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Citrus Greening -by Matt Horn

November 27th, 2013 by flanews

An incurable disease is creating havoc and hardship for citrus farmers across Florida. The ripple effect will be felt nationwide. 

In Florida’s citrus growing counties, farmers are under the weather because an unwelcome guest. “Florida is the largest producer of oranges in the entire nation. So when you talk about something that affects citrus in Florida you’re talking about something that has a ripple effect throughout our entire state economy,” says John Fleming, Florida Retail Federation.

Citrus greening — a blight the Chinese call Yellow Dragon Disease, is spreading. Once a tree is infected un-ripened green oranges fall from the tree. “I’ve never seen anything put Florida growers and Brazilian growers on the same page as much as the threat of this disease,” says Adam Putnam, Agriculture Commissioner.

The disease has no cure. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the outlook is dire. “There is not a long range cure on the table,” says Putnam.

Citrus is a 9 billion dollar industry for Florida. But greening and falling demand are threatening the future of the industry. “This continues to be the greatest threat the state citrus industry has ever faced,” says Putnam.

The disease has already claimed 8-thousand citrus jobs.  75-thousand still work in the industry. “It’s very important to the state of Florida. Talk about thousands of jobs this affects,” says Fleming.

Citrus is grown across the southern two thirds of Florida.

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Charities Running Amuck?

November 27th, 2013 by flanews

Tis the season for many people to open their hearts and wallets to those less fortunate, but when it comes to charitable giving in Florida, it’s a case of giver beware.

Allied Veterans of the World masqueraded as a charity for years. Allied Veterans’ Video says, “Allie Veterans supports charitable activities and communities throughout Florida.”

All the while pocketing millions operating internet cafes.

These guys got away with what they were doing for so long because no one but prosecutors had the power to stop them. “The single biggest flaw in Florida’s charity regulation is that there is no regulation, it is a registration,” says Adam Putnam, Agriculture Commissioner.

After Allied Veterans, the push is on to hold charities more accountable. “If you’ve been in trouble in another state you’d be prohibited from doing business in Florida raising money, soliciting money in Florida. You wouldn’t be allowed to have felons soliciting contributions,” says Putnam.

For now, You can check on your favorite charity at the Dept of Agriculture’s online Gift Givers guide.

Type in the name and up comes an accounting of what percent went to program expenses, administration, or fundraising. “But they present themselves with a similar name,” says Alyce Lee Stansbury, Consultant for Non Profits.

Alyce Lee Stansbury advises non-profits. She says most people get into trouble when the not so good charities imitate the strong ones. “Then they may end up making a gift to an organization that isn’t providing the same impact,” says Stansbury.

So if you are moved this holiday season to do something for someone less fortunate, the experts say paying attention to detail will make sure the cash you donate ends up doing the good work you intended.

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Military Training on State Lands Questioned

November 27th, 2013 by flanews

The Air Force wants to operate training missions in two state forests. Blackwater near Pensacola and Tate’s Hell in Franklin County. The plan is raising eyebrows among environmentalists who say approval is moving too fast with no public input.

An 1885 Legend has it that a farmer named Tate wandered into this swap, was snake bit and lost for seven days. When he wandered back out, he said he’d been to hell. Now this pristine area is known as Tate’s Hell. “Critical estuary of Apalachicola bay,” says Jim Karels, State Forester.

Tate’s Hell is one of two state forests the Air Force wants to use as a training ground. The state signed a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year. “All that agreement says, we’ll talk to you, we’ll entertain looking at opportunities,” says Karels.

It is that vagueness that has environmentalists and locals worried.

There has been little public input so far and the fear is that Floridians are being told, your tax payers bought this land, but you can’t use it.

Franklin County Commission Chair Cheryl Saunders questioned the proposal at a recent Senate meeting. “We have had no public input what so ever,” says Cheryl Saunders, Chair, Franklin County Commission.

Both Tate’s Hell and Blackwater State Forest, which is the other proposed training sight,  are home to dozens of species on the endangered or threatened list. Those asking questions are quick to say they support the military mission. But they worry the plan is being rushed with little or no public input. “There are ways to do this compatibility and this is just a matter of accountability and transparency and making sure that the public interest is protected,” says Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida.

An obscure state board is set to discuss the plan to allow training at Blackwater State Forest on December 12th.

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Guns Sales to Set Record

November 26th, 2013 by flanews

Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year and it is also the day more guns are typically sold in Florida than on any other day. 2013 is poised to set a record when it comes to firearm purchases.

Firearms will be literally jumping off the shelves across Florida this weekend.

More than 6 thousand guns are expected to be sold on Friday alone. By the end of the year, the state will have conducted a record eight hundred thousand plus background checks, that’s double the number of background checks conducted in 2007. “Our goal is to ensure that all law-abiding citizens are able to purchase guns legally while preventing those who are unauthorized from having them,” says Robin Sparkman, Firearm Purchase Program Supervisor.

