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And The Band Plays On

August 30th, 2013 by flanews

After nearly a two year suspension following the hazing death of Florida A&M’s band is ready to re-take the field.

Florida A&M’s band hasn’t missed a beat since a nearly two year suspension.

”It’s really unbelievable, you know what I’m saying? Being in a position where the bands gone and now the bands back,” says band member Zachary Nealy.

The band was suspended after the hazing death of 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion in November 2011. Doctors say Champion was hit more than 300 times during the hazing ritual.

The incident forced the resignation of the university president and faculty members, while felony and misdemeanor charges against more than a dozen former band members. A new band director was hired earlier this year.

The band: 146 members strong is ready for a new chapter in its storied history.

”…Let the world know we’re talented musicians, talented group of students and they’re going to rise to the occasion,” said Ralph Jean-Paul.

Part of the new culture includes stricter guidelines for band members. Buses left two hours later than expected because of the extensive checklist. It verifies each band member’s enrollment status and GPA. ”A few different processes, but its for accountability, so its all great. It’s going to serve a for a bigger purpose,” said Jean-Paul.

”Five buses are taking the marching 100 back to Orlando the same city they last performed in nearly two years ago,” reports Matt Horn.

“The band will exemplify good character and integrity on the trip, its going to be an awesome trip. We will not let our fans our university or anyone down,” said Nealy.

The band will perform for the football team’s first game on Sunday at the Citrus Bowl.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Sinkholes Galore

August 29th, 2013 by flanews

With hundreds of people moving to Florida daily – more and more sinkhole reports are expected statewide. As Matt Horn reports sinkholes are already on the rise after a rainy summer.

From one end of Florida to the other – the threat of sinkholes – are imminent.

“We’re going to have more sinkholes, that’s just a result of living here in Florida,” said state assistant geologist, Harley Means.

Florida geologists say the rainy summer has helped speed up the process for many of these sinks across the state… Several Florida sinkholes have made headlines after forming in heavily populated areas – like the one near Disney World earlier this month. As common as sinkholes are – geologist say man has helped speed up the process.

“Certain times of the year or certain events can trigger sinkholes,” said Means.

The Tallahassee sinkhole opened up last week – although unlikely to cause any damage to nearby houses – people in the area say they will keep a close on the hole.

“It doesn’t worry me too bad. It worries me a little about peoples houses close to it,” said Bart Herndon.

With more people moving to Florida – geologist say the number of sinkhole reports will undoubtedly go up. Creating a possible recipe for disaster.

“We can’t predict exactly when and where a sinkhole will occur,” said Means.

Sinkholes are most common from Central Florida through the Big Bend in North Florida.

Posted in State News | 6 Comments »

Changes Brewing for Online Database

August 28th, 2013 by flanews

A security breach earlier this summer has the State Department of Health scrambling to keep your information private. As Matt Horn reports, skeptics say they don’t believe new proposals will protect patient privacy.

Florida’s online prescription database is ground zero for security issues.

”We wanted to make sure that we feel like its secure. Security is priority number one for the Department of Health on health information,” said Deputy Secretary Marty Stubblefield.

Earlier this summer the Department of Health was forced to review security after 33-hundred Floridians medical information wrongfully made it into the hands of 5 attorneys in Volusia County. D-O-H says even after the breach the department’s number one mission is keeping people’s information private.

“The biggest changes on who we accept as having access being able to deny access as well as being able to say this person is too much,” said Stubblefield.

This week the department held a public hearing on the security issues. Opponents worry the changes the department is proposing, including restricting law enforcement access, wont do anything to protect patient privacy.

”We really hope the DOH is willing to go back to the table to consider recommendations that the ACLU put forth and come back with something that sort of makes sense,” said ACLU lobbyist, Pamela Burch Fort.

Critics fear DOH will make security changes without adding the feedback from the public hearing – forcing the skeptics to rely on lawmakers next spring at the capitol.

“At some point we will be reviewing the next iteration of the proposed rules,” said Burch Fort.

The agency says it will publish its proposal in September and take public comments before adopting any changes.

Posted in State News | 40 Comments »

One of a Kind Couple

August 27th, 2013 by flanews

A one-of-a-kind marriage between two females have sparked controversy in Florida and in Texas. As Matt Horn reports this same-sex marriage couple used a Texas court ruling against itself to marry…making their situation a one of a kind in America.

This marriage has been one of the biggest blessings and biggest obstacles for Kim and Carolyn Van der Linde. That’s because Kim was born a male.

