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Record Powerball Jackpot

November 28th, 2012 by flanews

The largest jackpot in Powerball history is up for grabs. Tonight someone could win half a billion dollars and as Whitney Ray tells us, the numbers that will determine the winner will be drawn right here in Florida.

Some select their own lucky numbers, others leave fate up to the computers. But everyone buying a Powerball Ticket has a plan to spend all that cash.

“Buy a house you know, some land you know, spread it amongst my people,” said William Cooks who bought a ticket Wednesday.

“Help my church and help my family,” said Hester Copeland.

The Powerball jackpot is at a record high. More than half a billion dollars is on the line, and one lucky ticketholder may become the country’s next multi-millionaire.

“Hope I’m the only one who wins, oh the money,” said Katrina Wyche.

As news of the record jackpot spread the gamblers lined up to buy their two dollar ticket and face the one in 175 million odds.

And the winning numbers will be selected right here at the Florida Lottery Headquarters in Tallahassee, behind those closed doors, under tight security.

Inside, the balls took a test spin in the lottery machines just hours before the big drawing. The entire country is focused on Florida to see who will win.

“It was very important for us when we had the opportunity to competitively bid to get Powerball here at the Florida Lottery Headquarters. We wanted to showcase Florida to the nation,” said Florida Cynthia O’Connell, Secretary of the Florida Lottery.

And if no one wins Wednesday night, then Florida will take center stage again. Another drawing would be held Saturday, and the jackpot would be even higher.

Powerball tickets were selling at a pace of more than 86-hundred a minute in Florida today. In the eight weeks it took to build the 500 million dollar jackpot 45 million dollars have been raised for education.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

DUI Awareness Campaign

November 28th, 2012 by flanews

It’s probably the most dangerous thing you’ve done all day. I’m talking about driving.

A car wreck can take a life in an instant. It’s a lesson Linda Silva learned three years ago. Her son Alex was killed in a drunk driving accident. Today she shared her story at the state capitol to kick off a campaign to end distracted driving.

“Is a drink worth it? Is that text message worth it? If it’s so important pull over. Don’t do it while you are driving,” said Silva.

The campaign is being launched by the Florida Association of DUI Programs. It’s called Be Ready for the Road Ahead. These billboards are part of the campaign. They will be posted throughout the state to encourage kids to develop safe driving habits.

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Citizens Blames Media for PR Problem

November 27th, 2012 by flanews

The Citizens Board of Governors is lashing out at the media over a recent string of bad publicity. The state run insurer has been under intense scrutiny ever since it dismantled its team of internal investigators. As Whitney Ray tells us, 42 investigations were still open when the four members of the Citizens Office of Corporate Integrity were let go.

Born out of the most destructive storm in Florida’s history, Citizens Property Insurance was created to protect homes private companies deemed too risky.

Two decades after Hurricane Andrew, Citizens has become the largest insurance company in the state; taking on more risk than it can afford. And now, reports of fraud, misconduct and wasteful spending are pushing the company to a new low.

“This company is not perfect. We have made mistakes. There is no question about it,” said Chairman Carlos Lacasa.

The Citizen Board of Governors met Tuesday in Tallahassee to discuss the recent string of bad publicity, but spent most of their time blaming the media.

“We will win back the credibility of this company in the eyes of the public, but I call upon the press to help us do that by reporting on us responsibly and accurately and to give us a little leeway,” said Lacasa.

Last week Governor Rick Scott ordered an investigation into the company’s decision to dismantle its Office of Corporate Integrity. The firings came as the four member review team was investigating 42 cases of employee fraud and misconduct.

And some of those allegations include reports of a female employee dancing topless on a bar after a company event in Tampa and giant severance packages for employees who left Citizens in disgrace.”

Citizens President Barry Gilway says the topless dancing employee has been dealt with, but most of the other allegations are either unfounded or overblown.

“A complete and thorough investigation showed that the anonymous allegations did not stand up to the test of proven facts and evidence,” said Gilway.

Gilway says firing the internal investigators was not a retaliatory attack. He says the employees were making factual errors and using their positions to air personal grievances.

Policyholders of Florida, a consumer group often critical of Citizens, released this statement following today’s board meeting.

