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State Must Play Catch Up on Health Care Law

June 29th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida officials who challenged the health care law were over confident of victory and have been slow in setting up insurance exchanges required under the health care law, and As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Florida has refused millions in Federal money to prepare.

On February first, 2011one of Governor Rick Scott’s first official acts was to turn down more than a million dollars to begin implementing the Affordable Care Act. “We not going to spend a lot of time and money to get ready to implement that until we know what happens” said the new Governor.

The money in 2011 would have gone to establishing on line heath exchanges for consumer to compare rates. At the time, Scott promised: “The state won’t be caught flat footed”.

On Friday health care advocates were chastising the Governor for not moving more quickly, borrowing his campaign slogan “Let’s Get to Work!”

Earlier this year, state lawmakers talked about setting up a mechanism for accepting federal money if the health care did become law. The Governor threatened a veto, so it didn’t happen.

The money would help provide more care for up to half a million kids. Dr. Louis St. Petery says current system treats them unfairly. “So you take Grandma to the doctor for a sore throat and they pay pay 56 percent more for the doctor than the pediatrician who sees the grandchild for the same sore throat.” St. Petery calls the system “Crazy”.

The dilemma for Governor Rick Scott is that the program is only fully funded for the first two years. After that the state pays one of every ten dollars. On Thursday the Governor was uncertain about what the state would do next. “I’ve got to read through the decision to make sure we understand it” is what he told reporters when pushed.

Scott is also hanging his hat on his support for Mitt Romney. Romney has already promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The state can still take advantage of 450 million dollars in Federal money to provide better health care for children if the legislature acts before this coming January.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

State Reacts to Healthcare Decision

June 28th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s Governor and Attorney General were caught by surprise with today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. Both had predicted in recent days that it would be overturned. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Florida has been at the center of the health care lawsuit since the beginning.

Within minutes of the health care act being signed into law, then-Attorney General Bill McCollum was filing the law suit that was finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is not lawful. It may have passed congress, but there are three branches of Government,” former Attorney General McCollum said in 2010.

Months later, a Federal judge in Pensacola was one of the first to rule most of the act unconstitutional. The current Attorney General, Pam Bondi, campaigned saying she would continue the lawsuit.

“And I will take on the federal government’s healthcare takeover.”

The Governor and Cabinet took a break from their clemency board duties as the decision was being announced. A few minutes later, Pam Bondi appeared visibly shaken by the decision.

“[I’m] surprised, um, shocked,” Bondi said. “The court did say, however, that they cannot do this under the commerce clause.”

Then, three hours later, the Attorney General was claiming partial victory.

We also learned that there are enforceable limits on Congress’s power to force the states through the use of the spending power,” she said.

But details on the state’s options remain sketchy. Both Bondi and Governor Rick Scott call the act a tax on Floridians.

“If you look at every government program in the world, they over-promise, they run out of money, they under-pay providers, and then that rations care,” Scott said. “On top of that, as bad as it’s going to be for patients, it’s going to be just as bad for taxpayers. We’re not going to be able to afford this.”

The full impact of the decision could take days to sort out.

Posted in Pam Bondi, Rick Scott, State News | No Comments »

Illegal Voters Can be Removed from Voter Rolls

June 28th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

A Federal Judge today said Florida can remove voters who registered illegally from the rolls anytime prior to an election. The U.S. Attorney had sought to stop the state within 90 days of an election, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the judge found legally registered voters would be harmed if illegals were allowed to cast a ballot.

In May, the state sent a list to local supervisors of elections. It contained the names of 26 hundred people the state believed were not US Citizens and who had registered to vote illegally.

But the list was flawed because it was based on state drivers license records. The Justice Department and others sued to stop the state from using the list, in part because federal law prohibits voter purges within 90 days of an election. In Federal court on Wednesday, the state had said it would not use the list, but would wait until it got access to a disputed Homeland Security databased. The judge ruled the 90 restraint did not apply.

What the judge said that if an illegal voter was allowed to cast a ballot, it would do irreparable harm and dilute the vote of a legally registered voter.

So now the state is free to remove voters registered illegally anytime before an election.

“They’re not pursing the old database, but they are trying to get an accurate database from the federal government,” Michael Carvin, lawyer for the state said.

The Governor’s spokesperson claimed victory, urging the federal government to make a more accurate homeland security database available soon.

