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Health Care Ruling

January 31st, 2011 by flanews

A Federal Judge in Pensacola has ruled the new health care law unconstitutional.

The ruling is in favor of Florida and 25 other states that challenged the federal regulations, claiming a provision requiring citizens to purchase health insurance was unconstitutional. The states suit also claimed a provision opening up the Medicaid roles was also out-of-bounds. Attorney General Pam Bondi says since a judge found the insurance mandate unconstitutional then the entire health care law is illegal. The Obama administration will likely challenge the ruling in a federal appeals court. Everyone expects this case to end up in the US Supreme Court.

Posted in Health, State News | 1 Comment »

Red Light Repeal

January 31st, 2011 by flanews

Citing big brother and a shameless money grab, one state lawmaker has filed legislation to remove red light cameras from state roads. Less than a year ago, lawmakers gave city and county governments in Florida the authority to install the cameras on state right of ways. As Whitney Ray tells us, distaste for the devices is growing with every ticket mailed to drivers.

It took five long years, but in 2010 Bradenton widow Mellissa Wandall won her battle.

She was able to convince lawmakers to legalize red light cameras on state roads in honor of her husband who was killed in a traffic accident.

I promised my husband that I would take care of my family and that I would make a reason for what happened that night at the intersection.

Now, less than a year after the legislation was signed into law, a south Florida lawmaker wants the cameras removed. State Senator Rene Garcia filed a bill to stop cities and counties from using the cameras on state highways, citing the intrusiveness of the snap shots.

While the war continues at the state capitol, battles are being won in court as drivers are defeating the tickets, proving to judges they were in the intersection on yellow, were out of town the day the ticket was issued or in at least one case they were part of a funeral procession.

Jennie Hughes decided not to fight her 17 year-old daughters red-light ticket.

She says her daughter was in the intersection on yellow and wished a police officer had been on sight so her daughter could plead her case.

With a police officer at least you get to say hey, it was yellow and you can talk to them if you are civilized and a police officer will talk to you back, said Jennie.

The state legislature set the fines at 158 dollars but local governments can tack on extra fees. Jennie ended up paying more than 3-hundred dollars. If legislative leaders allow the repeal to move forward, stories like Jennies are likely to be heard throughout the capitol.

Its too early to tell if the legislation will get any traction. The repeal would only affect cameras on state roads. There are still unanswered questions about what would happen to the cameras if the bill is passed.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Property Tax Surprises

January 31st, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

A quirk in state law requires property appraisers to increase taxes on homes with a homestead exemption even though its value may have decreased. The increases have released an avalanche of criticism and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, prompted one lawmaker too seek a change in the law.

The market value of this home remained stable over the last two years, at right around 250 thousand dollars. But because the owners have lived here from more than two decades, the assessed value has been kept low by the Save Our Homes cap. That cap limits property tax increases to three percent a year, even when values skyrocketed.

Now the law requires appraisers to close the gap between the market value and the assessed value. In this case, the assessed value went from 163 to 167 thousand, even though the homes value didnt increase.

Homeowners who have benefited from lower taxes are barking loudly.

Angry homeowners, whose values have gone down yet their taxes gone up, have bombarded property appraisers across the state with complaints.

State Senator Mike Fasano says no one ever expected property values to be going down. Hes filed legislation to stop the increases.

The people who can least afford seeing their taxes go up on their properties are the ones who are being hit the most,” Fasano said.

Realtor Penny Herman calls the property tax system broken.

Its great to have homestead because it locks you in at three percent a year,” Herman said. “And so you know, youre able to keep your taxes much lower than they would be if you were non-homesteaded.

Property appraisers, who are powerless too stop the increases, have asked the law be changed two years running. So far with no success.

Posted in Property Taxes, State News | 3 Comments »

What the Future Holds for George Sheldon

January 31st, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Soon to be former DCF Secretary George Sheldon is in the running for two high level jobs. Sheldon flies to Los Angeles Wednesday where hes been asked to interview to run the countys protection services. Sheldon has also been asked to apply for the job of running Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Sheldon says hes up to the financial challenges that Jackson faces.

