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School Prayer Bill

March 31st, 2010 by flanews

A bill to protect students who prayer at school functions like football games is gaining traction in the state House.

This comes after complaints about a new Santa Rosa County policy that keeps teachers from participating in student-led prayer. Supporters of the prayer-in-schools bill say students have a right to free speech. But opponents worry that the bill could violate separation of church and state or marginalize minority religions. Representative Brad Drake, the bill’s sponsor, says students should be allowed to speak freely about their religious views.

People should not infringe on their right to be able to exercise free speech, whether it includes a pray or some other desire to have an inspirational message or utter an inspirational message to their colleagues, said Drake.

The bill would not allow prayers in classrooms. And school officials would be prohibited from leading prayers.

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

Teachers Continue Protests Against Changes

March 31st, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Massive changes to the way the state employs and pays teachers are steam rolling through the state legislature as teachers are saying stop. Legislation would end tenure as it is known and also create a system of paying teachers based on student performance. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, lawmakers are trying to keep dissent at a minimum.

Pinellas County Science teacher Julie Clark is spending part of her spring break holding protest signs in from of the state Capitol. She is angry and nervous about changes lawmakers are pushing that could change how she will be hired or fired.

Its going to cause me to start teaching to tests because my performance is going to be based on learning gains of students, most of whom I have no control over,” Clark said.

Liz Ballard came on her own from Sarasota. She was button-holing a state senator on the Capitols fourth floor.

Standardized tests that your students take are going to dictate whether or not you have a job or whether or not you get a certain amount of pay and its just scary,” Ballard, a P.E. teacher, said.

The bill was pushed through the Senate before teachers could get organized.

Begun just over two weeks ago, this Facebook page now has over 18 thousand fans.

House members are being told not to allow any changes to the bill once it comes to the House floor.

This meeting for aides to Republican House members was supposed to be closed until our camera showed up. Inside, it was made clear that the House leadership would like to keep the education bill from being changed. That way it would not have to go back to the Senate, and could go directly to the governor.

Its a message Rep. Eric Eisnaugle hasnt gotten yet.

Well, I havent been told that,” Eisnaugle said.

Time is on the teachers side. The longer they have, the more opposition and doubts they can generate. And that is something legislative leaders would like to avoid.

The Governors Office has received more than 400 emails and letters asking him to Nix SB Six.

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

Fee Reversal

March 31st, 2010 by flanews

One year after state lawmakers jacked up the price you pay to fish, register your car, and buy a Florida drivers license Theyre looking to lower the price. Most of the fees wouldnt be reduced as much as they were originally raised, but As Whitney Ray tells us, lowering the fees would give those lawmakers seeking higher office something to hang their hats on this campaign season.

The rush to beat dreaded drivers license and tag renewal fee increases before the September 1st deadline overloaded DMV computers.

I tried this morning and last night and it said it was down for repairs, said Annett Hackett.

Some fees doubled. Others went up slightly. But for those people who renewed or registered after the deadline heres a slap in the face. State lawmakers now want to lower the fees they just raised.

Senator Dave Aronberg voted against the fee increases last year.

Everyone is affected by it so theres an attempt this year to undo it and I think its a good thing, said Aronberg.

Not all the fees will go down as much as they were raised. Drivers would save about six dollars renewing their vehicle tags depending on the weight of the car. Renewing a drivers license would go down about 15 dollars.

For the first time in state history. Lawmakers imposed a fee on people fishing from shore. Senator Carey Baker is now asking for the state to pick up the tab.

That was a federal requirement so we had no choice, what we don have a choice about whether we are going to charge our citizens or not, said Baker.

Reducing the fees will allow the 20 plus lawmakers seeking a higher office to brag about saving fisherman and drivers money but only if voters dont remember who raised the fees in the beginning.

The fee increase were expected to bring in a billion dollars a year, The roll-backs would cut a third out of that number leaving lawmaker looking in other places for the money.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Greer Investigation

March 31st, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has acknowledged is has opened a criminal investigation into former GOP party chairman Jim Greer. An audit of party documents has uncovered a secret contract in which Greer was getting six dollars of every hundred the party was raising. Party Chairman John Thrasher is refusing comment as is Attorney General Bill McCollum, but incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon of Orlando is applauding the move.

“Now we have to wait and see what that reveals, but I think it’s a really positive step, to Republicans, grassroots volunteers, and supporters, that they’re making sure that if there was any wrongdoing it’s detected and that procedures are instituted to prevent it from happening again,” Cannon said.

