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Still Not Working

October 31st, 2013 by flanews

In its 16th day – the new CONNECT unemployment system is still creating problems for out of work Floridians who need unemployment benefits to survive. The state says they are working on fixing issues, while one U.S. politician says he’s working on getting the feds involved.

The new unemployment system is still causing problems for people trying to apply for their benefits.

“We know that some people out there are still experiencing issues and we are working day and night to make sure those issues are solved for those claimants,” said Monica Russell, Department of Economic Opportunity.

The new system – the first of its kind in Florida was unveiled October 15th. Since then – a number of glitches have bogged down the system. U-S Senator Bill Nelson said he is working to get the Federal Government involved in finding out what went wrong and getting it fixed. In a statement he said: “The main purpose behind this federal-state program is to help stabilize the economy during recessions. But it certainly won’t be of much help in my state if those who have lost their jobs face protracted delays in seeking or receiving benefits.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity responded with talking points.

”As our executive director said yesterday: we welcome any input Senator Nelson or the Federal Government has on our website as we identify and address problems as they arise,” said Russell.

Published reports say the company behind the new system, Deloitte, has had similar problems in at least two other states. The company spent between 20 and 40-thousand dollars on seven lobbyists so far this year.

When asked why Deloitte, a company which has had a reputation in the past would you be hired by the state, DEO responded: “We secured the contract through a competitive bid process, we’ve been assured the issues that happened in these other states were not prevalent in Florida.”

The state says they expect other issues including the adjudication and appeals delays to be fixed by Sunday.

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Prepaid Tuition vs. College Loans

October 30th, 2013 by flanews

As the cost of college tuition continues to increase – paying now is one option to keep the price of college low for Florida families. However, opponents say the prepaid option can be still financially straining.

The thought of having college paid-off before a student even takes their first step on campus is ideal for a family preparing to send their child off to school.

“Prepaid or the 529, if it’s specifically for college is going to be your best bet. There are a lot of tax advantages,” said Terri Jackson, Financial Planner.

The cost of tuition in Florida has increased 60-percent over the last five years. The cost of putting money aside for college has, too. The state’s prepaid plan has jumped to fewer than 54-thousand dollars for a newborn.

“You get a very set payment schedule and when you’re finished with those payments you’re guaranteed your child will be able to attend college,” said Kevin Thompson, Executive Director Florida Prepaid College Plans.

Jackson said the program is great for families who are able to afford it. “Do the best that you can,” she said. “Any amount of money that you can put aside is going to be great.”

She was quick to add the economy has made it difficult for families to put back for their children’s education.

“A lot of people are just having a hard time working that into their budget,” she said.

The plan doesn’t force a student to attend a Florida school. If they go out of state they will only receive the amount they would for in-state tuition.

“The plans that we sell we have plans for every one of those colleges and universities in Florida,” said Thompson.

If your child doesn’t go to college – you get your money back, even the 4.66-percent interest.

The enrollment period for the prepaid program kicks off November 1 and runs through the end of February.

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Gaming Fight Continues

October 30th, 2013 by flanews

A four hundred thousand dollar study of increased gambling’s economic impact on Florida found little boost for the economy. State lawmakers are holding the second of four public hearings this afternoon (in Lakeland) on whether to allow mega casinos, and one of the most vehement opponents already has a piece of the pie.

Florida’s dog tracks and jai alai fronts that don’t have slots, want them. Four counties have voted to allow slots in existing facilities, but the state won’t grant licenses, and big players are pushing for at least one mega casino in South Florida. “What we really want is to have one competitively bid destination or integrated resort permit,” says Nick Iarossi, Las Vegas Sands.

State senators will hold a total of four hearing. Their goal, comprehensive regulation of all gambling in Florida but most suspect there will also be mega casinos.

The Florida Chamber is the loudest voice shouting no. “Well, our view is the juice simple isn’t worth the squeeze. These casinos, they need us far more then we need them.” says David Hart, Florida Chamber.

But the position of one of the state’s biggest players has gambling supporters crying foul. Disney has consistently opposed more gambling, but reports show the entertainment giant makes millions licensing its Marvel Comic Characters to slots and other entities.

Spider Man is prominently featured in the promo for a new high tech slot machine.

