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Minimum Wage Increases to $7.31 an Hour

May 31st, 2011 by flanews

Tomorrow 188-thousand of the state’s lowest paid workers will get a pay raise. Florida’s minimum wage is increasing six cents to $7.31 an hour. As Whitney Ray tells us, business owners say the increase comes at a bad time.

At Barnacle Bills seafood restaurant in Tallahassee, much like eateries throughout the state, shipping costs are up and fewer hungry patrons are coming through the doors…

And starting Wednesday the state is forcing owner Jeff Stilwell to give much of his staff a pay raise.

“A worker will make what they’re worth. Nobody pays someone who is valuable to them minimum wage,” said Jeff.

Florida’s minimum wage is increasing from 7.25 to 7.31 an hour. Waiters will see their hourly wages increase four cents to 4.29. Jeff has 15 waiters and says they already make good tip money. Raising their pay will leave Jeff with less money to pay the rest of his staff.

“A good server will make quiet a bit of money, a good cook can only make as much money as you can afford to pay them,” said Jeff.

188-thousand Floridians work for minimum wage. The increase means an extra 128 dollars a year for those workers. Economists with the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy say the increase isn’t much but it will help some.

“It could be the difference between being able to take a child to the doctor or being able to get medication for the child,” said Alan Stonecipher, a spokesman with the center.

The increase comes from a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2004 that ties minimum wage to inflation. The state tried to pass a smaller increase, but a Florida Judge ruled it unconstitutional. Governor Rick Scott decided not to challenge the judge’s decision. He fears future increases will hurt Florida’s job market.

“If it continues to go up and other states have lower minimum wages it would impact our ability to be able to create jobs,” said Scott.

While the minimum wage can go up with inflation, deflation won’t bring it down. In the past Florida’s minimum wage has stayed below the federal minimum wage of $7.25… so employers had to pay the higher federal wage. Now that Florida’s wage has increased, employers will have to honor the state’s wage.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Go Fish

May 31st, 2011 by flanews

It’s not too early to start thinking about Father’s Day and this year the state is offering a gift idea, fishing.

The state won’t fine people who fish in saltwater without a fishing license this weekend and Father’s day weekend. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Director Nick Wiley hopes the promotion will encourage people to make a hobby of the sport and generate some tourism dollars.

“We want to get them hooked. We want them to see how fun it is. It also is a major economic engine for the state of Florida. Fishing generates 5.4 billion dollars in economic benefit for the state of Florida,” said Wiley.

The license free fishing weekends begin this Saturday and Sunday and will continue Father’s Day weekend. And again it is only for saltwater fishing.

Posted in State News, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Gov Signs Bath Salts Bill and Welfare Tests

May 31st, 2011 by flanews

Synthetic drugs known as Bath Salts are officially illegal in Florida today.

Governor Rick Scott signed a bill banning the synthetic drugs that have been compared to cocaine and PCP in Panama City today. The drugs were temporarily outlawed by an emergency order issued by Florida’s Attorney General earlier this year. Scott says the drugs were creating major problems for police officers.

“People were using this as a way to use drugs and it’s caused a lot of problems, so Attorney General Bondi, did an executive order in January and now we have great legislation that’s going to outlaw that,” said Scott.

Scott also signed a bill today requiring drug tests for people receiving temporary cash assistance from the state.

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

More Cash for Schools Illusionary

May 27th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott’s call to use money he vetoed from the state budget to increase school funding is being called “disingenuous.”  Scott claims he freed 615 million dollars for schools, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the real amount is less than a fourth of what Scott is claiming.

Governor Rick Scott got out his veto pen on Thursday…

“Today I’m exercising that authority to remove an additional 615 million dollars,” Scott said.

Scott suggested the savings go to education.

So far, the Governor’s call to put the vetoed money into schools is falling on deaf ears. But even if it wasn’t, it’s not that easy to do.

Through the magic of state budgeting, key lawmakers say the real total available to schools is less than 150 million. Florida’s teachers union is also questioning Scott’s motives.