“I started out maybe feeling a little odd about it, because yeah it is a little big different. But, after a while, I just realized this is the one, so does it matter,” asked Carolyn van der Linde.

After dating for three years, the couple decided to take the next step and tie the knot. Although Florida laws ban same-sex marriage; the couple decided to challenge a similar Texas law.

“How you’re born is what you are, whether you’re transgender or not, it doesn’t matter; and that basically told me, we can get married there as a heterosexual couple,” said Dr. Kim van der Linde.

Kim who is a biologist at Florida State University was able to prove under Texas law that their marriage is in fact legal. That’s because she has male chromosomes while her wife has female chromosomes.

The couple found a judge to marry them as a heterosexual couple in San Antonio, Texas.

“We went in and she was like okay. It was very awkward because I was addressed as mister,” said Kim.

However, the Van der Linde’s marriage isn’t recognized in Florida, since the state considers them a same-sex couple; and not a heterosexual couple like Texas.

“Loopholes, contradictions and discrimination and that makes for bad policy,” said attorney Eliabeth Ricci.

Two weeks ago – Kim, who is from the Netherlands – finally received her green card allowing her to stay in Florida with Carolyn. Making this bi-national couple’s marriage one of the most unique in the country.

The 1999 Texas court case had nullified a marriage between a male and a transgender female saying the chromosomes a person is born with is the gender a person is, even after a sex change. Which made the marriage between the Van der Linde’s possible.

Posted in State News | 11 Comments »

Deaths Down, Enforcement Up

August 26th, 2013 by flanews

As you get ready to load the family into the car for a long Labor Day holiday, state officials are planning a crackdown on speeders. As Matt Horn explains, the Florida Highway Patrol is part of not only a state but a national enforcement effort.

Every day – officers stop drivers who are breaking the law—and sometimes encounter people with tempers. Florida Highway Patrol Sergeant, Ryan Martina says he understands emotions are high during each traffic stop. But the goal is to keep people safe on Florida’s roads.

“Its all about safety. Its not about revenue or anything like that,” said Martina.

From Jacksonville to Santa Monica, California — Labor Day weekend kicks off a brand new multi-state initiative on Interstate 10 to keep motorists safe.

“All of our troopers that align with the corridor for I-10, they’re going to be looking for aggressive drivers, DUI’s, speeding,” said Capt. Nancy Rasmussen. “I think people are starting to realize that with the increase of traffic along the roadways that they’re slowing down a little bit.”

Across Florida – the number of fatal accidents during summer holiday weekends are down from last year, even though overall accidents are up.

“Slow down, watch the speed limits, stop for stop signs, wear your seatbelt, don’t drink and drive; don’t text and drive,” said Martina.

The increased patrol efforts start on Friday.

This is the first time the seven states along I-10 have worked together to have a special enforcement weekend for a holiday.

Posted in State News | 8 Comments »

Citizens: A Last Resort

August 23rd, 2013 by flanews

The state’s property insurer of last resort is taking a step in reducing the number of policies the company has. The reduction may save some policy holders money, while costing others more.

With 1-point-2 million policy holders, Citizen’s no longer wants to be the states largest insurer.

“One of our goals has been to shrink citizens down to the insurer of last resort,” said Citizen’s spokesperson Mike Peltier.

Citizen’s is spending almost 45-million over 10 years to move policyholders to a private company. New applicants will be required to go through a clearinghouse being set up by the contract. If they’re offered private insurance no more than 15-percent higher than citizen’s rates, they won’t be allowed to use citizens.

Lawmakers passed a bill which was signed into law by the governor which will help citizens reduce their policy count number.

“That was the big reform from the legislature – to try to reduce the size of citizens and we support it,” said Sam Miller with Florida Insurance Council.

Citizen’s says it’s a two prong approach. The first point is to make the company the insurer of the last resort; the second goal is to make sure customers are receiving the best coverage possible.

“To provide customers with what may be comprehensive coverage then they can with citizen’s policy,” said Peltier.

The clearinghouse begins in January 2014.

”We’re trying to give customers the opportunity to find coverage in private market as opposed to coming back to citizens,” said Peltier.

Bolt Solutions beat out five other vendors for the contract with Citizen’s Insurance.

Citizen’s Renewal Customers will only be able to stay with the insurer of last resort if they can’t find cheaper rates elsewhere.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Funds Drying Up After Court Ruling

August 22nd, 2013 by flanews

The Department of Juvenile Justice is still dealing with the aftermath of a weekend riot at a Juvenile prison, and now as Matt Horn tells us, the Department faces the possibility of running out of money by spring.

