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Bowden to Decide

November 30th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Bobby Bowden is still the head football coach at Florida State University this evening, but how much longer is the question. Bowden met with the university president and athletic director this morning. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, another meeting and a decision on Bowdens future is set for Tuesday.

Bobby Bowden got two standing ovations at Mondays booster luncheon. After being whipped by Florida 37-10 on Saturday, Bowden offered this guarantee about Gator Senior Quarter Back Tim Tebow.

I guarantee thats the last time hes going to beat me,” Bowden said.

The coach did confirm a meeting with University President T.K. Wetherell and Athletic Director Randy Spetman.

We talked about my future here at Florida State,” Bowden said. “So tomorrow, were going to meet again. I havent announced whether or not Ill stay here at Florida State.

During the Q & A, Booster Marge Mastermon was in near tears thinking about the end of the Bowden era.

I think hes done a lot for the university,” Mastermon said.

As Bowden signed autographs, seeming less rushed than usual, Athletic Director Spetman was mum.

Its always cordial when you deal with Coach Bowden,” Spetman said.

The hour long meeting took place in the coachs office, which is located behind the scoreboard. A second meeting is set for Tuesday morning.

Bowden continues to say that he, not the University, will decide his future.

Well, I make the decision,” Bowden said. “I make the decision.

Bowden declined to say what time or where Tuesdays meeting will be held.

The Seminoles finished the regular season six and six and are headed to a bowl game. If the Noles are defeated, it will mark Bowdens first losing season since his first year at FSU in 1976.

Posted in State News | 12 Comments »

Cyber Monday Blues

November 30th, 2009 by flanews

By the end of the day an estimated six million Floridians will have bought something online. Shoppers are logging on to take advantage of Cyber Monday discounts on the busiest online shopping day of the year. As Whitney Ray tells us, the online shopping frenzy will benefit mostly out-of-state retailers and do little to help the state fund its budget.

Fifty, 60, even 70 percent off retail prices, coupled with free shipping and shopping at your leisure have one in three Floridians clicking the Buy Now button this Cyber Monday.

Despite the states economic troubles, shoppers are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Good news for the states dwindling bank account, right? Not exactly.

Online shoppers dont pay state sales tax on all their purchases. Only retailers with locations in Florida collect the tax. The rest are costing the state more than two billion dollars a year. The obligation to pay the tax is on the buyer.

Ononde Thelemaque and Sheila Josil shop online frequently. Neither knew their purchases werent being taxed. They were just focused on the savings.

Overstock.com has like really cheap things on certain stuff you can get inside the store for really expensive, thats like really really cheap, said Sheila.

Online stores are not just costing the state billions in sales tax revenue, according to Florida TaxWatch, they also undercutting their brick and mortar competition.

They are not reinvesting in our community. They are not supporting local charities, who are providing local jobs, who are owning local property and pay in taxes. They are the ones who are avoiding all that and we are giving them a six percent discount, said Robert Weissert, General Council for Florida TaxWatch.
State lawmakers want to fix the problem by synchronizing elements of the Floridas tax code with 22 other states to make paying internet sales taxes easier. In order to pay the online sales tax Florida shoppers have to get a form from the Department of Revenue, fill it out, and sent it back. Last year only 3-thousand internet tax forms were filed in Florida.

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

Jury Selection Continues in Hoffman Case

November 30th, 2009 by flanews

Jury selection is underway in the case of one of two men accused of killing a police informant.

Rachel Hoffman was killed last year in a botch drug sting set up by the Tallahassee Police Department. Andrea Green and Denelio Bradshaw are being charged in the killing and could be sentenced to death. Jury selection in the Bradshaw case began this morning and will continue this week. Two-hundred potential jurors are being interviewed to determine if pretrial publicity or individual feelings about the death penalty could influence their decisions.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Union Skeptical of Commuter Rail Deal

November 30th, 2009 by flanews

The governor and state lawmakers are on the verge of calling a special session to vote on commuter rail in central and southeast Florida, but the AFL-CIO union is objecting to the current plan. The union says legislation to move the SunRail and TriRail projects forward would block railroad workers from unionizing. AFL-CIO President Mike Williams say if the legislation passes hundreds of workers will be shortchanged.

