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Stimulus Jobs Overstated on Government Website

October 30th, 2009 by flanews

Economic Stimulus money has helped save and create a total of 64,000 jobs. A recent investigation into federal stimulus statistics showed some of the job creation numbers were overstated. As Whitney Ray tells us, some of the inflated statistics come from stimulus spending Florida.

Niki Lavin is celebrating her third year as high school science teacher and her new duty as a dance instructor. But a year ago she feared a budget shortfall might claim her job. Then Congress passed the economic stimulus package sending Florida 13 billion dollars.

“It is nice to know that money is there to help us out,” said Lavin.

It’s hard to pinpoint whose job was saved using stimulus money, but we do know 20,000 teaching positions would have been cut without the funds.

In all 64,000 Florida jobs have been saved or created, but a recent investigation shows statics on a government website were overstated. The site gives the stimulus package credit for 30-thousand federal contract jobs. The number is five thousand too high.

And some of those fudged numbers are coming out of Florida. A Brevard County child care center claims it used stimulus dollars to save 129 jobs when in fact the money was simply used to give raises.

Florida’s Stimulus Czar Don Winstead says those are federal statistics and the state’s numbers don’t include the 129 positions.

“We will report that there, but of course our numbers are substantially more than that and what we report with the state agencies will not include those,” said Winstead.

One area where results have been immediate is in unemployment. Florida has doled out 1.8 billion stimulus dollars to keep benefits flowing to thousands of jobless Floridians

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

Grim Reaper Visits RPOF

October 30th, 2009 by flanews

In the spirit of Halloween, the grim reaper made a visit to the state GOP headquarters to press the Republicans to support health care reform.

The group Health Care for America Now sent the reaper who was wearing a sign that read “GOP Health Plan.” The reaper wasn’t invited into the building. An advocate with the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans accompanied the costumed character and accused the Republicans of standing the way of reform.

“We’re here to ask the Republican Party, why are you being an obstacle? Why are you playing politics with people’s lives? That is not helpful to Florida’s families. Now Mr. Reaper loves it, but its not good for the health for our families here in Florida. So we’re going to go in and say ‘trick or treatment’ to the Republicans who are standing in the way of meaningful health care reform in this country and in this state,” said DeVane.

The grim reaper visit is just one of 40 political events taking place across Florida this weekend in support of health care reform.

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

Citizens Property Insurance:

October 30th, 2009 by flanews

Citizens Property Insurance customers will soon be paying more.

The Office of Insurance Regulation has signed off on a 5.4 percent rate increase for homeowners policies. The increases fluctuate depending on the policy type. The increase could have been much higher. This spring the state legislature agreed to let a freeze on Citizen’s policies expire and voted to allow rates to increase up to 10 percent. OIR deputy commissioner Belinda Miller says Citizen’s customers can expect to see increases for at least the next three years.

“If we did it all at once, it would for example, for the H03 filing, the home owners product, it would result in the neighborhood of a 30-35 percent increase. So, what the legislature did is said “we’re going to do no more than a 10 percent for each policy holder per year until we get to that,” said Miller.

The rate increase will affect a million Citizen’s customers in Florida. The rate increase will go into effect January 1st 2010.

Rate Increases According to Policy Type:

Personal Lines Accounts (PLA):

Homeowners: 5.4 percent
Dwelling Fire: 8.8 percent
Mobile Homeowners: 1.7 percent

Mobile Homeowners Physical Damage Accounts and Commercial Lines Accounts (CLA):

Mobile Home Physical Damage: 2.1 percent
Commercial Property Residential-Condo Assoc: 10.2 percent
Commercial Property Residential-Ex-wind-Condo Assoc: 10.2 percent

Posted in Housing, Insurance, State News | 2 Comments »

Death Penalty Recommendations Ignored

October 29th, 2009 by flanews

The Florida Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution for a man convicted of a triple murder.

The reason, Paul Johnson still has the right to appeal his sentencing. Governor Charlie Crist may have signed Johnson’s death warrant prematurely, but as Whitney Ray tells us, political pressure to speed up Johnson’s execution was mounting.

On January 9th, 1981, Paul Johnson, shot and killed a Polk County Deputy and two others. He was sentenced to death for the murders, but the Florida Supreme Court is ordering a stay of execution, saying Governor Charlie Crist may have jumped the gun in Johnson’s case.

Crist signed Johnson’s death warrant even though the convicted killer hadn’t exhausted his appeals, but political pressure was mounting on the governor.

More than 2,200 people signed a petition asking Crist to sign the death certificate. ACLU Attorney Larry Spalding doesn’t know why Crist was so eager but says politics should never taint such dire decisions.

“You shouldn’t react on emotional calls to do things. You react rationally and responsible and working within the system,” said Spalding.