“For the governor to, who never mentioned education in his first proposal, who didn’t do anything to lobby for education, for him to now come out and say something that would require a special session, is a little disingenuous,” Florida Education Association spokesperson Mark Pudlow said.

The Governor was indifferent when we asked about the cold shoulder his idea was getting.

“We can all agree that it’s more important to put money into education than a horse barn,” Scott said.

And school superintendents say they are not counting on any additional cash.

“We’ve got our budget,” Sen. Bill Montford, with the Florida Association of School Superintendents said. “We know what we’ve been cut. School superintendents and school board members throughout Florida are making those tough decisions, and you’ll see a lot of people laid off throughout Florida in the school districts.”

When Scott Proposed his budget, he called for a 10 percent cut to schools. Lawmakers settled on 7.9 percent.

In his weekly radio address, Scott called the items he vetoed “short-term, frivolous spending”, even though some of the items included money to fix leaking roofs in university buildings.

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

Scott on Budget Signing Decision

May 27th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Democrats with signs protesting yesterdays signing of the state budget at the Villages were moved from the area, but today, Governor Rick Scott avoided answering a question about why they removed and offered reporters only a vague answer as to why he chose the Villages in the first place.

“I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around the state. I announced my budget in Central Florida and decided to go back to Central Florida,” Scott said. “One thing I’m trying to do is make sure I get around and talk to people all around the state.”

Scott announced his budget earlier this year at a Tea Party event in Eustis, not far from the Villages.

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

Budget Cuts in Education, Mental Health Cause Uncertainty in NF

May 27th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

State budget cuts are forcing the closing of the state’s oldest school for boys, and more than 200 people are being laid off at the state mental hospital. Both are located in rural north Florida near Marianna, and local residents are concerned about what  will happens to the local economy. State Senator Bill Montford is opening a satellite office to help with relocation, but he says the cuts will devastate the area.

“We’re talking about creating jobs? We’re going in the wrong direction, certainly here in North Florida,” Montford said. “Not only is it the jobs we’re losing, but it’s the impact that it’s going to have on the business community. When you remove probably 100 million dollars of buying power from North Florida, that’s going to have a tremendous negative impact on the business community.”

Employees will stay on the job until June 30th.

Posted in Economy, Education, Legislature, State Budget, State News | 3 Comments »

Scott Vetoes $615,000,000

May 26th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott today set a record when he vetoed 615 million dollars in spending from this years 69 billion dollar budget. While a record, the total is less than one percent of the spending plan. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Scott is asking the money be given to schools.

Governor Rick Scott flew to a Tea Party rally in the Villages in to announce a record 615 million in vetoes from the state budget. Gone are tens of millions in construction for state universities. Cut too was a 4 hundred thousand dollar study of gambling and another 400 thousand dollar study for the courts. Scott is asking all of the money be given to schools to offset cuts. “Hiring a few more quality teachers here in Sumpter County should take priority over spending five hundred thousand taxpayer dollars on a new barn for race horses” Scott said to a cheering crowd.

Scott would give few details of the budget before leaving the Capitol. “So this budget is a jobs budget. My vetoes are tied to my belief about how we get our state back to work” Scott told reporters before boarding his private jet.

But others question whether this is really a jobs bill. Scott allowed a 150 million dollar raid on the transportation trust fund. Doug Calloway of the Florida Transportation Builders says that move could cost the state as many as 84 hundred jobs. “These are user fees that are intended for transportation, and in our view should be used for transportation”. says Calloway.

Even if lawmakers do indeed agree to restore the take the 615 million in vetoed money to schools, that will only offset about half the cuts made to education this year. The 155 items vetoed make up just 8 tenths of a percent of the total budget. Supers:

An initial release from House Speaker Dean Cannon criticizes the Governor for not discussing education funding with lawmakers during the legislative session. The release suggests the vetoed money will go into the states rainy day fund, not schools, and that there will be no attempt to override the vetoes.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Dozier Closure

May 26th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Employees at the North Florida Youth Development Center - formerly called the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys were told the institution is being closed. Department of Juvenile Justice supervisors met with the employees to give them the news this afternoon. The school was once considered notorious for its treatment and alleged killing of boys sentenced to the reform school in Marianna. DJJ Officials are embarking on a path of putting fewer young offenders behind bars and say the school has outlived its usefulness, especially in tight budget times.

