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Energy Policy Could Mean Jobs

October 31st, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Out of date twentieth-century regulations are hampering job creation in the renewable energy market according top participants at last weeks energy summit in Orlando. A major push by the states retailers to be energy independent is being stopped by large power companies. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, no coherent policy is on the horizon.

Most of the states large retailers want to install solar on their roof tops, then sell the excess power to other stores in the strip mall. But state law says no. Participants at an energy summit in Orlando say it is this kind of regulation that is hampering job growth.

We ought to consider developing ways for entrepreneurs to participate in power generation in ways that dont put reliability at stake,” Tom Larson with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said.

The energy summit was called by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. He says the state legislature has been better at killing an energy policy than passing one.

The state of Florida is well positioned to produce more renewable energy, whether its from the sun, or from biomass,” Putnam said.

But Floridas potential is being stymied by regulations and election year politics.

Rep. Scott Plakon is the fourth chair of the House Energy Committee in four years.

We should try to look for solutions that go beyond the next election cycle or two and try to look to do things that affect generations,” Plakon (R-Longwood) said.

With no policy, Florida has no renewable goals, and burns more gas than 47 other states, sending billions to other states and foreign countries.

We could keep a lot of that money circulating in Florida, providing jobs,” Larson said.

And renewable advocates arent asking for incentives. What they say they need is a free market environment that will let them compete. But competition is something opposed by large power providers.

In Europe, the country of Greece is embarking on a major solar effort as a way to provide jobs and erase the nations huge debt. And in California, where energy standards will require a portion of all energy to be from renewables, more than a half dozen major solar projects are underway.

Posted in Business, Energy, Environment, Gas Prices, Legislature, State News | 6 Comments »

Primary Ballot Set

October 31st, 2011 by flanews

Interested in running for president? Well its too late to get your name on Floridas primary ballot. The deadline was 5:00 today. Now the pool of GOP candidates is set and Whitney Ray tells us who many our state political leaders are backing.

Republicans are divided over who to nominate for president. Herman Cain won an Iowa poll over the weekend, besting Mitt Romney by one. But in Florida, some polls give Romney a double digit lead.

After a trip to the state capital in early October, 22 state house members endorsed Romney, going against their Speaker who is supporting Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Governor Rick Scott hasnt endorsed, but talks often of Perrys record on jobs. Herman Cain won Floridas Presidency 5 poll in September and picked up the endorsement of Representative Scott Plakon.

When I met Herman Cain at P5 what I met was a natural leader. He makes you feel good about the future of the country, makes you believe that you can succeed, said Plakon.

Monday was the deadline to get on the primary ballot in Florida, so for voters in the sunshine state their choices are set.

Florida votes January 31st, After Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. While the governor and Attorney General are holding out on primary endorsements, Floridas Agriculture Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer have both endorsed Romney and joined his Florida campaign team.

Posted in Elections, Politics | No Comments »

Unemployment Compensation Fraud

October 28th, 2011 by flanews

The state is losing millions of dollars a month to people lying about their unemployment status. Six-hundred people have been arrested in Florida this year for unemployment compensation fraud. As Whitney Ray tells us, the state if ramping up efforts to catch the crooks and once they do theyre plastering their pictures online.

These are the faces of people convicted of stealing tax dollars. Some of them lied about their employment status to receive state benefits. Others simply withheld information about why the lost their job.

They all found themselves behind bars convicted of Unemployment Compensation Fraud. The crime is a 3rd degree felony and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison plus a five thousand dollar fine.

The state is posting these pictures online in an attempt to scary off copycats.

The mug shot gallery went up earlier this month after Governor Rick Scott merged the unemployment office with other jobs agencies to form the new Department of Economic Opportunity; the mission more accountability and more jobs.

Scott says the pictures are part of those increased accountability efforts.

We cant have anybody abusing the system, because all of that abuse, you as a taxpayer pay for it, said Scott.

Last year the state discovered 32 million dollars in unemployment fraud. So far this year criminals have stolen more than 26 million, but the state is getting better at catching the fraudsters.

If you are considering committing unemployment compensation fraud, dont do it. You can go to prison. It is a felony. You can be fined thousands of dollars and it can ruin your life, said DEO Spokesman Robby Cunningham.

