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How They Voted, Who They Backed

January 31st, 2012 by flanews

There are just a couple of hours left until the polls close, and all eyes are on Florida. GOP candidates for president dumped more than 20 million dollars here over just the past 10 days. As Whitney Ray tells us, Mitt Romney spent the most and secured dozens of endorsements from high profile Florida leaders but no one could win over Governor Rick Scott.

Governor Rick Scott teased the media Tuesday morning, inviting reporters to watch him vote, then refusing to say who he picked.

It’s a secret ballot, fortunately. He had less than 10 letters in the last name, said Scott.

Scott stood on the sidelines through the entire Florida primary, but members of the state cabinet jumped in the early. All three endorsed Mitt Romney.

Romney has an extraordinary business background that I think best positions him to lead us out of this economic crisis, said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

I firmly believe he is the candidate who can beat Barack Obama, said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Romney and the secret political action committee that supports him dumped 16 million dollars in Florida, turning a deficient in the polls into a huge lead. Newt Gingrich spent four million after winning South Carolina.

Rick Santorum and Ron Paul spent little money here. Before voting began Tuesday morning, polls show them in a virtual tie for third place, with about 11 percent a piece.

College students are rallying behind Paul. They say the party wants Romney, but they wont get him without a fight.

Thats what the establishment wants us to believe, that we only have two choices, and really they are trying to push Romney, so I dont think that is the case, but I think that is what they want us to believe, said Kayla Westbrook, the president of FSU College Republicans.

While Florida is often a kingmaker in national politics and its a winner take all primary, all four candidates are expected to keep campaigning regardless of who wins Tuesdays vote. Romney is expected to get a boost from absentee ballots that were cast before Gingrich surged in South Carolina. 392-thousand registered Republicans voted absentee. In total more than 650-thousand voted early.

Posted in Politics, State News | No Comments »

Private Prisons On Legislative Agenda…Again!

January 31st, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

For the second year in a row, key state lawmakers are on a path to turn 29 state prison facilities over to private contractors. The plan is being criticized because data on potential cost savings is incomplete.

29 prisons in 18 counties across south Florida could be up for bid to a private contractor by summer. As many as four thousand corrections officers could be out of a job, which brought unionized officers like Penny Reeder to Tallahassee in protest.

“To turn us over to the for profit privatization corporations means our communities definitely will not be safe. I beg and plead,” says Reeder, who lives in the prison community of Starke.

The privatization is supposed to save the state at least seven percent, but the only credible study done in the state by Florida State University in 2003 was inconclusive.

Last year, key lawmakers stuffed the prison privatization legislation into the state budget .there was not up or down vote, and a judge told them they couldn’t do that.

Five Private prison companies have given almost a million dollars this election cycle, …the majority to Republicans in control. The legislation was developed in a committee headed by the former Chairman of the Republican Party. Critic Mike Fasano says even after last years court case, the legislation is moving too fast.

“Without having full debate, without having but very little testimony from the public, should concern anyone when you find out where the donations are coming from,”
argues Fasano.

One vote count had the measure failing. That prompted reports of Governor Rick Scott urging Senators to get on board.

“if we do prison privatization, its going to save the state money and we’ll do it the right way, says Scott, who is a fan of private prisons.

If the plan passes, the 4 thousand corrections officers who could be out of a job could move to prisons in other parts of the state…bumping officers with less seniority.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Kids Week in Full Bloom

January 31st, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds if not thousands of brightly colored handprints are handing three stories tall at the state capitol as part of the annual Kids Week. Characters roam the courtyard outside and kids along with their parents have been turned into lobbyists, trying to convince lawmakers to do more. Childrens Campaign activist Roy Miller says Florida kids are ranked 36th nationally in overall health.

Well, there isnt just one thing, but we need to make sure that kids are born healthy because if they dont start down the path of health at childbirth, its an uphill climb. We need to protect them from abuse. We need to make sure they can read, and are ready for school. And when they go down the wrong path, we need to put them on the right path.

