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Employees, Employers and the Unemployed Face Changes in 2012

December 30th, 2011 by flanews

Employees, employers and the unemployed will all face changes in 2012. Business owners will pay higher taxes, minimum wage workers will get a raise and jobseekers will claim fewer weeks of unemployment benefits. As Whitney Ray tells us, some of these changes are being fought.

On the first day of the 2010 legislative session business owners defeated a 64 dollar unemployment tax increase. The tax is scheduled to go up a 100 bucks next year from 70 dollars an employee to 170. The Florida Chamber of Commerce is asking lawmakers to intervene.

“Collectively, if nothing is done this legislative session, the combined rate goes up 817 million dollars on employers,” said David Hart, a spokesman with the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Business owners will also be forced to give pay raises. The minimum wage will jump 36 cents an hour in 2012. Meaning Florida’s lowest paid workers will earn 7.67 an hour. Employers say individually the changes are a headache, but when added to the thousands of new federal regulations they put jobs on the line.

“As small businesses have to pay for these types of thing, it’s going to create more hardship for them and therefore they are going to have to reduce their number of employees,” said Uniform Shop owner Cal Gleaton.

While business owners will struggle to comply with new state and federal laws, employees who lose their job next year will get less help from the government. The number of weeks a Floridian can claim unemployment will drop from 26 to 23.

“Purely from a fiscal standpoint it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Karen Woodall, with the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.

Opponents of the cuts say the change will take money out of the economy. They’re preparing to stop more cuts to the unemployment program in the 2012 legislative session. The reason unemployment taxes are increasing and benefits are being cut is because the state barrowed 2.7 billion dollars to pay unemployment claims. The changes are being made to pay back the loan from the federal government.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Gym Membership Tips

December 29th, 2011 by flanews

The Department of Consumer Services is offering tips to people who have weight loss on their list of New Years Resolutions. The department is encouraging people to do their research before joining a gym. And as Whitney Ray tells us, they’ve set up a hotline for people to find out if the gym has had complaints filed against it.

These fitness enthusiasts aren’t waiting for the ball to drop to get in shape. They’re sweating it out at Good Friends Fitness Group, a Tallahassee fitness boutique, started by Allie Fleming two years ago.

“You are getting a more specialized service; smaller classes more one on one instruction,” said Fleming.

New Years is the Black Friday of the fitness world. Many people looking to live healthier in 2012 will join a gym next week, and the Department of Consumer Services wants to make sure they’re informed.

The Department has set up a hotline for people to call for tips about how to find the right health club and to find out which gyms have received consumer complaints.

They’ve also set up a website with tips. It suggests visiting the gym during the time you plan to workout, and don’t sign a contract on your first visit.

“It’s important to make sure you are confident with your decision, not only so that you know what you are signing because it is a contract, but also so that you know that the heal studio has the amenities you are looking for,” said Sarah Criser, a spokeswoman with the Department Consumer Services.

It’s also a good idea to check out the qualifications of the staff and trainers.

“Good Friends Group Fitness makes sure all of our trainers are not only certified in what they are training, they has CPR certification, and they have some sort of AFAA certification so they can teach a group fitness class,” said Fleming.

This gym offers several types of memberships and contract lengths. Consumers are encouraged to explore their options to find the best fit for their fitness plan. The number to the hotline is 1 800 HELP FLA (435-7352). And the website is www.800helpfla.com/pdfs/brochures/healthstudio.pdf.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Red Light Camera Repeal Filed

December 29th, 2011 by flanews

Lawmakers will consider banning red-light cameras when they meet in January for the 2012 legislative session. A repeal bill was filed Tuesday. As Whitney Ray tells us, the cameras were first approved by the state in 2010 and since then, opposition to the devices has been growing.

It took Melissa Wandall five years to convince the legislature to approve red light cameras. Her journey began after her husband was killed by a red light runner.

“I promised my husband that I would take care of my family and that I would make a reason for what happened that night at the intersection,” said Wandall in April of 2010, just days before the legislature approved red-light cameras.

A few months after the bill became law, angry drivers began complaining the devices were ripping them off. Reports of cities shortening yellow lights to catch drivers and tickets being issued to people who weren’t behind the wheel, made it to lawmakers.

