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Crist Voters Plus Meek Voters Beats Rubio

September 30th, 2010 by flanews

Republican Marco Rubio is dominating the race to become Florida’s next US Senator even though polls show 54 percent of voters prefer someone else. The three way race is dividing Democrats making the path to victory appear easy for Rubio. As Whitney Ray tells us, Democrats have to decide between voting for who they like or voting for who can win.

Democrat Dennis MacLaren is bucking his party and voting for an independent candidate. MacLaren, like thousands of Democrats, think Governor Charlie Crist has a better chance of beating Republican Marco Rubio… than party favorite Kendrick Meek. Yet Crist is still trying to appeal moderate voters.

“They have two choices; one to my right and one to my left. And they’ll get it for six years if they pick one of those guys, so it will be fine,” said Crist.

With less than five weeks to go until Election Day, and absentee ballots already being cast the numbers don’t look good for Crist. A Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday says 46 percent of likely voters want Rubio, with just 33 percent supporting Crist…. and less than 20 saying they will vote for Meek. Still, Meek is confident he can pull off the upset.

“I’m not really listening to the voices of those individuals that are saying they are going to throw their support one way of another,” said Meek.

Pollsters say without an immediate and massive move by Democrats to support either Meek or Crist, Rubio will waltz to victory.

“If you are going to assume that the 54 percent of the electorate that is not going to vote for Rubio all voted for one candidate, obviously that candidate could win. The question is, is that a realistic exercise,” said Pollsters Peter Brown.

Only three percent of the voters polled said they hadn’t settled on a candidate. The most telling stat of the poll is that 48 percent of voters are angry with the Federal government. Pollsters say it’s that anger that’s giving Rubio his 46 percent support.

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

Homeless Hate Crime

September 30th, 2010 by flanews

At midnight tonight, people who beat up or kill a homeless person will face a stricter sentence.

Florida leads the nation in violence against homeless people. Now anyone charged with abusing a homeless person will automatically see the charge moved up one level. For example a second degree felony would become a first degree felony. Janis Thibodeau, with the Big Bend Homeless Coalition says Florida is taking big steps to clean up its image.

“Unfortunately Florida has been first in the nation with violence against the homeless, but being the second state in the nation to make this kind of violence a hate crime speaks well and hopefully it will prevent more,” said Thibodeau.

Nationwide in 2009, 43 homeless people were murdered. The US Senate is now considering new federal laws to make such attacks hate crimes.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 18 Comments »

Scott, Sink School Plans

September 29th, 2010 by flanews

Education is taking center stage in the race to become Florida’s next Governor. Republican Rick Scott wants to help more students attend private and charter schools, while Democrat Alex Sink wants more money for public schools. As Whitney Ray tells us, Florida’s school voucher program is at the center of the debate.

Second graders at this Tallahassee private school are learning about hurricane preparedness.

Many of them wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Florida’s school voucher program. 11th grader Travis Blanks, a member of the national honor society and football standout, is here on scholarship.

“My mom though that it would be the best fit for me, but financially there would just be no way that I could get in,” said Blanks.

30-thousand Florida students receive vouchers. The scholarships are funded through a corporate tax credit. Republican Candidate for Governor Rick Scott wants to expand the program, but his opponent Democrat Alex Sink doesn’t like the idea.

“I don’t support any further expansion of that program until we are able to assure ourselves that public schools are adequately funded,” said Sink.

Sink wants to increase spending for public schools and Pre-K programs, while Scott wants to lower property taxes that help fund education; although Scott says *overall* funding for education wouldn’t be cut.

We talked about how the candidates differ, but one issue both Scott and Sink agree on is that the state needs a performance pay system for teachers.

A merit pay push during this year’s legislative session outraged thousands of teachers because they were locked out of the process. The candidates are promising open dialogue in any future merit pay discussions.

For more details about each candidates’ education plans we’ve attached links to Scott and Sinks plans.

Sink’s Plan: www.alexsink2010.com/issues?id=0011
Scott’s Plan www.rickscottforflorida.com/home/issues/educating-floridas-workforce/

Posted in Education, Politics, Sink, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Tax Amnesty Ends Thursday

September 27th, 2010 by flanews

Floridians have until the end of business Thursday to pay their back taxes without a penalty. Florida’s Tax Amnesty period began July 1st and so far 54 million dollars has been collected. But, as Whitney Ray tells us, more than half a billion is still owed, and most people who owe don’t even know they’re breaking the law.

FSU Senior Joey Scotten is taking time between classes to shop online.

“I have 20 extra minutes, time to kill; I can just pop online on wifi there and see what I need,” said Joey.

