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FHP Looking for Drunk Drivers

December 30th, 2010 by flanews

The Florida Highway Patrol will be out in full force this holiday weekend looking for drivers who’ve had too much to drink.

Partiers are being encouraged to designate a driver, call a taxi or take advantage of a free program that not only helps people arrive home safely, but their cars too. Whitney Ray tells us how the Tow to Go program works… and how you can take advantage of the free service.

One thousand people lost their lives in drunk driving accidents last year in Florida. 15-thousand more were injured. The Florida Highway Patrol is on a mission to bring those numbers down.

This weekend thousands of troopers, police officers, and sheriff’s deputies will be patrolling the streets and running check points to catch drunk drivers. New Years is one of the deadliest holidays on Florida roadways.

“We want to create a responsible driving environment by modifying driver behavior and helping drivers make better decisions,” said Col. John Czernis with he Florida Highway Patrol.

The Florida Highway Patrol is asking people who plan to party to designate a driver or call a cab and pick up their car after they’ve sobered up.

But there is a way to get you and your vehicle home without risking a DUI or your safety. AAA is teaming up with Budweiser to offer partiers another option. They’ll send a tow truck directly to you.

“We come, collect the keys to the vehicle, then go in and collect the driver. The driver goes into the AAA wrecker with the AAA driver and we take you to your home. So everyone is safe,” said Brenda Smith, a spokeswoman with AAA.

Both the ride and the tow are free. Names are kept confidential. Since the program began in 1998, 12-thousand intoxicated people have been kept off of Florida’s roadways. And that number to call to get you and your vehicle home safely is 1-800-AAA-Help. That’s 1-800-222-4357.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Health, State News | 1 Comment »

Old American Indian Canoe Found

December 30th, 2010 by flanews

Florida archeologists are ecstatic about an American Indian artifact found buried in a lake bed.

This 23 foot long canoe is believed to be between 5-hundred and 8-hundred years old. It was found in Lake Munson in Leon County last month when the water level was low. Florida has about 350- ancient canoes, but State Historic Conservator James Levy says this is one of the best preserved specimens ever found.

“This canoe is pretty rare. It’s a little longer than the average. Most are about 15 to 18 feet I think. But to find one with the sides still on it is extremely rare. I think the reason for that is this one was lost in the middle of the lake. It sank in the mud. There’s a little less energy out there. You don’t have the wave action and the sanding that take place along the shoreline and that’s probably why this one still has the sides and is in good condition,” said Levy.

The canoe will be studied and displayed in the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Posted in State News | 24 Comments »

Scott Tour and Appointments

December 29th, 2010 by flanews

Governor-elect Rick Scott is touring the state, thanking supporters and meeting with lawmakers. As Whitney Ray tells us he’s also building his administration from the road and grabbing leaders from the private sector to work in state government.

Governor-elect Rick Scott arrived in Panama City Wednesday to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters. With less than a week left until Scott takes office, his transition team is working double time to tie up loose ends and recruit leaders to take the reigns of state departments.

Scott is also meeting with legislators, like Republican Marti Coley, to discuss his jobs plan.

“We are creating an environment that will allow the private sector to grow and thrive and prosper and I think that is what he is here to do,” said Coley.

Scott will need legislative help to make good on his promise of 700-thousand jobs in seven years. He’ll also need to beef up his administration.

While on his tour Scott made his first two appointments. He picked an Indiana government official to head up Florida prisons and selected a man from Wal-Mart to lead the state through disasters like hurricanes and the BP oil spill.

Bryan Koon heads up emergency operations for the world’s largest retailer. Representative Jimmy Patronis is impressed Scott grabbed Koon.

Wal-Mart in its own right, their emergency management is bigger than some state’s emergency management,” said Patronis.

Scott, who ran as a government outsider, says expect more appointments from the private sector.

“This is a great opportunity. This is the greatest state to work for,” said Scott.

Scott will keep some of Governor Charlie Crist’s department heads for at least a little while longer to buy more time for his transition.

AG-elect Bondi’s Agenda

Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi was in Panama City today, joining Governor-elect Rick Scott on his inaugural tour. Bondi will become Florida’s first female Attorney General. She says she’s ready to take the torch from the current attorney general and continue the state’s lawsuit against the new federal health care laws. Bondi also wants to take on BP to make sure Floridians get paid.

“I’m going to look out for the people and I’m going to hold Fienberg and BP accountable for everything and that is one of my primary goals as your new attorney general,” said Bondi.

Bondi, Scott and the two other elected state cabinet members take office January 4th.