“That’s what we need to move forward,” spokesperson Brian Burgess said. “The judge made it clear that that would be a much bigger improvement over what we’ve done in the past.”

The judge did promise speedy action if legal voters were purged from the rolls because of the state’s actions.

A lawyer for the state’s supervisors says his clients can not proceed to remove non-citizen voters who registered illegally, but they will need more proof than a disputed state database.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Debby Flooding Causes Residential Damage, Interstate Closures

June 26th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Debbie continued to drop large amounts of rain across Florida today, forcing residents in low lying areas from their homes. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the rain also forced the closing of the major East-West highway in Northeast Florida.

Shirley Hendrickson and her family spent Tuesday trying to salvage some of their belongings. She was awakened at one a.m. to find water in her house.

“By then there was water in the house already past our ankles,” Hendrickson said. “Now, it’s up past our knees in there. I lost everything I got; my computer, my TV.”

Dozens of homes in this Live Oak neighborhood are flooded.

The biggest fear in this neighborhood is that the water isn’t done rising, and that it will get worse tomorrow and the next day.

The water rose several inches while we watched.

“I had to go try to swim in and save somebody, because he didn’t want to leave the house, you know, he was an older resident,” resident Saione Williams said.

The rising water also forced the closing of interstate 10 late Monday night. It remained closed Tuesday.

“The interstate being closed inconveniences everybody, but safety is priority,” state trooper Al Hughes said.

The closure resulted in a 25 mile detour that left many motorists baffled.

“Where do I go? I’m trying to get to Coco Beach.”

“So how do we get to Jacksonville?”

In Tallahassee, the state’s emergency management director told the Governor and Cabinet the worst danger may be yet to come.

“Oftentimes in these storms, it’s not the actual storm that causes injuries or death, it’s the cleanup process,” Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon said. “So you need to make sure you don’t enter standing water.”

The flooding is expected to continue throughout the week.

Posted in Hurricane Season, State News, Weather | 2 Comments »

Tropical Storm Debby Downs Power Lines, Disrupts Vacations

June 25th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Tropical storm Debby is the fourth named storm of the year, marking the first time there have been four named storms before July first. Mike Vasilinda is in Apalachicola, where the storm has already cut power lines and forced Tourists to head for calmer weather.

Electrical line crews are being moved into the panhandle by the dozens.

Scattered power outages plague North Florida. St. George Island, off Apalachicola, has been ordered evacuated,

“The power company is saying power not until Friday or the weekend,” state trooper John Tallman said.

sending tourists home.

The Belts family from Marshall, Illinois is looking for blue skies.

“Well, this isn’t the first time we’ve been through a Tropical Storm here, so we’re headed somewhere else now,” Gretchen Belts said.

Reporter: Where are you going?

“We’re not sure yet, ” she said.

Debby is the first time that there have been four named storms before July first.
The banks of the Apalachicola River are about one hundred feet over here, you can see it’s already overflowing, covering roads. The real danger of this storm isn’t it’s intensity, but just how long all of this is going to last.

Local residents are taking the storm in stride.

“Who knows what’s going to happen,” Carrabelle resident Linda Westenfelder said. “We’re just trying to be careful. We boarded up last week just to make sure.”

The state has not yet asked for Federal assistance, but Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency.

“Like always, everybody should have food and water on hand,” Scott said. “Just be prepared and use common sense. And be careful.”

The state’s emergency operations center is at level one, its highest activation.

Posted in Hurricane Season, Rick Scott, State News, Weather | 6 Comments »

Tuition Going Up, Student Loans to Follow

June 22nd, 2012 by flanews

Florida college students will be paying an average of seven hundred dollars more for tuition this fall. Tuition increases between nine and 15 percent were approved yesterday for Florida’s 11 public universities. There’s even more bad news for students tonight. As Whitney Ray tells us, if Congress doesn’t act by the end of next week, the price of a college education in Florida will go up even more.

We broke the news to these FSU students Friday that their college tuition will increase by hundreds in the fall.

“That means I’m going to have to take out more loans,” said FSU Junior Vitoria Medeiros.

“Prices going up such as books, tuition is just another thing that is going to add more stress,” said Marina Gonzalez a Senior.

“Probably going on an even stricter budget than I already am,” said Courtney Howell a Junior from Tampa.

University leaders approved tuition hikes for Florida’s public universities ranging from nine to 15 percent. On average tuition will increase 700 dollars next year. It could go even higher for students who borrow money to pay for school.

