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It’s Still Illegal to Live Together as Man and Wife

August 31st, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Rx Drug Monitoring Database

August 31st, 2011 by flanews

Pharmacists around the state are scrambling to get their systems in place to report customers who buy powerful painkillers to the Department of Health. The long awaited prescription drug monitoring database goes live at midnight tonight. As Whitney Ray tells us, soon people who lie to doctors to score massive amounts painkillers will be tracked.

Pharmacist Marsha Jackson can usually spot a person lying to get painkillers.

“And those that we have questions about we don’t fill their prescriptions. We try to notify the doctor to see if it’s legit,” said Marsha.

And soon doctors will have another tool to know who is abusing the system. Starting Thursday pharmacists will begin reporting people who buy painkillers to the Department of Health. Becky Poston is supervising of the prescription drug monitoring database.

“Every seven days from the time the prescription was actually dispensed, the pharmacy or the dispensing practitioner would upload that information into our database,” said Poston.

Starting in mid-October doctors will be able to access the database to see how many times one of their patients has been prescribed pain meds.

But the database is just one more step in an aggressive effort to get powerful painkillers off the streets. Pill mills have been raided. Doctors arrested.

In total nearly a thousand people at pain clinics across the state have been arrested. It’s all in hopes of saving lives. Last year 56-hundred died after taking painkillers.

That’s more than seven a day. The database is expected to keep even more of the drugs off the streets, but updating the system is means extra work for pharmacists.

“It’s just more for us to do outside of us taking care of our patients,” said Marsha.

Even though it’s more work, Marsha sees the need and hopes it helps Florida shed its title of Pill Mill Capital of the Country. To protect patient’s privacy doctors can only check on their patients. Doctors who abuse the system face felony charges.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Health, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

National CAT Fund

August 30th, 2011 by flanews

Hurricane Irene is the tenth billion dollar storm in the US so far this year, the most in recorded history. At one point 12 states were in a state of emergency as Irene moved up the east coast. As Whitney Ray tells us, supporters of a national catastrophe fund say the widespread destruction highlights the need for national protection.

Wind, water and fire are a few of the elements destroying large parts of the country this year. 2011 started with snow storms in the Northeast and Midwest, followed by tornados in the South and wildfires all over.

The National Flood Insurance Program is bankrupt as water begins to recede in South Dakota where it’s been a soaked summer. So far this year there have been 10 storms, each causing more than a billion dollars in damage.

That’s the most billion dollar storms ever in a single year in the US. Some say its proof the country would benefit from a national catastrophe fund. We caught up with President Barack Obama while on the campaign trail in 2008. He supported more federal help.

“I think it’s very important that the people of Florida are able to get insurance and I think the nation government has to provide some help,” said the President in September of 2008.

But getting congress on board has been tough, because most states have less exposure than Florida. Industry expert Bob Lotane says the recent sting of storms proves no one is safe.

“We’ve had twisters that have destroyed a good sized city in the middle of the country. We’ve had earthquakes that were all up and down the eastern coast and the Atlantic coast and now we’ve had a hurricane that has hit 12 states, possible the worst damage is being seen in Vermont,” said Lotane.

Florida has its own cat fund, but critics say it’s not fat enough to keep the state from going bankrupt if a major hurricane hits a large city. A national fund would make that scenario less likely. Advocates of a national cat fund believe the reassurance would bring more insurance companies into Florida and could help the state drop costly Citizens Property Insurance Policies.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News, Weather | 1 Comment »

Wildfires on the Rise

August 30th, 2011 by flanews

The state got a short break from massive wildfires, but they’re back.

In June more than 400 wildfires were raging at once. Two wet months helped firefighters extinguish many of the blazes, but the rain wasn’t enough to pull many parts of the state out of the drought. Over the weekend several fires sparked up in the panhandle. There were 55 statewide Tuesday. Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels says there are more fires than usual this month and the state is about to enter a dry season.

“If we don’t get essentially a named storm, if we don’t get a tropical event, we are going to go into our dry season, which is not far away very dry already so it will compound what we see the next coming year,” said Karels.

A storm of tropical proportions that brings water but not destruction is what firefighters are hoping for. In the mean time, they’re asking people to be careful when cooking outdoors, building campfires or burning trash.

Posted in State News, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Conceal Carry Gun Owners Revealed

August 30th, 2011 by flanews

The lobbying efforts of some of Florida’s law enforcement officers went too far. A bill to loosen conceal carry restrictions drew dozens of police officers and sheriff’s deputies to Tallahassee this past legislative session. They said the bill would make the state more dangerous and printed pictures of people they believed were involved in criminal activity and still had gun permits. NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer says revealing the ID of Florida gun permit holder is illegal.