Background checks are conducted twelve hours a day, every day everyday of the year but Christmas and New Years. It takes 62 people to keep up with all the calls coming in to the Department of Law Enforcement.

Only about 2 percent of the background checks requested by licensed firearm dealers like this one are refused.

With so many guns being sold, Robert Kornegay thinks guns, and gun safety are a good investment. He and his family opened this indoor shooting range three months ago. “Public safety is number one with the people today and people want to have a firearm but they want to be safe,” says Robert Kornegay, Shooting Range Owner.

The range charges twenty dollars an hour to shoot, before making the investment Robert did the math. “We saw the trend of gun sales going up, we thought that would be a good place for us to be,” says Kornegay

Just over 5 point 1 million guns were sold in Florida over the last decade.

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Oyster Industry Continues to Struggle

November 25th, 2013 by flanews

If you are a fan of oyster dressing with your turkey, chances are the oysters you buy won’t be from Apalachicola. The once world famous delicacy are becoming harder and harder to find.

At this Tallahassee seafood market just 80 miles from what used to be the world famous oyster producing Apalachicola bay, these oysters are from Texas.

It’s gotten so that this seafood market doesn’t even bother trying to get Apalachicola oysters anymore because they are simply too difficult to get.

When times were good, Apalachicola oystermen were limited to 20 bags a day.  They supplied ten percent of the nations oysters and demand always outstripped supply. They wish they could be so lucky these days. “We starving to death, God bless y’all,” says Kenny Rucker, Oysterman.

While two bags a day is now the norm, it could get worse. Low oyster count force Fish and Wildlife regulators to close the bay on weekends. “The idea is to give the, the bay a little bit of a break from harvest and hopefully that would help increase the numbers in future years,” says Amanda Nally, FWC Spokesperson.

The Seafood Workers Association President wants to see harvesting shut down completely and the oystermen put back to work replanting shells. “I like to see the bay close and the oystermen go in and restore our bay. That way we could still sustain our living here,” says Shannon Hartsfield, Pres. Apalachicola Seafood Workers Assn.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the bay is wrongly playing second fiddle to other water issues in the state. “Apalachicola bay needs to be an all hands on deck approach,” says Adam Putnam, Agriculture Commissioner.

And the shortage of Apalachicola oysters is pushing up the price of oysters from everywhere, nearly doubling what consumers pay for a dozen.

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New Statement from Alleged Victims Family

November 23rd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

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Execution Concerns

November 22nd, 2013 by flanews

Thomas Knight has been on death row since 1983. Governor Rick Scott scheduled his execution for early December, but a 5-2 Supreme Court decision has delayed the execution. Concerns are being raised over the effectiveness of a new drug in the lethal cocktail. Death penalty opponents support the delay.

“I think we’re gong to find out a lot about this drug and we’re going to find out what’s really going on. I think we’re gong to find out that this drug may not be able to be used in this combination in the future,” said opponent Sheila Meehan.

The new drug has been used in two executions, after an approved drug became unavailable. The fear is that the new drug won’t keep the inmate from feeling pain before two other drugs complete the execution.

“The purpose here is not vengeance and that this person cannot suffer, and the Supreme Court has said this cannot be cruel and unusual punishment,” said Meehan.

Governor Rick Scott brushed aside questions on the ruling asking how he could assure the cocktail was safe. “You’ll have to go work with the Department of Corrections,” said Governor Scott.

But then the Department of Corrections refused our request for an on-camera interview.

Opponents call the cocktail a human experiment. The DOC said in October that they did thorough research before using the drug.

“It is our job to do that in the most dignified and humane way possible,” said Misty Cash, Department of Corrections spokeswoman in an October interview.

The state must produce drug manufacturer documents proving the drug effectively blocks pain.
Florida and other states have been forced to seek new execution drugs after a growing number of drug makers refuse to allow their products to be used in executions.

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Pot Would Pass

November 21st, 2013 by flanews

A new poll shows overwhelmingly support the use of medical marijuana. But as Matt Horn reports – many state leaders say it’s a horrible idea.

Medical Marijuana – the support is overwhelming among Florida voters.

“The numbers across the board, every demographic group is for it,” said Peter Brown, Quinnipiac University Pollster.

8 out of every 10 Florida voters support the use of medical marijuana in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted from November 12th to the 17th. Voters were split recreational use.

“The potential fight and potential ballot item would be about medical marijuana. And medical marijuana is very popular for Floridians,” said Brown.

Despite the overwhelming public support. Florida’s political leadership is adamantly opposed. Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a challenge against the proposed amendment.

