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Reading Key to F-CAT Success

December 16th, 2013 by flanews

A decade ago Florida made a conserted effort to make sure third graders could read. Now as Matt Horn reports – that effort is paying off.

Only seven of every 100 third graders have to repeat the grade. That’s down from 10 of every 100 in 2003.

“Florida has made a commitment both in school districts, legislature, Department of Education in focusing on early education,” said Stewart Greenberg, Leon County Schools.

Since 2003 127-thousand third graders have been held back because they didn’t pass the reading portion of the F-CAT.

“I think the numbers would continue to go down with time,” said Juhan Mixon, Florida Association of School Administrators. “Simply because we are on an earlier basis of identifying students with problems.”

Mixon says the drop isn’t surprising. “You would be doing something wrong if you did everything we’ve done and you’re not improving.”

Greenberg has worked on improving literacy with students across the country.

“Teachers have made a commitment in Pre-K all the way through third grade and beyond to focus on making sure students know how to read, read well, think well and then support their answers in writing,” said Greenberg.

Since Florida adopted the law concentrating on students passing the third grade reading portion of the F-CAT – more than a dozen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted similar laws.

“It you can’t read its going to be very difficult to get a job, its going to be very difficult to pass math or science or any other subject,” said Mixon.

The success doesn’t come cheap – Florida spent 130 million dollars on reading improvement last year alone.

There are six exemptions for students – two of those include students with disabilities and English language learners with less than two years in a specialized English class.

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Florida Leads Foreclosure Rates

December 13th, 2013 by flanews

Foreclosure rates nationwide have fallen to the lowest since 2005. But, as Matt Horn reports – Florida still has the highest rate in the country.

For another month – Florida ranks number one for foreclosure rates.

“It doesn’t surprise me just because again the number of foreclosures that still need to get through the system, they’ve just been sitting there,” said John Sebree, Florida Realtors Association

Sebree with the Florida Realtors Association says there is a silver lining. The foreclosure rates in the state have dropped 40 percent since November a year ago.

“The number of foreclosure filings, which are brand new foreclosures that are entering the market are down significantly across the country and even more in Florida,” said Sebree.

Eight of the top 10 cities with the highest foreclosure rates are in Florida – legislation that took effect in July has changed the process.

That’s when Governor Rick Scott signed a Republican-driven bill to speed up foreclosures, but also require better loan documentation from banks.

“It’s going to help make sure we have a timely foreclosure process, so our families make sure they can keep their homes,” said Governor Scott.

Anthony DiMarco with The Florida Bankers Association says the court process delays a foreclosure from beginning to end.

“Here it’s taking 800, 900 days when you go through the court system,” said DiMarco.

As foreclosure rates drop, housing prices continue to increase.

Upwards of 20-thousand foreclosures a month, but, there are still around 275-thousand that need to be processed.

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State Forest or Training Ground

December 12th, 2013 by flanews

A proposed plan to let the military train in state forests is receiving harsh criticism. As Matt Horn reports – the military and state says if approved – the environment will come first.

Emotions ran high as people questioned why the military needs to use state forest lands for training..

“When I learned of the military wanting to use Blackriver State Forest I was very very upset as I seem to be now because my voice is breaking,” said John Veasley, Opponent to the training.

The Pentagon describes the proposed plans as low impact. But the people at the meeting didn’t buy it.

“I’m very concerned about the process and the way it has happened,” said Cheryl Sanders, Franklin County Commissioner.

The state and military say any maneuvers would be monitored by the state. Then promised the environment wouldn’t be hurt if the training takes place.

“Like I said it wouldn’t be like we’re rolling in there,” said Mike Penland, Pentagon. “It’s basically to kind of use when the other areas we have are bunched up with other operations.”

Opponents disagree.

“That could be a problem if you have heavy machinery, ammunition and other exercises going on those properties,” said Julie Wraithermell, Audobon Florida.

Although the state forests impacted are in the Florida Panhandle, opponents at the meeting Thursday morning say this could have a statewide impact.

“These are people’s livelihood at stake, so not just the economy but also the ecology of Florida,” said Wraithermell.

A likely vote on Friday will outline the future of military exercises in forests.

“Identify all of the impacts associated with those and determine what may or may not be compatible in the forest,” said John Browne, Florida Forest Service.

While there are promises of the environment not being hurt…An environmental impact study by the Pentagon isn’t expected until next summer.