The Department of Juvenile Justice is still cleaning up after a weekend riot at a Polk County Juvenile detention center. Secretary Wansley Waters says she is still looking for answers. “So that we can determine what can be done to prevent this from happening again,” said Secretary Walters.

The Department faces other woes. Just two months into the new budget year, the department faces the possibility of running out of money.

“Our budget that was allocated by the legislature didn’t really fund us to address anything like this,” said Walters.

The problem is a recent court ruling that prohibits the department from charging counties for locking up juvenile offenders. The state is now scrambling to make up a 35-million dollar deficit. There’s another 19 million dollar budget hole after the Federal government stopped sharing health care

“We’re looking for legislature to assist us,” said Walters.

The financial issue is expected to be a one year problem.

“As we move forward, our budget will be whole so we don’t encounter these short falls every year,” said Walters.

Lobbyist Barney Bishop isn’t surprised by the courts decision, but he says DJJ is trying to right any wrongs.

“I think this is a legitimate issue and the secretary is doing the appropriate thing by notifying both the governor and the respected appropriation chairs,” said Bishop.

Although unlikely, it is possible the budget shortfalls could lead to the closure of several juvenile facilities statewide.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Sea Turtle Mania

August 21st, 2013 by flanews

For the first time in three years Florida’s sea turtle hatchlings are seeing increased survival rates. The increase is a result of measures put in place to keep the baby sea turtles alive.

Every morning during turtle nesting season Bruce Drye walks up and down St. George Island, keeping a close eye on sea turtle nests. Drye has been using his skills to protect baby sea turtles since the mid-1980’s.

When asked where he learned his skills Drye said, “But, I learned how to do all of this as a park ranger.”

As the warm waters of the Gulf crash onshore, Drye says it’s not a life at the beach for these hatchlings.

“The sky will be lighter than the water, and that’s what has drawn hatchlings to the safety of the water for billions of years, and if we have these homes lit up, they’ll go the wrong way,” said Drye

Other predators such as the ghost crab pose a threat to the baby sea turtles.

Turtle nests have been popping up all over the beaches. In 2010, they were moved to the east coast of Florida due to the BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast. Because of those efforts, this could be a record year.

“Hatchling success rates over there nearly as good as if we had left these on the beach by themselves, left them alone,” said Drye.

So far this year 861 nests each containing about a hundred eggs, have been counted statewide.

Beach-goer Jennifer Taylor was on this beach in 2010, she says it’s amazing to see such an abundance of sea turtle nests after the oil spill.

“We were here three years ago, I guess and we saw maybe one or two nests. So seeing these along the beach is pretty amazing,” said Taylor.

With another successful nesting season underway thousands of hatchlings are expected to soon populate the waters off Florida’s coast. As of right now, the number of nests is the second highest on record.

Posted in State News | 8 Comments »

Hearing Crystal Clear for the First Time in Years

August 20th, 2013 by flanews

A Florida four year old who has gone most of his life unable to hear clearly has a new lease on life. His use of sound comes just in time for school.

After years of extreme hearing loss since he was just a few months old, Nick Bender was able to hear clearly for the first time this summer.

Four year old Nick Bender cheerfully said, “I hear that, I hear that!”

In June, Bender received a Cochlear Implant; in July the device was turned up high enough for him to finally hear.

Nick’s mother Michelle Bender said, “When they turned it on, its like hearing is back. It’s just amazing with just a flip of a switch with a little minor surgery. It’s just amazing.”>

It’s the second day of school for Nick and because of the implant he’s able to attend a traditional school where he’ll still receive the help he needs.

“He’s going to be able to get speech therapy here that he was needing. He was needing it like 2 to 3 times per week by going to school here,” said Nick’s father Ken Bender.

The implant was placed behind Nick’s right ear.

“He’s actually hearing through here, not through his ear anymore. And then the wires connected to a little processor that’s like a little computer processing the information,” said Michelle Bender.

Through the process the Bender family has made the 2-plus hour drive from Tallahassee to the Nemours Children Hospital in Jacksonville. Now that Nick is able to hear, trips to the hospital will be fewer. Nick can now focus on things other 4 year-olds enjoy, like going to the movies with their parents.

“I went to the movie,” said Nick Bender. “Yes, you went to the movie,” said Michelle Bender.

For Nick and his parents, better hearing will lessen his frequent question: What? and likely replace it with the question, Why’s that?