“Instead of spending time talking about fixing abuses of the public trust, the board seems more interested in blaming the media for finding out about it. Citizens says the media is disgusting, but I assure you, policyholders and taxpayers have even more choice words about the management of Citizens,” Sean Shaw, Policyholders of Florida Founder.

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Cyber Monday Losers

November 26th, 2012 by flanews

By the end of the day more than a 100 million shoppers will be waiting on delivers, winners in the Cyber Monday sales race. But there are also losers. As Whitney Ray tells us, many local shops and the state budget are just a few of the casualties of the busiest online shopping day of the year.

Besides this fitting door bell and the southern rock, all was quiet Monday at the Way Out West country boutique.

Just a few days ago a stampede of shoppers were rustling up deals on boots, belts and all the other fixin’ the store offered on Black Friday.

“We opened the doors at eight o’clock, just steady, steady, steady all day. Just a lot of people very excited about getting out,” said Whitney Anders, the owner of Way Out West.

If the weekend was the land boom then Cyber Monday was the Dust Bowl for Way Out West as shoppers stayed at home for online deals.

“If you’re sitting at home online and you are clicking on things that you might like, who is there to help you?” said Anders.

But it’s not just brick and mortar retailers loosing the Cyber Monday race, so is the state budget. It relies on sales tax to pay for everything from schools to prisons.

Online stores with locations in Florida collect the six cent tax but retailers outside the state normally don’t. When the tax isn’t collected, the onus falls on the shopper to download one of these forms from the Department of Revenue and mail it in with the taxes they owe.

“Last year about seven thousand people downloaded the form, filled it out and sent a check. That’s miniscule compared to the number of people who bought things were taxes were not collected,” said Rick McAllister, President of the Florida Retail Federation.

The Florida Retail Federation says stores that don’t collect the tax have an unfair advantage over those that do. They’re asking lawmakers to streamline the state tax code to make it easier online shops to know what to charge.

It’s estimated that the state will miss out on more than 10 million sales tax dollars by the end of the day. That figure will more than double by the end of the holiday shopping season.

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A Food Truck Thanksgiving

November 21st, 2012 by flanews

It’s not a traditional way to celebrate Thanksgiving, but it may find a niche in the market. This holiday season, food trucks are offering to cater Thanksgiving Dinner. Curious? Whitney Ray explains what to look for when booking a food truck caterer.

Rebecca Kelly spent 16 years in the restaurant business before striking out on her own with this mobile kitchen.

She started Street Chefs in 2011. The restaurant on wheels serves up southern comfort food with a modern twist.

“We try to make sure that everything is fresh,” said Rebecca.

Street Chefs is just one of a growing number trucks bringing food to hungry Floridians. There are now more than 22-hundred statewide, up 17 percent from a year ago.

“We’ve seen from Pensacola to Miami, these food trucks growing,” said Ken Lawson, DBPR Secretary.

Lawson heads up the state department in charge of licensing and inspecting the trucks. He says they’re just as clean and safe as traditional restaurants.

“Here’s the deal, alright, the rules are the same for a food truck and a restaurant and the food trucks need to be licensed,” said Lawson.

A couple of quick things to look for to know if the truck’s been inspected; look for this purple sticker and a licenses number.

Food trucks are randomly inspected a couple times a year, and now a growing number of trucks are offering Thanksgiving Dinner.

“We’re talking, grilled turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, handmade cranberry sauce, stuffing, even desert, the whole nine yards,” said Rebecca.

Street Chefs haven’t been booked for Thanksgiving yet, but they are catering several holiday parties. And the best part about hiring a food truck for the holidays is.

“When we come by and we do you’re catering. We bring the dirty kitchen away with us,” said Rebecca.

Some food for thought, while scrubbing those Thanksgiving dishes.

Since the trucks are mobile it takes investigators a little more leg work to perform random inspections. One place to drop in on cooks is at food truck fair. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation is hosing its third fair December 5th in Tallahassee. Vendors from all over the state are invited to attend.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Football Tourism

November 21st, 2012 by flanews

Florida football fans aren’t the only one’s pumped about Saturday’s showdown between the University of Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles.

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, is hyping the game to attract visitors. Both teams are ranked in the BCS top 10 and both teams have just one loss. Will Seccombe, acting CEO of Visit Florida, says it’s not just beaches and theme parks that keep people flocking to Florida, sports are also a big attraction.