A system many say is broken. Florida is the only state with capital punishment that allows a jury hand down the death sentence without a unanimous vote. Three years ago The American Bar Association recommended changes to the system. Mark Schlakman was one of eight lawyers working on the report. The recommendations have been ignored.

“It is apprehension by elected officials as the possibility of being branded as anything but tough on crime, but these issues don’t go to whether one is tough on crime, they go to administration of justice,” said Schlakman.

More than 20 death row inmates have been exonerated since executions resumed in 1979. Executions also come with a hefty price tag. On average two death row inmates are executed in Florida every year, at a cost of 51 million dollars to taxpayers. Life in prison for an inmate entering the system at 20 years old, costs an estimated 1.5 million tax dollars.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Criminal Justice, State News | 9 Comments »

Congress Could Extend Homebuyers Tax Credit

October 29th, 2009 by flanews

Real Estate agents in Florida are keeping their fingers crossed as Congress debates extending the first time home buyer tax credit.

The 8,000 dollar credit is scheduled to expire at the end of November. Real estate agents fear housing sales will fall flat if the credit isn’t extended. Florida Association of Realtors President Cynthia Shelton says home sales are one of the few bright spots in Florida’s economy.

“For every home purchased, $63,000 additional income goes into the economy in some manner though creation of jobs, through the closing, through acquiring furniture etc. So I think it would help boost the economy but more important I think it would help get individual homeowners get into a home,” said Shelton.

If Congress extends the program, it would likely run though April, it could also be expanded to offer a 6,500 dollar credit to people buying their second home, if the home they’re purchasing will be their primary residents.

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

The End of Plastic Bags

October 28th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida could be the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags used by supermarkets and other stores. The Department of Environmental Protection has developed a plan to phase the bags out over the next five years, or begin charging a fee for their use. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, political reality makes a complete ban unlikely, at least for awhile.

The question “paper or plastic” will soon leave our vocabulary if the state Department of Environmental Protection has its way. DEP would discourage the use of common plastic super market bags by charging a nickel a bag tax. The idea doesn’t sit well with shopper Kendra Walker.

“It would be outrageous,” Walker said.”I don’t even have the funds to cover it. You can barely pay for food.”

But the ban isn’t totally outrageous. This food co-op stopped using plastic bags six months ago, with no complaints.

“We support it because we encourage our customers to really think about where their trash is going,” Cristin Burns, marketing manager of New Leaf Food Co-Op, said.

Cloth bags offer an alternative…but pet owners like Ray Handley and his friend Ninja have a special need that would be very unpleasant with cloth bags.

“I use them, obviously when I’m here in the park, to clean up after my dog,” Handley said. “So it’s something that I, you know, when I go to the grocery store, I get plastic and I save the bags.”

The Department of Environmental Protection is still months away from making a recommendation and when it does it won’t likely be a total ban.

“So what we’re trying to do is work to try to find ways that we can reduce that waste stream, but still deal with the public’s need to get groceries home,” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said.

In the end, public pressure to use alternatives, not public policy, will likely determine the plastic bags future.

In addition to supermarkets, newspapers, who depend on plastic bags to keep the paper dry are expected to fight even a partial ban on plastic bags.

Posted in Business, Environment, State News | 4 Comments »

Worst Governor in America?

October 28th, 2009 by flanews

A recent string of bad press is haunting Governor Charlie Crist and could hurt his chances at the US Senate. A Forbes writer is asking if Crist is “America’s Worst Governor.” Now a Washington Post poll has classified him as one of the most “overrated” governors in the country. As Whitney Ray tells us, the national attention could help Crist’s opponent who is already gaining ground in the polls.

From the time he took office in 2007, through October of this year, Governor Charlie Crist has been off the clock nearly 30 weeks; that according to a newspaper investigation.

Crist spent weeks in 2008 biding for a spot on the McCain ticket. Now he’s seeking a US Senate Seat. All the days spent campaigning are hurting the governor’s once stellar reputation.

A Forbes writer is questioning if Crist is “America’s Worst Governor.” A Washington Post poll says he’s overrated. Crist says so what.

“They can say what ever they want. The first amendment says so,” said Crist.

But while Crist is ignoring the problem, his opponents aren’t. Crist’s Primary opponent is taking full advantage of the governor’s bad press. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio has cut Crist’s lead in the polls in half.

Rubio’s camp is sending out emails reminding voters Crist supported the President’s economic stimulus package and pointing out the state’s 11 percent unemployment rate.