It’s estimated more than 150-thousand cochlear implants have been performed globally.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Drug Testing May Cost Parents

August 19th, 2013 by flanews

The way high school students are drug tested may be changing – and at the parents expense. As Matt Horn reports, this is after some Florida parents started supplying high school students with performance enhancing chemicals.

Before the first football game of the season, there are talks of how schools may monitor student-athletes using performance enhancing drugs.

“Our goal is to protect our student athletes and the sport that they play,” said Shelton Crews.

If the changes take place and there’s a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a player is using performance enhancing drugs a parent will have to pay for the drug test before the player is allowed back on the field.

Florida Athletic Coaches Association Executive Director Shelton Crews says coaches support the change. “We do support a change; we support this mission of FHSA,” said Crews.

Student athletes say they, too support drug testing to keep the game as fair as possible.

“If you’re using drugs and its helping you play it aint fair for other people to go against you,” said student athlete Andre Thomas.

Many education associations remain tight lipped as they figure out what the changes will mean for schools. The High School Athletic association says if a student-athlete is tested for the performance enhancing drugs, it may cost a parent up to 2-hundred dollars. Players have mixed reaction on who should pay for tests.

State lawmakers approved a test program six years ago to drug test athletes, it was later abandoned because of the price to state taxpayers.

The Florida Association of School Administrators says districts already have the authority to drug test students and have them pay for the test, too.

Posted in State News | 109 Comments »

Insurance Company to Hit Consumer Wallets

August 16th, 2013 by flanews

Florida’s state-run property insurer of last resort is seeking a rate hike for customers. It is the same group that was caught wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars.

State-run Citizen’s Property Insurance wants to increase rates by an average of 7 and a half percent for its customers. “We’re confident that the rates we’ve requested adequately reflect what we need going forward,” said spokesman Mike Peltier.

The request for the increases comes after Citizens’ was caught mishandling hundreds of thousands of dollars. They say changes are in place to prevent another mishap. “Many changes have been made to both internal expense policy and other issues,” said Peltier.

The insurer will get some extra help avoiding mismanagement in the future. Lawmakers approved hiring an Inspector General; 88 people applied. The final four candidates will undergo background checks before anyone is offered the job. Rick Scott and the Cabinet will get the final say. “I’m real excited about this selected of these four candidates for moving forward for the next step,” said Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel.

While Citizens says the rates are needed to keep them on par with other companies. Opponents worry the insurance company will hurt customers. “We’re encouraging everyone to get out there and say we want reasonable rates with reasonable coverage,” said Policyholders of Florida Spokesperson, Kevin Cate.

Citizens will hold a public hearing to discuss the rate hikes on Tuesday in Tampa to allow people to voice their opinions. “If you live in South Florida, Central Florida or any area of the state where you see rates going up – go get to Tampa and have your voices heard,” said Cate.

The rate increases vary depending on the type of insurance. The largest increases will hit coastal properties.


Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Florida May Be Number One, Globally

August 15th, 2013 by flanews

Florida is on track to break tourism records for both US and international visitors. As the global economy continues to improve, more people are expected to make Florida ‘the’ global destination.

From Florida’s sugar sand beaches to globally-known amusement parks – there’s a little, or a lot of something for everyone to do. Ohio native Russell Ham and his wife were exploring the Sunshine State Thursday, venturing around the Florida Panhandle.

“The Gulf Coast is beautiful and that’s phenomenal. The seafood is outstanding and everyone knows how to cook it,” said Ham.

Earlier this summer, the Sunshine State didn’t look too appealing. Record rainfall drenched many popular tourist destinations. But, the numbers show Mother Nature didn’t slow people from coming to Florida.

“Tourism is a growth industry in the state. It’s what we build our foundation on. 85 visitors equals one job,” said Tony Carvejal.

Between April and June – more than 19-million US tourists came to Florida. Another 3.7 million foreigners also visited the state.

“We are growing and its other people telling us that Florida is the place they want to be,” said Carvejal.

Visitors say they aren’t surprised by the record numbers. “It’s a good place to visit. I enjoy it, I come here as much as I can,” said visitor William Epperson.

Florida has seen record tourism growth in since the end of 2010 – the state says the growth proves Florida is on its way to being the number one travel destination in the world.

Posted in State News | 45 Comments »

Lawmakers Dash Defender’s Dream

August 14th, 2013 by flanews

So far 55 lawmakers have said ‘no’ to calling a special session addressing the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. The Dream Defenders say they will continue their sit-in until their demands are met.