While the total dollars stolen is on pace to surpass last years losses, the good news is arrests are up. So far this year 600 people have been arrested. The state has 75 investigators through out the state searching for people ripping off the system and changes to the filing process are making it harder for people to steal.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 24 Comments »

Florida 45th Lowest Tuition

October 28th, 2011 by flanews

Florida is climbing the ladder on the price scale of college tuition.

Tuition in Florida has risen from 48th lowest in the nation to 45th, according to the Trends in College Pricing report released this week. Tuition went up 12 percent on average in Florida this year to 56-hundred dollars. The national average rose eight percent to more than 8-thousand dollars. FSU sophomore Laurel Johnson is immune to the increases. She has a Florida Prepaid College Plan.

Its ridiculous how grateful I am for that, that my parents did that when I was three. So Ive had that money for a long time and I hardly have to worry about anything. I am so grateful I am for that, said Laurel Johnson.

As for the price of those prepaid plans. Theyre going up too. The average cost rose 4-thousand dollars this year to more than 49-thousand, but experts still expect major savings for families that buy now. The University Systems Board of Governors is circulating the report. We asked for an on camera interview about the rising cost. Our request was denied.

Florida 45th Lowest Tuition:
Tuition Up 11.8% in 2011
Average Cost $5,636
National Average $8,244
***Source Trends in College Pricing Report

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

Caution: Red Light Report

October 28th, 2011 by flanews

A warning tonight from a consumer advocacy group about red light cameras.

Florida PIRG released a report cautioning policymakers about getting too close with camera vendors. The report claims some cities are locked into contracts that force them to share profits, meet quotas, and ticket people turning right on red. None of the cities featured in the report are in Florida, but consumer advocates say the temptation to generate cash instead of improving safety are there. To avoid this, Florida PIRG is calling on local government to make their relationship with red light camera companies more transparent.

Posted in Health, State News, Tourism | No Comments »

Energy Policy Lacking

October 27th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

January will mark the fourth legislative session in a row that a new energy chairman has been named. State policy makers attending an energy summit in Orlando say lawmakers are better at killing energy bills than passing them, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the lack of an energy policy is costing Floridians money and jobs.

The majority of Floridas power comes from natural gas or coal…Just two percent from truly renewable sources. That lack of diversity is upsetting to many of the more than 500 people attending this three day energy summit in Orlando.

The big power companies are here, pushing for more nuclear. The Public Service Commission this week authorized them to collect almost 300 million dollars next year in pre-construction fees. But when it comes to an energy policy and the state legislature, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has a salient observation:

The last several legislative sessions have proven that we can kill an energy bill, says Putnam, the new head of the State Energy Office.

Putnam is hosting the summit. He told the audience if something is working, Florida should be doing more of it. If these incentives were a good idea five years ago, and stimulated growth in renewables, and now they are finally ready to go buy the equipment, to get the credit or get the exemption, lets extend it.

Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah says the lack of a policy and incentives is holding Florida back. The state can no longer back peddle, we have got to be able to move forward, recognizing we can provide up to forty or fifty percent renewable energy if we get serious about doing so, says Judah

But because there is no policy, Florida is moving in the opposite direction. Power generation from Natural gas is expected to climb from 50 percent to 70 percent in the coming decades.

More than 88 hundred people received solar rebates this past month. The rebates date back to 2009. Most recipients got just over half of what they were originally promised when they submitted applications. The state currently has no renewable rebates or goals for future renewable production.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

10 People in 10 years Arrested for Illegal Recordings

October 27th, 2011 by flanews

A secret audio recording captured inside the state capitol has a former spokesperson for the Lt. Governor in legal trouble. Carletha Cole was arrested and charged with a third degree felony earlier this week. As Whitney Ray tells us, Cole is just the 10th person in Florida in the past 10 years to be arrested for making an illegal recording and many people dont even know its a crime.

Its all laughs and smiles now, but two months ago Jaquan Reliford committed a felony and his friend Patrick Bailey was his victim.

I was just laying down, watching a few videos, Im singing for a few seconds. Probably like 30 seconds, said Patrick.

I pulled my phone out and I just was looking through my phone and I was like, Im going to record him, said Jaquan.

It wasnt the singing that was the crime, but the fact that Jaquan recorded it without Patrick knowing. The two college freshman joke about the incident, but in Florida secret audio recording are a felony.

This recording captured at the state capitol over the summer has Carletha Cole facing criminal charges.

Cole is a former Spokeswoman for the Lt. Governor. Police say she recorded the conversation with another staff member without his knowledge. State Attorney Willie Meggs is prosecuting Cole.