Joey’s buying new shocks for his bike. The company he’s buying from isn’t located in Florida and therefore isn’t required to charge Joey state sales tax. So now it’s up to Joey to find the DR-15MO form online, fill it out, calculate what he owes and then mail a check to the Department of Revenue.

Now that Joey knows what to do, he might pay the tax, but thousands of online shoppers are still in the dark about what they owe.

“I used to order stuff online for my ballet and it was California so they didn’t charge sales tax because it was from California,” said Leslie, but she didn’t know she still owed taxes in Florida.

Not paying carries penalties as high 50 percent on some past due taxes, but from July 1st until Thursday, the state is waving the penalties for people who want to get on the right side of the law.

Harvey Bennett with Florida TaxWatch says the tax amnesty period encourages compliance.

“It’s better to get some money now, than to not get it later,” said Bennett.

54 million dollars in back taxes has been paid so far. Half a billion is still owed. The Department of Revenue expects a surge in payments before Friday. To avoid tax penalties, pay your back taxes online at dor.myflorida.com/dor/amnesty/

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

Ausley Takes on Legislature, Atwater

September 27th, 2010 by flanews

The race to be Florida’s next Chief Financial Officer continues to revolve around steps taken and ignored by the Florida legislature.

Democratic candidate Loranne Ausley is a former House member and Republican Jeff Atwater is the current Senate President. Ausley says Atwater is ignoring a state law that requires random audits of financial reports submitted by lobbyists. She says Atwater isn’t doing enough as Senate President to keep tabs on lobbyists.

“The legislature has ignored this mandate. Jeff Atwater has ignored this mandate, and our state is suffering because of it. I want to be very clear, there is absolutely no excuse for not following the law,” said Ausley.

The law requiring random audits was passed in 2005. Senate leaders say it’s been hard to find impartial accounting firms without ties to lobbyists or the state to conduct the audits.

Posted in Elections, Legislature, State News | 1 Comment »

The Year of Insurance Rate Hikes

September 24th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

2010 may go down as the year of the rate hike for homeowners in Florida. The state approved a 10 percent rate hike for Citizens Insurance yesterday, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, regulators have said yes 80 times and there are more than two dozen companies waiting for approval.

Retired FSU Professor Wolfgang Adolph saw his home insurance rates go up after the storms of ‘04 and ’05.

“Nobody wants to pay more for insurance,” Adolph said. “But all in all, with home insurance, neither my wife nor I are really unhappy.”

On Thursday, regulators approved a ten percent rate hike for the 1.2 million customers of Citizens. But even with the rate hike the company’s rates are perhaps 40 percent lower than would be required to pay claims in a major catastrophe.

That’s causing problems for the entire industry.

“A lot of the Florida-based insurers have to set their rates by Citizens,” Bob Lotane with Florida Insurance and Financial Advisors said. “They’re not allowed to be higher. So, Citizens being actuarially unsound makes the private rates be actuarially unsound and too low.”

2010 may well go down as the year of the rate hike for Florida homeowners.

Since the first of the year, the state has approved 80 rate hikes. One in three companies got a double-digit increase. And there are almost 30 more cases pending.

The latest problem is sinkhole coverage. The Florida Insurance Council says many of those claims are being paid big bucks for minor damage.

“It’s another thing to contend with, claiming what’s caused by a sinkhole and then collect a lot of money from your insurance company and not even repair the cracks,” Sam Miller with the Florida Insurance Council said.

Given the number of companies being granted rate increases, there will be very few homeowners who don’t see at least a slight increase on their next bill.

Citizens customers can expect a ten percent rate hike for the next few years under legislation approved last year to try and bring rates in line with potential losses.

Posted in Business, Hurricane Season, Insurance, State News | 2 Comments »

Health Insurance Workshop

September 24th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

A working group on health insurance met today in Tallahassee, trying to minimize potential fallout from the national health insurance law. Under the national plan, health insurance companies and HMO’s must put at least 80 percent of their premium dollars into service delivery. Mark LaBorde of Aetna says, in Florida right now the rate is only 65 or 70 percent depending on coverage.

“It will be difficult for many insurance to continue to provide coverage in the Florida individual and small group markets during the transition because most of these products were priced and sold prior to the new MLR rules,” LaBorde said. “Current Florida regulations set MLR’s of 65 percent for insurers and 75 percent for HMO’s.”

The group is expected to phase in the increased premiums to service rates over the next three years.