If Congress doesn’t act by the end of next week, interest rates on student loans will double to 6.8 percent. For most students the increase means a thousand dollars more every year they borrow.

Students are shocked that next year they could be paying 700 more in tuition and another thousand for their loans.

Marina Gonzalez has already racked up 20-thousand dollars in student loan debt, the state average.

“I don’t even know how I’m going to be able to afford grad school at this point because I’m already on student loans and the interest rate’s going up,” said Marina.

President Barack Obama has been on a mission to stop the rate increase, speaking at colleges in Florida and throughout the county.

As of noon Friday, the nation’s combined student loan debt was already one trillion, 11 billion dollars and counting, if Congress doesn’t act, the number will begin climbing even faster.

Republicans are accusing the president of playing politics with the issue. The GOP controlled house passed a bill to freeze the interest rate and tied it to a six billion dollar health care cut. Democrats in the Senate are balking at the House bill.
If an agreement isn’t reached, interest rates will increase, but only for new loans written after July first.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Romney, Scott and the Economy

June 21st, 2012 by flanews

A drastic turnaround in the presidential race tonight. According to a new Quinnipiac poll President Barack Obama now has a four point lead in Florida over Mitt Romney. It’s a 10 point swing. Obama was down six in the same poll in May. As Whitney Ray tells us, to turn things around in Florida Romney may be asking more of Governor Rick Scott than he’s willing to give.

By our count, the only time Romney and Scott have gotten together publically in Florida in the past year was during an October campaign stop in Tallahassee. Even then they met behind close doors far away from journalists and cameras.

Over the past month Mitt Romney has made several campaign stops in Florida. Absent from the major GOP events, Governor Rick Scott. Democratic Strategist Steve Schale says it’s no coincidence.

“Rick Scott is head of the RPOF in Florida. He’s got 39 percent job approval. I’m sure that’s not what Romney wants,” said Schale.

A new survey of Florida voters shows President Barack Obama turning a six point deficit into a four point lead, forecasting a tight race with no room for mistakes.

The poll comes amid reports, that the Romney campaign is asking Scott to stop boasting about the economy, but if those reports are true, Scott isn’t listening.

“There’s a lot of work to do but we are clearly headed in the right direction,” said Scott.

Scott boasted about the state’s falling unemployment rate to a group of business leaders in Tallahassee Wednesday and afterward in front of our camera.

“We are bucking the national trend. We’ve come down 2.5 percent in the last 17 months,” said Scott.

The Republican Party of Florida also continues to tout Florida’s economic gains.

“We are seeing a lot of improvement here in our state and that’s thanks to the governor, but so much more could be done if we had a national partner in the White House,” said Kristen McDonald, RPOF Spokeswoman.

But working together on policy may mean avoiding each other in politics. Thursday as Romney stumped in Orlando, Scott stayed behind closed doors with a packed schedule.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Dems, Reps Say Presidential Poll Not a Big Deal

June 21st, 2012 by flanews

President Barack Obama has turned a six point deficit into a four point lead here in Florida. A new Quinnipiac Poll released today shows Mr. Obama up 46 to 42 over Mitt Romney. Less than a month ago Obama trailed Romney 41 to 47. Steve Schale, the state director for the Obama Campaign in 2008 says the president’s message is beginning to resonate with Florida voters.

“I think we’re going to see polls go up and down for the next five months. I think what we’re really beginning to see though is people paying attention. People are seeing what Mitt Romney is really all about. They are beginning to understand his economic record in Massachusetts and what it would mean for them and they clearly don’t really like it,” said Schale.

Republican Party of Florida Spokeswoman Kristen McDonald says polls don’t matter much at this point in the campaign.

“Polls go up and polls go down. It’s really nothing to be concerned about especially at this point. Romney has plenty of time to make his case for Floridians and he has plenty of time to let them know why his vision for the future of Florida and our nation is better than the failed policies of Obama,” said McDonald.

There’s good new for Romney. The margin of error is 3.7 percent, the Republican National Convention is being held in Tampa and will increase his visibility in Florida and there’s still five months to make his case to Florida voters.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Scott’s Popularity falls to 39 Percent

June 20th, 2012 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott’s popularity is plummeting. A Quinnipiac Poll released today shows the governor’s job approval rating at 39 percent. As Whitney Ray tells us, the drop comes as the man hired to make Scott more likable prepares to leave.