Officials say this is in the early stages, and its unknown of the impact military exercises will have on the parks.

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Fee Cuts on Every Agenda

December 12th, 2013 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott outlined a partial rollback of 2009 fee hikes on most vehicle transactions.  (3:30 in Tampa). State lawmakers appear ready to agree.

In 2009, the cost of renewing your driver’s license went from twenty seven dollars to forty eight. getting a title for your car went from twenty to 70 bucks. A mid size car tag went up eight dollars to thirty dollars and fifty cents.

In October, A State Senate Committee voted to cut the fees by a total of 233 million dollars. “It reduces that increase by- right around 50 percent,” says Sen. Joe Negron, Bill Sponsor,   R-Stwart.

Now Rick Scott is upping the ante suggesting an even bigger cut.

We ran into Chuck Pollock, he was registering a new trailer. He knows any saving will be modest. “That would be more money in my pocket, we could of ate lunch I guess,” says Chuck Pollock, Motorist.

In 2009 perhaps the biggest increase was the cost for adding a new car for your teenager or a new car to your business fleet. It went from 100 dollars to 225.

Cutting the fee for newly registered vehicles is on the top of the Senate President’s list. “If the funds were there, if the dollars were there, you could take a whack at that origination fee too,” says Sen. Don Gaetz, Senate President.

Florida will have at least one point two billion more than it did last year. House Speaker Will Weatherford says rolling fees back isn’t something usually done by Government. “Tag and title fees are too high,” says Rep. Will Weatherford, House Speaker, R-Pasco County.

If approved, the fees would drop July first, which is just fine with Ray Williams. “There is reason to celebrate then,” says Ray Williams, Motorist.

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Jameis Winston Audio Released

December 11th, 2013 by flanews

FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston wasn’t charged after an investigation into a year old allegation of rape. The family is set to issue a statement Friday morning, and newly released recordings of investigators interviews paint a widely varying view of events.

Two hours after the accuser left  this off campus bar with FSU’s quarterback, campus police got a 9-1-1 call.

Phone call: “And you said she was raped?” Asked the police officer

“Yea,” replies the young lady.

“Is that her I hear in the background?”


On the other end of the line, a friend of the accuser, Jenna Weisberg. She told investigators this past November of a friend who was reluctant to report what had happened. “She was like afraid to call the police because she didn’t want anybody to be mad at her,” says Jenna Weisberg in an interview.

Two witnesses say the accuser jumped in their cab and immediately went into a room with Jameis Winston. Winston’s roommates says he went into the bedroom while the two were having sex. Ronald Darby watched from outside. “Yea like, she was like get up, she was like get up,” says Ronald Darby, witness in the police video.

But in her interview with police, Jenna Weisberg said the accuser thought the witnesses were trying to stop Winston. “Did she describe that like was she saying something or did he physically try and get him to stop?” Asked the investigator.

“No he was saying it,” replies the young lady.

Another friend of the accuser, Monique Kessler, say she didn’t seem drunk. Marcus Jordan, who supplied the liquor, says it was unusual for the accuser to have left with strangers. “Though it’s just out of character for her to just let some random guy pick her up and take her home,” said a young lady.

Marcus Jordan agreed, “Yup, way out of character.”

A recording of the accusers interview was not released. Doing so  says the state might help identify her. That they say would violate Florida’s rape shield law.

One witness told investigators should would have remembered more 11 months ago right after the rape allegedly occurred.

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Controversial Display

December 11th, 2013 by flanews

Last week state officials allowed a nativity scene to go on display in the state capitol. Now as Matt Horn tells us, another less secular exhibit has been put up in protest.

Standing nearly 6-feet tall – beer cans are on display at the Florida Capitol…mocking a Christmas nativity scene put on display last week. Chaz Stevens was granted a permit for the Festivus display.

“All this shouldn’t be here; the government shouldn’t be in this business of allowing the mixture of church and state,” said Chaz Stevens, Festivus.

The idea of the Festivus was created by a fiction writer and popularized by the TV sitcom, Seinfeld.

The Festivus pole was put up feet away from the Christmas Nativity… just on the other side of the state seal in the capitol rotunda.”>

The beer cans a sparked a heated discussion between Stevens and the woman behind the nativity scene.

“I’m going to pray they take care of that thing, remove it,” said Stevens. Nativity coordinator, Pam Olsen responded, “It won’t be removed because we have freedom in America, remember that.” “We also have the separation of Church and State,” said Stevens.