Less than a year after the bill passed, a repeal bill was filed. The legislation passed the House on a narrow vote late in the 2011 legislative session. But it died in the Senate.

“We had support in the House for that measure and I think we will have support again in the House for that measure,” said Representative Richard Corcoran in an October interview.

Corcoran spearheaded the repeal efforts. Now the torch has been handed to Representative Scott Plakon. Plakon filed a new repeal bill Tuesday. Besides legislative efforts, some city and county governments are taking a stand against the cameras. Manatee County has temporarily pulled the plug on its red-light cameras and Gainesville decided earlier this month not to install the devices.

Posted in Legislature, State News, Transportation | 1 Comment »

Taking Pictures in Public is Protected

December 28th, 2011 by flanews

If you received a digital camera as a present this holiday season, the ACLU wants you to know your rights. The civil liberties group says the number of people being arrested taking pictures and shooting video in public is growing, even though most photography is constitutionally protected. As Whitney Ray tells us, the group is issuing a pamphlet informing photographers of their rights.

Search “police assault photographers” on Youtube and a barrage of videos appear with cops smacking cameras, tackling photographers, and making arrests that many times are later deem unwarranted.

The US Supreme Court ruled, taking picture or capturing video in public is protected by the first amendment, but you might not know it looking at these videos.

To inform photographers of their rights The ACLU is issuing pamphlets listing photographer’s liberties.

“Taking a picture of a public official or a police officer is protected by the first amendment,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.

There are exceptions. A photographer can’t trespass to capture video and if police designate an area a crime scene and put up tape they can force a photographer behind the tape, but they can’t make the photographer stop rolling.

They also can’t take the camera.

“Under no circumstances without a warrant can a police officer seize a videotape camera, destroy photos, or destroy the video tape,” said Simon.

Having a camera doesn’t give people extra rights. If a photographer sticks a camera in an officers face and the action posses a physical threat charges could follow. The ACLU advises people not to fight with police. They say if stopped for taking pictures simply ask if you are free to go. If the officer says no…. the ACLU says politely remind the officer that photography is constitutionally protected.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 2 Comments »

Florida Hate Crimes

December 28th, 2011 by flanews

Violence against Floridians because of their race, religion or sexual orientation has dropped dramatically since the state began keeping hate crime statistics.

2010 numbers released this week show 149 hate crimes statewide. When the state first began taking record in the 90’s there were more than 300 a year. Jennifer Meale a spokeswoman with the Attorney General’s office says raising awareness of the crimes helps deter them.

“We believe that by understanding the prevalence of hate crimes in Florida we can help raise awareness and encourage Floridians to report hate crimes to local law enforcement agencies,” said Meale.

Of the hate crimes reported in 2010… About half the victims were targeted because of their race, 20 percent because of their religion and 20 percent because of their sexual orientation.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Absentee Ballots in the Mail

December 27th, 2011 by flanews

Thousands of absentee ballots for the January 31st Republican Primary are being mailed today. Ballots for overseas Florida voters went out earlier this month. An estimated 370-thousand people will vote absentee in Florida. Which means, as Whitney Ray tells us, GOP candidates must keep an eye on Florida even as they ramp up efforts in states voting earlier.

With Ron Paul leading in the polls in Iowa and other GOP candidates fueling up for bus tours in the Hawkeye state, Florida’s January 31st primary seems far away.

But starting Tuesday, the first of more than an estimated 370-thousand absentee ballots were mailed. Overseas ballots went out even earlier. Chris Cate, Spokesman for the Florida Division of Elections, says even though the state technically votes fourth, absentee ballots are already being filled out.

“If you don’t have a request in yet, you still have time to do so. You can actually request an absentee ballot all the way up through Election Day,” said Cate.

This means multi-tasking for GOP candidates. They have to keep an eye on Florida even while they’re stumping in states voting earlier.

It’s an obstacle Herman Cain doesn’t have to worry about. Cain suspended his campaign, but his name will still appear on the ballot. So will Gary Johnson. The former New Mexico governor is leaving the primary to run as a Libertarian.

“We have nine eligible candidates on the Republican ballot and that does include Herman Cain and Gary Johnson,” said Cate.