In May of last year just 29 percent of Florida voters approved of the job Governor Rick Scott was doing. So Scott hired a new chief of staff, invited reporters over for donuts, ditched his executive suits and changed his official photo to a more causal picture.

Under the watchful eye of his new chief advisor Scott’s approval rating rose to 41 percent. But now it’s falling again.

A Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday shows Scott’s rating dropping to 39 percent. Pollster Peter Brown says the governor needs more support from his own party.

“One of the reasons he’s having so many problems, is his Republican numbers are low,” said Brown.

Scott received a 71 percent job approval rating among Republican voters, but experts say a sitting governor should be able to get 80 or even 90 percent support within his own party. I caught up with Scott after the poll was released. He told me there is only one number he was concerned about.

“The only number I look at every month is our unemployment rate and as you know we are bucking the national trend. We’ve come down 2.5 percent in the last 17 months,” said Scott.

And if Florida’s unemployment rate improves Scott’s job approval will likely rise with it.

The man who helped bring Scott’s popularity to its highest point is stepping down amid questions about how he handled state contracts. Steve MacNamara’s last day as the governor’s chief of staff is July first.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Lemieux Drops Out, Endorses Mack

June 20th, 2012 by flanews

Former US Senator George LeMieux has given up his fight for another term in Washington. LeMieux dropped out of the race this morning, sending this video message to his supporters and giving a lukewarm endorsement to his Republican Rival Connie Mack.

“In order to have the best chance to beat Bill Nelson and put the senate in Republican hands, today we will end our campaign. To continue would only hurt our chances in the fall and that is not something I will risk. Connie Mack will be our nominee. He has my support,” said LeMieux.

A Quinnipiac Poll on the race will be released tomorrow. The last poll showed LeMieux more than 30 points behind Mack.

“Obviously LeMieux wasn’t doing well. I can’t talk about tomorrow’s poll, but let’s talk about the last poll. LeMieux couldn’t get out of single digits in a Republican Primary. He was running badly behind Nelson in a matchup,” said Brown.

LeMieux trailed from the beginning and with Mack refusing to debate him, his campaign quickly ran out of ways to raise money and gain voter support. Governor Rick Scott was asked about LeMieux leaving the race. Scott wished the former senator well and gave some advice to the remaining candidates.

“I wish Sen. LeMieux success. I’m hopeful the individuals who are still in the race focus on jobs because it’s the biggest issue that we have,” said Scott.

Mack is expected to glide to victory in the Republican Primary in August and face a tough general election against sitting Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Floridians Support Gov’s Voter Purge

June 20th, 2012 by flanews

Six out of 10 Floridians support Governor Rick Scott’s effort to prevent illegally registered voters from casting ballots.

A new Quinnipiac Poll asked Florida voters if they agreed with the governor’s campaign to purge the voter rolls. Scott says he’s surprised support isn’t even higher.

“I’ve not meet one person in the state who thinks that non-US Citizens should be voting in our elections. Nobody does. It’s my job to make sure that I do every thing I can to make sure only US Citizens vote in our races,” said Scott.

According to the poll 35 percent oppose Scott’s efforts. He’s also being sued by the federal government, the ACLU and a group of minority voters to stop the purge.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Tuition Debate Ends Thursday

June 19th, 2012 by flanews

By Thursday Florida college students will know how much their tuition will increase. Most of Florida’s public universities are asking for a 15 percent tuition hike, the max. But as Whitney Ray tells us, Governor Rick Scott is hoping for a different outcome.

A battle born before the beginning of the 2012 legislative session is coming to a head. Governor Rick Scott told lawmakers to fund education and leave tuition alone.

“With level funding of the universities, they shouldn’t be increasing tuition,” said Scott when he unveiled his budget on December 7th, 2011.

Scott got most of what he wanted. Lawmakers passed a budget with no tuition increases, but at the same time, cut university spending by 300 million dollars, asking schools to use reserves to make up the different.

But what happened here was just round one. Scott signed the budget with no tuition increase, then vetoed a bill to allow UF and FSU to raise rates as much as they want.

Now, it’s the University System’s Board of Governors turn to decide whether or not to raise rates. Most schools are asking for the max allowed by state law, 15 percent. Chancellor Frank Brogan says good luck.