Democrat Dave Aronberg says the investigation should not be partisan

“This is potential misuse of party resources,” Aronberg said. “This is potential criminal fraud. There’s civil theft potential. I mean there are a lot of serious allegations that could result in jail time. So, look, I’m going to take a step back, I don’t want to bring anymore politics into this. I just think the investigation needs to happen and if there are criminal offenses here then people need to be held accountable.”

FDLE has not given a timetable for the conclusion of the investigation.

Posted in Politics, State News | No Comments »

Florida Legislators Happy About Obama Oil Announcement

March 31st, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

State legislative proponents of off shore oil drilling are hailing President Obamas announcement today that drilling should be allowed in the eastern Gulf. Rep. Dean Cannon of Orlando says the bi partisan support could be a step toward creating jobs in Florida.

”The statement they articulated today is very similar to what I’ve been saying for awhile now,” Cannon said. “I hope it makes people who may have been reluctant to consider it, willing to consider it because it’s clearly got a bipartisan support now and I think folks may have not wanted to believe that before. I think a majority of Floridians think we need to access oil and natural gas.

It was widely believed that oil drilling would not come up this year in the state legislature, but todays announcement makes a vote more likely.

Posted in Environment, Legislature, Oil Drilling, State Budget, State News | 2 Comments »

Bear Facts

March 30th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

This the season to be on the lookout for…Bears. Florida Black Bears to be specific. The state reports the number of complaints about the native species is on the increase, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the number one thing you can do is make sure youre not attracting the bears to your yard.

From Big Bears…to little bears…the number of complaints about unwanted bears in somebodys backyard are up by over 500 year to year. In 2009, there were just under 33 hundred complaints. Florida outlawed bear hunting in 1994, their population is on the increase, and this is the time of the year bears go on the move.

Its mating season. Theyre getting food after a long winter, so theyre out looking for food,” Pat Behnke, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said.

There are an estimated 3 thousand black bears in Florida. Most interaction with neighborhoods is all about food. And its not just pet food or garbage. This home video captured a large black bear munching on bird food.

In most cases, in cases where a bear has gotten on a mans porch and so on, we found out that the bear had been finding food in the yard,” Benhke said. “And again, we stress the fact that there is individual responsibility about keeping those attractants out of the yard, will keep the bears out of the yard.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is pushing residents to purchases bear-proof garbage containers from their company. And they suggest the best thing to do if you encounter a bear is to stay calm.

Make noise, if they can. Back away, walk away slowly, and go in the house, Behnke said.

Bears populations are scattered across the state. There are no plans to revisit the no-hunting ban.

To report a bear in your yard call Florida Fish and Wildlife at (888)-404-3922

Posted in Environment, State News, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Blackwater Prison Deal

March 30th, 2010 by flanews

Theres new evidence tonight linking Former House Speaker Ray Sansom to a deal to shutdown as many as five state prisons to fill a privately operated facility. Sansom filed an amendment in 2008 paving the way for the privatization plan that as Whitney Ray tell us, could cost hundreds of correctional officers their jobs and grant early release to 2-thousand inmates.

Welcome to Sneads a town with more prison inmates than taxpayers. The Apalachee Correctional Institute has been around for a hundred years and employees 640 people. Most of them shop here.

ACI, the state institution here, is the lifeblood of this community. If we do not have ACI, then we would not be here, said Cody McDaniel.

McDaniel owns the towns only grocery store. Hes worried about a legislative plan that close ACI and four other prisons to help fill beds at a privately run facility near the Blackwater River. If ACI closes, Sneads could become a ghost town.

You can trace whats happening at Sneads back to former House Speaker Ray Sansom and a budget amendment filed in 2008 paving the way for the Blackwater deal.

Sansom was ousted from his leadership position in 2009 and resigned his House seat earlier this year amid controversy surrounding a deal to use state money to build an airplane hanger for a political contributor.

His amendment to issue state bonds to build a 2000 bed prison and hire a private company to operate it was fought by former Representative Curtis Richardson.

I dont think there is any question at all that this can be tied back to Ray Sansom and the kind of back room, smoke filled room, dirty deals that hes become associated with, said Richardson.

Closing the prisons wouldnt just cost jobs, it could lead to the early release of inmates, a prospect Governor Charlie Crist has opposed in the past.

Legislative leaders say the driving force behind closing the prisons is money. They say using the private sector to guard inmates would save the state 20 million dollars. But the figure doesnt account for the economic impact of communities like Sneads and how the plan would affect businesses surrounding the prisons.