“Charlie Crist is clearly feeling the heat from a wave of devastating news accounts about his governorship, dwindling poll numbers and Marco Rubio’s insistence on holding him accountable. As Florida’s unemployment rises on his watch, Governor Crist must be held accountable for supporting a stimulus that has failed to deliver on the job creation promises he made with President Obama when they sold it to the American people. While Charlie Crist will spend millions trying to distance himself from his record, we also expect him to aim desperate attacks in Marco Rubio’s direction,” wrote Alex Burgos, Rubio campaign spokesman, in an email response.

Florida Democrats are sitting back and watching the in-party fighting.

“All we see is Charlie Crist playing these petty political games, putting his personal ambition above the needs in Florida and that’s why Floridians are reacting in such a way. That’s why Charlie Crist’s poll numbers are crashing,” said Eric Jotkoff, a spokesman for the Florida Democrats.

And if the people keep piling on the primary could get ugly, which bodes well for Kendrick Meek, the likely Democratic challenger.

Governor Charlie Crist responded to the critique of his schedule, highlighting his extensive time off in an editorial published today. Crist said quote, “The schedule of a governor should not — and cannot — be reduced to a spreadsheet. To do so is ridiculous and does not reflect the endless hours spent briefing with agency leaders and staff, reading policy briefings and the day’s news, meeting and talking on the phone with constituents, advisers and legislators, and responding to the types of things that just simply cannot be scheduled.”

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

NCAA Releases Documents

October 27th, 2009 by flanews

The Florida Supreme Court today refused to delay the release of records detailing the reasons for sanctions against FSU.

The decision caps weeks of litigation that the NCAA lost both in the trial court and an appellate court. Just hours after the order, the NCAA made the records public. The documents contain a transcript of FSU’s hearing before NCAA committee discussing the school penalty following a cheating scandal among athletes. The NCAA continues to appeal the decision, but Attorney General Bill McCollum says their chances of getting the court to hear the case are slim.

“Their likelihood of success is very limited. The Supreme Court is denying the stay. I think that they need to produce the documents that they have been denying. They have an obligation to do it. They clearly do under the law. It’s very clear in the Florida law that if you pass through this material that’s being used by FSU as it has been, and they have seen it, it’s public record,” said McCollum.

NCAA has said since the beginning it had no obligation to release the documents since they were never printed and were only posted on line. State law makes no such distinction.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

PSC Delays Rate Decisions

October 27th, 2009 by flanews

Millions of Floridians will have to wait to see if their electric bills are going up. Today the Public Service Commission voted to postpone hearings in the Florida Power and Light and Progress Energy rate cases under pressure from the governor. As Whitney Ray tells us, the votes are being delayed until a new commissioner can take his post.

Decisions on nearly two billion dollars worth of electric rate increases have been put on hold. The decision comes after outcries over the Public Service Commissions closeness with the utility companies it regulates came to a boiling point.

One new public service commissioner took office this week. Another will be sworn in in January. The governor asked the PSC to postpone rake hike decisions until the new members take office, hoping a new commission will side with customers.

“I think that trying to charge people more money during this time is the wrong thing to do,” said Crist.

In a surprise outcome, the commission sided with the Governor and will delay decisions in two rate cases. The decision to delay the votes didn’t sit well with the two energy companies.

“We all wanted to have it concluded by January or before that. It didn’t happen. So we are now going to wait for the commission to rule on the record and based on the proposal that we have made,” said Mayco Villifana, a spokesman with FP&L.

“I was disappointed with the PSC decision. Real needs come with real costs and we can’t wait till tomorrow to meet today’s energy needs,” said Tim Leljedal, a spokesman with Progress Energy.

Companies seeking an increase can raise rates before the PSC votes, although Tuesday the commission voted to keep FP&L from raising rates. Progress Energy can impose the new rate January 1st. If Progress Energy decides to raise rates before the vote and the commission denies the increase, the company would have to refund customers.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | 1 Comment »

Where Was the President?

October 27th, 2009 by flanews

President Barack Obama is finishing up his two day trip to Florida today, but some people didn’t even know he was here.

That group includes Florida Governor and US Senate hopeful Charlie Crist. Crist was asked about the President’s trip by reporters this morning and seemed clueless.

Crist: Where was he yesterday?
Reporters: Jacksonville.
Crist: Oh, first I’ve known of that.”

Later in the day Crist clarified his response saying he knew the president was in Florida, he just didn’t know his schedule.

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

Domestic Violence On The Rise

October 27th, 2009 by flanews

Domestic homicides are double what they were a year ago.

To learn more about why, Attorney General Bill McCollum is forming a domestic violence fatality review team. The team will determine where the system, including cops or shelters, failed and provide recommendations to fix the problem. Florida Police Chiefs Association President Dorene Thomas of Pinellas Park says the problem is the economy.

“Our economy is affecting families. You are having more families living together, more people blending and it’s causing tension and your seeing an increase, overall, in domestic violence,” said Thomas.