You bet I want jobs. Are you asking me I want the type of jobs that are going to cause a man and woman to struggle week to week to put food on the table? The answer is no, said Mike Williams.

Lawmakers are expected to hold session later this week, but with a meeting cost of 40-thousand dollars, legislative leaders want to be close to a deal before calling people back to Tallahassee.

Posted in Legislature, State Budget, State News, Transportation | 1 Comment »

Lonely Thanksgiving

November 25th, 2009 by flanews

Thousands of seniors living in Florida nursing homes will spend Thanksgiving without their families to help celebrate. One if four families has cut back Thanksgiving day travel since 2007. As Whitney Ray tells us, nursing homes are looking for volunteers to brighten up the holiday for lonely seniors.

Byron Clark helped fight the Germans in World War II. Married his high school sweetheart and fathered a family that continues to grow.

After his wife died, Byron checked himself into an assisted living facility. Hes spending Thanksgiving with his daughter and an old friend.

Weve know each other for about 56 years and we are all going to be together tomorrow in a private dinning room over here, said Byron.

Byrons lucky. In Florida 160,000 people live in assisted living facilities and many of them will spend Thanksgiving alone because families are cutting back on holiday travel to save money.

People are taking shorter trips, trading in plane tickets for the mini-vans and staying within 50 miles of home. Peter Churchward, the executive director of Broadview Assisted Living in Tallahassee, says Thanksgiving can be tough on residents who arent expecting visitors.

The holidays can be a depressing time for everybody, residents who are away from their families, it can be a difficult time for them, so theres a lot that we try to do here in our community to alleviate the holiday blues, said Churchward.

The main cure for the holiday blues is companionship. Mignon Stephens starts beaming at the sight of an unexpected visitor.

Its an awful lot of fun and we enjoy it, said Mignon.

But for too many on the outer edge of life, Thanksgiving will be spent without family or friends.

Assisted living facilities around the state are excepting volunteers to spend some time with seniors this holiday weekend. If youre interested in helping out call a nursing home near you or contact Floridas Long-term care Ombudsman Program at 1-888-831-0404 or visit their website at http://ombudsman.myflorida.com

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

Under Water Mortgages Threaten Recovery

November 24th, 2009 by flanews

A new study shows nearly half of Florida homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Falling home prices are the main cause of the underwater mortgages. As Whitney Ray tells us, the phenomenon could lead to another wave of foreclosures and delay recovery in the states housing market.

Florida is a buyers market. Home prices are down and theres a tax credit for first and second time buyers. Sales are up a staggering 45 percent over a year ago.

We are definitely on the road to recovery with 14 months of increased home sales in Florida, much better than the national average, said John Sebree with the Florida Association of Realtors.

But the increase in home sales comes at a price, and that price is falling property values. About half of Floridians own a home that is worth less than their mortgage.

Folks who bought a house in Florida a year ago paid on average 30-thousand dollars more than people buying now. Prices fell 17 percent over last year, raising concerns for homeowners. Alex Sanchez, the president of the Florida Bankers Association, says borrowers need to be patient.

I think home values will come back and I think people should be educated first before they walk away from a home and turn the keys in. There are a lot of repercussions to making that type of decision, said Sanchez.

But if enough folks lose the faith and walk away, then Florida could be hit with a second wave of foreclosures. The Florida Homebuilders Association says a second wave could flood an already saturated housing market.

We do have to monitor whats going on with short sales, with foreclosures and unemployment, because that can edge the number back up in terms of months supply on the market, said David Hart with the Florida Homebuilders Association.