Posted in Business, Charlie Crist, Sansom, State Budget, State News, Unemployment | 5 Comments »

Bear Facts

March 30th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

The FWC says complaints about bears are on the rise. Here’s a couple of charts. statewide-bear-calls-and-roadkill-1989-2009

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Senate Bill 6 Draws Massive Outcry

March 29th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Although Florida is not one of two states awarded Race to the Top money by the Federal government, the sponsor of controversial legislation in Tallahassee to end teacher tenure and create merit pay says the state can apply for a second round in June. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, hundreds of thousands of emails are urging lawmakers to be careful.

Amanda Clodfelter brought a bag of letters with her when she came to the Capitol to protest merit pay and a plan to end teacher tenure.

But the bill continues to steam-roll through the Capitol.

Now lawmakers are being inundated with perhaps as many as a hundred thousand emails like this one.

Teachers cannot control the home environment, parents with no language skills. This bill threatens their job, see, its not my job, and will hurt the students who depend on them, Rep. Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota) said, as he read from one of the emails.

Many are mass forwarded. Many are not.

Were trying to compete for the best nationwide and weve made this a hostile climate with this bill,” Fitzgerald said.

The plan to end tenure has teachers and parents motivated.

There are a lot of teachers in the state of Florida that are really upset about this bill and theyre making their voices heard,” Mark Pudlow with the Florida Education Association said.

Despite the massive outcry, the legislation is expected to clear the state house soon.

Given the breakneck speed with which this bill is moving through the legislature, the teachers only real hope of stopping it may be here, in the Governor’s office.

Governor Charlie Crist says he is predisposed to sign the legislation depending on how the final bill reads. And so far, he is not a target of the email campaign, having received less than 400 of them.

Lawmakers are rushing to pass the bill ending teacher tenure by the end of the week.

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

Nurses Needed

March 29th, 2010 by flanews

Floridas unemployment rate is at a record setting 12.2 percent, but nurses arent worried. The nursing industry has been adding jobs throughout the recession. As Whitney Ray tells us, there are 22-thousand openings and Floridas colleges cant graduate nursing students fast enough to fill the vacancies.

Thais Wilhite is a wife, a mother, a full time employee and now a nursing student.

Five semesters of nursing and your done and you have nursing career and you have a little bit more stability in your life, said Thais.

Her classmate Angela Millender sees nursing as a way to guarantee shell have a job after graduation.

Nobody knows when the economy and the jobs are going to be out there for everybody so its nice to know that when I get out of school, Ill take my test, hope and I pass and get a job, said Angela.

While Floridas unemployment rate climbs to new heights, the nursing industry is actually adding jobs. There are 22-thousand opening statewide and the need for nurses will grow as Baby Boomers begin to retire.

Jobs in the medical field are expected to increase by 18 percent by 2018. Rebecca Rust, the Chief Economist of the state Agency for Workforce Innovation, says schools will need to pay nursing professors better to keep up with the demand.

The wages are one of the major constrictions for not being able to have enough classroom activity for nursing and not having enough facilities for the laboratory testing, said Rust.

The growth estimates in the nursing field dont account for how the new federal health care regulations might affect the industry, but if more people have insurance, the need for nurses will likely go up.

The shortage is one reason the demand for nurses is so high. The need is causing nurses to burn out because theyre being forced to work longer hours and pull extra shifts to make up for the shortage.

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

MADD Awards DUI Officers

March 29th, 2010 by flanews

Law enforcement officers arrested more than sixteen thousand people in Florida last year for driving under the influence of alcohol.

And according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, first time D-U-I offenders have driven drunk 87 times before their arrest. Today MADD honored officers who made more than 100 D-U-I arrests in 2009. Todd Rosenbaum, the executive director for MADD in Florida, is confident that cracking down on driving under the influence is making a difference.

“I can tell you this much, last year, the numbers for 2008 are what I’m referring to, there were over 11 hundred lives lost on Florida roadways. The good news is the trend has been going down over the last few years. And we attribute that to diligent law enforcement along with legislation that increases penalties for convicted drunk drivers. To estimate the number of lives saved in Florida alone is difficult, but what we do know is since MADD’s inception in 1980 we can estimate over 300 thousand lives nationwide have been saved,” said Rosenbaum.