Both leaders of the legislature have joined the attorney general in arguing the marijuana amendment is misleading.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam worries marijuana use could become rampant.

“I’m very troubled by it in terms of what it could mean for our state and what we’ve seen in other states that have reduced restrictions on it,” said Putnam.

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says he’s open to the idea.

“If you’re a real doctor and you’re prescribing for somebody who is really in pain and suffering, why would you oppose it,” said Crist.

One hundred twenty six thousand petitions have been verified. Organizers will need four times that number by February to be on next year’s ballot.

683-thousand verified voter signatures are needed by February for the amendment to be on the November ballot.

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Leaked DNA a Match for Quarterback

November 21st, 2013 by flanews

The rape investigation involving FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has taken another strange turn. A leaked DNA report ties Winton to the alleged victim. The case was dormant for almost eleven months before being reopened this month. A decision on whether charges will be filed is imminent.

FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston provided DNA to investigators last week. Now Winston’s attorney is blasting the leaking of results that tie his client to the alleged victim. Attorney Tim Jansen says the DNA match is not a surprise. “I’m not surprised by the result because we fully anticipated that his DNA may be there. But that has nothing to do with him be exonerated. [So you’re saying this was consensual?] That’s it- absolutely,” says Tim Jansen, Winston’s Attorney.

State Attorney Willie Meggs denied leaking the DNA results and indicted his investigators are close to making a decision in the case. “We have to talk to our victim before we do anything,” says Willie Meggs, State’s Attorney.

A statement released by the alleged victim’s attorney blasts Tallahassee police for their handling of the case, it says the victim was devastated when she learned police had informed Winston’s attorney in February, allowing him to create a defense.

Late Wednesday, Tallahassee police held a hastily called news conference. They denied they had every said the case was closed. “It was classified as inactive but open,” says Tom Coe, Tallahassee Police Chief.

Florida state has one home game, one away game, and two potential championship games on its schedule but that State Attorney says he’s not going to make his decisions based on what’s happening here. “We have made a lot of progress this week, today is Thursday. We worked pretty diligently on it. We’ve interviewed, talked to a lot of people,” says Willie Meggs, State’s Attorney.

Meggs also refused to discuss why DNA was taken from a second person described as a witness in the case.

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A message for you

November 20th, 2013 by flanews

The state has already spent more than ten thousand dollars sending thousands of personal letters from Governor Rick Scott to people renewing licenses, becoming lawyers, or who have won the lottery. The letters contain many of the talking points Rick Scott used in 2010 and is using today.

If you’ve renewed a business license, become a new attorney, or won the lottery, chances are you’ve gotten a letter from Governor Rick Scott.

Scott is sending letters at state expense, but they contain familiar campaign talking points. Nat Sot. Business license holders are being told that Scott is a lifelong entrepreneur who grew up in public housing and now wants to cut business taxes.

When asked about the letters, Scott said everyone should brag about their state. “I want to congratulate everybody in our state that is doing a great job, and I’m going to continue to do that,” says Governor Rick Scott.

One of the reoccurring themes in these letters is the 8 hundred thousand jobs that were lost in Florida before Rick Scott took office.

The loss of jobs is a direct shot at the man Scott replaced and who he’ll likely face in 2014, Charlie Crist, who for his part sidestepped the question.

“I think it’s important for the Governor to congratulate people when good things happened to them and what I try to do is call people when sad things happen to them,” says Charlie Crist, Governor 2007-2011 (REP) and Candidate for Governor (DEM).

Florida Democrats aren’t being so shy. Reporter Vasilinda asked, “What do you think of letters like this one?”

“It’s just desperate, it shows just how desperate the Governor is going into reelection next year,” replied Max Steele, FL Democratic Party Press Secretary.

Scott has also sent letters through School boards congratulating students who did well on tests. He’s drafted letters for upcoming college graduates.

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Helping Florida Veterans’

November 20th, 2013 by flanews

Three Florida cities, Tampa, Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale are among the top ten cited in the newest Best Places for Veterans report. As Matt Horn reports, veteran unemployment rates here in Florida far exceed the general population.

Air Force Veteran Abby Kinch is one of 1.6 million veterans living in the Sunshine State. After returning to civilian life, she went to work for Florida State University.

“I had supervised a number of airmen and so, getting out, that’s one of the things I put on my resume,” said Kinch.

However, most veterans aren’t so lucky in the transition from the battle field to the work place. October’s unemployment rate for veterans is at ten percent, much higher than the civilian rate of 6.8 percent. Because of the higher rate, the state is dedicating extra resources to help veterans find work.

“We want to make sure that they are getting employment, that they are getting the job opportunities,” said Jesse Panuccio, Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale are among the nation’s top 10 cities helping veterans find jobs. Military unemployment rates, job growth and health resources helped put the cities in the top 10.