Fundamentally its solid,” Sheldon said. “There are financial issues and theyve got to get those under control. Part of that is billing, making sure they have an up-to-date billing system. When we came to this agency, we had the worst food stamp error rate in the country. Now were number one in the country, but it was technology that allowed that to happen. The same thing is true with running an operation the size of Jackson. Youve got to get your arms around revenue, both on the expense side but also on the income side.

Sheldon says his preference is to remain in Florida.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida Prepaid Deadline

January 28th, 2011 by flanews

The clock is ticking to lock in todays tuition prices for your future college student. At midnight Monday, open enrollment in the Florida Prepaid College program ends. As Whitney Ray tells us, the plans are more expensive than ever before but so are the expected savings.

Two year old Emma Conley doesn’t have a care in the world, and her parents want to make sure she keeps that carefree attitude when it comes to the price of college.

The Conley’s enrolled two of their kids in Florida Prepaid College Plans this year, locking in the price of tuition at todays rate.

Weve already talked to them about college right now and they know it and they already know thats the expectation. And I think setting that expectation and setting that commitment to them even though theyre very young is really, really important, said Jill Conley.

Open enrollment in the investment plans began in October. It ends Monday. Eighty-five percent sign up online.

The online signup option on Florida Prepaid’s website will be turned off at midnight Monday, but people who need more time can request an enrollment kit before the deadline.

Prepaid employees are expecting a surge in last minute investors even though the cost of some of the prepaid plans has skyrocket to almost 43-thousand dollars.

Susan James, a spokeswoman with Florida Prepaid, says the bigger price tag means bigger savings.

They do rise every year, so the earlier you lock in for your child the more benefit of time you have to really have the value in your plan, said James.

James sights uncertainty in tuition prices as another reason to invest.
In 2008, the state legislature gave public universities the authority to raise tuition up to 15 percent a year.

For Emma’s family, the fear of rising tuition costs has been replace with jubilation over the money they’ll save. To enroll or to request an enrollment kit, visit www.myfloridaprepaid.com. The office will also be open Monday for people to call. That number is 800-552-GRAD(4723).

Posted in Children, Education, State News | 6 Comments »

Scott Defends Merit Pay

January 28th, 2011 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott says Florida needs a merit pay system. Last year state lawmakers forced an unpopular merit pay bill, known as senate bill six, through both chambers, even though hundreds of thousands of teachers protested the bill. Former Governor Charlie Crist vetoed SB Six after more than 300-thousand letters poured into his office protesting the legislation. Scott says hes not worried about a public outcry on new merit pay legislation and said neither is his daughter who is a school teacher.

Great teachers are going to be very supportive of what I propose. I know my daughter believes the measurement and the teachers I talk to, they believe the measurement. They want the best teachers around. They know if theyre really good they ought to get paid better, said Scott.

Today the Senate held a public meeting to discuss merit pay. This time theyre including teachers in the discussion.

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

Scott Wants to Pick Reporters

January 28th, 2011 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott wants to pick the reporters who cover events that are not constitutionally required to be opened to the public. A battle has been brewing between the Capitol Press Corps and the governors office ever since Scott took office January 4th. Thursday night, reporters waited outside the governors mansion as Scott ate dinner with three legislative leaders because they refused to let the Scott administration hand select two reporters to cover the event as a pool. This morning Scott defended the decision.

I just want to invite people. I mean its events at our house where Im having dinner with people and so Im just going to invite the people, said Scott.

Its industry protocol in pool situations for the journalists to elect a reporter. Scotts administration wants the press corps to give them five names and let their public relations staff choose from the list.

Posted in Rick Scott, State News | 1 Comment »

Scott Meets with Transportation Secretary

January 28th, 2011 by flanews

Florida Governor Rick Scott is in Washington DC tonight meeting with the Secretary of the Department of Transportation. The two will discuss high speed rail and shipping ports. Scott has been combing the globe looking for investors to pitch in 280 million dollars to fund the states portion of a three billion dollar rail system connecting Tampa to Orlando.