This was a conversation between two individuals much like you and I are having right now, the only difference is I know you have a microphone I know you are recording this, said Meggs.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement just 10 people have been arrested for making illegal recordings since 2001. But its only a crime if you get caught and the victim is willing to press charges.

While audio recordings are illegal video recording in public places or surveillance cameras on private property are legal. Hidden cameras set up to capture people in private situation are illegal under state voyeurism laws.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 4 Comments »

ACLU, FEA Challenges Lawmakers Over Ballot Measure

October 27th, 2011 by flanews

The ACLU and public school teachers are in court challenging lawmakers over plans to allow tax dollars to go to religious institutions. Last session lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment for the 2012 ballot that would allow the state to give money to religious businesses, charities and schools. At three oclock a Leon County Judge began hearing the case. ACLU Legal Director Randall Marshall says the change would be bad for the state and churches, because it would encourage religious institutions to begin lobbying.

It could present interference with the ability of a church to do what it wants to do according to its religious tenants and beliefs, said Marshall.

The Florida Education Association says if the legislature wins and the voters approve the change, money would begin flowing to religious schools at the expense of public schools.

Posted in Amendments, Civil Rights, Education, Religion, State News | 1 Comment »

Record Number of Voters Support Gun Rights

October 27th, 2011 by flanews

Support for the Second Amendment of the US Constitution is at a 50 year high. A Gallop poll released earlier this week shows 73 percent of US voters think government should not ban handguns. Just 26 percent of people polled support a ban. Former NRA president Marion Hammer says support for the second amendment has been growing because people are becoming more informed about the constitution and the government.

They know that law-abiding people arent going to commit crimes and so just stop these silly gun control laws. I think thats what its really about, said Hammer.

The first time Gallup polled a ban on handguns was in 1959, at that time 60 percent of people favored a ban.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Rubio Answers Questons About Family History

October 27th, 2011 by flanews

US Senator Marco Rubio is back in Florida for the first time since he began taking heat over his family history. A Rubio website had claimed his parents fled Cuba to escape Fidel Castros regime. Now reports are surfacing that his family left for economic reasons years before Castro took power. Rubio says its all being blown out of proportion.

My parents came to this country because they were looking for a better life, but they always hoped they could return to their country, they tried but for obvious reasons they couldnt and didnt. So I would just say this about he whole thing. Ive run on a couple of things but being perfect isnt one of those things, said Rubio.

Rubio says his story remains the same regardless of when his parents left and whether it was to escape communism or harsh economic times.

Posted in Politics, State News | 1 Comment »

Gaming Expansion and Seminole Compact

October 26th, 2011 by flanews

Legislation to allow Vegas-Style resorts in South Florida has been filed in Tallahassee. The bill is a gamble for state lawmakers because expanding gaming as, Whitney Ray tells us, could mean all bets are off with the Seminal Tribe which pays the state 150 million dollars a year for exclusive rights to some games.

This 140 page bill lays out strict guidelines for casino companies looking to roll the dice in Florida. The legislation would allow three Casinos to open Vegas-style resorts in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

One company, Genting Malaysia is already betting it will pass buying land in Miami and designing this resort. But Genting isnt the only player with money in the middle. Stakes are also high for the state.

In 2010, a compact spearheaded by former Governor Charlie Crist gave the Seminole Tribe exclusive rights to Blackjack and other Class III games. In exchange the Seminole tribe is giving Florida a billion dollars in installments through 2015.

If the bill is passed and the gaming resorts are only approved for Broward and Miami-Dade County the tribe might scale back its contribution, but if casinos are allowed in other parts of the state the compact if void.

Broward and Miami-Dade already allowed Vegas-style slots when the compact was signed so an expansion there may not be a complete violation the agreement.

But even if the tribe stops paying the state the new resorts might offset some of the lost revenue. The legislation requires a 50 million dollar application fee and a two billion dollar investment, plus jobs.

Each location will have between five and seven-thousand permanent jobs, said Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Dennis Jones.

The legislation limits the space the casino resorts can use for gaming. Only 10 percent of the resort can host games, the rest will be dedicated to hotel rooms and convention space. The Senate President has already promised an up or down vote on the issue in his chamber. The legislation will be a harder sell in the House.

Posted in Gambling, State News | 1 Comment »

Health Care Savings

October 26th, 2011 by flanews

The Affordable Care Act being challenged in federal court by the state could save Florida families an average of 15-hundred dollars a year.