The 2011 Kids Count survey says the number of children living in poverty is now twenty-one percent, up two percentage points in a decade.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Large Republican Turnout Expected

January 30th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

More than six hundred thousand Republicans have already cast early or absentee ballots and the GOP is hoping to exceed the 1.9 million Republican voters who cast a ballot in the 2008 Presidential Preference Primary. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, this is also the first election since some changes were made to the law.

Enthusiasm is high for the Republican Presidential Primary. Nat sot of horn.

Kayla Westbrook, who is President of the Young Republicans at FSU, says enthusiasm is high on campus for all the candidates.

Im going to be graduating at the end of the year and Im really concerned about whether I can get a job or just, you know, my future, really, Westbrook said.

More than six hundred thousand Republicans have already cast early or absentee ballots. The GOP says that no matter how you measure it, making the primary the fourth in the nation was a big success.

Florida is everything we thought it would be based on the earlier primary date, Brian Hughes with the Republican Party of Florida said. Number 4 in the order, the first contest to be all Republicans, a closed contests, huge numbers of turnout, maybe 2 million or more people before this is all said and done

This will be the first test of changes made to the voting law last year, and under those changes, college students and anyone else who has moved may not be able to cast a regular ballot.

The change will likely result in more voters being required to cast provisional ballots.

They would then have verification from the former county, the old county, that they had not already cast a ballot, Secretary of State Kurt Browning said.

Even if Republican voters set a primary turnout record, Tuesday should be a tame day compared to four years ago. Thats when Democrats also had a heated primary and Independents were out in force voting on a property tax reduction.

In 2008, just over one point nine million Republicans voted in the Presidential Primary, handing John McCain a come-from-behind victory.

Posted in Elections, Politics, State News, Voting | 11 Comments »

Drug Ban Passes First Committee Test

January 30th, 2012 by flanews

Legislation to close loopholes in a 2011 law to ban synthetic drugs passed its first committee stop this afternoon. Last year lawmakers crafted legislation to ban bath salts and other synthetic drugs, but as Whitney Ray tells us, drug manufactures have slightly altered the chemicals in their products and now lawmakers are back to ban them.

An emergency ban and desperate pleas from law enforcement officers motivated Representative Jimmy Patronis to pass legislation banning synthetic drugs last year.

Legislatively we are doing what we can to make sure these chemical combinations dont kill our youth, said Patronis.

Not long after the ban went in to effect, new drugs began showing up in gas stations and tobacco shops. One of those products, Jazz, a synthetic marijuana compound may have contributed to the death of a Florida teen earlier this month.

By slightly altering the chemicals in their products, drug manufacturers have been able to skirt state law, and legally sell synthetic drugs similar to marijuana and PCP here in Florida. Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, says their office has been working with lawmakers and police on a new ban.

Attorney General Bondi, legislators and law enforcement will continue to monitor how efficient these laws are and anytime a drug manufacturer alters a component and circumvents state law, we are going to be on top of them, said Meale.

Rep. Clay Ingram is sponsoring the bill. It simply adds new chemicals to the list of passed last year.

We tried to find all the possible combinations we think they could come up with chemically and specifically ban those substances, said Ingram.

Lawmakers hope the legislation will eliminate the current group of synthetic drugs. But they know the ban wont stop the manufactures from finding new chemicals to put in the products to get them back in stores.

Posted in Drugs, State News | 1 Comment »

State Wants Bee Regulations Gone

January 27th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida may soon tell local governments that they can no longer place restrictions on beekeepers. Local ordinances have cropped up as the number of beekeepers has tripled, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, industry experts say local ordinances are actually putting local residents at risk of dangerous bee stings.

A growing number of urban beekeepers has resulted in bans or restrictions in at least nine Florida counties. The bans come as the number of beekeepers has tripled in Florida.

This bill is intended to prevent over-regulation, Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) said.

Now state lawmakers are being told the bans are doing more harm than good.

If you start banning bees in these urban, residential areas whats going to happen is youre creating an environmental void, Nancy Gentry with the Florida Beekeepers Association said.