The School is one of a number of Juvenile detention facilities being closed because of a change in mission and direction designed to keep juveniles out of adult prisons.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Mortgage Protest

May 26th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

About three dozen people carrying signs protesting what they believe is public officials siding with Wall Street and not foreclosed homeowners set up a “Moral Hazard” zone in the state Capitol today. The protestors say Wall Street banks should be held accountable and they say Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is siding with the banks and not Florida residents. the Reverend Sam Jones led the group in a prayer. “These working people: some of them now are working two jobs, others even three to pay their mortgages that big banks are still profiting today from.”

Bondi is one of just a few Attorneys General on a national task force who have taken the position that principle reduction could foster a “moral hazard.” Bondi says banks should not have to share the cost of mortgages that citizens can not afford.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Scott’s Approval Rating

May 25th, 2011 by flanews

Rick Scott is one of the most unpopular governors in the country. A Quinnipiac Poll released today shows Scott’s approval rating at 29 percent, down from 35 percent in April. As Whitney Ray tells us, his numbers are low now, but Scott has three and a half years to make his case to voters.

Two out of three Florida voters dislike the way Governor Rick Scott is leading the state, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday. The rookie governor barely won election, garnering less than half the vote…

And once he took office, his plans to layoff state workers, privatize prisons and freeze regulations brought crowds of protesters to Tallahassee.

Democrats say Scott is out of touch with Florida voters.

“It’s beyond clear at this point that Rick Scott is completely out of touch with Florida. He’s completely out of touch with what average Floridians are going through, with what middle class Floridians are dealing with,” said Florida Democrat Spokesman Eric Jotkoff.

The poll shows 70 percent of Democrats disapprove of Governor Scott’s job performance.

Democrats aren’t the only upset voters. A slim majority, just 51 percent of the Republicans polled, actually approve of the job Scott is doing. Quinnipiac Pollster Peter Brown says there’s no sunny side to Scott’s poll numbers.

“These are not good numbers. There’s no way to spin these numbers that are good for the governor,” said Brown.

The good news for Scott is there’s plenty of time to improve his rating before the 2014 election. Scott has promised to create 700-thousand jobs in seven years. If his plan is working before Floridians vote his popularity will likely improve.

Scott has said in the past he’s not trying to be popular, he’s trying to be effective.

Posted in Rick Scott, State News | 1 Comment »

Insurance Poll

May 25th, 2011 by flanews

Sixty percent of Florida voters want government to keep a closer watch on property insurance companies. A Quinnipiac Poll released today shows Floridians believe insurance is getting more expensive and harder to get. The poll didn’t take into account new changes to state law that allow insurance companies to raise rates 15 percent without state approval. Pollster Peter Brown says voters want the state to rein in insurance companies.

“They also say they, by a solid majority they would like more government regulation as a way to curb those problems,” said Brown.

Thirty percent of the 11-hundred voters polled say the state is doing enough to regulate insurance companies. Industry experts say giving companies more freedom over rates will better prepare the companies to handle storm damage from a major hurricane.

Posted in Insurance, State News | 2 Comments »

Budget Poll, Voters Don’t Like It

May 25th, 2011 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott will sign the state budget tomorrow at the Villages. The 70 billion dollar spending plan reduces spending, cuts corporate income taxes, lowers education spending and eliminates 45-hundred state jobs. Scott says it will spur economic growth. A Quinnipiac poll released today says just one in four voters approves of the budget. Poster Peter Brown says even if Scott vetoes some spending items, which he is expected to do, it’s won’t make a big difference on how people view the spending plan.

“You can certainly make the case that he is going to offend more people. You can also make the case that if he does makes these cuts that he’s been consistence in how he’s handling his job. He’s cut every place he doesn’t think is absolutely necessary,” said Brown.

Scott has been reviewing the budget for two weeks now. Using line item vetoes he’s expected to cut tens of millions of dollars from the spending plan.