“Fifteen percent is going to be a though ask this year because of the ongoing 15 percent increases, but also knowing the recession is taking its toll on everyone and that includes students,” said Brogan.

“I know a lot of students that took semesters off, because they didn’t have money to pay for school and things like that,” said FSU Senior Jeremy Shaw.

Reporter: You’re afraid they will price students out of a college education?

Jodeci: Pretty much yes. That’s what it’s looking like. As long as we keep on this upward expediential trend people aren’t going to be able to go.

Even if schools raise tuition the max amount it will only make up for about a third of the state funding cut.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Quinnipiac to Release Poll on Gov Popularity, SYG

June 19th, 2012 by flanews

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, will discuss results of a poll of Florida voters, asking their opinions about Gov. Rick Scott, his efforts to purge non-citizens from voter rolls and the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, Wednesday, 10 am, Florida Press Center, 336 East College Avenue, Tallahassee.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Birther Lawsuit Asks Obama’s Name Not Be on Florida’s Ballot

June 18th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

A Circuit Court judge in Tallahassee spent an hour this morning listening to arguments over Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Plaintiff and registered Democrat Michael Voeltz is asking that the President’s name be taken off the ballot because, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he believes Barack Obama is not a US citizen.

Michael Voeltz was a registered voter with no party affiliation until last fall. Now he is a Democrat suing to keep Barrack Obama off Florida’s ballot.

Judge Terry Lewis listened skeptically to an hour’s worth of arguments Monday morning.

“What if it was artificial insemination and you don’t know who the father was?” Judge Lewis asked.

“Then you’re out of luck to be President,” the Plantiff’s lawyer replied.

The Obama Campaign and Florida’s Secretary of State are on the same side in the suit.

“We ask that Your Honor grant the motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.”

They want it dismissed because they say Obama is simply a candidate yet to be nominated by his party.

“There has been no nomination to office, there has been no election to office, as a result of the presidential preference primary of January 31,” Obama Campaign attorney Mark Herron said.

But Attorney Larry Klayman calls that argument nothing more than a delaying tactic.

“What the defendants are doing is basically trying to push the issue down the road and create a fait accompli,” Klayman said. “It’s a shell game.”

The judge gave both sides a week to submit a proposed order. Voeltz says the suit is important to the future of the country.

“He was imprinted very early with anti-American attitudes, that were imprinted on him by, you know, a Communist mother, a Communist father, who was never a citizen of the United States,” Voeltz said.

Michael Voletz wouldn’t tell us what he does for a living, but he does say he isn’t wealthy. And when asked how he was paying for the lawsuit, told us “I don’t really think that’s any of your business.”

The Attorney seeking to disqualify the President from the Florida Ballot also told the judge today that he did not believe US Senator Marco Rubio should be allowed to run for President because Rubio’s parents were born in Cuba.

Posted in Elections, State News, Voting | 2 Comments »

Scott’s Lawsuit Record

June 18th, 2012 by flanews

Almost since the moment he took office, Governor Rick Scott has been caught up in litigation. His most recent suit is over efforts to prevent illegal voters from casting ballots. As Whitney Ray tells us, the governor has lost more lawsuits than he’s won, but many of those decisions are being appealed.

Shortly after taking office Governor Rick Scott derailed the train. Scott singlehandedly turned away 2.4 billion federal dollars for high speed rail. State lawmakers sued, but the Florida Supreme Court sided with Scott.

Scott’s win record stops there. Since beating the train, Scott’s lost a lawsuit over drug testing state workers, and a separate suit over drug testing welfare recipients.

When he tried to privatize state prisons, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sued and won. They also beat Scott in a court battle over state workers pension contributions.

“We certainly don’t want to continue to sue in order to prevent the governor and the legislature from committing ills against the taxpayers and you know that’s something the taxpayers ought to ask,” said Matt Puckett with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Making controversial decisions has made Scott a magnet for lawsuits, and so far he’s not fairing well in court. By our count Scott has one win, four losses and a tie.

The tie came over Florida’s new elections law. A federal judge upheld most of the new provisions, like shortening early voting, but a deadline requiring voter registration forms to be turned in 48 hours after they’re signed was recently thrown out.

But not all is lost yet. To the chagrin of the PBA Scott is appealing the pension and prison privatization decisions. And only time will tell what will happen with the governor’s voter purge lawsuits. Scott’s suing for access to a federal immigration database, and the feds are suing Scott to stop the purge.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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