The display’s causing mixed reactions from Capitol visitors.

“I think it’s entirely out of place, it shouldn’t be here. This doesn’t show any respect for the capitol,” said Maynard Hellbusch, visitor.

”I think its great,” said Dave Spore. “Think its an example of American freedom and I think we should have the airing of grievance in honor of Festivus.”

Pam Olsen – says she welcomes other displays this holiday season…but has this message for them.

“I told the guy that I’m praying for you because he has a right to put it up there, but I think its mocking Christianity,” said Olsen.

The “Festivus” pole will be on display through January 3rd.

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Florida Drivers to Enter Digital Age

December 10th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

If you are stopped by a police officer for speeding or anything else, one of the first requests you’ll hear is “ show me your proof of insurance.”  Usually the paper card is in your wallet or lost somewhere in your glove compartment, but soon, you may be able to keep that proof on your phone.

At any given time, as many a million drivers in Florida are on the road without insurance. Decades ago, the state made it a ticket able offense not to carry proof your car is insured. The fine is a hundred dollars..It drops to ten if you prove you were insured when you were stopped.

“ Any comments or discussion? Hearing none, the motion carries.” said Governor Rick Scott.   With a vote by the Governor and Cabinet, Florida will become the eighth state to step into the electronic age by allowing motorists to carry proof of insurance on their smart phones. Highway Safety Director Julie Jones told reporters afterward “This way you have proof of insurance no matter what vehicle you are driving.”

Getting ticketed for not having having that little insurance card made news this past year when it was learned state troopers gave out bogus tickets to speeding lawmakers..citing them for not having insurance instead of speeding

There is one drawback to the proposal, if you hand your device out the window to the officer, and it falls you’re responsible, not the officer.

You can scan the form into your phone, take a picture, or download it from your insurance company. Next on the horizon…digital drivers licenses.

Highway Safety’s Jones says a pilot project is underway to allow digital licenses. “The fraud issue is key to the drivers license. We will have to figure out how to encrypt it, and then have some kind of a smart phone bump, maybe, to validate that it is indeed an encrypted drivers license” says Jones.

New digital license could be out on the road and in your phone by the middle of 2015.

326 thousand tickets were written for failure to provide proof of insurance last year.











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New Insurance Watchdog

December 10th, 2013 by flanews

After complaints of mismanagement and wasteful spending at Citizens Insurance, Matt Horn tells us the state’s largest insurer will now have someone looking over their shoulder.

Citizens’ top managers were accused of spending like drunken sailors on trips and conferences. Governor Rick Scott ordered his inspector general to take a look.

“So that we could find a watchdog for Citizens’ that would help bring integrity, accountability and honesty,” said Melinda Miguel, Florida’s Chief Inspector General.

Once the abuses were uncovered Governor Rick Scott started calling for an inspector general after reports of sexual harassment and financial irregularities at the state’s largest insurer.

The new watchdog was named Tuesday by the Governor and Cabinet. A thirty year veteran of state government will become Citizens first inspector General. Meeks was not at the meeting.

Meeks will report to the Chairman of the Board for Citizens on day to day operations. He can only be removed from his position by the Governor and the Cabinet.

“The Inspector General is going to hold Citizens’ accountable. I proposed this earlier this year and I’m glad the legislature went along with it,” said Governor Rick Scott. “Look, we have to hold Citizens’ accountable, watch how they spend their money.”

88 people applied for the position. 12 were interviewed. The newly-created position was authorized by the Legislature during the 2013 session.

Meeks will negotiate with Citizens on his salary and a start date for the position.

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13 Down, One To Go

December 9th, 2013 by flanews

For the first time since 1999 Florida State University will play in the BCS National Championship game. As Matt Horn reports – the university will be winning on and off the field.

For the first time since 1999 – Florida State will play in the B-C-S National Championship game.

“I’m just glad that Florida State is there,” said Jimbo Fisher, FSU Coach.

FSU clinched its chance to play for the national championship when it won the ACC Championship game on Saturday. It’s estimated the university will bring in millions of dollars because of the championship game.

“It will be a boon for the economy of Tallahassee, certainly for the institution in terms of the brand and logo-ing and exposure,” said Rob wilson, FSU Athletics Communications.

FSU will take on SEC Champion Auburn. The last time the two teams met was in 1990.