Testimony before a Legislative committee was blunt: local ordinances are based on bad information.

I had a number of complaints about bees in areas and upon investigation, usually found it had nothing to do with bees but had something to do with neighbors not wanting to be neighbors, Leonard Cutts, former state bee regulator, said.

These are docile European honey bees. Without them, the door gets opened to more aggressive, dangerous African killer bees to move in.

Bee Keepers like Tom Nolan say the African bees will be a much bigger nuisance without the kinder, gentler European bee to keep them from spreading.

If we dont have European bees in our areas to provide competition for food sources, for forage, we leave the Africans unchecked, Nolan said.

Nearly 3 thousand bee keepers are licensed in Florida. The Florida League of Cities opposes the abolition of local ordinances, but bills in the House and Senate are poised to pass this year.

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

Former Foster Youth Face Cut

January 27th, 2012 by flanews

Only three percent of kids aging out of Floridas foster care system receive a college degree. The state pays their tuition and offers a stipend for living expenses until they turn 23. Advocates say its helping, but as Whitney Ray tells us, the stipend is under attack as state lawmakers try to balance the budget with two billion fewer dollars.

Derrick Riggins was first placed in foster care at two. He was beaten, sexually abused and shipped from home to home.

I went back to my mother and then eventually around the age of 12, 13 I was placed in foster care, said Derrick.

When he turned 18, Derrick fled, enrolled at FAMU and paid his bills with student loans. It was a struggle to make ends meet. Derrick didnt know the state offers free tuition and a monthly stipend for living expenses to kids who aged out of the foster care system. When he found out, it made all the difference.

He graduated at 23, enrolled in grad school at FSU and received a masters degree.

Without that I wouldnt be standing here today, an intern in Washington DC, working on the Senate Finance Committee, getting ready for law school. These dollars truly help, said Derrick.

The independent living program that helped Derrick is being targeted for budget cuts. State revenues are down two billion dollars. Lowering the age limit on the stipend from 23 to 21 could save 11 million dollars.

(for) The ones that are really succeeding it will be a disincentive and it will stop them from being able to finish, said Christina Spudeas.

Spudeas, the Executive Director of Floridas Children First, says the cut would pull the rug out from under students, just as theyre getting to their feet.

Thats when they are really becoming really stable and thats the time when they need that support just to finish that college degree, said Supdeas.

Next Monday Childrens Week begins at the state capitol. Advocates will take their message to lawmakers hoping to save the program in a tough budget year.

Another reason advocates argue former foster kids need more time to graduate from college is because, they switch schools so many times that their academic records sometimes get lost. In many cases they dont finish high school until they are 19 or 20.

Posted in Children, Education, Legislature, State Budget, State News | 4 Comments »

Slots Vote Could Lead Way to Expanded Gambling

January 26th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

In addition to picking a Presidential candidate next Tuesday, voters in two rural counties will vote on whether to allow slot machines at dog and horse racing tracks. Gadsden is a liberal Democratic County, While Washington is a conservative Republican stronghold. The outcome Tuesday could impact the casino debate at the state legislature.

Chattahoochee Florida is reeling.When 300 jobs were lost at the state mental institution last year, The IGA across the street closed. Empty buildings litter downtown. Another 77 jobs are slated to leave when the state closes this prison work camp.

On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to legalize slot machines at a newly opened barrel racing track. The promise; 15 hundred new jobs.

Voter Laura Smith is pragmatic. “If this going to bring jobs to Gadsden County I’m not against it.”

In this heavily Democratic county, interest is running high. So far more than 1300 people in this small county have voted early and another 800 have returned absentee ballots.

Realtor Dick D’Alemberte early voted on Wednesday. He voted yes. We asked why. “For the economy. We are really hurting for Gadsden County,” says D’Alemberte.

In the last two weeks, churches here have mounted a church by church campaign against slots. Howard Adams works for all the Baptist churches in the county and says “A lot of our signs says don’t gamble with our children’s future and we feel that very strongly.”

An estimated seven to eight thousand voters are expected to vote.