Their votes will be counted, but neither candidate is expected to get much support in Florida. Voters can request an absentee ballot either by phone or online from the supervisor of elections in the county where they are registered. The ballots must be received by the supervisor on or before January 31st.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News, Voting | 1 Comment »

Slots Votes Raising Questions

December 22nd, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Three Florida counties, two in rural North Florida, and populous Palm beach County have all scheduled referendums to authorize slot machines. Gadsden and Washington Counties will vote on slots in January. Palm Beach in November. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Governor Rick Scott wants lawmakers to step in and neutralize the votes.

This barrel racing track 25 miles west of the state Capitol is raising eyebrows in Tallahassee. Some are questioning whether it can legally run as a quarter horse track, but so far it has won every legal challenge. Now the track is betting on a January 31st vote to authorize slot machines. The mayor of nearby Gretna says a yes vote is a vote for jobs.

It’s going to be a huge job creator for us, it’s going to be a huge revenue creator for us,” Gretna Mayor Clarence Jackson said. “And what I have on my mind is roads and infrastructure.”

Three counties have already voted to put a slots referendum on the ballot next year. Washington County, just north of Panama City, will also vote January 31st. And Palm Beach will vote next November on whether to put slots at two facilities there.

All of the votes raise big questions about expanding gambling.

On one hand, the 2010 law authorizing the compact with the Seminole Indians seems to say that voters can authorize slots in any county. But others are saying not so fast.

Their authority to issue licenses, slot licenses, is still limited to Dade Broward,” attorney Jack Skelding said.

At stake in the votes could be a billion dollars paid over five years by the Seminole Indians for exclusive rights to slots machines outside of South Florida, and that says Governor Rick Scott, is reason enough for lawmakers to act before the January 31st votes to clarify what he is calling a gray area of the gambling law.

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

Rick Scott’s First Year Comes to a Close

December 21st, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Today is Governor Rick Scott’s three hundred fifty-first day in office. It was also his last day at the state Capitol until the new year. The Governor spent the day meeting with the Capitol Press Corps, including our Mike Vasilinda.

Governor Rick Scott was sworn in on January 4th. Since then he has canceled billions in high speed rail contracts, sparred with unions over pensions, fought with teachers over tenure, overseen two executions, and much, much more. We sat down with the Governor and asked about his first year in office.

Well, it’s fast,” Scott said. “There’s never been a dull moment since I came into office. It’s just a whirlwind.”

By the end of his first one hundred days, his approval ratings, which were never high, were plummeting.

Wednesday is the Governor’s three hundred fifty-first day in office. He describes those days as a learning curve and an evolution.

It’s all just an evolution of learning the job,” he said. “Because when you come into this, it’s pretty broad, the issues you’re dealing with.”

In late summer, Scott shook up his staff, brought in outsiders to help his crew of Tallahassee newcomers. On his last day before the holidays, Scott was sitting down with 16 different news agencies to talk about the first year and going forward.

Scott became a grandfather in November. We asked how that might change his style of governing.

It just reinforces why I ran. I ran because I care about people,” Scott said.

Scott’s approval ratings are still as low as ever. He attributes it to the fear of change…and he reminds himself that he’s got an agenda and to keep on following it.

Posted in Rick Scott, State News | No Comments »

Middle School P.E. in Legislative Bullseye

December 20th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Middle School students in Florida must take a required three hours of physical education each week. The requirement was put into law to combat obesity, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, tight budgets have some lawmakers looking at ending required PE.

This middle school P.E. class has been keeping track of what they had to eat and any exercise they did outside of class for the last week. Coach Dickie Hosford says it is a way to make kids think twice about their lifestyle.

They put down their meals, they’re supposed to put down how many calories they were,” Hosford said. “We’re showing them nutrition facts, how to find it, where to find it.”

Since 2008, middle schoolers in Florida have been required to take at least one P.E. class a day for half a year. But legislation to end required PE has passed at least one committee.

The legislation’s sponsor says it’s not about whether or not exercise or P.E. is good or bad, but about mandating it during tight budget years.

I don’t think parents get a pass for the health and welfare of their students. I think they’re primarily responsible for that.”

Governor Rick Scott says he hasn’t seen the bill. The Governor says he is skeptical. He works out most mornings before work.

I mean, I like to exercise,” Scott said. “It makes you healthier, it makes you think better. So I think it’s the right thing to do.”

