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Governor’s Budget Vetoes

May 28th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Charlie Crist today used his veto pen extensively, axing 371 million dollars in state spending. The cuts are angering some top Republicans, but pleasing Democrats and some big industries in Florida. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Crist both made and lost friends today.

Republicans originally wanted to take more than 400 million out of a road building fund but were forced to settle for just 160 million. They didn’t even get that.

Ironically it was Democrats in the Legislature that teamed up with big business, the Chamber and road builders, to fight the cut for the road building trust fund. Keeping that 160 million dollars in there will create more than 43 hundred jobs.

The Crist veto of the raid on the trust fund pleases dozens of groups including the Florida Trucking Association.

“The way Florida roads are maintained, constructed, built, is hugely important to trucks being able to safely and efficiently deliver,” Florida Trucking Association President Mary Lou Rajchel said.

Crist said no to 3.5 million for new crossing gates in the district of one his biggest critics. At the same time he blessed more than 8 million for a dental clinic in the panhandle, pushed by one of his biggest supporters.

35 million dollars for a branch campus for the University of South Florida in Lakeland also got the ax.

All total, the 70 billion dollar budget spends just under 37 hundred dollars for every one of the 19 million people who live in Florida.

Crist also voided cuts to nursing homes and the developmentally disabled and he axed language that would have prohibited stem cell research in the universities.

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

New Law Protects Children

May 28th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Police in Florida now have one more toll to protect our kids from sex offenders. Current law limits where they can live, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, starting today, a new law will also tell sex offenders where they can’t go when they are awake.

Hundreds of students walk the sidewalk outside this high school every morning and afternoon. State law prohibits sex offenders from living too close to the school. But nothing says they can’t share this sidewalk with the students, until now.

Legislation signed by Governor Charlie Crist, creates a moveable, 300 foot safety zone around kids. High school Principal Rocky Hanna says the new law fills a void.

“We check every visitor against a sexual predator list,” Hanna said. “We have a software that does that, on campus. But people that are loitering off campus, we really don’t have any enforcement area outside of the property we own.”

Representative Rich Glorioso of Plant City sponsored the bill because he says it’s more important to regulate where sex offenders go when they’re awake, than where they sleep at night.”

No one really believes this 300 foot barrier is going to be a magic bullet that will scare predators away from kids in a park. But what sponsors say is that it is just one more tool for police to use when they spot someone suspicious.

Violating the 300 foot ban is a misdemeanor.

“Now that we have this law into effect, we can ask them what they are doing, check their identification if they come up on a list, they can arrest them,” Hanna said.

The legislation also makes it a crime for sex offenders to hand out candy at Halloween, or dress up as Santa or the Easter Bunny.

One provision in the new law does weigh in on the side of offenders. It says they do not have to move if they were already living somewhere and a day care or school opens up within 1000 feet of where they live.

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

When Weather and Oil Collide

May 26th, 2010 by flanews

Hurricane season begins next week and this year meteorologists have a new element to consider in their storm predictions; the oil slick in the Gulf. As Whitney Ray tells us, a hurricane in the gulf is likely to do two things send some of the oil to Florida’s coast and break apart what’s left on the surface forcing it to the bottom of the seafloor.

With winds upwards of 150 miles an hour sending rain, water, and debris flying through the air, hurricanes are one of Florida’s most feared enemies. But the biggest threat to Florida’s coastline this year is sitting 50 miles off the Coast of Pensacola.

So far Mother Nature has keep the millions of gallons of oil at bay… but FSU researcher and member of the Center for Ocean and Atmospheric Prediction Studies Mark Bourassa says a hurricane could be a game changer.

“The bad thing is that the oil is pushed by the winds or waves generated by the winds, it will spread it all over a much larger area and some of the storm surge could bring it inland,” said Bourassa.

That’s a worst case scenario. There’s also the opportunity for the hurricanes to help clean up the oil, with rough seas breaking it into microscopic pieces.

“It will break it into smaller littler droplets and little microbes are good at eating those up, so that will help get rid of a lot of the oil. That will help it disappear faster,” said Bourassa.

Whatever the scenario, BP isn’t preparing for it.

Florida’s Attorney General asked BP to unveil its hurricane plan, so the company wrote a letter to the AG’s office saying it doesn’t respond to hypothetical situations.

The Attorney General’s Spokeswoman Sandi Copes says BP needs to get its act together.

“I don’t see how hurricane season could imply a hypothetical for named storms, it’s almost a certainty that we are going to see them,” said Copes.

The Attorney General’s office is seeking a promise from BP that it will pay for all Florida claims related to the spill, even if a hurricane increases the area of damage.

Hurricanes also bring days of rain. If the oil is already on the coast and a hurricane hits, the rain the storm brings could actually wash the oil off the coast.

