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No Deal No Problem

July 29th, 2011 by flanews

Social Security and Medicare recipients are begging Congress to reach a deal on the debt ceiling without cutting entitlements. They fear a federal government default could stop the checks from flowing. But Governor Rick Scott says: no deal, no problem. As Whitney Ray tells us, Scott says a federal government default wont hurt the state government.

Saturday is the 46th anniversary of Medicare and next month Social Security will be one year older. To celebrate, a group of seniors gathered outside of Florida Congressman Steve Southerlands office with a birthday cake and a message.

Cut the cake, not Medicare and Social Security, said Barbara DeVane, the Secretary of the Florida Alliance of Retired Americans.

Southerland is just one of dozens of tea party Republicans calling on deep cuts to spending before theyll agree to raise the countrys debt ceiling. These seniors fear the cuts will leave them with not enough money to survive.

Medicare is what our retirement leads to. Ultimately were going to have to have Medicare to supplement those policies that were given to us, said Dale Landry, with the Florida Conference of the NAACP.

If a deal isnt reached by next Tuesday Congress wouldnt have near enough money to meet all its financial obligations… and a federal government shutdown could ensue.

And as the protest continues outside of Congressman Southerlands office, across the city in the state Capitol Governor Rick Scott is preparing for well, nothing.

24 billion of Floridas 70 billion dollar budget comes from Washington, yet Scott says there will be no immediate impact if Tuesday passes without a debt deal.

This is a spending problem and theres a day reckoning so I hope theyll figure out how to reduce their spending, but Im confident in our state that were going to do well, said Scott.

But who may suffer the most are federal government employees, college professors who receive federal research grants, and city programs fully funded with federal money. If a deal isnt reached the Federal government would only have enough money to pay the interest on its debt, Social Security, Unemployment, Medicaid and Medicare.

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

Controversial Hall of Fame Nominees

July 29th, 2011 by flanews

Its back to the drawing board for a committee charged with presenting a list of veterans to Governor Rick Scott and the state cabinet to pick a nominee for the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame. The nominating committee’s first list included Scott and a group of Florida Confederate soldiers.

The NAACP is outraged because some of the confederates were known racists and one was even jailed for aggression against black Floridians. NAACP Spokesman Dale Landry calls the list of nominees insulting.

We have one of them that was locked up in Tallahassee for what he did to people in Quincy. African Americans slaves in Quincy so to that extent I got a problem, said Landry.

Scott didnt know he or the confederates were on the list of nominees. The nominees were going to be voted on by the state cabinet when it reconvenes next Tuesday. The vote has been postponed until a new list can be created.

Posted in Rick Scott, State News | No Comments »

LA Removes Red-light Cameras

July 28th, 2011 by flanews

The Los Angeles City Council voted last night to get rid of the citys red-light cameras. Similar efforts are underway in Davie Florida. Yet other Florida cities are adding more cameras over the objections ticketed drivers. As Whitney Ray tells us, the debate surrounding the devices is likely to spill over into Floridas next legislative session where distain for the devices is growing.

It was a close vote this past May where in the waning days of the legislative session House lawmakers narrowly passed a repeal of red-light cameras.

Cheers and embraces among Cuban-American lawmakers from both parties, for who the cameras evoked big brother memories from their communist homeland.

The bill went to the Senate where Rene Garcia tried to sell the repeal to his fellow GOP lawmakers, but the legislation was dead on arrival.

Im still fighting it, said Garcia.

Session ended in May but the debate rages on. Hundreds of drivers have challenged their tickets in courts; claiming cities have shortened yellow lights to ticket more drivers and people where ticketed unjustly for turning right on red.

Collin Moore received a ticket in the mail last week, but claims he wasnt driving.

He drove through and tried to make the yellow and it snapped a ticket, said Moore.

James Daniels says he and his cousin were in the intersection on yellow, but they still received a 158 dollar fine.

I dont have money like this in this time that we are living in, in the recession, said Daniels.