Posted in Business, State News | 2 Comments »

ATTORNEY GENERAL MAY INSTITUTE GAY ADOPTION APPEAL

September 23rd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Martin Gill, the gay man who won a court battle to adopt his foster children, is now asking the state not to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. Such an appeal could provide finality to the case, but Gill, through his lawyers, says ending the case now is the quickest way for his adoption to be finalized. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the Attorney General is calling the decision “flawed” and may appeal himself.

After six years as a foster parent and more than two years in court, Martin Gill has won the right to adopt his two foster children. In a statement he is asking the state not to appeal the ruling. Gill says ending the case now is the quickest way for him to adopt. “It was a huge decision, and certainly it means a lot to me and my family.” Gill told us by phone on Wednesday.

The Department of Children and Families and Governor Charlie Crist both believe gays should be allowed to adopt. DCF says it has not kept track of how many gay people have applied to adopt and been turned down.”

The department has already stopped enforcing the law. Governor Charlie Crist has said he would defer the decision to appeal to Gill. “I had been given some indication, in fact, that they might want a decision by the Florida Supreme Court. In view of that, it sounds like probably not. the district court ruling has statewide application, as I understand it. So I think probably, enough is enough”, says Crist.

But Attorney General Bill McCollum may purse the appeal on his own. He calls the court opinion “technically flawed”. He will decide whether to appeal soon. “It is certainly something we will look at”, says McCollum, “as we always do, if we find the Department doesn’t want to go forward”.

It is unlikely an appeal would be settled before McCollum leaves office in January, opening the possibility for the next Attorney General to pursue or drop the case.

Attorney General McCollum has already spent more than 380 thousand dollars trying to uphold the gay adoption law.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Time Share Blues

September 23rd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Complaints about time shares top the list of consumer complaints to far this year. More than 85 hundred since January. Most complaints involve scam artists offering to help sell a time share. Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson says they ask for a fifteen hundred dollar retainer, then disappear. “What happens” says Bronson, “is you pay the the fifteen hundred and what they say is the buyer backed out, or we’ll have to try and get another buyer. and you never hear from them again. The rip off artists get the 15 hundred, the person wanting to sell loses 15 hundred, they don’t get to sell their time share and they are still in economic mess 15 hundred dollars further in debt.”

Over the last week, Bronson, along with Attorney General Bill McCollum cracked down on time share scam artists, issuing 137 cease and desist orders, arresting four and issuing fines of one hundred twenty five thousand dollars.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Solar Scam?

September 23rd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Lakeland Congressman Adam Putnam is running commercials touting solar energy in his bid to become the state’s next Agriculture Commissioner. But democratic opponent Scott Maddox says Putnam’s record is anything but green. “Congressman Putnam runs commercials for his election to congress saying its so simple even a child would know that we need to have renewable energy, wind and solar, and other technology. Goes to Congress, votes against wind and solar technology, including voting against voting against allowing the solar program in the state of Florida. The republican legislature holds up the solar funding in the state of Florida, then Congressman Putnam, Republican candidate for Agriculture Commissioner and Consumer Services runs another ad saying he is for solar energy. Only in Washington do you see that type of stunning hypocrisy, says Maddox.

Maddox trails Putnam in fundraising for the cabinet office.

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

Gay Adoption Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

September 22nd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Martin Gill’s two foster children are now six and ten, but the youngest was just four months when they came to live with Martin and his partner. Martin says their time together has been the best.

“They are both really my pride and joy,” Gill said. “I really am so attached and love these kids so much. Needless to say, I wouldn’t let this law stand between me and my kids. We had to find a way around it and it sounds like we have.”

Gill says he has lived in fear of losing his children, every week for the past 13 months.

“In the back of my mind, I just could imagine them showing up at our door Wednesday afternoon to take my kids,” Gill said.  “So it certainly hasn’t been easy. I’ve done my best to insulate them from that.”

Because the ruling was based on equal protection, it has the potential to expand the rights of gays and lesbians.

Marriage may not be one of them since gay marriage is banned in the constitution.

Just last week, Governor Charlie Crist says he supported gay adoption.

“We are going to immediately stop enforcing the ban on those adoptions because the district court has statewide application,” Crist said. “As it relates to potential appeal, I would like some time to give it some thought. See what the plaintiffs might deem appropriate.”

There are currently 850 children waiting for adoption.

The Governor says it is likely the case will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court  so that there will be a permanent statewide resolution to the question of  gays and lesbians adopting.

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

UF Floats Pilot Program on Flat-Rate Tuition

September 22nd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Incoming freshmen at the University of Florida may have to settle for Spring and Summer semester classes only. The idea is being considered by the Board of Governors as a means of increasing class availability and better utilize university space. The idea is only a pilot program and  the Board of Governors’ spokesperson Kelly Layman says the idea won’t go into effect until Fall 2011, at the earliest.

