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Welfare Recipients Targeted by Identity Thieves

May 14th, 2013 by flanews

Every year thieves target thousands of welfare recipients stealing their identities and depriving them of the benefits in which they desperately need.

Identity Thieves Targeted by State

Florida’s welfare recipients are the latest target of identity thieves, stealing from those who need it most. The state says it needs to stop. “For some reason Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft in the nation,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary, David Wilkins.

Nine of the top 10 cities in the country for identity theft are right here in the sunshine state. “In 2011 and 2012 the division of public assistance fraud investigated just over 6,600 cases of suspected public assisted fraud,” said Deputy CFO over law enforcement, Jay Etheridge.

A new state program will now make it more difficult for thieves to steal people’s identities and gaining access to state benefits. It’s expected to save the state 60-million dollars a year. “You’re saving months and potentially years of money going out the door,” said Wilkins.

The state is reaching out to local police for help. “I want to put those individuals who choose to commit these crimes; I want to put them on notice. If you commit the fraud we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” said Tallahassee Chief of Police, Dennis Jones.

92-percent of cases that were investigated over the last two years were charged or disqualified for future state benefits.

Posted in Children, Crime, Criminal Justice, State News, Unemployment | 1 Comment »

Historic Bacteria Damages Orange Groves

May 13th, 2013 by flanews

Florida orange groves are dealing with the most serious bacteria disease in state history.

Citrus Greening is a disease first spotted seven years ago has affected every nearly 10-percent of the orange production in the state.


According to Erin Gillepsie with the Department of Agriculture – the disease causes the orange to drop early, essentially making is useless…which will eventually drive the price up on orange juice at the grocery store. ”The orange crops go up and down every year,” said Department of Agriculture, Erin Gillepsie. “Again, this is the lowest year we’ve had without a hurricane or of freeze. The crops go up and down the prices haven’t changed too much. If we continue to lose the orange crop, of course the price of orange juice will go up.”

The state has received funding to fight this bacteria disease.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Public Hearing held for ‘Lender-placed’ insurance companies

May 13th, 2013 by flanews

Any homeowner in Florida with a mortgage is required to have insurance. If there is a lapse in coverage, the bank or mortgage company will then get lender-placed insurance for the homeowner.

The largest “lender-placed” or “force-placed” insurance companies in Florida met with state officials about a rate change on the cost of coverage.

“It’s a very critical piece of insurance for Florida’s banks,” said Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, Kevin McCarty. “During the last several years there’s been a lot of interest in the state and federal level about business practices.”

Florida is not the only state questioning the business, more than 140-thousand Floridians have paid for the coverage.

“This is a normal hearing process we go through,” said Vice-President of Corporate Communications at Assurant, Shawn Kahle.

The companies work closely with mortgage lenders accused of charging up to four-times more for insurance for people who are having financial troubles; and have recently had a lapse in their homeowners insurance.

“As a result we see hundreds of thousands of consumers who are already struggling to pay the bill,” said Executive Director for Economic Justice, Birny Birnhaum. “When they get this really high force-placed insurance put on them and it really breaks their back.”

Opponents say the insurance companies are price gauging consumers, while the companies say they are doing what’s necessary to keep prosperities insured. “When that happens, the lender-placed insurance is put into place until the owner can provide insurance for themselves and show proof they have insurance in place,” said Kahle.

The companies argue that the rate changes may save some people money; however, they were not able to provide numbers for the regulators.

The insurance regulators are not expected to have a decision until the end of May.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Housing Slump Coming to an End

May 10th, 2013 by flanews

What was a buyers market for years is now starting to turn into a sellers market. Florida’s housing industry is seeing some of the highest numbers in more than 6 years.

Homeowner Diane Winzler spent the last five years waiting for the perfect time to sell her old house on Florida’s Gulf Coast. “I was expecting to wait months or maybe even years before it sold,” said Winzler.

The number of people buying houses is increasing and at a rapid pace. “We’re heading in the right direction and people are moving to the state and so they’re buying our houses,” said Governor Rick Scott.

The housing crisis is ending much faster than expected. Receipts from the state doc stamp tax have increased 36-percent from year to year.

A large part of that includes home sales and refinancing current mortgages.

“This is really good for the seller who’s seen a pretty tough market for 4 or 5 years,” said Florida Realtor’s John Sebree.

For Diane it took less than two months from listing her house to closing; and three weeks from closing to buying her new house.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Federal lawmakers look to Florida for Foster Care Change

May 9th, 2013 by flanews

State lawmakers recently passed “Lets Kids Be Kids” bill, focusing on allowing foster children to live lives as similar to their peers as possible.
State lawmakers were in Washington trying to help reform the national foster care

19-year-old Martan Gordon is adjusting to life after being in Florida’s foster care system for more than eight years. “It was basically go to school come home or group home. Wherever I was and that was basically my life,” said Gordon.