“Let’s tap into the passion of Florida football fans and just ask them, say, you can not only support your team, but you can support the state by inviting a friend or family to come visit the state,” said Seccombe.

Visit Florida is hyping the rivalry as the Share a Little Sunshine Showdown, try saying that three times fast. It’s part of a two year campaign called Florida Fan Game, where fans from each of the state’s public universities compete to see which school can attract the most visitors by the end of the season.

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Scott Orders Citizens Investigation

November 20th, 2012 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott is ordering an investigation into why Citizen Property Insurance fired its internal investigators. The four employees of the Citizens Office of Integrity were let go last month, and now, as Whitney Ray tells us, what they were investigation at the time of their release is shining suspicion on their termination.

This newly released report by Citizens Audit Committee shows the insurer dismantled its Office of Corporate Integrity amid 42 open investigations. The four member watchdog group was investigating employees accused of theft, fraud and misbehavior.

“We wonder, were the watchdogs doing their jobs too well?”

Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida has questions about why the investigators were let go.

The watchdogs were investigating a female manager accused of taking off her cloths at a company event in Tampa, wasteful spending on business trips and huge severance packages for employees who quit in disgrace.

“There have been reports of lavish spending, travel and hotel expenditures and partying in Ybor City and Key West on the policyholders’ dime,” said Krassner.

News of the open investigations made it to the state legislature Tuesday, as members met in organizational session.

“Whistleblowers shouldn’t be the people who get it trouble. It should be the people who cause the trouble,” said Senate President Don Gaetz.

Governor Rick Scott ordered an investigation into the layoffs. In a letter to the chief inspector general Scott writes “The people of Florida are entitled to accountability and transparency within every aspect of our government.”

Representative Mike Fasano says it’s a good start.

“I’m encouraged that the governor has asked for an investigation into it, but it has to go beyond that. Citizens has to be transparent,” said Fasano.

Citizens says they let the investigators go to make room for more auditors to track down insurance fraud. The company’s president welcomes the investigation. And Citizens President Barry Gilway actually asked Governor Rick Scott to investigate in an attempt to thwart some of the bad publicity.

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House and Senate Have New Leadership

November 20th, 2012 by flanews

The Florida House and Senate have new leaders, official today.

In the Senate Don Gaetz from Niceville took the gavel. Gaetz wants to see his chamber improve public education and reform ethics laws. Will Weatherford is taking over the House. At 33 he’s one of the youngest speakers in Florida history. Weatherford, a Republican, told his members the election has ended and now it’s time to put politics aside.

“We have a president and for those who wish him to fail, or for that matter wish our congress to fail, only wish for American to fail and that is unacceptable,” said Weatherford.

Weatherford is from Wesley Chapel. He is the son-in-law of former House Speaker Allan Bense.

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Hoodie Protest, Voter Protest, Immigration Protest

November 20th, 2012 by flanews

Protesters greeted lawmakers at the state capitol on a day full of customs and celebration. A group of immigrant protesters and their supporters came to warn lawmakers they’re ready to rally if discriminatory immigration legislation is filed. Melissa McGuire, an immigrant advocate, says lawmakers need to consider the needs of illegal residents.

“When ever they pass bills they need to take into consideration immigrants. They are part of our community and even though they can’t vote, yet, they still have family members who can vote so they have to treat them like any other constituent,” said McGuire.

A group of hoodied protestors lined up near the doors of the House Chambers asking lawmakers to remember Trayvon Martin, the teen shot dead in Sanford last year by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Ciara Taylor with the Dream Defenders helped organize the protest of about half a dozen college students.

“The Dream Defenders are here to remind legislators to remember Trayvon Martin when they make legislation that can disproportionally affect black and brown youth in the state of Florida like Stand Your Ground, Zero Tolerance Policy, the privatization of our prison system,” said Taylor.

And finally a group of voters with cardboard signs called on lawmakers to reform state election laws. Marilyn Carter says she waited four hours to vote in Duval County.

“I live in a predominantly minority community and a lot of our precincts were condensed or relocated. The information was kind of slow about coming out. I notices that some of other the more affluent areas had shorter waiting times,” said Carter.

All three groups say they made the trip to Tallahassee for the one day organizational session to let their elected official know, they will be watching.

Posted in State News | 19 Comments »

FEA Calls for Teacher Evaluation Changes

November 20th, 2012 by flanews

Teachers are calling on lawmakers to throw out a new system of evaluating their performance.