Still others, like Lanta Gallon, say the cameras make the roads safer.

Stop at yellow lights. Dont try to make it, said Gallon.

In LA the city council voted to remove the devices. They couldnt convince more than 65-thousand drivers who received red-light tickets to pay the fines and the city had no authority to punish them if they didnt. At least one city, Davie, Florida, is considering repeal.

A repeal bill has yet to be filed in Tallahassee for next session, but there is plenty of time and growing support among lawmakers. The battle pits less government Republicans against the more established GOP in Tallahassee that voted for the cameras two years ago.

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

Anthony Judge Calls for Juror Privacy Act

July 28th, 2011 by flanews

The judge in the Casey Anthony case says the state doesnt offer enough protection for jurors.

Judge Blevins Perry is asking state lawmakers to pass a law to exempt the names of jurors in high profile cases from public records. First Amendment Foundation Director Jim Rhea (RAY) says the path Perry is starting down is a dangerous one.

If you dont know who the jurors are, you dont know their names and you cant figure out who they are, then you dont know the basis on which they make their decisions, what sort of biases theyve had or what sort of life experiences theyve had, said Rhea.

Perry is keeping the names of the jurors quiet until October. He says theyve been threatened by some who blame them for the not guilty verdict.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 4 Comments »

Valle Stay of Execution

July 27th, 2011 by flanews

The execution of a convicted cop killer is being delayed until a hearing is conducted on the states new lethal injection drug. The drug was used last month in a Georgia execution and witnesses say the man being killed may have suffered too much. As Whitney Ray tells us, the state Supreme Court has ordered a hearing on the drug by August 5th, but it could be held as early as tomorrow.

A drug produced to help kill Manuel Valle, may temporarily save his life. Valle was sentenced to die August 2nd, for the 1978 shooting death of a Florida police officer.

But Monday the Florida Supreme Court issued a stay of execution, over concerns the new drug, pentobarbital, isnt working.

The drug is the first of three given in an execution. Its supposed to sedate the condemned but in a Georgia execution last month witnesses say it didnt work.

Roy Blankenship was executed June 23rd. Witnesses say he was jerking his head and moving more than expected in a lethal injection. But thats not enough to convince the Florida Department of Corrections that the drug doesnt work.

Following this drug, there will be a consciousness check just like there has been done before. We are confident in our procedure, said DOC Spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.

Floridas Attorney General has asked the US Supreme Court to overturn the stay of execution. Governor Rick Scott says he wants to make sure the law is followed, but his thoughts are on the suffering of the victim, not Valle.

I want to make sure we comply with all the laws and do the right thing, but what I think about all the time is the family, said Scott.

A hearing has been ordered for to review the drug. If its deemed humane enough, Valle will be executed September 1st. The state is using a new drug, because the Italian company that sold Florida the old one didnt like what it was being used for. Now the Danish company making the new drug announced it too will stop selling to states that plan to use them in executions. So the search for a effective, yet humane drug for future executions begins again.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Insurance Rate Website Re-Launch

July 27th, 2011 by flanews

The state is helping people save on their home insurance.

This week the Office of Insurance Regulation launched a website that compares insurance rates. An old site offering similar bargain shopping opportunities was taken down when former Governor Charlie Crist left office. OIR spokeswoman Brittany Perez says the site has everything you need to find the best price.

We believe that this tool provides a forum where consumer can compare the different estimates for rates and they can get the contact information all on one page so they can make the best choice for their coverage, said Perez.

To compare home insurance rates go to www.floir.com/choices. The site has a Florida map with a county by county break down so consumers can search their area for the lowest rate.

Posted in Insurance, State News | 2 Comments »

Civil Right Restoration Study

July 27th, 2011 by flanews

Ex-felons who have their civil rights restored are less likely to go back to prison than those that dont.