“We not looking at them and saying, ‘oh, they Auburn.’ Or we not look at them and saying, ‘they come from the SEC or whoever it may be.’ We go out there and compete against ourselves,” said Telvin Smith, FSU Linebacker.

The Seminoles will be making its fourth appearance to the BCS National Championship tied for the most of any college football program in the country.

For the last seven years the National Championship trophy has gone home with an SEC team. Fans hope FSU will end that streak.

“Everything that we’ve gone through,” said Truly Long, FSU Sophomore. “You know they have the fight, the will to win.”

This is the last year for the BCS National Championship game. Starting next year the College Football Playoff will replace the single-game championship format.

“Just the ambiance, just like the energy coming from the school spirit, it’s just great,” said Hernan Bater, FSU Freshman.

FSU has an overall record of 4 wins, 13 losses and one tie against Auburn.

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Gambling Could Get Day in Court…of Public Opinion

December 9th, 2013 by flanews

After four public hearing from one end of the state to the other, State lawmakers are about to have serious discussions on expanded gambling, and there’s a 50/50 chance voters will have the final say.

Florida voters have said no to expanded casino in 1986 and again in 1994.

The State Senate has been holding hearings across the state. There are proposals for mega resort casinos and dog tracks say they need slots or other gambling to stay alive.

The Committee Chairman says the odds of something comprehensive passing are “Probably no better than 50-50, at the best,” says Sot: Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples

Enter the House Speaker. He’s suggesting lawmakers rewrite gambling laws this year, then require a vote of the people to make any changes after that, but he’s opened the door for sending the whole question on gambling to the public. Gaming committee member Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine says “Anything is a possibility in this process, you know and I think there are a lot of people who think maybe we ought to freeze things in stone so that we don’t have to come back every year.”

Back in 1994 after spending 16 million dollars, pro-gambling forces only got 38 percent of the vote.

Pat Roberts ran the 1994 pro-gambling campaign. He believes voters could say yes this time, if new casino’s were limited to Southeast Florida. “My gut is that’s an easier thing to get done with this legislator, because they could say we gave the people a choice in November instead of them doing it,” says Pat Roberts, 1994 Gambling Initiative.

Roberts may be right. In 2004 voters statewide, by a narrow margin, allowed Miami Dade and Broward County to have their own votes on slot machines.

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Prosecutors Release File

December 6th, 2013 by flanews

Prosecutors who decided not to charge FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston after he was accused of sexual assault today released two hundred and fifty pages detailing their investigation. More is still to come.

The investigative report shows the underage accuser and at least two friends were drinking at this Tallahassee bar just blocks from the entrance to the FSU Campus.

One companion saw the accuser give Jameis Winston her phone number. A short time later she received a text to ‘meet me outside.’

All witnesses and the accuser agree she got into a cab with three black males. They were dropped off at this apartment complex. It is here that witnesses for James Winston say she was the aggressor and willing participated. Her statement was that she was lifeless asking him stop.

Prosecutors said on Thursday, there was a lot she couldn’t remember. “Her blood-alcohol level at the time her blood was taken was point zero four, which is not very high. And we found no evidence of any drugs of any sort in her blood system,” says Willie Meggs, States Attorney.

In text messages, the accuser tells one of her companions ‘I was in the hospital all night.’

‘Oh my god, what happened?’ responded the friend.

‘I got raped. I don’t want to text about it.’

The report shows the accuser wavering on whether she should pursue charges. Prosecutors do believe something happened. “I know there was a sexual event that occurred,” says Meggs.     

But in the end prosecutors decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove a crime.

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Achievement Gap Closing

December 6th, 2013 by flanews

A national progress report shows the achievement gap for Florida students continues to decrease. As Matt Horn reports minority students are still performing at substantially lower levels than their white counterparts.

A national report card on Florida’s education system shows the achievement-level of students increasing, while the performance gap for minorities is getting smaller.

“We’re very very excited by the progress we’ve made in the state of Florida. We are celebrating that victory,” said Juhan Mixon, Florida Association of School Administrators.

One of the biggest tests for educators is closing the achievement gap between white and black students and between white and Hispanic students.

“It’s a priority in classrooms and school districts around the state that every child get a year worth of knowledge in a year time,” said Joe Follick, Florida Department of Education.

Since 1992 – the gap between white and black students has closed significantly quicker than the gap between white and Hispanic students. In Math – the performance gap decreased by 11 percent in the last 20 years.