The polling process asking lawmakers if they support a special session of the legislature addressing the stand your ground law kicked off earlier this week. Each day the chances of a session being called move closer to mathematically impossible.

Dream Defender Ahmad Abuznaid said, “For us, it was all about a measure of leaving no stones unturned.”

The dream defenders have spent the last 30 days camped out in the Governors office. They said they won’t leave until there’s a special session. But now, the house speaker says the poll speaks for itself and they need to go home.

In reaction to the house speaker Ahmad said, “We’d say to those lawmakers, we’re ready to have them lead. So they’re ready for us to leave, but we’re ready for them to lead.”

Letters asking lawmakers if they support a special session of the legislature have been sent out. Lawmakers have until next Monday to send their response to the Secretary of States office.

Lawmakers who don’t respond by the deadline will be counted as a no vote. The Dream Defenders knew they would face opposition from many Republican Lawmakers. Governor Rick Scott told them a week into the protest the session was off the table.

“I’m not going to call a special session. I don’t believe right now the Stand Your Ground law should be changed,” said Governor Rick Scott.

Session or not, the group says they’re staying put.

“Every time we start to get a little tired, we get a renewed sense of energy,” said Ahmad.

More supporters are expected over the next couple of weeks as tens of thousands of college students’ return to state capital. Civil Rights leader Julian Bond will be at the capitol Thursday with the group for what’s being called a ‘huge announcement’.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Florida at War With Neighboring States

August 13th, 2013 by flanews

Florida is at war with Alabama and Georgia over water rights. If Florida loses the battle, it may eliminate thousands of jobs in one of the states most popular industries.


If you go to your favorite seafood restaurant and eat an oyster, it’s likely to have come from Florida’s Apalachicola Bay. A decades long ‘water war’ with Atlanta have already caused half of the Florida delicacy to die off.

US Senator Bill Nelson spoke about the issue, “Current water policies are not working and certainly not working for Florida.”

US Senators Nelson and Marco Rubio held a hearing in the small North Florida town of about 25-hundred to talk about the disastrous impact the lack of fresh water flowing from Georgia is having on the bay.

Monday afternoon The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the west coast of Florida a fishery disaster. It sites three factors: an ongoing drought, reduced downstream river flow and increased salt in the water. That recipe creates a perfect storm for catastrophe.

Matt Horn reports, “Senator Nelson says if fresh water isn’t restored to Apalachicola bay it could cost the area hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.”

The Senators say the bulls-eye is on Lake Lanier outside of Atlanta. The reservoir holds about 60-percent of the water that ends up in Florida. More water has been tapped for Georgia causing the lack of water here.

Lowest water levels since data has been kept in 1923. Lawmakers and fishers in the area are calling on the US Army Corps of Engineers and neighboring states to conserve more, so more water makes it to Apalachicola Bay.

Local Fisherman James Cooper said changes are needed, “if no fresh water then we can’t make a living.”

Florida Governor Rick Scott toured the area with the senators Tuesday Afternoon. He says Florida will sue Georgia over water rights, if nothing is done to allow freshwater to flow to Apalachicola Bay.

Posted in State News | 5 Comments »

New Season Ends Controversial Past

August 12th, 2013 by flanews

It’s about new beginnings at Florida A&M for the nationally-known ‘Marching 100’. After a 19-month suspension, the band is back on the field stronger now than ever.







Under the blazing sun, there’s a new light shining over Florida A&M’s ‘Marching 100’. That’s after the program was suspended after the 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion in 2011. Third-year band member Ronald Gray marched with Champion. “We’ve learned from it. We’ve had rules and regulations put in place by the university to prevent those things from happening again,” said Gray.

The University has worked to change the culture of the band — tougher guidelines and more education on hazing to name a couple. Also, the number in the band will decrease by a third to no more than 256 members.

“This is a new era for the ‘Marching 100’. An era in which they’ll demonstrate to the world they are really going to perform with great skills,” said interim-president Dr. Larry Robinson.

<”The marching 100 is back on the practice field. This Thursday they’ll have an announcement of where their first performance will be.”>

“It’s great. You know we’re excited to be back. It’s a great feeling,” said Gray.

Dr. Sylvester Young was named the new band director back in May – he says the program will be the strongest it’s ever been.

“For the public, hang in there with us. We’ll bring this band back, better than they’ve ever been,” said Dr. Young.

As the program gears up for another season – the university continues to learn from tragedy. The band will march on to revitalize a storied program – tainted in recent years by scandal and controversy.

Band members will be required to maintain a 2.0 GPA and be full-time students to participate in the band.

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

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