Posted in Cabinet, Rick Scott, State News | 1 Comment »

Reward Offered in Murders of Mother, Twins, and 3 Yr Old

December 29th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Crop Damage Mounts

December 28th, 2010 by flanews

The losses continue to mount for farmers, as the freeze continues to bombard the Sunshine State. The total impact to the state’s economy in lost crops, jobs, and taxes in December alone is more than 270 million dollars. As Whitney Ray tells us, tonight it’s expected to get worse.

South Palm Beach Police Chief Roger Crane took a break from fighting crime to visit the state capitol in Tallahassee. He was greeted by ice and snow. He can’t get away from the weather fast enough.

“Next week… going to Key West so hopefully it will be a lot warmer there,” said Crane.

Over the weekend people in the Panhandle captured images of snow on their cell phone cameras. People waking up in Tallahassee Tuesday morning were greeted by temperatures in the teens. The cold spell is stretching all the way into Central and South Florida, where farmers are fighting to save their crops.

A hard freeze in the middle of the month, combined with this recent cold snap, has caused 114 million dollars in crop damage. Nearly 4-thousand workers have lost their job or had to postpone work. The total economic impact in Florida is more than 270 million dollars.

Produce prices are also on the rise. Orange Juice is at a three and a half year high. Sarah Criser, with the Florida Department of Agriculture, says while consumers will likely pay more, the freeze is putting farmers in a real financial bind.

“For some of us it’s the food we put on the table, for others it’s there livelihood, so we are assessing those numbers,” said Criser.

As the state crunches the numbers, the damage piles up. It will likely be weeks before anyone can put an exact price tag on the freeze. Some of the crops hit hardest include eggplants and peppers; neither vegetable has been shipped from Florida in more than a week.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Deadly December for Crops

December 27th, 2010 by flanews

In just this month alone, Florida farmers have suffered 114 million dollars in crop damage due to the cold weather. The news gets worse tonight as temperatures will dip into the 20s. As Whitney Ray tells us, farmers are working double time to save crops. Families are trying to stay warm.

Kelly Montalvo drove from Palm Beach to Tallahassee this weekend, to tour FSU’s campus with her daughter Alexandria. They stopped by the state capitol for a quick picture. They were greeted by ice.

“We are not used to that kind of weather over here,” said Kelly.

When they made it to campus, the Heritage Tower, also known as “The Torches,” was anything but on fire. Ice hung from the fountain’s arches and clung to its pillars. Alexandria likes the campus, but the weather is giving her pause.

“It’s really, really new to me. I was like, ugh, it’s too cold for me. And I got like a sinus headache and stuff. I’m not used to this kind of weather,” said Alexandria.

On Sunday in Tallahassee, there was a brief moment of snow flurries. It didn’t last long, but snow was the headline in local papers.

Winds out of the north are expected to bring freezing temperatures to South Florida Monday night and Tuesday morning. There’s a freeze warning through Wednesday. Deputy State Meteorologist Michelle Palmer is keeping a close eye on the action.

“This is the same weather system that’s producing the blizzard conditions up in New England so it’s really affecting the entire eastern half of the county,” said Palmer.

Citrus farmers are spraying their crops with water to form a layer of ice around the fruit. The ice locks in heat allowing the oranges and strawberries to stay a few degrees warmer. This month alone the weather has claimed 114 million dollars in crops. More damage is expected before year’s end.

The freezes this month haven’t hurt farmers as much as last January’s 13 day freeze. That cold snap cost farmers an estimated 500-million dollars in crop damage.

EOC Cold Weather Tips

A wind chill advisory is in effect for all of Florida tonight, and a freeze warning is reaching into South Florida. Temperatures are expected to dip into the 20’s tonight. Emergency workers are asking people to keep warm, let the family pet sleep inside, cover plants and watch pipes. Mike DeLorenzo, chief of Florida’s Bureau of Response, says people need to use caution if they plan to keep warm by a fire.

“Make sure that you are cognizant that we are in a drought situation with a lack of rainfall. You should be careful around fire situations. Make sure you take all the precaution you can,” said DeLorenzo.

DeLorenzo says space heaters need to be watched closely and if you use candles never leave then unattended.

Posted in Children, State News | 3 Comments »

Inaugural Plans Taking Shape

December 23rd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

The inauguration of Florida’s 45th Governor is just over a week away and dozens of people are at work to make sure the event goes off without a hitch. New estimates show the two day event will pump over four million into the state’s economy. The governor-elect and his staff continue to focus on what won the election creating jobs.

Inaugurations are a time of new beginnings and laying out grand agenda’s. In January 1955, Leroy Collins said there is “So Much to be Done!”