That is, if its not defeated in court and if a report conducted by an MIT economist proves true. The report was released yesterday by Families USA, a supporter of the new health care law. It says by 2019, the average cost of health care will go down because more people will have insurance. Karen Woodall, with the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy says the biggest savers will be lower-middle class families.

Households with incomes below 100-thousand dollars are going to be the biggest beneficiaries and thats not just people who are uninsured, thats people are paying premiums, said Woodall.

Opponents of the law say its unconstitutional because it forces people to buy health insurance. They also argue the new regulations will cost small businesses more money.

Posted in Health, Insurance, State News | No Comments »

Illegal Recording

October 26th, 2011 by flanews

A former member of Lt. Governor Jennifer Carrolls communications team is being charged with a felony for illegally recording a conversation in the state capitol. Carletha Cole, a former spokeswoman for Carroll turned herself in Tuesday. Her charges stem from an audio recording of a conversation between Cole and Carrolls chief of staff. State Attorney Willie Meggs is reviewing the case.

They were two people having a conversation, one knows they are recording it, the other one does not and when you find out youve been recorded secretly and you report it thats a crime, said Meggs

In the recording the chief of staff can be heard saying in a whisper that Governor Rick Scott isnt leading.

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

Pension Fight Gets Day in Court

October 26th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

In July, more than a half million workers in the state retirement system were forced to start contributing three percent of their salaries. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, more than a billion dollars a year in state spendingis at stake in a legal fight over whether state lawmakers can make a change to the Florida Retirement System.

Deborah Hogan sat in the court room’s front row. She is a health department nurse from West Palm Beach, and says she accepted a lower salary because of the retirement benefits. Now shes one of the people suing the state to keep from paying three percent of her salary toward that retirement.

That three percent, out of an already lower salary, is an impact, Hogan said. It is a pay decrease. And again, it affects our pension, our retirement.

Lawyers for the employees hang their case on a 1974 statute that says that fully paid pension are part of the employment contract and cant be changed.

Your Honor, that’s what we have here, Florida Education Association Attorney Ron Meyer said. We have a contract that the legislature made and the legislature now can’t simply get out of by saying, well we don’t have to fund it.

Staff lawyers for Rick Scott also watched from the front row as well, while outside counsel making five hundred dollars an hour argued the state’s case.

In the end, Scotts lawyers cited a Florida Supreme Court Case saying that earned benefits are earned, but future benefits are not.

It happens only in the future, it impacts only the benefits that are earned in the future, Attorney Doug Hinson said. It does not take away a dime from what the employees have earned.

The employees who pass through these doors to the state capitol, will have to keep paying the three percent for the foreseeable future. That’s because this decision isn’t going to be made at the circuit court, but over here at Florida’s Supreme Court.

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

Welfare Drug Testing Ends

October 25th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

A day after a Federal judge stopped the state from drug testing welfare recipients, the state says it is unsure if the small number of people who tested positive, mostly for marijuana, will be allowed to receive benefits. In the end, it appears the state got little for its efforts.

Michelle Hill has a lot in common with applicants for public assistance. I dont do no kind of drugs. I am drug free, she tells us. So are most other applicants for help.

After three months and more than 7 thousand drug tests, just 32 applicants tested positive. An Orlando single father of a four year old refused the test and the ACLU sued.

The Federal court told the state to stop testing immediately. It has. ALCU Advisor Richard Benham is thaankful for the court decision. I think it is important for people to know that their constitutionally protected rights under the fourth amendment, to be free from unreasonable searches, they dont give those up just because their avail themselves of a government benefit.

In addition to those who took the test, About 1600 others have completed everything but the drug test. They are now eligible to reapply. Behind non-discript doors in Tallahassee is the states child abuse hotline. The law allows cases to be reported here, and for police to access the files.

Department of Children and Families Communications Director says no cases were referred to police. f someone did test positive, we would have someone from the Department or one of our community partners, visit that family, not with law enforcement or in an investgatory way, and just say , hey, if you need some help, heres some things you can do here, because we want families to succeed, says Follick.

Even the legislatures own staff predicted the court outcome in its analysis before the legislation passed and took effect in July. So far the state has spent about two hundred thousand dollars reimbursing applicants who tested negative.

The courts order was temporary but based on the likely hood the final decision would be the same. The state says it is reviewing its legal options.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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