My focus is making sure that I understand ridership studies; I understand what the costs are going to be and if the private sector is willing to step up on top of that and focus on our reports and the rest of our infrastructure, highways, things like that so well have a broad discussion about all those issues, said Scott.

If the state doesnt come up with the money by September, the 2.4 billion dollars offered to Florida by the federal government for the project will go to another state.

Posted in State News, Transportation | 1 Comment »

SB 6 is Back

January 28th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers spent two days this week soliciting ideas from teachers and others about how to implement merit pay and eliminate tenure. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the hearings are in stark contrast to last year, when a merit pay bill was ram-rodded through the process with no input from teachers.

Last year, SB 6, the teacher tenure bill, generated hundreds of protesters and more mail than any other issue at the Capitol. That led Charlie Crist to say no.

One of last years opponents is this years Florida Teacher of the Year, Megan Allen from Hillsborough County. She says shes willing to accept merit pay and other reforms, within reason.

I would really love the conversations that we have with policymakers, with the media, to involve what those effective teachers are doing right, instead of what those ineffective teachers are doing wrong, because there are so few of them,” Allen said.

And measuring success is more than test scores says Escambia teacher Kathy Bain.

Its really difficult to measure good teaching,” Bain said.

Peggy Brookind told lawmakers that she has seen Merit pay backfire because of the competition it creates.

If you wanted to pay me for what I do, I think wed all get a raise,” Brookind said.

What is different this year, says Teacher Union President Andy Ford, is that teachers are being heard.

Most of what we were fighting against last year was just being absolutely shut out of the process, with no opportunity for input,” Ford said. “This is a totally different situation this year.

Being heard is one thing, getting everything they want is another, says the committee Chairman.

Were not going to agree on everything, I can assure you of that,” Sen. Stephen Wise (R-Jacksonville) said.

But even being heard is a giant step forward from how the GOP-controlled legislature handled the issue last year.

Unlike Charlie Crist last year, Governor Rick Scott isnt likely to veto any merit pay legislation that lands on his desk.

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

Bath Salts Crackdown

January 27th, 2011 by flanews

The rush is on to inform convenience store and head shop owners that synthetic drugs known as bath salts are now illegal. Yesterday, Floridas attorney general issued an emergency order outlawing the drugs that have been compared to PCP and cocaine. As Whitney Ray tells us, law enforcement officers are offering a short amnesty period to anyone willing to turn over the drugs.

At the beginning of the week anyone could walk into some Florida convenience stores and head shops, buy one of these products, and get high. Wednesday, sighting dangerous side affects associated with the drugs known as “bath salts” Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a temporary ban.

“It makes you think you are seeing monsters and it makes you think that you can fly,” said Bondi.

Thursday Bondi warned store owners, she means business.

“I read in the paper today that one business said theyre not going to enforce it, well yes they are. So, were going to get it off their shelves for them, said Bondi.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement is working with representatives from the retail federation and convenience stores to spread the word. Theyre also extending an olive branch to anyone willing to turn the products over to law enforcement.

Contact local law enforcement, make them aware that you just found out this is a controlled substance and surrender it to law enforcement. It will be destroyed and no arrest will be made, said Tucker

The ban is in effect for 90 days, but lawmakers are determined to come up with a permanent fix.

Thank goodness that the 90 day window that we are in right now will basically cover the entire legislative session so we can get something done to take this off the shelves, said Patronis.

The products are being shipped in from overseas, making it difficult for the state to go after the manufactures, which may prompt action from Congress. While synthetic PCP and cocaine products are outlawed its still legal to buy synthetic marijuana products for now. But legislation is in the works to stop the sale of those drugs as well.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

First Lady Celebrates Literacy Week

January 27th, 2011 by flanews

Florida is celebrating reading all week long and today at the state capitol students who are helping promote reading were honored.

Floridas First Lady Ann Scott honored students from nine schools who placed in a statewide PSA contest. Scott encouraged the students to read everyday.