It is against that same backdrop, the historic Capitol…that Rick Scott will take the oath of office on January 4th as Florida’s 45 Governor. The grand agenda this time is jobs.

Behind the scenes…dozens of people have been working for a month and a half to make it all happen. Scattered around this office are drawings of non stop events packed into two days. Inaugural Committee Executive Director Spencer Geissinger has experience organizing events for Presidents. He says the Inaugural isn’t much different. More than 1600 tickets to the inaugural ball…at 95 bucks a pop have been mailed out. The proceeds will go to the Wounded Warrior Project to benefit injured service men and women. Geissinger says Scott didn’t give the charity a second thought.  “It happened immediately…(snap of finger) because he is a veteran, and the Lt. Governor-elect is a veteran. It was a no brainer for him”.

Drawings show a flag draped Capitol for the event. Construction on the platform begins next week. Estimates suggest the celebration will pump four and a half million dollars into the economy.

But Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson says business community, which is funding the entire celebration, is counting on much much more. “What we are talking about here is the private sector, the business community, launching this jobs plan by helping fund the entire inauguration activities”, says Wilson.

One of the new governor’s first appointments is likely to be a Chief economic development officer. He will consolidate several offices under one roof with hopes of fulfilling his primary campaign promise which was in every TV commercial: “Lets Get to Work”.

In addition to the Inaugural ball, there will be free events around the state leading up January fourth. Inaugural day begins with a prayer breakfast and ends with a formal ball. You can see a list of all of the planned events at: www.scottcarrollinaugural.com/

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Wacissa Water War

December 22nd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

A battle is brewing just east of the state capitol in rural Jefferson County, over the rights to water from a pristine river. Nestle has told local residents it is studying whether the company could take between a half million and a million and a half gallons from springs in the area to feed its water bottling operation in a neighboring county. Residents in the tiny town of Wacissa are up in arms.

The brand names are familiar..Deer Park..or Zepherhills…this Madison County Nestle waters plant pumps out more than a hundred thousand bottles an hour from a nearby spring….But the Ken Koptiuch says Company needs more to meet demand.

“We don’t necessarily use water from the same source to put on a Sam’s Club product as we would on a Zepherhills product”, says the plant manager. “So we look for alternate sources for that reason. ”

Nestle is studying whether the springs that form the Wacissa River in Jefferson county can supply up to a million and a half more gallons a day. The water would be trucked across local roads to the the bottling plant. Hardly a yard in the area is without a “say no to nestle sign” …Roland Brumbley was born here 65 years ago, and is a leading spokesperson against the plant. “We just want people to know that we love this river and we don’t want it destroyed. We don’t want these natural resources to go away”, says the 65 year old resident.

The company says it is just studying the idea…no decision has been made and won’t for at least 6 months. Koptiuch says The company will look out for the river..and pay attention to local residents. “If the scientific study shows this is not a feasible project, we will walk away”.

If approved and after paying a couple hundred dollars for a use permit, Nestle could take a million and a half gallons a day and never pay another cent.The fact the water is almost free burns local residents like Brumbley even more. “And here is a foreign company, not an American based company, coming and taking something that belongs to the people of the State of Florida for free”, says Brumbley.

Nestle says if it is going to be charged for the water by the gallon…every user should have to pay the same fee.

Governor Charlie Crist proposed a six cent a gallon extraction fee for water in 2009, but if never got a legislative hearing.

Posted in Business, Economy, Environment, Politics | 11 Comments »

Flu Cases on the Rise

December 22nd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Four percent of the people seeing a doctor or emergency clinic in Florida are complaining of flu like symptoms. Dr. Julia Gill with the Florida Department of Health says the visits are about double the number of what would be expected this early in the flu season. “For folks who haven’t had  their flu shots should make sure they get their shots. And also to make sure you pay attention to the regular day-to-day things you can do to prevent and kind of illness including influenza. And those are to wash your hands often and to be careful what you are touching…and then touching your eyes, your nose, your face”, says Gill.

South Florida seems to be showing the heaviest number of flu cases. To check locally go to www.doh.state.fl.us/chdsitelist.htm

Posted in Business, Children, Environment, Health, Insurance, State News, Swine Flu, Weather | No Comments »

Juvenile Justice Too Costly

December 22nd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

A study by Florida Taxwatch and the Southern Poverty Law Center shows Florida could save between fifty and one hundred fifty million dollars a year if it intervened in the lives of troubled juveniles earlier, and began dealing with minor infractions through a civil citation program rather than locking up non violent offenders. Vanessa Carroll of the law center says the 240 million the state spends on locking up kids is just too much.