A study by the Florida Parole Commission shows that one in ten former felons reoffends after getting their civil rights restored. The recidivism rate of all released convicts in Florida is three out of 10. Human Rights Activist Mark Schlakman says the report provides new information for the clemency board to consider for its rights restoration policy.

With this new information that the parole commission report provides there is at least a cause to take another look, said Schlakman.

Four years ago former Governor Charlie Crist ordered an almost automatic restoration of civil rights for nonviolent offenders. This March Governor Rick Scott and the state clemency board reversed Crists order. Now ex-felons have to wait five years before they are eligible to have their rights restored.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 1 Comment »

Citizens Proposed 2000 Percent Sinkhole Spike

July 26th, 2011 by flanews

Some Citizens Property Insurance customers may soon be dealing with a two-thousand percent increase in their sinkhole coverage. To put that in perspective if your sinkhole policy costs 150 dollars a year right now a two-thousand percent increase would raise it to 3-thouand dollars. And that doesnt include the rest of your policy. As Whitney Ray tells us, industry experts say the increase is needed because Citizens rates were kept artificially low for the past five years.

This is not the average sinkhole claim. This is a small crack in a foundation or wall. Sinkhole claims have skyrocketed in the last eight years. Citizens paid out 270 million in claims last year and only collected 30 million.

In insurance your goal is to collect the premium you need to cover those loses and expenses for the term of the rate and in sinkhole that is not occurring, said Citizens spokeswoman, Christine Ashburn.

Wednesday the Citizens Property Insurance Board will vote on a four hundred percent increase, but thats just a statewide average. In five counties it would go up 2-thousand percent.

Pinellas is one of those counties facing a two-thousand percent increase. But the average sinkhole policy there cost just three dollars. Multiply three by two-thousand percent and the rate would increase 60 dollars.

In Hillsborough the increase is much higher. The average rate is 156 dollars. The new rate would be 36-hundred dollars a year.

Bob Lotane with the Florida Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors says the proposed increases are so high because Citizens rates have been suppressed for too long.

Its been 10 percent for a few years now, and meanwhile weve had an explosion of sinkhole claims, said Lotane.

But State Senator Mike Fasano blames this 48 page bill. It lifts regulations and the 10 percent cap on sinkhole rate increase for Citizens.

Senate Bill 408 was the beginning of stopping anyone from ever having sinkhole coverage in the state of Florida which would be an economic disaster, said Fasano.

If the board approves the new rates, they would be given to the Office of Insurance Regulation for final approval. Citizens is the only company writing sinkhole coverage in many parts of the state. The coverage is optional, although most banks require the insurance for barrowers living in high risk areas. So for them its pay for the coverage or lose your mortgage.

Posted in Housing, Insurance, Legislature, State News | 12 Comments »

Execution Drug in Question

July 26th, 2011 by flanews

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered a stay of execution for a convicted cop killer.

Manuel Valle was originally scheduled to die August 2nd for the murder of a Coral Gables Police officer 33 years ago, but because the state is using a new drug, the justices voted four to three for a review before the execution is carried out. Michele Taylor with the Florida Catholic Conference supports the decision but sees a contradiction in the ruling.

Given the uncertainty of the new drug, the state does show a concern for human dignity, however there is a little bit of a disconnect because the death penalty in any form undermines human dignity and the respect for human life, said Taylor.

Florida adopted a new drug after the European manufacture of the old one stopped selling in the US. Florida has yet to use the new drug, but last month it was given to a condemned Georgia man and witnesses of the execution say the man showed signs of pain.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Unemployment Changes Coming August 1st

July 25th, 2011 by flanews

One week from today more will be required from the 470-thousand Floridians receiving unemployment benefits. Changes to the states unemployment system are being slowly implemented in an effort to cut business taxes and as Whitney Ray tells us, help pay back the 2.5 billion dollars the state is borrowing to pay the jobless.

Susan Sumrall lost her job a month ago. Shes applied for unemployment benefits.

Im right in my waiting week, said Sumrall.