Posted in Hurricane Season, Oil Drilling, State News, Weather | No Comments »

A Hurricane Could Help

May 26th, 2010 by flanews

Some positive points about hurricane season and the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

During hurricane season wind tends to blow away from Florida’s Gulf Coast, which should help keep the oil at bay. If a hurricane or tropical storm does hover over or near the oil slick, the choppy waters it creates will break the oil into tiny particles that microscopic organisms will eat. FSU researcher and member of the Center for Ocean and Atmospheric Research Studies Mark Bourassa says the big storms also bring a lot of rain and that could help with the clean up if oil is already on our beaches.

“What we’ve seen before with storms, with hurricanes in particular, is they come with a lot of rain, and that rain can help wash a lot of the oil back out. There have been a lot of examples where the rain from a tropical storm has washed 90 percent of oil off beaches and we’ll probable see the same effect in the estuaries,” said Bourassa.

It’s not all good news though, beside the obvious dangers to people and property, a hurricane could also send sitting oil in the gulf to our beaches if it’s not already there. Hurricane season begins June First.

Posted in Education, Hurricane Season, Oil Drilling, State News, Weather | No Comments »

The Governor Vs. the Legislature

May 25th, 2010 by flanews

Governor Charlie Crist has all but declared war on the legislature; vetoing four priority pieces of legislation, promising to make significant cuts to the budget, and considering a special session House leaders don’t want. While the governor’s actions are causing turmoil in Tallahassee now, as Whitney Ray tells us, they may pay at the ballot box in November.

Once Governor Charlie Crist dropped the Republican Brand to run for US Senate as an Independent, the gloves came off. The party sold his portrait on eBay Crist began nixing priority bills sent to him by the GOP lead-legislature.

The governor has already vetoed four bills and more maybe in the works. A bill rushed through on the next to last day of session requiring injured workers to pay for their own prescriptions, then hope for a refund is in the governor’s crosshairs.

“I haven’t reached a final decision on it yet, but it seems to make it a little more awkward for people to get the medicine they need,” said Crist.

Crist is also leaning toward a veto on legislation requiring women in their first trimester to get an ultrasound before they have an abortion.

“I look forward to receiving it, and dealing with it,” said Crist.

But Crist isn’t holding all the aces. The ultrasound bill is legislative trap that will cost the governor votes no matter what action he takes…. And the House is refusing to go along with his calls for a special session to ban offshore oil drilling.

University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan MacManus says the governor’s battle with the legislature is intensified by the upcoming election.

“Politics between the legislature and the governor is always different when the governor is running for another office and that’s what we have in Florida,” said MacManus.

So far Crist’s decisions are paying off. By vetoing the controversial teacher tenure bill last month he gained the support of thousands of teachers, received a co-endorsement from the state’s largest teachers union, and was thanked on TV.

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

Bad Ad on Blast

May 25th, 2010 by flanews

There’s plenty of blame to go around in connection with the gulf oil spill and tonight the state’s tourism agency, Visit Florida, is getting some of it.

Visit Florida released this ad Saturday, the point of the TV spot; to tell travelers in the Southeast that no oil has hit Florida’s beaches and in particularly that the panhandle is open for business. State Senator Don Gaetz represents part of the panhandle. Gaetz says the quality of the ad is amateur at best.

“It certainly was not the best work I’ve ever seen from Visit Florida. Last night on television I saw much better spots for driving with a seatbelt and the Florida lottery. Those are important issues, but the economic livelihood of the people of northwest Florida is an important issue too. It ought to be treated with the same seriousness and the same professionalism,” said Gaetz.

Governor Charlie Crist is asking Visit Florida to come up with something else.

“They could always be better, there’s no question about it, that’s why I asked Visit Florida if they had other options available. The one thing I was glad about was that it specifically mentioned Northwest Florida in the ad. That’s important because it is the beginning of the strongest part of the tourist season of Northwest Florida right now,” said Crist.

Visit Florida will release a second ad to be released Thursday. The point of both of the ads it to drive people to the agency’s website where live webcams from tourism hotspots can be viewed to show people there isn’t any oil on Florida beaches. Florida tourism will also get a boost from the 25 million dollar grant BP coughed up this afternoon.

Posted in Oil Drilling, State News, Tourism | No Comments »

BP Coughs up Cash

May 25th, 2010 by flanews

BP is making good on a promise to give the state 25 million dollars to try and offset the financial impacts of the oil spill in the gulf already affecting Florida’s economy. Governor Charlie Crist brokered the deal with BP last week and today the company coughed up the cash. The money will be used to produce TV, Radio, Internet and Newspaper ads telling travelers that no oil has washed up on Florida’s beaches and the coast is still open for business. Tourism officials say the money couldn’t come quick enough because travelers have been canceling vacations all month.