Laws had forced kids and their foster care families to get approval from social workers and judges on nearly every decision made, creating a feeling of isolation. “We have bubble wrapped these kids and deprived them of any kind of normalcy when it comes to childhood,” said Senator Nancy Detert.

Federal lawmakers listened to Florida’s new bill giving insight on possible changes at the federal level. “States might examine a law Florida enacted just this year, that is to ensure that foster youth are treated like every other child,” said U.S. Representative Dave Reichert.

Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, David Wilkins says the strict rules made it difficult for not only kids in the system, but the adults trying to help those children. “Foster parents are burdened with paper work, court responsibilities, and jobs responsibilities all surrounding protecting the child,” he said.

Now federal officials are looking to Florida to see what changes to make so foster kids everywhere feel some sense of normalcy while living in the system.

Posted in Business, Children, Economy, Education, Legislature, Politics, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

More jobs move to Florida

May 8th, 2013 by flanews

Across Florida announcements have been made about new jobs moving to the Sunshine State.

Less than a week after Governor Rick Scott declared victory at the closing ceremony for the Florida Legislative Session, the governor announced Hertz Rental Car Headquarters will be moving from New Jersey. “This is a great day for Florida,” said Gov. Scott.

For months, one big job announcement after another has been made across the state. Including more than 1,500 jobs being announced at the Navy Federal Credit Union in Pensacola and high paying jobs being added to the Jacksonville area in the aviation field. “We’ve been reducing unemployment at twice the national average rate,” said Executive Vice President of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, David Hart.

Another major announcement earlier this week will benefit a large portion of the state. Coca-cola said they will buy 2-billion dollars worth of oranges in newly planted groves over the next 20 years.

Matt Horn reports that even though there has been a lot of positive publicity, opponents say there would be more jobs coming to the state if lawmakers would have expanded the Medicaid expansion bill. Opponents say without the bill, more than 100,000 will not come to Florida. “That would have brought 51-billion dollars of our own tax money back into the state over 10 years and that money goes directly into the economy,” said Executive Director of Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy’s Karen Woodall.

Florida also lost a few thousand jobs when lawmakers failed to pass a bill renovating the Miami Dolphins stadium.

“We still have a long way to go to get back to full employment, but we’re heading in the right direction,” said Hart.

Currently Florida’s unemployment is at 7 and a half percent.

Posted in State News | 157 Comments »

FAMU Hires New Band Director

May 8th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida A&M University has named a new Director of Bands, which is seen as a major step toward reinstatement of the famed Marching 100. The band was suspended following the hazing death of a band student in November 2011.

Florida A & M has crowned Dr. Sylvester Young as the new Director of Marching and Pep bands.

The appointment is a home coming. Young experienced a form of Hazing as a student in 1965. “And I wore red socks with my short white pants, and the first sense of hazing I had was an upper class-man made me leave the field and take those socks off.” Young chuckled.

Young knows he has to change the culture of the band. Hazing has gotten progressively more violent since his stint as a trombone player. Ten people still face second degree murder charges in the hazing death of Drum Major Robert Champion.  “Other schools are watching us very closely and we can actually come out of this being an icon for all other universities” says Young.

The new band director is adamant. He wasn’t promised the band would be back this fall. Interim President Larry Robinson says while no date has been set to make a decision about the bands return, all the right people are now in place.“This is critical piece of that, and we’ll do our assessment, and once we’re done, we’ll be prepared to make an announcement one way or the other” says Robinson.

Students Kachi Ukpabi Jr. worries the clock is ticking too fast for the band to return this fall  “If he can’t come in to June,  People want a band by August, I mean, its a lot of work.”

Young starts in mid June, but a decision on the bands return could be made before then. Dr. Young was the Universities second choice for band director. The school had scheduled an announcement on January 15th, but the candidate backed out at the last minute. Young says he didn’t apply during the initial selection process, but decided he had something to offer.

Posted in Business, Crime, Education, FAMU, State News | 13 Comments »

Florida Attorney General takes stance against human trafficking

May 7th, 2013 by flanews

It’s being called modern-day slavery and is as a 32-billion dollar industry worldwide. Human trafficking in Florida is the third most common place in America.

From Florida’s highways to its message parlors; human trafficking is an every day’s occurrence in the state. As people forced into sex or labor. “Florida ranks third and it’s going to stop,” said Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi.

Ashamed of the high ranking state lawmakers this year made human trafficking a first degree felony, with a 15-year prison sentence. Wire taps have been expanded and now the statewide prosecutor can pursue a case anywhere in the state. “
There’s more we can do and we will do, said Bondi.