“They access that data and they use it to lobby against the people who pay their salaries. That’s wrong. That’s dangerous,” said Hammer.

The allegations point to a lobbyist for the Orange County Sheriff’s office. The state attorney in that area and FDLE have decided not to pursue charges. Hammer says just because the lobbyist wasn’t charged doesn’t mean he didn’t’ break the law.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, State News | 3 Comments »

Bee Keepers Buzzing

August 29th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

The number of bee keepers in Florida has tripled over the last four years. Most are backyard bee keepers, and after a multi year effort, Mike Vasilinda tells us they have won the right to sell the honey they produce without having small time kitchen operations go through expensive inspections by the state.

Roger Twitchell is a career state employee with a hobby.

Roger is a bee keeper, which is one of the fastest growing industries in Florida. Four years ago there were just 700 licensed keepers. Now there are 2100. Experts say the majority are over 50, and they speculate they are baby boomers supplementing their retirement.

I guess baby boomers, there are a lot of people who would appreciate additional income right now,” Twitchell said. “It is something you can get into relatively inexpensively and can grow it over years time.”

And keeping bees just got more lucrative. After a five year effort, bee keepers like Roger persuaded the state to let small time operators sell up to fifteen thousand dollars worth of the natural sweetener at roadside stands without having to bottle the honey in a state approved kitchen.

Each of these hives will produce about 70 pounds of honey, with about five dollars a pound.

Roger, a former vice president of the state bee keepers association, says the change will be a boon to small time bee keepers.

So we can now go to flea markets and such and sell direct,” Twitchell said. “We can sell to consumers. We can’t do retail or wholesale.”

The state says consumers won’t get stung by the lack of regulation because honey doesn’t grow bacteria or fungus. And sellers must include a warning on the label. It will say “Made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to Florida food safety regulations.”

In addition to back yard honey sales, the state has also deregulated the sale of other cottage foods including rolls, biscuits, and fruit pies.

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

Students Start the School Year with Less Money, Higher Tuition

August 29th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Forty-one thousand students began a new year today at Florida State University. They were greeted with a fifteen percent increase in tuition over last year, and for many, Bright Futures scholarships that are just a little dimmer. Bright Futures Scholarships no longer cover 100 percent of tuition but are a fixed amount. That’s lead a lot of recipients to start looking for work or take out loans.

It’s harder for students,” Julian Arenas, a student from Naples said. “Basically, for the people who have no support from their parents. They have to take out loans, they have to either work and spend less time in school. I think that’s one of the problems.”

It’s really hard for the rest of us to pay for tuition entirely because I only have Bright Futures,” Sara Dejan, from Odessa, FL. “And since it no longer actually covers 100 percent, even though it says it does, it’s just really difficult for myself and my family, to take care of a college education when we don’t quite have the funding anymore.

Despite the fee and tuition increases, Florida State, like other state universities, is making due with its fourth straight year of budget cuts.

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

Red Light Scam

August 26th, 2011 by flanews

You don’t have to run a red light to get solicited to pay a huge fine. Scammers are taking advantage of the ticket by mail process made popular by red light cameras. There are reports of emails and phone calls asking people to pay red light fines and give away personal information. Whitney Ray tells us, how to avoid becoming a victim.

Jacqueline Martin drove 400 miles from Ft. Myers to Tallahassee to begin her junior year at FSU.

Reporter: Did you run any red lights?
Jacqueline: No
Reporter: Are you sure?
Jacqueline: Yeah.

If she had and a red light camera snapped a picture she would receive a ticket in the mail. But even if she didn’t Jacqueline could still be solicited to pay a fine. That’s because scammers are posing as police, telling drivers they were caught on camera.

“I think that’s really, really bad. You shouldn’t trick people,” said Jacqueline.

Reports of emails from scammers in Texas and Maryland are beginning to surface, asking people for personal information.

Scammers are also calling drivers, telling them they have an overdue ticket and asking for banking information and a social security number to pay the bill.

Don’t fall for it. If you are caught running a red light, you will receive a notice in the mail. It will look something like this, with picture proof of the violation.

Sam Gilbert and Scott Gould say they didn’t know how the tickets were issued and if they received an email or phone call claiming they owed money…

“I would never question that, just pay it and go on,” said Sam.

“I would just pay it,” said Scott.

Besides getting your money, responding to the fraudulent emails also gives scammers the green light to steal your identity.

The Attorney Generals Office has received a lot of complaints about red light cameras. They’re still searching to see if any are related to scams. If you have received one of the emails of phone calls you can report it to the Florida Fraud Hotline at 1-866-966-7226

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Casey Anthony Begins Probation

August 25th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Casey Anthony has reported to a probation officer and begun a one year sentence for check fraud. Corrections officials are keeping mum as to her whereabouts but say she is receiving no special treatment, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, this is not a normal case.