Posted in State News, Tourism | No Comments »

Frustration with BP Builds

May 25th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Frustration over the lack of progress capping the oil leak in the Gulf has Governor Charlie Crist on the verge of asking the Federal Government to take over the spill response.  Crist made the comments this morning, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, others are questioning BP’s commitment to transparency.

As oil continues to billow from the floor of the Gulf, Oceanographer Ian MacDonald, who was one of the first to question BP’s estimates of the flow,  continues to believe the company is underestimating the amount of oil spewing into the water.

“We have the authority, by our own regulation, to insist on accurately measuring this spill rate,” Dr. MacDonald said.

Governor Charlie Crist used the word “frustrated” more than once in a Tuesday morning briefing. He is on the verge of calling for the Federal government to push BP aside and take over the response.

“It’s fraught with a lot of questions, obviously,” Crist said. “It’s a very frustrating situation for everybody.”

The frustration moved into the oval office on Saturday. That’s when President Obama named former US Senator Bob Graham to co-chair a commission on what went wrong.

“I think there’s a set of questions that start before the accident,” Graham said. “Was this drilling rig appropriate for the site in which it was located? Were the proper safety mechanisms installed in initial construction? Were they supervised properly?”

State officials were making another trip to the spill late Tuesday afternoon. A call for more Federal involvement could come sooner than later.

Posted in Business, Charlie Crist, Environment, Oil Drilling, State News, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Media Blitz Ready, BP Holds Out

May 24th, 2010 by flanews

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, has a nationwide advertising campaign ready to launch but not enough money to get it off the ground. BP is promising 25 million dollars for the campaign but as Whitney Ray tells us, the state is still waiting on the money.

A week ago Monday BP CEO Tony Hayward delivered this message to Florida.

“What we have decided today is to allocate a grant of 25 million dollars to Florida for advertising,” said Hayward.

But the state is still waiting for the money, and with every passing day, tourists that would have ended up on Florida’s beaches are booking vacations elsewhere.

State Senator Al Lawson says with each day BP holds out, the state’s economy suffers.

“We need the money right way to get the message around all over the US that the oil has not hit our coast yet,” said Lawson.

But not everybody is waiting on BP. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is using its own money to buy radio and newspaper ads. A full page ad will begin running in USA Today Tuesday. Two radio commercials will also begin circulating throughout the southeast.

“It’s very frustrating. Like we had said before, Yesterday is too late, and we are a month into this and we do not have anything up yet,” said Carol Dover, President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Visit Florida dipped into a state emergency fund to release an ad. Another titled “Open for Business” is expected to launch this week, but the real campaign starts as soon as BP lives up to its 25 million dollar promise. At tomorrow’s state cabinet meeting Visit Florida will layout its plan for a media campaign to run on radio, TV and internet nationwide.

Posted in Oil Drilling, State News, Tourism | No Comments »

Drilling Protesters Call for Action

May 24th, 2010 by flanews

A group of environmentalists are asking lawmakers to ban oil drilling in state waters.

About 50 people held signs on the steps of the old state capitol Monday, protesting offshore drilling. Governor Charlie Crist is seeking a special session on drilling, but House leadership isn’t as warm to the idea. Save Our Shores member Amanda Parker wants supporters of a drilling ban to put pressure on their state representatives to speed up the process.

“If we were to just judge by the oil spill itself, you would never ever know in a million years that our government works for us. The government works for us, not BP, not Exxon Mobil, not any corporation; it works for the American people. We are saying we do not want more rigs,” said Parker.

If the legislature does vote for a constitutional ban on offshore oil drilling in a special session, 60 percent of voters would have to approve the measure before it is written into the state constitution.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Legislature, Oil Drilling, State News | 3 Comments »

National Guard Returns to Tallahassee

May 24th, 2010 by flanews

150 Florida troops are back at home tonight after a year deployment in Afghanistan. Governor Charlie Crist greeted the Army National Guards 779th Engineering Battalion as they arrived back in Tallahassee this afternoon. Not one soldiers from the battalion was killed in the deployment. Crist praised the guardsmen and women for their courage.

“You do and are willing to do to protect and fight for our freedoms, our liberty, our constitutional guarantee to be able to pursue happiness. It’s lost on none of us back here in Florida and throughout our country, it is truly remarkable the kind of courage that each and every one of you exemplify,” said Crist.

Although it was nice to here from the governor, the troops were more anxious to see their families, who showed up hours early to wait for their loved ones.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | No Comments »

Unemployment Declines, Victory May be Short Lived

May 21st, 2010 by flanews

Florida’s unemployment rate has fallen .03 percent to an even 12 percent, which is good news except the labor statistic don’t take into account self-employed fishermen, put out of work by the oil spill. As Whitney Ray tells us, the fishing sector could take a big hit if the federal fishing ban is extended.