They say the recently adopted Value Added Model, which bases half of a teacher’s performance evaluation on their students test scores and learning gains is flawed. Third grade teacher Margaret Goodwin says she was considered a highly effective teacher before the new system was put in place. Now Ms. Goodwin’s been labeled an ineffective teacher.

“It’s belittling. It’s awful. It’s a label that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, but I have it now and I’d like it to come off,” said Goodwin.

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, brought the group to the capitol. FEA has also sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott asking for his help in changing the evaluation process.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Feds Extend Affordable Care Act Deadline for Florida

November 19th, 2012 by flanews

The months of foot dragging are finally catching up with state leaders once determined to defeat Obamacare. We reported last week, Florida would miss the deadline to set up its own heath care exchange. Now the feds are giving Florida another shot. Whitney Ray caught up with Governor Rick Scott today and asked what it would take to get him onboard.

LaTanya White is a small business manager with big future plans.

“Our projections look at creating 41 new fulltime FTEs,” said LaTanya.

Her business Concept Creative Hospitality Group helps coordinate events, train bartenders and wait staff, cater and dozens of other services. The company’s plans include providing health care to their new employees.

“It’s about really taking care of the people who take care of your organization,” said LaTanya.

When the time comes for expansion, LaTanaya will have the benefit of a health care exchange to find the best deal on insurance, but whether state leaders here in Tallahassee or bureaucrats in Washington run the exchange has yet to be decided.

Last week the state missed a deadline to announce plans to run the exchange, but the feds extended the deadline to December 14th. Now Governor Rick Scott, a onetime Obamacare foe, has requested a meeting with the feds about state participation.

“How do we make sure that anything we do at the state level, at the federal level, reduces the cost of health care for all Floridians? We want to make sure everybody gets health care,” said Scott.

The exchange is expected to cost the state more than 90 million dollars to set up and millions more every year to run. Legislative leaders want to know if exchanges already in existence, Like Florida Healthy Choices, could be expanded to meet the federal criteria.

Either way the state will have an exchange. If state leaders don’t meet the December deadline, the feds will move forward with plans to set up an exchange for Florida. So far about a dozen states have chosen to set up their own exchanges.

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Lou Holtz Says FSU should be #4:

November 19th, 2012 by flanews

Former Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz says FSU should be ranked fourth in the nation, not tenth where current BCS data places the Noles.

Holtz was in Tallahassee today giving a pep talk to state leaders at the request of Governor Rick Scott. We caught up the college football analyst after he gave his pep talk. He’s still riding high from Notre Dame’s climb to the top of the BCS and thinks FSU should be ranked higher.

“When Notre Dame is on top there’s much more interest, much more enthusiasm and I can say the same thing about Florida State. I think Florida State is vastly underrated. I have them as number four in my poll and I think that’s justifiable so,” said Holtz.

FSU will have a chance to prove Holtz right. They take on the fourth ranked Gators on Saturday. Both teams have just one loss.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Tourism, Retail Spur Unemployment Rate Decline

November 16th, 2012 by flanews

Florida’s unemployment rate continues to fall. Labor Statics released today show the state’s jobless rate falling to 8.5 percent from 8.7 percent a month ago. A year ago, the unemployment rate was 10.2 percent. As Whitney Ray tells us, spurring on the recovery are two of the state’s largest industries.

While things are improving in Florida, the state’s unemployment rate is still point six percent higher than the national rate of 7.9 percent. And if you factor in the underemployed and people who’ve stopped looking for work, the rate rises to 16.4 percent.

You can thank Mickey Mouse, Florida’s beaches, and the holiday shopping season for the latest drop in the state’s unemployment rate.

Florida’s jobless rate of 8.5 percent is the lowest it’s been in nearly four years.

“The state is heading in a positive direction and we are thrilled,” said Department of Economic Opportunity spokesperson Carolyn Gosselin.

Contributing to the recovery is an increasing number of tourists. 22 million of them visited Florida this summer, a 3.5 percent increase over the same time period last year. Industry experts say the tourism rebound has created 15-thousand jobs.

“Increases in Visitors means an increase in jobs and that’s obviously very significant as we’ve had continued record years. The hospitality industry has carried our fair share in terms of increased employment in the State of Florida,” said Acting CEO of Visit Florida Will Seccumbe.