The best advice bankers, builders, and real estate agents have for worried homeowners is to ride out the storm of falling values.

Posted in Housing, State News | 3 Comments »

Free Trial Not So Free

November 24th, 2009 by flanews

A free trial to sample dietary supplements turned out not to be so free for thousands of Floridians. After receiving numerous complaints, the Attorney Generals office began investigating Brevard County based company FWM Laboratories. The company was offering customers 17-day free trials, but customers who wanted to cancel after the trial period were unable to contact the company. AG Spokeswoman Sandi Copes says payments were being automatically taken from consumers checking and credit accounts.

You sign up for a free trial. You give them your information and ultimately what you end up paying was around 87 dollars a month for these products and a lot of people didnt realize they even paying for them, they were just getting these monthly bills, said Copes.

FWM Laboratories has been working with the Attorney Generals office since the investigation was launched. So far the company has refunded 34 million dollars. If you think you were ripped off by FWM Laboratories call the attorney generals office of (866) 966-7226

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Hoteliers Upset Over Fees

November 24th, 2009 by flanews

Asian American hotel owners in Florida say new fees approved by the legislature are discriminatory. A group of the hoteliers delivered a letter to Governor Charlie Crist this morning asking him to overturn new fees raising the price of advertising their businesses on state owned signs placed near exit ramps. The fees are going up between 200 and 400 percent. A spokesman for the group Nash Patel says the increase unfairly targets Asian-Americans.

The fee will impact all business owners, but the vast majority of hotels in the state of Florida are owned by our association, so we feel that it is a direct impact on us, said Patel.

The hoteliers say the increased fees coupled with a 12 fold increase in the unemployment tax could force layoffs.

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

Adoptions on the Rise

November 24th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

More than ten thousand children have been adopted in Florida over the last three years. At the same time, the state has decreased the number of kids in Foster care by 34%. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, every month in Florida, 200 families adopt.

Denise Mozee and her soon-to-be-son Rashad stepped before a judge to finalize a love that began seven years ago when Rashad was placed in foster care.

With the judges approval, Rashad became one of almost 4 thousand children adopted this year.

This is going to be his home forever,” Mozee said.

Thanks in part to a campaign from this one, Florida has been setting records for adoptions over the last three years.

There are also benefits. Teachers and state employees can be paid a subsidy. All children adopted from foster care receive free tuition at a state university. At this ceremony, the Lt. Governor noted adopting is not easy.

Its been a long road,” Kottkamp said.

Would-be parents must undergo 10 weeks of training, background checks and a home assessment. Once in court, friends and family attest to a parents fitness.

Laurie and Dave Gussak are adopting Joseph, a Peruvian child abandoned at birth.

I couldnt be any happier,” Laurie Gussak said. “This is the best thing Ive done in my entire life.

Teenagers remain the most difficult age group to place in adoptive homes. 19 thousand children remain in Floridas foster care system.

For more information on adopting, including eligibility and what is required, go to www.adoptflorida.org <http://www.adoptflorida.org>.

Posted in Children, State News | 1 Comment »

Manatee Deaths on Pace to Break Record

November 23rd, 2009 by flanews

2009 is on track to be the deadliest year for Florida manatees, with an estimated 4-hundred deaths so far. Part of the reason the death toll is up is because the manatee population is growing. Another reason is boats. As Whitney Ray tells us, Wildlife experts are asking boaters to slow down.

Three years ago, a herd of manatees was a rare sight in North Florida, but now the manatee population in Wakulla Springs State Park is growing. Last week 26 were spotted in one day.

Were not sure exactly why they are staying through the winter. There is a number of different manatee researchers that we work with that are looking at that now trying to understand why, said Brian Fugate, the manager at Wakulla Spring State Park.

One reason could be a population spike. In 2000, a quick survey found just 22-hundred manatees in the state. This year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission spotted 38-hundred, its highest count ever.