“The fact is that Florida places far too many children in expensive residential facilities. These facilities are the most costly and least effective way to address the needs of children at risk. Pulling a child out of her home, her family, community, and school, is an incredibly disruptive intervention that often does more harm than good”, says Carroll.

Florida will spend seventy million dollars this year locking up misdemeanor and probation violators. Once locked up, children are staying 30% longer than ten years ago and become more likely to re-offend.

Posted in Business, Children, Criminal Justice, Economy, Education, Legislature, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Wacissa Water War

December 22nd, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

A battle is brewing just east of the state capitol in rural Jefferson County, over the rights to water from a pristine river. Nestle has told local residents it is studying whether the company could take between a half million and a million and a half gallons from springs in the area to feed its water bottling operation in a neighboring county. Residents in the tiny town of Wacissa are up in arms.

The brand names are familiar..Deer Park..or Zepherhills…this Madison County Nestle waters plant pumps out more than a hundred thousand bottles an hour from a nearby spring….But the Ken Koptiuch says Company needs more to meet demand.

“We don’t necessarily use water from the same source to put on a Sam’s Club product as we would on a Zepherhills product”, says the plant manager. “So we look for alternate sources for that reason. ”

Nestle is studying whether the springs that form the Wacissa River in Jefferson county can supply up to a million and a half more gallons a day. The water would be trucked across local roads to the the bottling plant. Hardly a yard in the area is without a “say no to nestle sign” …Roland Brumbley was born here 65 years ago, and is a leading spokesperson against the plant. “We just want people to know that we love this river and we don’t want it destroyed. We don’t want these natural resources to go away”, says the 65 year old resident.

The company says it is just studying the idea…no decision has been made and won’t for at least 6 months. Koptiuch says The company will look out for the river..and pay attention to local residents. “If the scientific study shows this is not a feasible project, we will walk away”.

If approved and after paying a couple hundred dollars for a use permit, Nestle could take a million and a half gallons a day and never pay another cent.The fact the water is almost free burns local residents like Brumbley even more. “And here is a foreign company, not an American based company, coming and taking something that belongs to the people of the State of Florida for free”, says Brumbley.

Nestle says if it is going to be charged for the water by the gallon…every user should have to pay the same fee.

Governor Charlie Crist proposed a six cent a gallon extraction fee for water in 2009, but if never got a legislative hearing.


Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida Gains Clout

December 21st, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

New Census data shows Florida’s population has grown by 17.6 percent to 18 point eight million over the last ten years. The growth will give Florida 2 more seats in Congress starting in 2012, and two more electoral votes in deciding who is elected President. The political battle now will be deciding where those seats are drawn.

Florida will soon have 27 seats in the US Congress, up two at the expense of state’s like New York. Add our two US Senators and the state now has 29 electoral votes in deciding who will be President.

In a news release and on camera, both parties called the additions good news for the state. Eric Jotkoff from the Florida Democratic Party was thrilled  “We gain representation in Congress, we gain more clout.”

Each congressperson will now represent an average of 710 thousand people…up from 646 thousand a decade ago…and up from just 34 thousand when the nation was formed.

Nationally the trend moves more Congressional power south, which is expected to help Republicans. But here in Florida, Democrats say the recent passage of Amendments 5 and 6, requiring fair districts, could help democrats.

“Floridians look forward to districts that are drawn fairly and reflect the diversity of our great state” says Democratic Party Spokesman Eric Jotkoff “ rather than the gerrymandered partisan districts that we currently have”.

The addition of two seats will ignite political ambition. 10 years ago, then House Speaker Tom Feeney wanted one of the two new seats drawn for him in Central Florida. It was.

The two new seats this time around are also expected to be drawn in Central Florida. State lawmakers begin the drawing process in 2010.  Florida remains the fourth most populous state…but only California and Texas will have more representatives in Congress.

The new census shows New York State has slightly more people than Florida, but the numbers are so close both New York and Florida will have the same number of Congressional districts.

Posted in Amendments, Elections, Legislature, State News, Voting | No Comments »

Taj Mahal Opens with Phone Troubles

December 20th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

Judges and staff for the First District Court of Appeal moved into their 50 million dollar courthouse on Friday and over the weekend, but their troubles are not over as lawmakers plan intense scrutiny over wasteful construction.

Monday was the first day the new 50 million dollar appellate court was open for business….sort of. Our initial calls to the court were met with this:

“Hold the line, and an operator will assist you shortly.”