The Chamber says Disney bough Marvel after most of the licensing agreements were in place. Integrity Florida calls it hypocritical.”To say that they’re against the expansion of gaming to protect Florida’s family-friendly brand does not ring true especially since they are profiting off of gaming themselves,” says Dan Krassner, Integrity Florida.

In the end, billions of dollars are at stake and that makes for what will be the most bitter battle of the coming legislative session.

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Voter Fraud Back in Spotlight

October 29th, 2013 by flanews

Voters beware. A new voter purge effort will look for any ineligible voters. Opponents say the state is continuing to do what it can to suppress the minority vote.

For more than a decade – Florida has been at ground zero for long lines, requiring identification, and attempts to purge voting rolls. Secretary of State Ken Detzner says his goal someone doesn’t vote who shouldn’t.

“I hear consistently 100-percent of the time from voters that they don’t want individuals on our voter rolls that are ineligible,” he said.

Detzner just finished a statewide tour meeting with county elections supervisors to look at purging non-citizen Florida voters. Opponents say the state is wasting time and money on something that is a moot issue.

“It’s inappropriate, it is politically motivated and its going to be another disaster,” said Allison Tant, Chairwoman Florida Democratic Party.

Tant says the last time voters were purged minorities were on the receiving end of it.

“60-percent of the people who are knocked off voter rolls with the last election were Hispanic or African American,” she said.

The purge will be checked by at least two Division of Elections workers before being verified by a federal database called the “Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements” commonly known as SAVE.

A time frame hasn’t been announced for the process, although elections officials will start matching a very small-batch basis. That would include comparing a person’s driver’s license with other federal information to see if they are eligible voters.

“We need to be able to provide credible and reliable information and documentation,” said Detzner.

Detzner says he is not being pressured by any other state officials to start the purge – but he reports to Governor Rick Scott.

The SAVE database wasn’t available to Florida when the state was working to last purge noncitizens votes.

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Lt. Governor Watch

October 29th, 2013 by flanews

It has been seven and a half months since Florida’s Lt. Governor resigned amid an internet gaming controversy. Dozens of names have been speculated about for a replacement, but one name is persistently mentioned.

Florida’s Lt. Governor resigned just days into this past springs legislative session. Rather than replace Jennifer Carroll immediately, Rick Scott said he would wait. “We will not turn our attention to this topic until after this session ends,” Governor Rick Scott said March 13, 2013.

Then the final gavel fell on the legislative session. “I’m focused on it right now,” Gov Scott said May 10, 2013.

That was the end of it, until now.

It has been seven and a half months since Florida had a Lt. Governor, but there are signs that’s about to change.

Like Washington, there are no secrets in the state Capitol. One name, former House Speaker, now State Senate powerhouse. John Thrasher keeps surfacing for the job.  Respected lobbyist Pete Dunbar says the rumors are persistent. “For several months, it doesn’t seem to go away. I don’t know that anybody knows what exactly the Governor has to do but in my mind John Thrasher would be a fabulous choice,” says Pete Dunbar, Lobbyist, former legislator.

We reached Thrasher by phone. While he says he hasn’t spoken to the Governor, he did confirm the number two job came up in a conversation with his Chief of Staff. “He brought up some conversation about it, not in any specific way,” says Voice of Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Democratic Political operative Steve Vancore says Thrasher could do the heaving lifting for the Governor’s Office. “Somebody who knows the legislative process, who can work with the members. Nobody knows the process better then John Thrasher,” says Steve Vancore, Democratic Political Consultant.

Until Scott names a replacement, Attorney General Pam Bondi would take over if anything happened to the Governor.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Lt. Governor Watch

SNAP Reduced

October 28th, 2013 by flanews

Negotiations on Capitol Hill are about to have a drastic impact on millions of Florida’s neediest starting Friday.

“It’s a nationwide thing,” said Rich English. “It’s going to impact every state in this country.”

3-point-6 million of Florida’s hungriest are about to see the amount of money they receive for the SNAP program, also known as food stamps, to decrease. Up to 39-billion dollars in cuts are possible for the program…funds from the stimulus package set to expire on Halloween. Anticipation is leaving food banks with already spotty shelves searching for more food and money to feed the neediest.

“As the community responds with the higher need our food banks do a really good job on meeting those needs,” said Zach McGee.