If approved, because of a new state law, shell have to prove she tried to find work at five different businesses each week. Shell also have to take a skills assessment test that will be used to help her know where she might be needed.

Ive done nursing work in the military, said Sumrall.

The changes are part of a new law aimed at reducing the cost of unemployment on businesses and the state. The first change went into effect in June, making it easier for a business to challenge an unemployment claim.

The next change took effect July 1st; it requires jobseekers to have their payments deposited directly into their bank account or receive a benefits debit card no more checks.

Also no more phone calls, at least not to file a claim. Starting next week, claims will have to be filed online. These changes are expected to save the state more than four million dollars.

Weve updated all of our online information, our hot topics, our FAQs. Weve actually reached out to every affected claimant, sent them a letter, said Robby Cunningham, a spokesman with AWI.

The last round of changes goes into effect at the first of next year. Thats when the state will scale back the number of weeks a person can receive unemployment pay. Right now its 26 weeks. The max number of weeks starting in January will be 23.

The total savings to Florida businesses is estimated at 100 million dollars. Lawmakers says the savings will help struggling businesses survive the economic down turn and hire out of work Floridians.

Posted in State News, Unemployment | 15 Comments »

Unemployment Stays Flat, For Now

July 22nd, 2011 by flanews

The states unemployment rate has hit a snag. After five straight months of dropping, the rate is now holding steady at 10.6 percent. As Whitney Ray tells us, the rate is flat, but theres trouble on the horizon.

Wilfred Lemmard is thumbing through the phonebook looking to find a landscaping job.

“I use a phonebook, then I am able to see different people who are advertising, said Lemmard.

Shuntereas Andrews will take anything that pays.

“Whether its working at a fast food restaurant or a grocery store or a clothing store, anything, said Andrews.

They are just two of Floridas 980-thousand jobseekers. Floridas unemployment rate is still high, even though its dropped five times since January. The latest jobless statistics show the rate holding steady (flat) at 10.6 percent.

While Floridas unemployment rate stayed even at this go round, theres a deluge of trouble on the horizon, 1,300 state workers received pink slips this month and their job losses will soon show up in the statistics.

Also bookstore chain Borders is closing all its stores. There are 30 in Florida with hundreds of employees. The ending of the space program will leave 3-thousand Floridians without jobs.

Manufacturing is picking up for the first time since 2006, adding 800 jobs in Florida.

“Its relatively small but its a big deal to finally gain after so many years, said AWI Chief Economist Rebecca Rust.

But thats not near enough to get the state back to work. There are still more jobseekers than opening and when you factor in people who are underemployed or have stopped looking the rate rises to 18.7 percent.

Although the state unemployment rate is flat, every Florida county saw its rate increase. The reason is the states rate is seasonally adjust, which means it doesnt count farm workers and other people who are only employed part of the year. But those workers were figured into the county counts.

Posted in Economy, State Budget, State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

Bureau Opens, Promises Protections for Barrowers

July 21st, 2011 by flanews

A new financial regulation bureau is promising better protection for borrowers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened in Washington today. The CFPB comes in response to the financial collapse that forced the country into the Great Recession. As Whitney Ray tells us, the CFPB hasnt been open for a full day and attacks are already being levied against its role in policing lenders.

As the economy continues to reel from the financial collapse that began in late 2007 Washington is unleashing a new watchdog.

Thursday the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opened for business. The CFPB brings all financial regulation under one roof. And according to this video on the bureaus website, it will make loans and credit card contracts more transparent by making sure prices are clear upfront and risks are easy to see.

The bureau promises to get huge financial documents like this document like this home mortgage explained on just two pages.

It will also work to eliminate or at least cut down on fine print in contracts. Banks, credit card companies, pay day advance businesses, car dealers and student loan companies will have to answer to the bureau. Florida Consumer Advocates are praising the new watchdog.

Everyone wants to reign in these toxic products that are just confusing from the beginning, said Alice Vickers, with Florida Legal Services.