In a news conference at the state capitol, government officials met with statewide business leaders to take a bold stance on ending human trafficking. “We’re standing here united on this one issue because like the general has taken so many other issues, we need to get it out of the state,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Tony Carvajal.

The signs are hard to see, but experts say it’s happening all around. “Unlike the slavery of 150 years ago, we don’t see people in chains now,” said Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, Terry Coonan. “But, it’s invisible chains and often times psychological coercion is being used against them.”

Its estimated 27-million people are being trafficked worldwide.

If you’ve noticed something you think that may be human trafficking, you’re urged to call 1-800-96-ABUSE.

Posted in State News | 28 Comments »

Guns and School Safety

May 6th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, State leaders promised that “everything” was on the table when it came to guns and school safety.

Efforts to put a guidance counselor in every school to spot trouble, require schools to hold more frequent lockdown exercises…or a bill to arm teachers all died when lawmakers went home.

Representative Dennis Baxley chairs a committee that heard some gun bills. We asked why more gun bills, pro or con, didn’t pass. “Definitely a sense of not over reacting to some of the spectacular things that happened like Sandy Hook” says Baxley.

The NRA’s lobbyist was in the gallery when the only gun bill..out of 15 introduced…passed.

The bill clamps down on the ability of the mentally ill to buy a gun. Sponsor Audrey Gibson says it passed because the NRA supported it. “At lease we are at the table talking about it..and we should continue to talk about other ways to make sure we stop gun violence” says the Jacksonville State Senator. After a law enforcement memorial for fallen police officers, Fraternal Order of Police President James Preston says they would have liked some clarification to the controversial Stand Your Ground. “If there is an opportunity to recede or back away from the violence, that would be our preference, but if you have to protect yourself, then by all means, the public needs to be able to do that” says the FOP President.

The bill that would have done that never got a hearing. “We never even had the discussion about stand your ground” said State Senator Chris Smith, the sponsor of legislation to prohibit someone from pursuing someone and then claiming Stand Your Ground.

But the NRA says lawmaker looked and decided nothing was broken that needed fixing.Last year a task force held seven public hearings on Stand Your Ground and made minor recommendations to tweak the legislation, but even that bill was not heard by lawmakers.

Posted in Civil Rights, Crime, Criminal Justice, Education, Firearms, Guns, Legislature, Politics, Rick Scott, State News | 2 Comments »

Fallen Law Enforcement Officers Remembered

May 6th, 2013 by flanews

Five Florida law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2012, and today they were remembered at an annual ceremony at the state capital. “Anything can turn deadly in a blink of an eye,” said Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi. “And so sadly you had to find that out.”

Keynote speaker Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd lost one of his own deputies last month, after agreeing to speak at the ceremony. “I never imagined that one of my own deputies would lose his life in the line of duty just 10 days prior to this ceremony,” he said.

One-by-one, grieving family members pinned a rose to the area of Florida where their loved one died. “When our law enforcement officers go to work,” said Bondi. “Everyday they risk their lives for all of us.”

Even as the fallen officers were being remembered, Sheriff Judd had a message for criminals in Florida. “If you make one last bad choice by pointing a gun at any one of us, we will make one more good choice and shoot you graveyard dead,” he said.

Three Florida officers have already been killed in the line of duty in 2013.

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

Medicaid Mayhem

May 1st, 2013 by flanews

There is chaos in the Florida House. Democrats are using the little authority they have to slow down the process. They’ve joined together to have every bill read in full and they’re turning every debate into a conversation about Medicaid expansion. As Whitney Ray tells us, House leadership is using technology to thwart their efforts.

A guard stood watch over the Florida House Wednesday. The Chamber was locked and a machine read legislation in fast forward. Democrats hijacked every debate.

“And so today you are playing the game with us and we are going back and forth and that’s unfortunate,” said Rep. Jim Waldman.

The battle was sparked after the Florida House refused to accept federal money to expand Medicaid. With just a few days to go until the end of session they’re pulling out all the stops.

“We will use any tools we can just like you used them in committees,” said Waldman in debate.

State Democrats are getting help from Washington. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz is at the state capitol pushing for the expansion.

“If at the end of the day, if the end of this week comes and goes and the Republicans in Tallahassee refuse to insure a million more Floridians then they will have sickness, illness and death,” said Shultz.

The Senate passed a plan to accept federal money to expand Medicaid and offer coverage to million more Floridians. Governor Rick Scott is also backing the expansion but Shultz is pressing him to take a more active role.

“It’s time for him to get off the sidelines, either he is for accepting those funds and is willing to use his clout and his weight and put the full weight of his office behind that position or he’s not,” said Shultz.

With little time left before the end of session, talks of a fall session to address the issue are emerging. The senate has passed a Medicaid Expansion plan, but there’s still no sign from the House that they’ll take action.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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