And how the vote goes here and in nearby Washington County could help determine how lawmakers vote on expanded gambling.

Should the slot machine referendums pass in either Washington or Gadsden County, a legal challenge is a certainty, because the Attorney General has issued an opinion which says the state has no authority to issue slot machine permits without new legislative authority.

Posted in Children, Crime, Economy, Elections, Gambling, Legislature, Politics, State News, Taxes, Voting | 8 Comments »

Instate Tuition for Children of Illegals

January 26th, 2012 by flanews

Children of illegal immigrants born in Florida are asking lawmakers to lower their college tuition. Theyre paying out-of-state tuition, even though theyre US citizens. As Whitney Ray tells us, legislation to give the students in-state tuition has been filed, but isnt going anywhere.

18 year old Renato Lherisson doesnt want to be here at the state capitol. Hed rather be in school, but he cant afford it.

I was born in Florida. I went to high school in Florida. I want to go to college in Florida. I want to work in Florida. (slight sob) Im sorry, said Renato.

Renato is a US citizen born in Miami. He moved to Haiti after his father died and moved back after the 2010 earthquake. But since Renatos is the son of illegal immigrants, if he wants to go to a state school, hell have to pay out-of-state tuition and right now. He cant afford it. So hes sitting this year out.

I applied like everybody else expecting that I would be paying instate fees and then they told me I would have to pay three times the amount, said Renato.

State legislation to allow Renato and other US citizens with illegal immigrant parents to pay instate tuition has been filed, but isnt being heard.

It is unfair, it isnt right and this legislature should take action, said Rep. Hazelle Rogers.

The chairman of the House Education Committee says hes willing to give it shot, if a subcommittee vets it first.

If it comes through the process, then in all probability we would, said Chairman Bill Proctor.

Another, more controversial piece of legislation, would give instate tuition rates to anyone who spent three years in a Florida public school and graduated. Another obstacle facing Renato and other US citizens with illegal immigrant parents is student loans. The loans wont cover out-of-state tuition.

Posted in Education, State News | No Comments »

Bus Ads Bill Heads to House Floor

January 26th, 2012 by flanews

A bill to allow schools to raise money by turning their buses into billboards is headed to the house floor. Selling ad space on buses could raise between 60 and 100 million dollars for education annually. The bills sponsor, Irv Slosberg, says the money is badly needed because the state is facing a two billion dollar budget shortfall.

We can get three thousand to five thousand dollars a bus and were not wrapping the buses, its only two feet by six feet size, federal standards, said Slosberg.

Representative Luis Garcia voted against the bill. He says the state shouldnt be exposing students to advertising during school hours.

If approved by both chambers and signed by the governor, then local school boards would have the final say on selling ad space. Alcohol and tobacco companies would be prohibited from buying bus space.

Posted in Children, Education, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Q-Poll: Romney, Obama Neck and Neck

January 26th, 2012 by flanews

If the general election were today Mitt Romney and President Obama would be neck and neck, according to a new poll. Quinnipiac Pollsters say both Romney and Obama would pull 45 percent of the vote in a head to head match up. If Newt Gingrich were the nominee, Obama would win 50 to 39 the poll predicts. Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who helped Obama win Florida in 2008, says the primary is taking its toll on all the GOP candidates.

The longer these guys push each other to the right, the longer they look like extremists. The longer they get personal with each other the better it is for Barack Obama as the economy continues to improve a little bit and people feel better about the direction of the country, said Shale.

Some Republican strategists say the long primary makes the candidates stronger because they have more time to vet their ideas and hear from voters. The GOP candidates have their final Florida debate tonight in Jacksonville.

Posted in Politics, State News | 14 Comments »

Rally in Tally

January 26th, 2012 by flanews

Hundreds of college students are asking lawmakers to fund higher education. The students traveled from all over Florida today to rally at the state capitol. Alex Castro is a sophomore from Florida International University. Castro, like many other Florida students, says the legislature is making it hard for them to pay for school.