“Once the money runs out, they’re going to turn to the soup kitchens and pantries which we provide food for,” said English.

The Department of Children and Family Services says they have been preparing for the budget reduction.

“As example: a family of four will see a 36-dollar reduction per month,” said Alexis Lambert. “A family of four with no income currently receives about 670-dollars.”

Six of Florida’s metropolitan areas are in the top 25 for food hardships nationwide.

“It’s about one-in-four people. We hope to see that reduced. We’ve seen slight reductions in it as we’ve seen the economy continue to recover,” said McGee.

The Senate and House are set to discuss the cuts Wednesday.

The Sunshine State also had the second-highest increase in food stamp usage nationwide from 2011 to 2012 – with a 9-point-7 percent increase.

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Crist to Announce Next Week

October 28th, 2013 by flanews

Former Governor Charlie Crist made is abundantly clear over the weekend he will seek to get his old job back as a Democrat. Crist met with Democratic activists in Orlando at the state convention. Such a race would be history making.

Never before have two people who have taken the oath to be Governor run against each other, but former GOP Chief Executive Charlie Crist made it clear over the weekend that he would seek his old job, as a Democrat.

Historically, Republican Governor Claude Kirk tried a comeback as a Democrat in 1978. That was 8 years after he was defeated for a second term. “But everybody knows that I was already a good Governor,” says Claude Kirk, Governor 1967-1971.

Kirk’s return quickly fizzled and before him you have to go all the way back to 1916 to find someone who successfully switched parties.

Sidney J. Catts lost the 1916 Democratic Primary but he became Governor from the Prohibition party.

The state GOP has also seen the writing on the wall and has been blasting Crist in daily missives. “I mean he lost 8 hundred and 32 thousand jobs under his watch,” says Susan Hepworth, Republican Party of Florida.

Then there is the money. Scott’s predicting the most expensive race ever, he’s already raised 18 million in his let’s get to work account. But most polls show Crist with an edge. Benefactor John Morgan says people know and like Crist. “And I believe in the State of Florida that Charlie Crist has 50 million dollars in positive feelings from the state- from the people in Florida,” says John Morgan, Attorney/Crist Law Partner.

Crist does have one hurdle to the democratic nomination, former State Senator Nan Rich has been running for months and remains virtually unknown.

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Inching Ever Closer to Governor’s Race

October 25th, 2013 by flanews

The race for governor in Florida is about to kick off between current Governor Rick Scott and possibly another heavy hitter. Former GOP governor turned independent turned Democrat Charlie Crist is working on connecting with Floridians.

The campaign trail is heating up in Florida… Friday morning former Republican, Independent and now Democrat, Charlie Crist released what the GOP is calling his first campaign video. In very little time The Republican Party of Florida released their own online video bashing the former governor.

Rick Scott has also been amping up his message. His ‘It’s Working’ platform is being repeated by him and echoed by groups who support the incumbent.

On social media sites online – Crist’s post is headlined with ‘its not working’.

“…against simple act of casting your vote. It’s not working,” said Crist.

“It’s broken; its not working is a willingness to open a conversation on how we do politics different in the state of Florida,” said Kevin Cate, Political Consultant.

Crist is expected to announce after a new law taking effect November 1st eases fundraising limits.

Current law limits campaign contributions to five hundred dollars. After November first they jump to three thousand dollars for gubernatorial candidates. Crist is attending this weekend’s Florida Democratic Party Convention but not speaking.

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Tuition Low, Increase High

October 24th, 2013 by flanews

A new report shows Florida has some of the most affordable higher education in America.

Across Florida students working on a bachelor’s degree are paying nearly a third of what their peers are paying in other parts of the country.

“It’s really nice actually because you always hear things about people who have high student loans,” said Brianna Griffin, Florida State University Freshman.

A new report from the College Board ranks Florida ranks 7th cheapest for an in-state four year degree. Those degrees now cost just over 6-thousand a year.

“Public school tuition in Florida is a real bargain,” said Ed Moore, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida President.

But, at the same time, Florida’s percentage increase over the last five years ranks in the top five nationwide. Governor Rick Scott has made it his mission to keep education costs low.

“Tuition has gone up significantly in the last five years. We’ve got to stop this,” said Governor Rick Scott in an interview earlier this year.