When we arrived unannounced, the security guard at the front desk couldn’t reach anyone either. Finally, the court Marshall told us they were too busy getting settled to give us tour. Earlier this month we went through the unopened building with State Senator Mike Fasano. He says every tax payer in Florida should be concerned with the the opulence.”

“The judges have a bathroom in their chamber that is sound-proof,” Fasano said. “Now, why would we, the taxpayers, have to pay for a sound-proof bathroom within a judge’s chamber?”

Make no mistake, lawmakers funded the building in 2007. But Fasano says he will hold hearings in January over what he calls deceitful manipulation of the legislature.

“That building is going to actually cost the taxpayers, once those bonds are paid off in a 30 year period of time, it will actually cost over 70 million dollars of tax payer money,” Fasano said.

Powerful FSU Alumni also helped grease the money for the new courthouse.

The old courthouse is just 30 years old, and after some renovations, it will be part of the FSU law school.

Fasano had sought to delay the court’s move into the new building, but it was already in progress before he asked for the court to wait.

The Appeals court will hear its first case in the new courthouse in early January.

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

Unemployment Rises to 12 Percent

December 17th, 2010 by flanews

Florida’s unemployment rate seems to be stabilizing. After two months at 11.9 percent, today it climbed one tenth of a point to 12 percent. The slight uptick comes as the state prepares to send unemployment checks to thousands of Floridians who ran out of benefits earlier this month. As Whitney Ray tells us, many of them will get their checks before Christmas.

Just in time for the holidays, Congress gave the green light to two unemployment programs. The extensions come after a two week battle in Washington over the price tag of extending the benefits.

Without the extension, 230-thousand Floridians would have fallen off the unemployment rolls by New Years. Karen Woodall, the Interim Director for the Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, is pleased with the revival, but says more work is needed.

“This extension did not extend the 99 weeks it just allowed people who have not yet reached the 99 weeks to continue to participate in the program. So those people who have already exhausted their 99 weeks are going to be dropped off the cliff,” said Woodall.

Those who were dropped when the Emergency Compensation program expired December 4th, should begin receiving checks next week.

“For those who have lapsed, who are in the ECU program and your benefits have lapsed, we anticipate that you will be able to begin start claiming weeks as early as next Wednesday and the first payment should be going sometime next week,” said Robby Cunningham, a spokesman with the Agency for Workforce Innovation.

The 13 month extension comes just in time for Christmas, but for most the money is just enough to put food on the table; presents under the tree my have to wait one more year.

While Emergency Benefits will begin flowing again soon, it will take an executive order by the governor for the extended benefits program to begin in Florida. A spokesman for the governor’s office says such an executive order is being reviewed.

Posted in Economy, State News | No Comments »

Health Care Suit

December 16th, 2010 by flanews

The state’s lawsuit to block part of the new health care regulations is now in the hands of a federal judge. 20 attorneys general joined Florida’s AG making a case against a federal mandate to buy insurance and the loosening of Medicaid enrollment rules. As Whitney Ray tells us, the judge has already announced his intentions to rule favorably to at least part of the state’s suit.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum arrived at the federal courthouse in Pensacola Thursday confident in his suit against new health care laws.

“The judge precursed a little bit that this was something that he might find difficult upholding the constitutionality of on the individual mandate. We know we have a little heavier burden with him on the Medicaid part,” said McCollum.

Across the street Debra Dougherty spoke of her 20 year struggle to pay her son’s medical bills. Her son Matt has cystic fibrosis.

“Throughout his live we have had to battle; is he going to have insurance, is he not. Who is going to pay for it? He has a copy of 800 dollars a month,” said Debra.

The new health care laws would loosen enrollment restriction for Medicaid allowing Matt to qualify.

Back inside the courthouse an attorney representing Florida and 20 other states told the judge the federal government can’t force states to open their Medicaid rolls. The states also argued that the federal government doesn’t has no authority to force US citizens to buy health insurance.

Monday a judge in Virginia ruled the mandate unconstitutional. McCollum called the ruling encouraging and says the mandate is a congressional over reach of power.

“Eventually this goes to the supreme court, and we think just the sheer numbers plus the National Federation of Independent Businesses and couple of individuals gives this lawsuit a lot of weight,” said McCollum.

The US Department of Justice defended the mandate saying the uninsured already have health coverage. It’s called the emergency room. And when they don’t pay for emergency services we all pay through higher health care costs. McCollum says if the Medicaid enrollment restrictions are loosened, 1.9 million more Floridians will qualify for the entitlement program adding an additional one billion dollars to the cost to the state.

Posted in Health, State News | No Comments »

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