MADD supports legislation that would require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers. These devices check the driver’s blood alcohol content before allowing the car to start.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 4 Comments »

Highest Unemployment Since Labor Statistics Started

March 26th, 2010 by flanews

Floridas unemployment rate is the highest its ever been since the state began keeping track of job statistics in 1970. 12.2 percent of Floridas workforce, or more than a million 126-thousand people, are unemployed. As Whitney Ray tells us, as the jobless rate will continue to climb as state lawmakers scramble to create jobs.

Four thousand people lined up at this Tampa job fair Thursday to compete for 800 jobs. Friday the search for work continued. Searcey Bush was laid off from his construction job at the first of the month.

Ill know Ill find me a job eventually, said Searcey.

While Searecy and a million others search Floridas unemployment rate continues to climb.

National Rate this month is 9.7 percent compared to Floridas 12.2 percent. This is the highest unemployment on record since the series started, said Rebecca Rust.

State lawmakers are scrambling to stop the bleeding passing legislation through the senate aimed at creating jobs.

The highly touted Florida jobs bill would create tax incentives for the film industry and any business that hire the unemployed, although it could be months before jobs are created.

Will we be able to point to a job the next day- probably not. But we know what were doing is going to work, said Baker.

While the legislation makes its ways through the process, 200-thousand job-openings remain unfilled because many of them require advanced training. 160-thousand of those jobs are posted on the states employment webpage at
www.employflorida.org.

The unemployment rate is expected to peek at 12.3 percent before the end of May but isnt expected to fall to six percent until the middle of 2019.

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

Three State Prisons on the Chopping Block

March 26th, 2010 by flanews

Three state prisons would be shut down and 640 correctional officers would lose their jobs under the senates budget proposal. Some of the money saved from shutting down the prisons and firing the officers would be used to hire a private prison company for a facility in Santa Rosa County known as the Blackwater Prison. Matt Puckett with the Florida Police Benevolent Association says correctional officers who have risked their lives for years are being sacrificed so the private sector can pull down state dollars.

Basically the private sector has built a prison, we dont have enough inmates to fill this prison, so they are going to take inmates from the private sector to fill it, so we are calling it the Blackwater bailout, said Puckett

The PBA is fighting for an amendment in the Senates budget to save the prisons. The budget doesnt name which prisons would be closed and gives the state until July 1st to decide who will be laid off.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Health Families

March 26th, 2010 by flanews

Child advocates are fighting for funding to save programs that help young expecting mothers.

The Healthy Families Program helps single mothers learn good health habits and parenting techniques. The State Senate was proposing a 100 percent cut for the program, but restored funding last night. Secretary of the Department of Children and Families, George Sheldon, says the upfront prevention costs helps keep children out of the foster care system and juvenile detention centers.

Its a heck of a lot smarter to spend a little over 16-hundred dollars a year to prevent abuse or neglect or abandonment, than it is to spend the thousands of dollars on the children that are in the system, said Sheldon.

The program cost about 16-hundred dollars per parent. The cost for the state to care for one abused or neglected child is more than 60-thousand dollars a year. The program was created in 1989 and has been successful in lowering child abuse and malnourishment in 98 percent of families served.

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

Education Rally in Tally

March 25th, 2010 by flanews

Close to two thousand parents, teachers, and students are hoping their trip to Tallahassee today wasnt in vain. The PTA group rallied outside the state capitol for more funding, better teacher pay and smaller class sizes, but as Whitney Ray tells us, inside lawmakers were voting against their wishes.

Parents, students and teachers flooded the front steps of the state capitol Thursday calling on lawmakers to boost funding for education.

Tara Roberts has two kids in Florida schools; she says without more funding their education is in jeopardy.

We want our kids to still have P.E., We want our kids to still have music, and we want our kids to still have art, said Roberts.

Teacher Amanda Clodfelter came with a message for lawmakers who vote yes to legislation tying teacher pay to student performance, and a bag of letters backing up her threat.

I have a whole bag of mail here to deliver to all the senator, the House of Reps, to let them know how enraged we were that they passed Senate bill six, said Clodfelter.

These Miami-Dade students brought 15-thousand letters from their school district to deliver to members of the legislature. As thousands rallied for more funding, better teacher pay, and smaller class sizes, state senators were voting against their wishes.

Legislation asking voters to freeze class sizes at their current rates passed through the Senate.

It freezes us where we are but provides a safety measure to ensure averages cant be abused, said State Senator Don Gaetz, the bill sponsor.

With class size, teacher pay, and tenure legislation sailing through the process, teachers, parents and students last hope may be the governor.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Children, Education, Legislature, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

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