Those manatees are now on the move. As the temperature drops outside the manatees move closer to the head spring where the water is warmer.

But earlier this year many manatees didnt make it to the head spring. Cold stress killed dozens of them. Boaters claimed 91 this year alone. In the middle of this month the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission changed speed zones in areas where manatees are expected to travel.

Keep your eye out for manatees, try to avoid them, give them plenty of space and obey the speed zones, said Carol Knox, a biological administrator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Boaters who dont could receive a speeding ticket or worse. Killing a manatee carries a 500 dollars fine.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Couple Makes New Beginning in Florida

November 23rd, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Vicki and Ronald Fields both lost their jobs last year. The North Carolina couple were forced to leave their home and move in with her parents in Tallahassee. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the couple is making a new beginning in Florida.

Vicki Fields lost her job in January. Husband Ron was let go in July. In August, they packed up their belongings and moved here, to Vickis parents in Tallahassee.

It has been a struggle for everyone.

We had to remember that yes, this is still our house and they have to be visitors,” Vicki’s mother, Evelyn House, said. “But at the same time, this is a definite change for them.

8 year-old Ashley is sleeping here, in a make shift bedroom that used to be the front foyer.

She thought it was really cool at first but I think shes a little over it right now,” Vicki said. “And all her toys are in storage. This box right here is stuff shes accumulated since weve been here.

But things are looking up. Ron got a job three weeks ago as a chef, and even though he is making 30 percent less than he did as a restaurant manager in North Carolina, hes happy to be working.

Its difficult. Anytime you have to make less money, its hard and you wonder how youre going to live the lifestyle youve become accustomed to in years past,” Ron said. “But you make adjustments.

Vicki just returned from a drug test for a job that could start next week. She says staying positive is the key.

Focus on that, because it is so discouraging to not hear from potential employers, she said.

So for this family, hard hit by the economy, there is much to be thankful this holiday season.

The Fields also sold their North Carolina home, just days before foreclosure proceedings were to begin. They will walk away with nothing after a decade of home ownershipbut their credit is mostly intact.

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

Unemployment Tax Targets Retailers

November 20th, 2009 by flanews

Floridas unemployment rate is now at 11.2 percent, increasing point one percent over the last month. The small increase could mean the states unemployment crisis is slowing down, but as Whitney Ray tells us, the effects of double digit unemployment may stick with business owners for years in the form of higher taxes.

Fresh, made-to-order subs served with a smile are the ingredients of success for Metro Deli owner Rob Bazemore. But to keep his restaurant above water at a time when the economy is forcing many to stop eating out has been a challenge.

Everybodys got a little less disposable income. People are bringing lunches more and its affecting us already, said Rob.

To add insult injury, Robs unemployment tax is scheduled to increase 12 fold, jumping from 67 dollars for his eight employees, to 800 dollars.

We are doing okay, but it could change things, said Rob.

The tax is being increased to help pay unemployment claims. The fund ran out of money in August. Now the state is borrowing money from the feds and asking Florida businesses to foot the bill. The Florida Retail Federation says now is not the time.

Lets not hammer small businesses and medium size businesses, who are just now starting to feel like things are getting better, with a two billion dollar bill, said Rick McAllister, the President of the Florida Retailers Federation.

Retailers are asking the governor and lawmakers to look at the issue in a special session because the first payment of the new unemployment tax will be due in March.

Friday the Agency for Workforce Innovation gave indications help for the unemployed will be needed longer than expected.

The unemployment rate is expected to remain above six per through the 2019, said Rebecca Rust, Chief Economist for the Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Retailers are hoping a vote on decreasing the new tax can be taken in December or January, thats when a special session for high-speed rail is rumored to be held.

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

Sunshine Technology

November 20th, 2009 by flanews

Floridas Attorney General is looking for ways to keep track of communications sent electronically.