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

DCF Layoffs Raise Safety Concerns

May 24th, 2011 by flanews

Five hundred Department of Children and Families employees are losing their jobs due to state budget cuts. The layoffs come as DCF searches for answers in child death cases that happened on the department’s watch. As Whitney Ray tells us, child advocates say now is not the time to cut.

The warning signals were sounded, but they weren’t loud enough to save the life of 13 month old Ezekiel Mathis. Mathis died from wounds investigators say were inflicted by his mother’s boyfriend.

Abuse had been reported, but the attorney general’s office had authority over the case, and choose to keep Ezekiel and his mom united.

Now the Department of Children and Families is asking for all questionable cases to be brought before their investigators. But they’ll be taking on the extra work with a lighter staff.

Because of state budget cuts, 500 DCF employees will lose their jobs next month.

“People who directly relate to clients and act as first line responders for families and children in need, we are not going to touch those positions,” said DCF spokesman Joe Follick.

“We’re trying to talk investigators and other front line workers repeatedly to say how can we make your job easier, how can we make it more efficient,” said Follick.

The department says the cuts will have no impact on its child protection services, but children’s advocates say that’s not good enough. They say the front line needs to be beefed up and point to a dead of a south Florida girl as evidence that the department needs more staff.

10 year old Nubia Barahona was killed in February, after reports of abuse by her adoptive parents made it to DCF administrators.

“That was at an administrative level, at a supervisory level. I don’t know how you are going to improve that if you are reducing the number of people who can participate in that supervision,” said Woodall.

In response to the Barahona death DCF has added 80 case workers. The layoffs will be spread through out the state and finalized by the end of June. Many of the positions eliminated will be at three state mental hospitals in Gainesville, Chattahoochee, and Macclenny.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Gov Prepares for Hurricane Season

May 23rd, 2011 by flanews

Four hurricanes hit Florida in 2005 and experts are warning that the 2011 hurricane season could be just as bad. The prediction comes as Florida has a new governor and a new leader at the state Division of Emergency Management. As Whitney Ray tells us, Hurricane season starts in nine days… and the new leaders are fine-tuning the state’s emergency response plans.

Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma rocked Florida in 2005. Hurricane experts are saying 2011 could be just as bad. They’re predicting 18 named storms half of them hurricanes. To prepare, Governor Rick Scott is meeting with agency heads at the state’s Emergency Operations Center and participating in a mock hurricane drill.

“We have a strong experience team and is ready to respond to any disaster or crisis,“ said Scott.

This will be Scott’s 1st hurricane season as head of the state. His pick to head up the Department of Emergency Management, Bryan Koon is also a new-comer.

Before coming to Florida, Koon headed up Wal-Mart’s emergency response efforts. Wal-Mart is actively involved in delivering food and supplies to storm ravaged areas around the world.

“When I was at Wal-mart, I didn’t get the opportunity to work on disasters at all 50 states as well as internationally,” said Koon.

The main concern for Koon and the Governor is apathy after six years without a major storm they worry Floridians are not prepared.

Most people already know to keep a three day supply of water and food in their hurricane preparedness kit as well as a flashlight with extra batteries, extra clothes, and a weather radio. The emergency manager says, “don’t forget about the family pet, they say keep the pet medication on hand as well as the vaccination papers in case you have to drop off your pet at a kennel, and of course the family dog or cat has to eat or drink so bring extra water and extra food.

Being prepared also involves knowing the emergency evacuation routes. The state has dozens of electronic billboards to help folks find their way out if a storm is coming. For more information about evacuation routes and hurricane preparedness kits visit Floridadisaster.org.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News | No Comments »

GOP Candidate Pool

May 23rd, 2011 by flanews

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is in… Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is out. Last week several other big names dropped out of the pool of GOP candidates looking to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012. Some within the Republican Party are questioning if they’ll produce a candidate that can win in 2012. Governor Rick Scott is more optimistic about the GOP pool, so much so, he’s not going to challenge any of the candidates.

“I’m not running for president and I don’t intend to run for president. There are a lot of great candidates and you know, it looks like there’s likely to be more,” said Scott.

Besides not entering the race, Scott is also holding out on endorsing any of the GOP candidates.

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

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