“People who are out there paying the tuition need to look at what their real dollar casts are. Opposed to ‘oh my,’ my tuition has gone up 15-percent over the last couple of years,” said Moore.

FSU President Eric Baron says the university strives to provide quality education for students.

“We’re taking every dollar and making sure our students are successful,” he said.

Bachelor students say the low prices will help them pay off debt.

“I think we’re lucky that we do get to go to such a great school and still not have to pay the same amount,” said Celerina Dreher, FSU Senior.

The number of students seeking either a 2-year or 4-year degree is up by almost half in the last decade.

The state with the highest average cost per year for a 4-year degree was New Hampshire a little more than 14-thousand dollars.

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Oyster Disaster

October 24th, 2013 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott is asking that Apalachicla Baya Be declared an Economic Disaster Area. The harvest of oysters is down dramatically and families are suffering.

Kenny Shiver headed out on the water before sunrise and six hours later had few oysters to show for his efforts. “We got two bags, not right now, this time of year we ought to be getting 15, 20 bags a day,” says Kenny Shiver.

Alvin marks and his wife had the same results. There take for the day. “About a hundred and 30 dollars,” says Alvin Marks.

The reasons behind the low yield are complicated.

At the height of the thread of the BP oil spill, every oyster bar on the bay was opened and oystermen were told to go get every oyster they could find.

Then the fresh water flow from Atlanta was reduced, making the oysters available to salt water predators. The seafood Workers association says what should be bountiful is almost nonexistent. “These guys already went all over looking for other jobs, some of them have found some jobs temporarily, some of them went for a little while and had to come back. Two bags a day, that’s not a typical day,” says Shannon Hartsfield, President, Apalachicola seafood workers assn.

The oystermen want the bay closed for at least a year, with federal and state grants paying them to restore oyster beds with old shells.  “We have took and took and took and took and it’s time to put back,” says Shannon Hartsfield.
The restocking effort has been successful in the past. But a much larger scale restoration than ever before is needed for the bay to recover.

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Are the Jobs Really Here?

October 23rd, 2013 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott announced more jobs coming to Florida Wednesday morning.

”We’ve had the second biggest drop of unemployment in the country in the last 2 ½ years and we’re adding jobs each and everyday,” said Scott.

In North Central Florida, the Governor announced a bio-pharmaceutical company will create 150 new jobs. A press release says the announcement was due to multiple agencies, including Enterprise Florida, where the governor serves on the board of directors. Now opponents say the organization is plagued with cronyism.

“Where corporations pay 50-thousand dollars for a seat at the table on the board of Enterprise Florida and then they get subsidy deals and vendor contracts worth millions in return,” said Dan Krassner, a representative of Integrity Florida.

Additionally, opponents say instead of creating what they call ‘real jobs’ the state is really providing the unemployed with I-O-U’s.

“More than 600-thousand Floridians who are out of work right now are hearing a lot of jobs promises but they’re not seeing real jobs delivered,” said Krassner.

Even though hundreds of thousands of Floridians remain unemployed, the Florida Chamber of Commerce says they support Enterprise Florida and the Governor, saying both are creating more jobs.

“Other states are modeling their economic development efforts after Florida,” said Mark Wilson, an employee with the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber also says with more jobs, people are moving to Florida.

“Try telling the people that are relocating to Florida because of these high wage, high paying jobs that they don’t have real jobs,” said Wilson.

Opponents argue a partnership between public agencies and private businesses are a conflict of interest and result in the misuse of taxpayer dollars.

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Net Ban Challenged

October 23rd, 2013 by flanews

A Circuit Judge is calling the states net ban a “legal absurdity.” Judged Jackie Fulford has been mulling her decision for a year before ruling in favor of mullet fishermen.

For eighteen years, Mullet fishermen contend that the net ban approved by voters is good, but the rules the state adopted on net sizes is killing more fish than its saving.

“That’s what we use daily, catch 98 fish that you can’t sell, every two you take to market. This net right here will catch a higher rate. Then this net will catch almost a 1 to 2 percent bi-catch with a 98 or 99 percent catch rate,” says Ronald Crum, Bait Store Owner.

Judge Jackie Fulford Ruled against the net ban saying there is a conflict between what voters approved, a 500 sq ft net and what regulators adopted, a limit on mesh size.

Within hours of the decision, the state appeals which effectively keeps the current band in place.