Retail is also expecting a surge, with economists predicting a 5.2 percent increase in holiday sales. Statewide stores are expected to hire 42-thousand seasonal workers. And many retailers expect sales to be so good, they will be able to hirer some of those seasonal workers full-time.

At Sears in Tallahassee, 40 people were added, most with good resumes and retail experience.

“The way the economy is today, we had a lot of great applicants, great qualified associates and it was actually easy to hire this year,” said Tony Fischler, GM at Sears in Tallahassee.

Retail and tourism are two of the state’s largest industries, which means growth in those sectors is a good sign Florida is on the right track.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Holiday Sales Predictions Good Despite Fiscal Cliff

November 15th, 2012 by flanews

Florida Retailers are expecting a slightly better holiday shopping season than last year’s. They’re predicting a 5.2 percent increase in sales. As Whitney Ray tells us, the prediction comes as gridlock in Washington moves the country closer to the fiscal cliff and threatens to raise taxes on Florida families.

Karen Long and her granddaughter Ayana are perusing the mall in search of Christmas presents.

“I think she is going to cost me a little bit, but I’m still going to try and stay within a budget for sure,” said Long.

Donna Mobley saved all year to buy gifts for her family.

“I won’t spend as much because right now I budget for things that they need verses what they want,” said Mobley.

The Great Recession has changed people’s shopping habits. The trend has been to spend less, but this year retailers say people are more optimistic about the economy.

“Americans are feeling more confident about their financial situations,” said Rick McAllister, president of the Florida Retail Federation.

The Florida Retail Federation is predicting a 5.2 percent increase in holiday shopping. They say the average shopper will spend 750 dollars on gifts, up 10 bucks from a year ago.

The prediction comes as gridlock in Washington brings the country closer to the fiscal cliff. If Congress and the President can’t reach a deal by the end of the year, Florida families could see their taxes increase by 35-hundred dollars.

But shoppers say it’s too early to be worried.

“Not before Christmas, we’ll see what happens after Christmas,” said Long.

And retailers have this message for Washington.

“What a great Christmas present for all the citizen of American, if they could get together and solve this problem now,” said McAllister.

While consumer confidence seems unphased by the looming crisis, reaching a deal sooner than later can solidify the mood. Democrats are pushing for eliminating tax breaks for families making over 250-thousand dollars a year. Republicans want cuts to entitlements. President Barack Obama will meet with House Speaker John Boehner tomorrow to begin the negotiations.

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Scott willing to Play Ball amid Looming Deadline

November 14th, 2012 by flanews

He fought it tooth and nail, but now it looks like Governor Rick Scott will have to begin working with the federal government to implement Obamacare. Scott signaled Tuesday he’s willing to make some concessions, but as Whitney Ray tells us, those concessions are too late to meet a fast approaching federal deadline.

For many, Mitt Romney’s presidential defeat was about more than the White House. It was a last ditch effort to beat the Affordable Care Act.

In 2010, Republicans failed to win enough Senate seats to pass a repeal bill. Earlier this year a Supreme Court challenge of the new health care law fell flat.

One of Governor Rick Scott’s top priorities was to repeal Obamacare, but with no options left, he’s now changing his tune.

Scott told reporters Tuesday, he’s now willing to negotiate with the federal government, about how best to implement the changes. His staff even went as far as promoting Scott’s role reversal emailing this article to reporters.

But Scott’s change of tune comes as a crucial deadline approaches. The state has until Friday to come up with a plan for its health care exchange.

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford says Florida won’t meet the deadline.

“I don’t think the state is going to be in a position to have a definitive answer of what our plan is by next Friday,” said Weatherford.

Missing the deadline means the feds will launch an exchange for Florida. The next choice that has to be made is whether or not to expand Florida’s Medicaid roles. Social service advocates say that discussion needs to begin soon.

“We’ve got a million very low income people who would benefit from that,” said advocate Karen Woodall

Before the court challenge, states that didn’t expand Medicaid could be penalized. The penalty was thrown out, so now Florida has options about how to proceed. And that deadline is 2014. The feds are offering to pay Florida 27 billion dollars over the next 10 years to extend Medicaid to a million more families. Scott’s worried about what happens after the money stops in 2024. Social service advocates say if Florida doesn’t expand its rolls the money will go to another state.

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