And back at the middle school, Coach Hosford says he has seen PE make a real difference in kids’ lives.

The kids need to learn it early so it becomes a habit,” Hosford said. “If it doesn’t become a habit early on, then we know you develop bad habits.”

This is the second year in a row the legislation to kill required PE has been filed, but it the first time the bill has even gotten a hearing.

The Senate President, whose wife is a physician, has also expressed doubts about ending mandatory physical education.

Posted in Children, Education, Health, Legislature, Rick Scott, State Budget, State News | 2 Comments »

Sex Trafficking on Rise

December 19th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Police officers from around Florida spent the day at the Department of Law Enforcement learning about the latest trends in sex trafficking. Terry Koonan from the FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights says sex trafficking is on the rise and often doesn’t rely on the traditional brothels, but instead on the internet. “Prostitution is a delivery service. We’re actually seeing pimps bring young women out, who often times, the young women owe twenty or thirty or forty thousand dollars for smuggling debts, for having brought them here to Florida” says Koonan.

The day long seminar is designed to give officers insight into how to combat sex trafficking.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

FAMU President Still on the Job

December 19th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Dr. James Ammons remains the President of Florida A & M University tonight as investigations into the death of drum major Robert Champion, one month ago today, continue. Governor Rick Scott had asked school Trustees to suspend Ammons until multiple investigations are complete. The Trustees chose instead to hold weekly meetings for updates on the investigations.

1219-See the Video Here

Robert Champion died one month ago, on November 19, after reportedly being forced to walk a gauntlet of fists on a band bus. The autopsy report released Friday revealed extensive contusions and crushing.

Defense attorneys say they are getting calls from potential defendants in the case. And that as many as 34 students could face charges.

Also on Friday, Governor Rick Scott met with University President James Ammons, urging him to step down temporarily

“I think that it will look better for the president and look better for FAMU,” Scott told reporters before the meeting.

Instead, Ammons put his fate in the hands of Trustees who hired him. Monday morning during a 15-minute telephone discussion, they agreed with Board Chairman Soloman Badger and decided to keep him on the job.

“We will stand firm against outside influence, regardless of how well-intended. Everyone is committed to full cooperation with law enforcement officials,” Badger told those listening in on the phone call.

In a written statement, the Governor said he still believes Ammons should step down, but said he would abide by the decision. Chuck Hobbs, the attorney for suspended Band Director Julian White says he deserves the same courtesy as Ammons.

“I believe that if Dr. Ammons is able to remain on the job, not subject to leave with pay, I believe that Dr. White should be subject to the same privileges” says Hobbs

The university’s Board of Trustees will meet weekly for updates on the Champion death and will review Ammons performance again early next year.

Posted in State News | 15 Comments »

FAMU Supporting Its President

December 16th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida A & M University President James Ammons defended himself to governor Rick Scott in person today. The meeting came one day after Scott called for Ammons to step aside temporarily while authorities investigate hazing and other issues on campus. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the Governor’s request drew fire from students and Alumni.

Just hours after Governor Rick Scott called for FAMU President James Ammons to step aside temporarily, hundreds of students marched on the Governor mansion to make their displeasure known.

“We want to governor to stay out of it, until the investigation is over,” Breyon Love, FAMU Student body president said.

Student Senate President Marissa West is one of the organizers of the protest. She and others say Scott is improperly pressuring university trustees to suspend Ammons.

“It was a pressureful statement,” West said. “For him to say such a thing, it places pressure on the board of trustees without even that  being his intention, it’s automatically a pressure situation.”

The controversy was escalating as parents began arriving for graduation.

Students are expected to continue their show of support for the university president at Friday night’s graduation ceremony.

The graduation ceremony is being held in a building named for former state senator Al Lawson. He is a strong Ammons supporter.

“Support for Ammons is pretty deep, especially among the students, and the alumni, and the community in general,” Lawson said.

Prior to meeting with the embattled university President, Scott said again he thought the Ammons suspension is in best interests of the university.

“And if he has had no involvement, if there’s nothing that he could have done a better job with, he ought to be back there,” Scott said.

FAMU’s trustees have scheduled a meeting Monday. Two weeks ago they voted to reprimand Ammons but not suspend him.

