.

All you need is a computer to see if you have unclaimed property. Go to www.fltreasurehunt.org. Click on the search unclaimed property button. And type in your name.

In March, 20 million dollars worth of cash and property were claimed: the most ever in a single month. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink oversees the Bureau of Unclaimed Property and says making a claim is pretty easy.

Well send communications out to people who we think they are the rightful owners of the property and if they are able to prove they owe the property its a simple matter of getting a check in their hands, said Sink.

Cash, checks, and bonds are the most common claims. Last year the bureau paid out 173 million dollars. The state will hold an auction on October 24rd In Fort Lauderdale to sell property thats been unclaimed for too long. Money from the auction will go into the education trust fund, but even if your property is sold you can still make a monetary claim.

Posted in Economy, State News | 2 Comments »

Free Lunch Surge

September 17th, 2009 by flanews

The sour economy has forced more Florida students to turn to the National School Lunch Program for a free meal.

68,000 more students are using the free lunch program this year than just a year ago, bringing the total number of kids enrolled up to 1,137,000. The federal government reimburses schools for the free meals. Department of Education Spokesman Tom Butler says the program may be more important now than ever before.

“In a time like this, a lot of students, actually, this will be the only meal that they will get, along with maybe just a school breakfast. So, it’s really important that they continue to receive school lunches,” said Butler.

Schools arent the only places where the meals are served. During school breaks, boys and girls clubs serve the meals.

Posted in Education, State News | 2 Comments »

FAMU Student Remembered

September 17th, 2009 by flanews

Thousands are mourning the loss of a Florida A&M student who died after contracting a viral form of meningitis.

FAMU students gathered on campus this afternoon to remember Courtney Simms, the senior journalism major who died Monday. James Hawkins, the FAMU Dean of the School of Journalism, says counselors have been on hand to help students grieve.

We have had some counseling sessions and Ive asked faculty to spend a little time in each of the courses so students can talk about their experiences with Courtney so those kinds of things will help us as we start the process of healing and recovery, said Hawkins.

Simms was living off campus at the time of her death. FAMU health officials dont think she spread the virus to any other students.

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

McMurrian to Judge FP&L

September 16th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

A PSC Commission who dined with utility executives will continue to judge whether Florida Power and Light should be allowed to increase its rates by more than a billion dollars. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Commission Katrina McMurrian is refusing to recuse herself from the rate hike decision.

Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian dined with an FPL executive in February, but says she did nothing wrong and will continue to judge whether the company deserves a rate hike.

I didnt make any inappropriate comments,” McMurrian said. “There were no ex parte communications. I did pay for the meal.

The motion asking McMurrian to step down from voting on the rate hike was filed by a disappointed Steve Stuart.

The motion to recuse is not based on that she did anything wrong, its based on the standard, that a reasonable person would fear, that since she was at these conferences and communicated with these people, that they would not get a fair trial, Stuart said.

The FP&L rate hearing continued Wednesday with McMurrian participating fully.

For the second time this week, Florida Power and Light has sprung for nearly full page ads in the states major dailies.

The company says it is not using the ads, including one labeled TOO COZY, to divert attention from allegations it may have communicated improperly with commissioners.

Under no circumstances did we attempt to inappropriately influence anyone,” FP&L spokesperson Jackie Anderson said. “The bottom line here is that a negative result in these proceedings, puts at risk thousands of construction jobs.

On Tuesday, the commission discussed new ethics rules for the first time since a grand jury recommended changes that were never adopted in 1992.

McMurrians refusal to step down could be appealed, but wont be, if at all, until after the rate case is over.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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