Corrections officials confirmed that Casey Anthony, acquitted of murdering her two-year-old, reported for probation Wednesday at closing time, 6 p.m. Her location is being kept a secret, for good reason.

What the court said was, they wanted us to keep confidential any information that might lead to her location and her location,” Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson Gretl Plessinger said. “So we’re taking that seriously. The court made a pretty strong statement, talking about the fact that she is one of the most hated women in America.”

Under the terms of her probation, Anthony must visit her probation officer during the first five days of each month. She is subject to random checks, and she can’t leave the county where she is living without permission.

If Casey Anthony gets caught drunk as a skunk, she’s probably going back to jail. One drink, though, is probably ok.

Anthony must also look for work or enroll in school, but corrections officials acknowledge either could be difficult given her notoriety.

The probation officer laid out for her, in detail, the conditions of the court,” Plessinger said. “She understood those conditions. She told the probation officer that she intended to do well on probation. She was polite and cooperative.”

The Department of Corrections says Anthony is being treated like every other probationer, but they do acknowledge that because of threats, they are providing an unspecified level of security while she is under their supervision.

Anthony spent just over an hour with her probation officer.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Recession Recovery

August 25th, 2011 by flanews

A study of the past two US recessions indicates Florida’s job market may start making significant gains. Florida TaxWatch studied the 1990 and 2001 recessions and as Whitney Ray tells us, the research group says if history is any indicator… Florida’s job market is about to see a small resurgence.

Susan Frisbee is soldering a stained glass window for a customer’s front door.

Since the depths of the Great Recession, Susan’s business has seen a slow snap back. People are spending more in her gift shop… and custom orders are on the rise.

“I’ doing a lot of customer work, which are higher ticket price items and average 30 to 40 dollars items. Last year it was 20 to 30 dollars items, so it’s improving some,” said Susan.

The rebound is slow and Susan has had to make sacrifices to keep her business afloat, but there are signs the worst may be behind her. Tourism statewide is up seven percent.

Home sales are up 12 percent of the past 12 months and prices are stabilizing.

Florida TaxWatch released a study tracking job growth in the third year of the past two recessions and claiming the 3rd year’s the charm.

“The first two years there was slower recovery and the third year we saw most of the job recovery,” said Weissert.

Rob Weissert, Vice President for Research at Florida TaxWatch says if the past is any indicator Florida can expect to add 150-thousand jobs over the next 12 months.

“You may see things like retail, tourism will help lead the way, business services even construction will return because of some of the foreclosure and commercial market,” said Weissert.

TaxWatch is predicting a two percent growth in the job market, past recession saw a job growth of four percent, but the restructuring of the nations economy is expected to slow down the snap back.

Posted in Economy, State News | No Comments »

Drug testing Welfare Recipients

August 24th, 2011 by flanews

A new state law, passed with only anecdotal evidence and no hard facts, isn’t saving the state as much money as expected. In July the state began drug testing welfare recipients and cutting off benefits to people who fail the test. The problem, not many people are failing the test, which as Whitney Ray tells us, is whittling away the money the state expected to save by kicking drug users off welfare.

About a thousand Floridians who receive temporary cash assistance have been drug tested since July. A little more than twenty failed, far fewer than expected.

The Department of Children and Families says it’s too early to tell if the 2.5 percent failure rate will hold steady. Some recipients are appealing the results.

“As far as people testing positive, just because you do test positive there is still an appeals process here and that’s why the numbers are still fluid,” said DCF Spokesman Joe Follick.

But even if the rate doubles it will still be well below the eight percent drug use rate of the general public.

Some lawmakers who voted for the new drug testing law told stories of drug addicted welfare recipients, but when pushed for proof, the couldn’t produce any statistics.

Karen Woodall, the director of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy says the law picks on the poor.

“There was never any actually evidence presented,” said Woodall.

91-thousand Floridians are on temporary cash assistance. Many of them are kids. Only the head of the household is tested. Recipients who fail, lose benefits for a year and the state suggests drug treatment programs, but doesn’t help with the cost.

“If there’s no money to help pay, people who are qualifying for the TANF program do not have the money to get that help,” said Woodall.

The average pay out is 240 dollars a month. The state picks up the tab for people who pass the test and spends extra time and staff reviewing the results. It’s unclear at this point if the new law will save the state any money in the long run.
Sources tell us, a suit against the state to block the testing will be filed soon.

Posted in Children, Legislature, State News | 3 Comments »

Blackwater Prison Investigation

August 24th, 2011 by flanews

New details tonight about a story we broke back in April of 2010.