Each month more 200 children are affected by domestic violence, which often leaves lasting scars.

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

Florida House Fundraiser

October 27th, 2009 by flanews

Florida is the only state in the nation that has a house for Floridians in the nation’s Capital. Florida House hosts thousands of school children each year, and as many as 12 thousand people take advantage of maps, and other information for the nation’s capitol. Trustee Cindy O’Connell says the house is funded completely with private money.

“Florida House is a special retreat for Floridians visiting the Nation’s capital. It provides a place for respite, information and education about Florida’s cultural treasures and our educational future. Florida House is a must see when Floridians go to D.C,” said O’Connell.

The annual budget for Florida House is about half a million dollars.

Posted in Children, State News | No Comments »

Emergency Declaration

October 26th, 2009 by flanews

On Saturday, President Barack Obama issued an emergency swine flu declaration which focuses on preparation. Here in Florida, hospitals are anticipating an increased number of swine flu cases and are applauding the president’s action. As Whitney Ray tells us, the declaration will allow hospitals to treat more patients if the pandemic gets worse.

By the end of flu season experts predict as many as one in four Floridians will have fought a battle with the H1N1 virus. Matthew Bennett doesn’t like the odds. He and his wife are in the priority group for the first round of vaccinations.

“We have a little eight week old at home so the doctor said to get it,” said Matthew.

The Florida Department of Health is already running low on the H1N1 vaccine, but is expecting more soon.

“We are currently experiencing a shortage in terms of what we would have originally expected from the CDC at this time. However, we are not concerned. We still anticipate those who are interested in getting the vaccine will be able to do so,” said Smith.

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration this weekend to prepare hospitals in case of a surge of new cases.

The declaration allows hospitals to ignore some government regulations, allowing staff to treat patients more quickly. The Agency for Health Care Administration says hospitals and nursing homes would be allowed to waive the rules on a case by case basis.

“It would allow them to increase the number of beds they can offer. For hospitals it may allow them to set up an emergency site within a certain location in the hospital to allow greater service to patients,” said Molly McKinstry, the Bureau Chief for the AHCA Bureau of Long Term Care Services.

In Florida about a thousand H1N1 patients have been hospitalized; 131 lost their battle with the virus.

Posted in Health, State News, Swine Flu | No Comments »

AAA Supports Texting Ban

October 26th, 2009 by flanews

The AAA auto club is calling for a nationwide ban on texting while driving.

Eighteen states already ban the practice. It’s still legal in 32 states, including Florida. Lawmakers are preparing a bill to ban texting while driving for the 2010 legislative session. If passed, drivers would be fined if caught reading, typing, or sending text messages while driving. Recent reports highlight the dangers of texting while driving, claiming it’s even more dangerous than drunk driving. AAA spokeswoman Brenda Smith says drivers often lose control of their vehicles.

“Anytime you don’t have total control of that vehicle you are 50 percent more apt to be involved in a traffic accident that can result in a fatality or major injuries. So AAA will support any legislation that Florida might put in to committee or even beginning next year, we will be behind that 100 percent of the way,” said Smith.

AAA wants the 32 states without a ban to adopt one by 2013. While the war on texting behind the wheel rages, questions linger about the use of cell phones to make calls or other uses.

Posted in Highways, Legislature, State News, Transportation | 8 Comments »

Proposed Oyster Ban Worries Florida Restaurateurs, Fisherman

October 23rd, 2009 by flanews

The Food and Drug Administration is considering banning fresh oysters from May to October. If approved, oysters harvested during warm months would have to be processed before they could be sold.

Raw oysters can cause food poisoning and occasionally death, mainly among older consumers and people with weak immune systems. Susan Smith, a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Health, said the risk increases when the temperature rises.

“This bacterium that is commonly found in oysters during Florida’s hot summer months could have an ill effect on someone who has an immune compromised system,” said Smith.

The FDA ban wouldn’t stop restaurants from serving oysters, they would just have to be cooked or, if uncooked, the oysters would have to be processed before they’re sold. Restaurants that sell raw oysters are already required to put a disclaimer on their menus warning about the risks. Barnacle Bills, a seafood restaurant in Tallahassee, has been selling raw oysters for 32 years and hasn’t reported one case of sickness or death. Owner Jeff Stilwell said the ban would be bad for business.

“Any kind of ban on anything just crushes business. You know the rumors, the innuendos, the things that go around. It will probably put half the seafood restaurants over on the coast out of business,” Stilwell said.

Restaurants owners wouldn’t suffer alone, fisherman would share their sorrows. Ten percent of the country’s oysters are harvested from Florida’s Apalachicola Bay where dozens of fisherman depend on the industry to make a living. If approved, the ban would go into effect in 2011.

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

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