“To promote the availability of Florida’s talented, well-trained veterans to employers we recognize November as ‘Hire a Veteran’ month in Florida,” said Mike Prendergast, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

FSU and the University of South Florida ranked among the top 10 in another poll for most friendly military universities.

“Everyone is overwhelmingly supportive of transitioning out of military life into civilian life into college life,” said Kinch.

The three cities in the 2013 top 10 are all new to the list. There were not any Florida cities on the 2012 top 10 list.

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Historically Safe State

November 19th, 2013 by flanews

New crime statistics show Florida is becoming a safer state – reaching historic lows. As Matt Horn reports – although overall crime numbers continue to drop, some crimes are up.

While Florida’s population is at record highs – the number of crimes are at record lows.

“I want to thank everybody in law enforcement for all their hard work in making sure that this is a great, safe state,” said Governor Rick Scott, (R) Florida.

In the first six months of 20-13 crime has declined by 5-point-2 percent. Murder was down by more than 10-percent. Despite a high profile debate on guns, The number of murders with a firearm showed the largest decrease – while stabbing murders had the largest increase.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to present an annual or mid-term report where every single category showed a reduction,” said Gerald Bailey, Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“Vehicle theft has also decreased to a little less than 17-thousand, and of that number a little less than half were recovered.

Crimes in Florida spiked during the 80’s and 90’s before starting to decline. Rick Scott says the lower number of crimes will make Florida more appealing for everyone.

“Everybody that lives in our state, the 19-point-2 million people who live here, they want to live in a safe place,” said Governor Scott.

Florida’s statistics mirror national trends. A Pew Report – found firearm homicides down by nearly half nationally since 1993. Technology is part of the reason.

“The services they have available to them now with the information, the forensics, the investigative help that are offered by state agencies,” said Bailey.

Overall there were 20 thousand fewer crimes reported in the first six months of this year over last

Burglary also had another steep decline. It happened nearly 10-percent less than in 20-12.

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Search for Lt. Governor Continues

November 19th, 2013 by flanews

Months after Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned as Lieutenant Governor reports say Rick Scott is considering four people as possible picks for the second in command in Florida.

Two of those on the list are from the Tampa metro – one is from Central Florida and the other is from the Jacksonville metro. Governor Rick Scott wouldn’t elaborate on what’s taking place in the search, but did confirm there are candidates.

“We have a lot of great candidates from around the state, we have a great state, a lot of great people. But, I’m not going to comment on the process we have right now,” said Governor Rick Scott, (R) Florida.

The Lieutenant Governor seat has been empty since March 12th.

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Florida Unemployment Website Update

November 19th, 2013 by flanews

Here in Florida – the state unemployment website has been making it difficult for some out of work Floridians to gain access to benefits.

Jesse Panuccio – Director for the Department of Economic Opportunity says the department has been working to fix the problem. And with holiday’s right around the corner – he says call centers will continue having extended hours to better serve those needing help with the new system.

“When we hear of a problem we try to address it quickly. And again, most people are going through the system without issue,” said Panuccio. “So, we think as we roll into the holiday we think the system will continue to get better and claimants will get paid.”

The new unemployment system replaced the previous one that was around for more than 30 years.

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Charlie Crist Returns… for now

November 19th, 2013 by flanews

Former Governor Charlie Crist made his first trip to the state Capitol since declaring he wants he old job back on November 4th. Crist went to a familiar haunt.

One of the former Governor’s first actions on his first trip back to the State Capitol since declaring he’s running for Governor again was to sign an autograph for a postal worker. “You’re going to win, I’m going to vote for you,” says Lolly Johnson, USPS worker.

“from your lips to God’s ears,” replied Charlie Crist, former Governor.

Crist ran into Lolly Johnson on his way to the Florida Press Center, home of most of the state’s major newspaper bureaus. On his way in Crist tried to create a contrast from the attacks he’s already endured and how he’ll run in his campaign. “I’ve never seen an incumbent candidate whether it’s county commission, governor or president start out with negative advertising like that. But, you know, this is a different kind of opponent and I guess that’s what we should expect. I’m going to talk about the future of Florida though and about improving education,” says former Governor Crist.

A few blocks away in the State Capitol, Rick Scott touted a lower crime rate. “The people want to come here as tourist, they come here because they have a safe state,” says Governor Rick Scott.

He also criticized the President on heath care. “He was deceitful when he said if you have- if you like your insurance you won’t lose it,” says Governor Scott.

What’s already becoming clear a year out from the election is that Floridians will face very different candidates. “We got to have health care for people, we’re the richest country in the world and we don’t provide it and we should,” former Governor Crist.

Crist didn’t come just to kabitz with the media, he’s here to raise money as well.

Crist has already raised about a million dollars just over half a month, he’s still 17 million behind the sitting governor.

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