But the fight is not over. Senate Republicans have promised to block the confirmation of the nominee picked to lead the bureau. They say the increased regulatory power will slow down the economic recovery.

Besides blocking the nomination, there are also efforts in Congress to cut funding for the bureau to render it useless.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Hundreds of Wildfires Extinguished

July 21st, 2011 by flanews

One month ago more than 400 wildfires were burning up Florida.

Today 32 are still active. Firefighters are applauding nearly a month of rain for helping extinguish the fires. Theyre also thanking the hundreds of out-of-state firefighters who flew to Florida to help fight the flames. Jim Karels, the Director of the Florida Forestry Service says conditions are almost to a point were Florida firefighters can begin returning the favor.

New Mexico, Arizona, slowed down a little bit. Nevada is starting to pick up and if they pick up, we are ready to help them. They helped us. We are ready to help them, said Karels.

32 is still a lot of fires for Florida this time of the year. Plus Florida is still in a drought, but Karels says if the current rain pattern continues and people continue to be careful, the worst may be behind us.

Posted in State News, Weather, Wildlife | No Comments »

Versus Rick Scott

July 20th, 2011 by flanews

Two separate lawsuits announced this week challenge Governor Rick Scott and provisions he either signed into law or supported through the legislative process. One suit seeks to block the privatization of 18 Florida prisons. Another is aimed at blocking state dollars from funding religious schools. As Whitney Ray tells us, since Scott took office in January hes been sued six times.

Even before Rick Scott took the oath the Florida Police Benevolent Association was preparing for a fight.

The police union warned voters last fall that Scott would privatize state prisons. He did. Now the PBA is suing to block the plan.

Whats at stake is public safety, said Hal Johnson, the PBAs General Counsel.

Johnson says the way the legislature moved for privatization is illegal. We spoke to Scott about the privatization plans last week.

If the private sector can do it better, we should look at that because again, thats taxpayer money and we got to watch out for how we spend taxpayer money, said Scott.

The PBA lawsuit marks the sixth time Scotts been sued since hes took office. But the governor isnt the only one being targeted. Wednesday, the Florida Education Association filed suit against the state legislature over the amendment they approved for the 2012 ballot.

The legislature calls the amendment the Religious Freedom Act, but FEA President Andy Ford says its really an effort expand the school voucher program Scott supported to private schools.

This is about vouchers and they ought to be honest with the voters and just put it out there and lets have a vote for now, said Ford.

Constitutional Attorney Ron Meyer is litigating the case for FEA. Hes also entangled in a lawsuit against the Governor over the state pension plan.

People need to know that Government isnt always acting in their best interest, said Meyer.

As the states legal staff continues to fight the latest court challenges, more lawsuits are in the works. The ACLU is likely to file the next suit. The organization has offered to represent any welfare recipient who wants to the random drug tests signed into law by Scott earlier this summer.

Posted in Amendments, Children, Criminal Justice, Education, Legislature, Religion, Rick Scott, State News, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Scotts Montana Vacay

July 20th, 2011 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott is vacationing in Montana this week and Democrats are crying foul.

The reason: Scott is featured in this video ad promoting Florida vacations. The spot was produced by the states tourism agency. Florida Democrats Executive Director Scott Arceneaux says the governor should have put his money where is mouth is and vacationed instate.

The fact that he now chooses to promote his image and then go vacation out of state. Its a joke and sadly the jokes on us, said Arceneaux.

Before Scott hopped a flight to Montana, he told reporters he would still be working.

Ill be available by phone the whole time. Im going to Montana and Ill be available by phone the whole time. Im always available by phone, said Scott last week.

Scotts schedule shows a daily meeting with his chief of staff. His office released this statement in response to the criticism.

Governor Scott is taking a short break before gearing up for committee weeks in the fall and the next legislative session. The Democrats criticizing the Governor would be wise to follow his lead by focusing on more substantive issues.

–Amy Graham /
Governors Spokeswoman

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

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