That’s when we first learned the FBI was asking questions about a state budget deal with GEO Group, a private prison corporation. Now the feds are taking action, seizing a government computer in Santa Rosa County where GEO runs the Backwater prison. Matt Puckett, a spokesman with the Florida Police Benevolent Association says the 140 million taxpayer dollars spent on the private prison wasn’t vetted by the public and was put in the budget in the 11th hour.

“This thing was given away in a 72 hour period really. We think it stinks, we’ve always though it stinks and we hope maybe we can put this thing to rest,” said Puckett.

The FBI rarely talks about its investigations, so it’s hard to know exactly who is the subject of their inquiries. Former House Speaker Ray Sansom is a possible target, because he is responsible for putting the money for the prison into the state budget in 2008.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, Sansom, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Water Management District Cutting Budgets

August 24th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers and the Governor took away the five water management districts ability to set their own budgets, forcing them to cut 210 million in taxing authority and have their budgets approved at the Capitol. Today, those budgets got their first approval, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, environmentalists believe massive cuts could end up hurting the water that comes out of the tap.

Water managers across Florida are putting their best face forward on budget cuts totaling seven hundred million dollars. The cuts include a 210 million dollar reduction in property taxes.

For the first time, those budgets must be approved by the state. The approval came Wednesday.

Gone are land acquisitions and hundreds of employees.

“Downsizing an organization is never easy, because these are our friends, these are our colleagues,” Herschel Vineyard, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, said.

Afterward, District managers reiterated they could do the job with far fewer dollars.

“We can no longer be the agency that everyone turns to, to say, this is a pet project that we want done–fund it,” Melissa Meeker with the South Florida Water Management District said. “Historically, we had the funding to do that.”

“I don’t see where we are at all neglecting the environmental side,” Hugh Gramling, with the Southwest Florida Water Management District said. “We’re picking and choosing because of a limited budget.”

But water shortages and restrictions are already in effect across the entire peninsula of Florida.

With water supplies already slim, environmentalists worry that these budget cuts will start impacting what comes out of the tap.

“I hope the voters look past the political promises of this 700 million dollar budget savings and ask the question, which is, in a couple of years, is my water going to be clean? Am I actually going to have water when I turn on my tap?” Eric Draper, Executive Director of Audubon of Florida said.

In addition to the 210-million-dollar saving, water managers are also forgoing 500 million in water improvement projects.

While the Governor has signed off on the budgets, state lawmakers also must give their approval and districts could see further cuts.

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

FDLE Investigates Missing Emails

August 23rd, 2011 by flanews

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is searching for emails deleted during Rick Scott’s transition from politician to governor. State law requires the emails to be stored and made available to the public upon request. Scott asked FDLE to find out what happened and if the missing emails can be retrieved, but as Whitney Ray tells, some say the legislature, not FDLE should head up the investigation.

Governor Rick Scott wasn’t in office a full month before he began butting heads with journalists over public records. From the moment Scott took office he was flooded with requests for interviews, salary information of new staff and emails from elected officials.

Now, eight months after requests were made for emails sent and received during Scott’s transition to office, the public is learning what they records weren’t immediately available.

The company responsible for the transition team’s emails deleted the accounts in mid-January. Most of the emails were recovered, but no one knows how many are still missing.

Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find out. But since the governor and state cabinet are responsible for appointing the department’s director, Florida Democrats are asking the legislature to take over the investigation.

“What’s not fair is to take FDLE and put them in the spot of asking them to investigate their boss. That doesn’t look like an investigation, that looks like a clearance, and you don’t want that,” said Rod Smith, the Chairman of the state Democratic Party.

First Amendment advocates say the missing records raise a lot of concerns, and fear the more information that is kept from the public, the more endangered our constitutional freedoms become. We asked for oncamera interviews with FDLE and the Attorney General’s office about the investigation, both declined.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, Rick Scott, State News | No Comments »

Gulf Power Rate Hike

August 23rd, 2011 by flanews

Gulf Power customers will see an average increase of four dollars and fifty cents on their next electric bills. Today the Public Service Commissioner approved a 40 million dollar interim increase for the Pensacola based electric company. The increase is part of a 95 million dollar rate hike request made by Gulf Power. JR Kelley is head of the Office of Public Counsel and says if the PSC grants the utility company a rate hike bills will go up an average of 12 dollars.

“It’s been reported that it’s only a 10 percent increase, but that’s not true. It’s more like a 23, 24 percent increase on base rates because the total rate a customer pays has several different components,” said Kelly.

The interim increase isn’t permanent yet. The PSC will hear the Gulf Power Case in mid-December. If the commission decides no increase is warranted the utility will be ordered to refund the money.

Posted in Economy, State News | No Comments »

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