For the first time in four years Florida’s unemployment rate is declining, falling from 12.3 to an even 12 percent. But the slight bump may be short lived as the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico continues to grow; forcing the federal government to expand its fishing ban.

Self-employed fishermen aren’t counted in the state’s labor statistics, because they’re not eligible for unemployment benefits. So if oystermen like Ricky Banks are forced out of their life’s work, they’ll have to turn to BP for a pay check.

“I make between 160 to 200 dollars a day and if they can pay me what I’ve been making until I am able to go back in the water then I think that’s what they should do,” said Banks.

But it’s not just fishermen, seafood distributors and restaurants may also feel the impact. The Florida Department of Agriculture says the impact of the oil on the fishing industry could reach the billion dollar mark.

“We are talking about a half billion dollar industry on the gulf side and probably something comparable on the Atlantic,” said Terry McElroy, a spokesman with the Department of Agriculture.

Many out of work fishermen are turning back to the company that put their industry in limbo. BP is hiring fishing captains to deploy boom and assist with clean up efforts.

The labor statistic to be released next month should paint a better picture of how the fishing and tourism industry are impacted by the spill. There are more than 11-thousand commercial fishing licenses in Florida. The Agency for Workforce Innovation is planning a survey to see how license holders are impacted by the spill.

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

Summer Oysters

May 21st, 2010 by flanews

The summer oyster season is starting early this year, in an effort to beat the growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Florida Department of Agriculture gave in to the calls from oysterman to open the summer beds. The department’s spokesman Terry McElroy says from now until the end of the month oystermen will have their work cut out for them.

“As it stands now, the winter harvesting area, which is the main harvesting area for the bulk of the year, which typically closes May 31, will close May 31, so for an 11 day window both the winter and summer harvesting areas are open,” said McElroy.

The summer oyster season lasts through August, but many fear the federal fishing ban will be extended to oyster beds before the season ends. Currently 19 percent of the gulf is closed to fishermen.

Posted in Oil Drilling, State News, Wildlife | No Comments »

Click it or Ticket

May 21st, 2010 by flanews

670 people who died in car crashes in Florida last year weren’t wearing a safety belt.

Law enforcement agencies across the state are ramping up efforts to curb the number of deaths on Florida road, though the Click-it-or-Ticket campaign. The campaign begins Monday and last through June 6th. Florida Highway Patrol Captain Mark Welch says not bucking up is a dangerous decision.

“We have a cooperative effort with a single goal in mind; to save lives. Wearing your safety belt is easy and it costs you nothing. Not wearing your safety belt can cost you a ticket, but even more it can cost you your life,” said Welch.

Last year the state legislature passed a law allowing police officers to pull over drivers who aren’t buckled up, since then 350-thousand seatbelt tickets have been handed out to drivers who aren’t buckled up.

Posted in State News, Transportation | No Comments »

Hay to Hair and Everything In Between

May 20th, 2010 by flanews

Hay, hair and everything in-between is being offered up as a way to help clean up the oil in the Gulf of Mexico. 92-Hundred people have called BP offering up solutions, and as Whitney Ray tells us, some of those ideas are being tested.

More than 200 miles of protective boom are creating a barrier between the oil slick and the coastline… but the boom at best will only keep 15 percent of the oil at bay.

Setting fire to the slick, and skimming the surface have eliminated some of the mess, but it continues to gush out quicker than anyone can clean it up.

By the thousands people are donating hair to help soak up the oil. Even pets are pitching in. This is Huckleberry. He’s getting his hair cut. It will be boxed and shipped to Louisiana.

But that’s where the line ends for now. BP has yet to use the hair, human or otherwise. But that won’t stop Veterinarian Melanie Donofro from sending it anyway.

“We all need to be involved whether they are using it or not, we need to make sure that we talk to our government and make them do what they need to do to stop this because more can be done,” said Donofro.

Panhandle Resident Otis Goodson is asking BP to give hay a chance. He demonstrates its effectiveness in a YouTube video.

BP is reviewing Goodson’s idea. So far 92-hunded calls from people with suggestions have flowed into BP’s Helpline… 25-hundered have followed up filling out this online form. DEP Secretary Mike Sole says some aren’t workable

“People are suggesting to send divers down to the bottom and take action at the well head sight. I have to remind them, well its real cold down there and the pressure would probable cause a problem,” said Sole.

But some of the plans might work, and if they’re successful in removing at least a little bit of the oil… then fish, turtles, and birds would be thankful. To submit your ideas visit www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com, click on the suggestions button and fill out the form

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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