“The Board of Governors of the state university system is considering the concept,” Layman said. “The University of Florida still has a proposal, a formal proposal, to put on the table, that will outline all the details about how this will work as a pilot program, just at the University of Florida. So they’ll come back in November and let us know.”

If the Board of Governors approve the idea, other schools could implement the Spring-only enrollment on a voluntary basis.

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

Crist on PSC Appointments

September 22nd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Charlie Crist says he was looking for diversity and people who would represent consumers on the state’s utility commission when he tapped Julie Brown, a former Tampa assistant city attorney, and Eduardo Balbis, the West Palm Beach assistant city manager. Crist names the two after a nominating panel refused to renominate two consumer friendly commissioners appointed previously by Crist.

“We were looking for people that weren’t involved in the process and in the system, to get people who have a fresh approach, who will fight, hopefully, for consumers,” Crist said. “Especially in this economy. I think with these two appointments, an hispanic and a woman, I think that we’ve got good diversity and I think that they will fight for the people. That’s what I hope

The two are subject to Senate confirmation and their tenure may depend on who wins the Governor’s race. Senators could decide to not confirm the two is Republican Rick Scott is the victor, allowing him to name his own commissioners.

Posted in Charlie Crist, State News | No Comments »

Insurance Challenges Face Next Governor

September 21st, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

A war of words has erupted in the Governor’s race over homeowners insurance. Rick Scott is proposing increasing rates for Citizens Insurance and freeing private insurers from lawsuits and some regulation, as well as ending assessments on individual policies following storms. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, there are no easy answers.

When Hurricane Andrew roared ashore 18 years ago last month, it plunged Florida’s insurance market into perpetual crisis. From the rubble of mobile homes came the state run Citizens property insurance. Citizen’s is now the largest insurer in Florida, and its rates don’t equal its risk. Customer Bill McKeown wasn’t surprised when his rates went up six percent this year.  “You don’t have to like it, even though you understand”, he told us.

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rick Scott would allow Citizens rates to become actuarially sound, but doesn’t say how fast. . Democrat Alex Sink would limit the increases to 10 percent a year. Rob Weisert of Florida Taxwatch says the system is so broken, Florida needs to start from scratch

“All of Florida’s insurance market is artificially low. It is not actuarially sound, and the worst part about cheap insurance is you don’t get a check after a storm hits,” says Weisert.

State lawmakers passed legislation in 2009 and again this year to address some of the cost drivers. Both bills were vetoed by Governor Charlie Crist..even though the two thousand ten version was supported by his own insurance commissioner”.

The legislation would have set limits on filing claims, and it would have allowed automatic rate increases. The Florida Insurance Councils Sam Miller says common sense…not a complete overhaul is what’s needed. “Because Citizen’s rates don’t cover one hundred percent of citizen’s claims, everyone else in Florida is paying a surcharge” says Miller.

And while Rick Scott and Alex Sink disagree on a lot…their biggest difference might be over what to do to to stabilize you homeowners insurance rates.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Well is capped, but seafood concerns remain

September 20th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

The Gulf oil leak has been permanently capped, but it continues to wreak havoc on Florida’s seafood industry. Concerns about safety abound, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, scientists have found no reason for the concerns.

Scott Avery was sitting down for a lunch of shrimp and scallops with no concerns about contamination.

“I’ve never, ever gotten sick off of seafood,” Avery said.

Sheldon McElvy was across the room, eating one raw oyster after another.

“The said that the oysters come from Apalachicola, and I hadn’t heard anything bad about them,” McElvy said.

Scientists back up their confidence.

Samples of Fin fish, oysters, shrimp, and muscles are put through rigorous testing for hydrocarbons at this state lab.

“We’re collecting in this area, from the Apalachicola Bay over to Pensacola,” Lab supervisor Jo Marie Cook said.

“That’s what we’re analyzing, for the oil,” state scientist Walter Hammack said.

Reporter: My understanding is that you’ve found none of that so far?”

“We have not found any significant levels,” Hammack said.

Right now this lab is running about 20 samples a week and has plans to keep running those samples until all danger has passed.

Still, fear lingers, cutting wholesale orders by as much as 30 percent. Which is why the state is running this TV spot across North Florida.

Southeast Fisheries Director Bob Jones says it is a matter of regaining brand confidence.

“The perception, on the part of the consuming public, is that a lot of the gulf seafood has oil on it and they’re staying away from it,” Jones said.

Posted in Business, Environment, Gulf Oil Spill, State News, Wildlife | No Comments »

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