One of my favorite past times is at the end of a long day, even though Im tired, it is so relaxing to me just to curl up in bed with a good book and read, and thats how I like to end my day, said Scott.

Scott read the book Tuffy to the kids. Tuffy is the only horse in Florida enrolled in public schools, calling East Milton Elementary in Okaloosa County home.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Scott Wants Department of Commerce

January 27th, 2011 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott wants to streamline departments and agencies that deal with tourism and jobs.

At a Florida Enterprise meeting this morning in Tallahassee Scott announced plans to resurrect the Florida Department of Commerce. The Department was disbanded in 1996 with most of the duties going to Enterprise Florida, a public-private association. Scott says having one person in charge of all business-related policy, will help him keep better tabs on the states economic growth.

When you dont have one person who is over everything it makes it more difficult to get things done. So my experience is I will have a hard time holding somebody accountable for this if I dont have somebody responsible, said Scott.

Scott will need legislative approval in order to recreate the department.

Posted in Economy, Rick Scott, State News | No Comments »

Help for BP Oil Spill Victims

January 27th, 2011 by flanews

Not satisfied with the way BP is trying to make amends, state lawmakers are pushing legislation to help people hurt by the oil giants mistake. Today in Tallahassee, bills to create tax breaks and extend unemployment pay for people who lost business because of the spill last summer received preliminary approval. Carol Dover, President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association says the tourism industry needs help from the state and federal government as well as BP if its going to rebound in time for the spring tourism season.

It hit during our peek season so some of our tourism industries have not recovered. Anything that BP can do, along with the legislature, thats going to infuse cash, marketing, and tax incentives are good. Anything that we can do to get employees back on the payroll, people back to the panhandle and celebrating how beautiful north Florida is will help, said Dover.

State lawmakers are also asking for help from Congress for income tax relief for the victims of the spill.

Posted in Gulf Oil Spill, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

GOP Targets Nelson

January 26th, 2011 by flanews

On the heels of the State of the Union address, Republicans are turning their attention to Floridas lone statewide elected Democrat. US Senator Bill Nelson has announced hell run for a third term and as Whitney Ray tells us, the GOP is already lining up candidates to take him down.

As Democrats and Republicans grabbed seats together to watch the president deliver his state of the union address

The GOP was already working its plan to take down Floridas only statewide elected Democrat. All eyes are on US Senator Bill Nelson as he builds his case to keep his seat.

We need to invest more in infrastructure: roads and bridges, and rail, said Nelson.

Earlier this year Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos announced plans to challenge Nelson in 2012. Wednesday, he took shots at President Obama and Nelson over the end of the shuttle program.

I think it hurts our national security and it hurts our jobs, said Haridopolos.

Former US Senator George LeMieux is also considering another trip to Washington, and says Nelsons seat is ripe for the taking.

His views are not in sync with Florida, said LeMieux.

LeMieux is expected to make an announcement next month, but no matter who gets the GOP nomination, the Republican National Committee will likely dump millions of dollars into the race.

If Republicans flip four Senate seats, theyll control Congress. Republican Strategist Pete Dunbar says Florida will get a lot of attention.

Florida will be a target ground for what national policy will be in the next election, said Dunbar.

Nelson will also get help from his national party and the president, who will set his sights heavily on Florida and its 29 electoral votes. Political experts say the price tag on Floridas US Senate race will be between 20 and 30 million dollars.

Posted in Politics, State News | No Comments »

Prepaid Plants

January 26th, 2011 by flanews

Progress Energy customers paying for a nuclear power plant that hasnt been built yet may soon get a refund. State Senator Mike Fasano has filed legislation banning power companies from charging customers extra money on their bills for future projects. Fasano says shareholders, not the customers should pay for the companys infrastructure.

It should be the stockholders; it should be the company itself paying from those nuclear power plants, not passing those costs on to the consumer, said Fasano.

Right now Progress Energy customers are paying five dollars more a month to build a nuclear plant in Levy County. Florida Power and Light is asking the Public Service Commission to allow them to begin collecting money for several nuclear projects.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

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