Blackberry messages sent from Public Service Commission staffers to utility executives shed light on the problems the state encounters trying to track some digital communications. Today a tech guru from Microsoft taught the AGs newly formed Sunshine Tech Team how to capture and store instant messages and other online communications. Sunshine Law Attorney Alexis Lambert says its difficult to track all the different kinds of electronic communications.

Most communication between citizens and the government is done digitally, over the phone, through email, using social networking sights and government wants to be open, accountable and transparent, but we have problems in terms of storage, in terms of making the information public and easy and accessible, rather than having things stored in giant vaults that are easy to navigate, said Lambert.

At the teams next meeting experts will talk about how to track and store messages sent from Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Posted in McCollum, State News | No Comments »

College Crimes

November 19th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Crime stats comparing Florida A&M and FSU with other universities rank the two schools near the top when computing how many crimes might have occurred if there were a hundred thousand students on campus, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, both schools are relatively safe.

Florida A&M University has recorded eight serious crimes since January. Florida State about 40. FSU student Jessica Beaugriss is from Miami and feels safe, most of the time.

During the day I feel safe because theres enough people on campus to make me feel safe,” Beaugriss said. “But at night, most of the time I feel unsafe.

At FAMU, which was hit by a racist pipe bomber a decade ago, there is also a good feeling.

I feel pretty safe,” student Charles Reddrick said.

Here on the FAMU campus there have been eight reports of crime this year. That means your chances of being a victim are about one in 1,500.

At FSU, about one in about 700 students is likely to be a victim.

FAMU has cut its crime by 72 percent since last year. Police Chief Calvin Ross says most of the problems are caused by non-students.

We put officers out there to try to identify these individuals,” Ross said. “We were stopping individuals who were acting suspicious, stopping vehicles.

And junior Janelle Lee Chee has noticed.

Its not that they stand about the campus, but you can see their vehicles parked,” Lee Chee said. “And they park them in areas where they did have a lot more crime last year. So I think that had a big impact.

Both FAMU and FSU use emergency notification systems to let students know if there is a problem on or near campus.

In addition to counting crimes on campus, Universities must also report crimes in surrounding areas. That has given tiny New College in Sarasota the distinction of having the most crime of all 11 state schools.

Rankings:

1)New College

2) Florida A&M

3)Florida State

4) Florida International

5) Central Florida

6)Florida Atlantic

7)North Florida

8)South Florida

9)U of Florida

10) Gulf Coast

11) West Florida

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

FL Medicaid Health Info Network

November 19th, 2009 by flanews

Today the Agency for Health Care Administration launched the Florida Medicaid Health Information Network, becoming the first state in the country to make the move toward a paperless system. As Whitney Ray tells us, the move is expected to save money and improve quality, but concerns about security surround the new system.

The Florida Medicaid Health Information Network will give 2.6 million Floridians a chance to access their medical data online. Medicaid patients who sign up will have 18 months worth of checkups, prescriptions, and surgeries available to their doctors with just a few mouse clicks.

They can look at the benefits that that person is eligibility for. They can submit claims to us and other payers through this portal, said AHCA Secretary Tom Arnold.

For Medicaid patients who sign up for the program, they can have their medical records accessed immediately, even if they are in an accident away from home.

The network will allow doctors to better serve patients who are incapacitated, but the instant access comes at a price. Larry Spalding, an attorney for the ACLU says there isnt an online network that cant be hacked.

This is not a panacea. With all the good that will hopefully come from these types of systems, there are real personal dangers lurking out there, said Spalding.

Russ Thomas, the president of the company overseeing the network says his company has a flawless record.

We have not had a release or exposure of date in the eight years that we have been in business, but if it is exposed, it is our duty to report that, said Thomas.

Sign up for the network is voluntary. The state will evaluate the success of the program after two years and consider an expansion. To sign up for the Florida Medicaid Health Information network go to www.floridahealthfinder.gov

Posted in Health, State News | 1 Comment »

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