They are cutting Bright Futures and then they are raising tuition. So its a double negatives and its not going to help families and students, said Castro.

Other students in the rally voiced their concerns over Floridas new voting law. They say it is too restrictive and limits early voting as well as registration drivers. A congressional hearing will be held on the new law Friday in Tampa.

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

Rick Santorum Visits FSU

January 26th, 2012 by flanews

GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum is about to wrap up his Florida campaign. He was in Tallahassee today at Florida State University. Santorum is currently in third place in Florida according to recent polls. Hes lacked the money to buy TV ads, so before the Tuesday primary, Santorum is heading west to being campaigning in cheaper states.

This race is changing every few weeks. Its going to change again and what we need to do is be out there sounding a very strong consistent message, said Santorum.

Santorum, who won the Iowa caucus, says hes not dropping out of the race regardless of how he finishes in Florida.

Posted in Politics, State News | No Comments »

Animals Victorious in Videotaping Dispute

January 25th, 2012 by flanews

Animal rights activists won a victory in the state legislature today as agricultural powerhouses dropped a plan to make it a crime to videotape on farms. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, activists say the legislation could have kept animal abuse secret and put human consumers at risk.

The photographer who took these pictures could have been guilty of a misdemeanor under legislation that was moving through the state legislature. But after pressure from animal rights activists, big agriculture threw in the towel.

It has caused a lot of consternation and clouded the rest of Rep. Albrittons good bill, Rep. Ray Pilon (R-Sarasota) said.

With that vote, the criminal penalty was pulled out of the bill, leaving provisions on storm water run off and others intact and without opposition.

It was undercover videos like these that prompted the legislation

After public pressure, Cattlemen reversed themselves on Monday. Wednesday it was the poultry producers doing a turn around.

The Humane Society of the United States came to an agreement on some federal legislation that would deal with the poultry industry, so that were not dealing with regulations for the poultry industry state by state, Florida Poultry Association representative Nancy Spencer said.

Undercover operations are rare, but The Humane Society of the United States says that without the ability to conduct them, proving abuse would be near impossible.

When investigations have been done, theyve brought to light things that needed to be known and brought to light, so we hope we never see this bill again, Laura Bevan with the Humane Society of the United States said.

Hundreds of people had written lawmakers protesting the criminal charges.

Posted in Legislature, State News | 2 Comments »

Americans Elect Makes Florida Ballot

January 25th, 2012 by flanews

Floridas presidential primary is Tuesday, but voter upset with the outcome will get another shot. The first ever nationwide online primary will be held in April. Everyone can vote regardless of their party affiliation and as Whitney Ray tells us, the winner will end up on the ballot in Florida.

Floridas primary is a dead heat according to a Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday.

Mitt Romney has 36 percent, to 34 percent for Newt Gingrich, said Pollster Peter Brown.

But if Floridians arent satisfied with the outcome, theyll have another shot at it.

Welcome to Americans Elect. For the first time the American people are choosing a leader who works for us, not just the parties and their special interests, says the narrator in an Americans Elect promotional video.

Americans Elect will host is the first even online nationwide presidential primary in April.

The group qualified for the ballot in Florida and 13 other states. They plan to be on all the ballots by the general election in November.

We the people are choosing the candidates and we the people are nominating a third choice for President, the Narrator continues.

Americans Elect National Field Director Kellen Arno says most voters dont feel like the two major parties have their best interests in mind.

They are frustrated at both sides and so what we really felt is that, using technology, we could create a mechanism that, really I think, helped create a tool for them to feel directly represented, said Arno.

Americans Elect was in Tallahassee Wednesday. Theyre signing up delegates. Ben Stearns is just one of 450-thousand delegates nationwide.

Everybody in the nation gets the same vote at the same time, one person, one vote. I think that is a big step towards affecting our process, said Stearns.

Any registered US voter can nominate a candidate. The nominee is allowed to pick their own running mate, as long as he or she belongs to a different party. Americans Elect has collected nearly 2.4 million signatures. Thats more than half of the number of signatures needed to put a candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

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

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