Posted in Education, FAMU, State News | No Comments »

Voter Promoter Program

December 16th, 2011 by flanews

Florida’s Secretary of State has a fix to keep teachers from being penalized for trying to register students to vote. The Voter Promoter Campaign encourages school districts to sign up as third party voter registration organizations, that way districts, not teachers, would face fines if mistakes are made. Secretary of State Kurt Browning says the new law is intended to stop fraud, not punish teachers.

“What we want to do is education our students and our teachers about what the law says so nobody gets caught, and they can still participate by registering to vote and going and casting their ballot,” said Browning.

The program comes after several teachers were caught signing up students to vote without registering with the state. The ACLU, Florida PIRG and the League of Women Voters are also challenging the new registration rules in a lawsuit filed yesterday.

Posted in Elections, State News | No Comments »

Unemployment Tax Increase

December 15th, 2011 by flanews

To help pay back the 2.7 billion dollars the state borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment claims, business taxes will go up. Starting in January the minimum unemployment tax will rise from 72 dollars per employee to 171 dollars. As Whitney Ray tells us, business owners say the increase will stifle economic growth, and they’re asking the governor to freeze the increase.

Freezing the unemployment tax rate isn’t without precedent. At the beginning of 2010 legislative session lawmakers rushed through a bill that postponed an unemployment tax increase for one year.

The New Year will bring the biggest unemployment tax increase in state history for Florida’s businesses already struggling from the recession.

Right now the minimum unemployment tax is 72 dollars per employee. Starting next year the minimum rate rises to 171 dollars.

At Helen’s Uniform Shop in Tallahassee the increase comes as new rules and regulations are making it difficult to grow.

“It could hurt us from a stand point of rather than having three fulltime and three part-time people we may have to scale back a part time person,” said Cal Gleaton.

Owner Cal Gleaton has five employees. The tax increase will cost him an estimated 850 dollars, five hundred dollars more than he pays right now.

The increase will be used to pay back the 2.7 billion dollars the state borrowed to pay unemployment claims. So far a billion has been paid back with interest.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is asking the governor and state legislature to take extra time paying the money back to ease the burden on businesses.

“With over 900-thousand of our fellow Floridians still unemployed, it seems to be a bad time to have our unemployment rates go up dramatically,” said David Hart with the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

If nothing changes business owners will pay an extra 800 million dollars in unemployment taxes next year. That’s money that won’t be spent to create jobs.

Posted in Business, Legislature, State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

FAMU Reputation at Stake

December 15th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida A & M University will graduate just under 650 students on Friday. Their graduation comes at a time when the University is under multiple investigations that began with the hazing death of Drum Major Robert Champion on November 19th. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, s sour mood pervades the campus on the eve of Christmas break.

Governor Rick Scott’s first act after a week long trade mission was to call for the suspension of FAMU president James Ammons.

“I think it will be better for the university. I think it will be better for him,” Scott said. “That he says, look, If I were in his position, I’d say, look, I want a thorough investigation, I want to make sure everyone feels comfortable that I am cooperating, because I want to come back and continue to build the university.”

On campus, 650 students are preparing to graduate this week. Many worry that the prestige of their degrees will suffer because of the investigations.

“I will be a product of FAMU, and a good product of FAMU,” FAMU graduate Vjohnae Milton said.

FAMU’s reputation has been renowned among historically black colleges. That’s why freshman Nicolette Jackson’s father encouraged her to attend. It is a decision she is rethinking.

Reporter: Had all this happened before you came to FAMU, would you have come here?

“Probably not,” Jackson said.

Reporter: Why?

“It’s just a lot for the school’s reputation,” she said.

FAMU’a flag remains at half staff in honor of Robert Champion, the drum Major who died last month after a severe hazing. Earlier this week, three band members were arrested, two of them charged with fracturing the leg of an 18-year-old at a band hazing. Now, the band’s finances are under investigation.

We’ve learned that when investigators started comparing notes, they discovered that there were 225 band students who had made the trip to Orlando, but allegedly, a far greater number were being claimed on expense reports.

FAMU’s board of trustees is scheduled to meet Monday morning.

Suspended Band Director Julian White said through a spokesperson that he was confident an audit of band travel would find no irregularities.

Posted in Education, FAMU, State News | No Comments »

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