At My Way Seafood, 50 pounds of mullet came in a first thing Wednesday. “To catch 50 pounds this guy fished all night long. He probably caught at least 1,000 smaller fish juvenile that he had to kill to catch that 50 pound,” says Jason Turner, Seafood Dealer.

After almost two decades the amendment’s author is frustrated. “And so we don’t quite understand why the Wakulla county fishermen, you know, can’t agree with about 18 years worth of rulings,” says Ted Foresgren, coastal Conservation Assn.

Jonas porter was the first person ever arrested for using an illegal net in 1995. He’s been fighting ever since. “It’s what people dying overseas for. They’re fighting for their heritage, to keep their heritage from changing. That’s what I’m fighting,” says Jonas Porter, Mullet Fisherman.

And he is relishing, for the first time, being told that he’s right.

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Bondi Gets Challenger

October 21st, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi got a Democratic opponent today.


George Sheldon, who recently stepped down as an assistant secretary in the Obama administrations’ Health and Human Services Dept., said he plans to return “character” to the Attorney General’s office. Sheldon says Bondi has been fighting the wrong fights for the wrong reasons. “I see an unwillingness to even reach out a hand to the federal government, an unwillingness to expand Medicaid to folks who are trying to work their way into the middle class, a demagoguery about the affordable care act” says Sheldon

In addition to serving in Washington under President Obama, The Democratic contender has run Florida’s Department of Children and Families, served as an Assistant Attorney General, and been elected to the State House from Tampa.

Here’s the statement from the Bondi Campaign:

“As Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi has fought hard to defend and protect the people by making Florida a zero tolerance state for pill mills, taking on human trafficking, and pursuing consumer relief from both, mortgage and Medicaid fraud.

Pam Bondi and George Sheldon have very different credentials and points of view, and we welcome the opportunity to show the voters in Florida that they will have a clear choice between two distinctly different candidates.” 

Pablo Diaz

Campaign Manager




Posted in State News | No Comments »

Medical Marijuana Unknowns

October 21st, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

State economists spent several hours Monday morning asking “what if” the proposed amendment to legalize medical marijuana is approved by voters.

Estimates of how many people might use the substance if prescribed widely. Economist Amy Baker says it will likely be less than half a million, but also says there are some unknowns.  “I think you’re looking at, under normal conditions, that 1785 to 425450 that we were talking about as being a good range. Now what we’ve asked is for additional information related to medical tourism, you know, would that do something unusual” says Baker

The economists also voiced some concerns about language in the amendment that appears to require a medical facility dispensing medical pot to also be the sole source of growing it. The amendment is expected to be on the 2014 Ballot.


Posted in State News | 10 Comments »

Fewer Storms, More Money

October 18th, 2013 by flanews

A hurricane season forecasted to be busier than recent years has so far turned out to be another quiet season.

“Thus far we’ve not had a land-falling hurricane and that’s good news for the State of Florida,” said Bryan Koon, the Director of the Florida division of Emergency Management.

There is still more than a month to go until the end of hurricane season, but several years with few tropical events have allowed the state-created catastrophe fund to build the largest reserve in its 20 year history. The fund provides cash to insurers when there are big losses.

“This is probably the best year we’ve ever had in terms of liquidity and our cash balance,” said Jack Nicholson, Director of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.

The fund can be looked at as a ‘rainy day’ account. Right now the account has around 10-billion dollars available. If more is needed it could borrow several billion more. But, one big storm could possibly deplete the fund.

“Two back to back storms, very large storms could cause us problems. So they’re very events. But we take that seriously,” said Nicholson.

During this hurricane season, only three tropical systems affected the state. If this season mirrors history, the likeliness of a strong tropical system hitting Florida this late in the season is low. However, Hurricane Kate hit the Florida Panhandle a week before Thanksgiving in 1985, prompting hurricane experts to remind people to stay prepared.

“Things you do to prepare for hurricane season are the things you prepare for hazards in the State of Florida; for flooding, for wildfire, for tornadoes, and other severe weather,” said Koon.

Hurricane or not, storm experts and those overseeing the catastrophe fund say they’ll be prepared for the next big storm.

Hurricane Wilma was the last time a hurricane had a direct impact on the state in October 2005.

Posted in State News | 144 Comments »

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