“It was not surprising, that our Hispanic students and African American students are closing the achievement gap faster than most states,” said Mixon.

The only minority to outperform their white counterparts is Asian students. Overall, the percentage of students performing at or above basic continues to increase.

“We have made significant change in the environment in this state in learning,” said Mixon.

The Department of Education continues to stress family involvement to help student’s performance.

“We try to spread the word with the districts around the state about mentoring opportunities, after school opportunities,” said Follick. “That’s some of the key factors as well.”

Not only are test schools showing a smaller gap in achievement – more minorities are graduating from high school.

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Medical Marijuana Arguments Continue

December 5th, 2013 by flanews

Florida Lawmakers’ votes on medical marijuana have been repeatedly blocked at the state capitol. Now the state’s top leaders are asking the Florida Supreme Court to keep the issue away from voters during the 2014 election. As Matt Horn reports, justices had tough questions for both sides.

There list of opponents to medical marijuana at the Florida Supreme Court was a long one.

The issue before the court is whether the 75 word ballot summary accurately tells voters about the amendment. Judges had tough questions for both sides.

”I couldn’t function because of the back pain. Is that a condition or a disease?” said Justice Barbara Pariente.

In the end, opponents argue the amendment was unclear and violated a single subject rule.

Polls show 82 percent of people support medical marijuana, but if the opponents get their way, supporters won’t get a chance to cast a vote.

Attorney John Morgan is spearheading the medical marijuana amendment and says the question is as clear as it can be.

”People want what they want and at the end of the day people are going to get what they want,” said Morgan.

The Court took the case under advisement and has until April to rule, but the deadline for gathering signatures is February 1st.

Medical Marijuana bills have died in the Florida Legislature for the last three years. Lawmakers never had the opportunity to vote on any of the bills.

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No Charges in Jameis Winston Case

December 5th, 2013 by flanews

No charges will be filed after a three week sexual assault case involving star FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston. The State’s Attorney says proving a crime would have been difficult.

The alleged rape took place off the FSU campus a year ago this coming Saturday. “We’ve carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be filed against anyone in this case,” says Willie Meggs, State’s Attorney.

As of Monday this week, the state said it was waiting for key evidence. The report came back Wednesday. “There were DNA from males, one was identified as being Winston’s DNA and the other one was unknown,” says Meggs.

The veteran prosecutor has not been shy pressing charges against Football players in the past. “Her testimony has basically has some problems with it. She can’t remember some of the things,” says Meggs.

He says the victims statement’s created problems the case could not overcome. “Which leads us to the point that we did not feel like we could move forward with the prosecution,” says Meggs.

A statement from the family thanked the States Attorney, Criticized the police for delaying the investigation and said the young woman worried the media scrutiny would discourage others from reporting a rape.

Jameis Winston’s attorney says justice has been done. “There will be people that will always think of Mr. Winston and think about this allegation, you can’t stop people from believing what they want to believe and it’s difficult. But our society says you’re innocent until proven guilty,” says Tim Jansen, Jameis Winston Attorney.

Despite widely circulated social media reports, the State’s attorney said there was no evidence the alleged victim knew Jameis Winston before the alleged event or communicated with him after the sexual encounter.

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Land Buying Amendment Closing In on Success

December 4th, 2013 by flanews

Florida Environmentalists are closing in on a magic number of signatures they need to put a land buying amendment on next year’s ballot. They expect to cross the finish line next week.

A third of every dollar in taxes on real estate deals in Florida goes into a trust fund. The money is supposed to be used to buy land to conserve. But each year lawmakers raid the trust fund and leave only a portion, if any, for land conservation.

After being cut year after year, environmentalists are close to collecting enough signatures to force a vote next November. If successful, lawmakers would have to spend the money on land and water conservation. “We think by next week we’ll cross the nine hundred ten thousand mark and that is, you know if you collect nine hundred ten thousand you essentially have 25 percent that aren’t valid, we’re comfortable that that’s going to get us- that’s going to get us there,” says Aliki Moncrief, Water and Land Legacy.

In its first year the amendment would guarantee about 650 million for land purchases, it would grow each year as the state grows. “It’s basically taking a portion of a fee that’s collected anyway, it’s a collection that is very much tied to development,” says Moncrief.

No one opposed this amendment when it was before the Florida Supreme Court, but that is about to be changing.

State lawmakers who control purse strings are starting to complain, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says he supports conserving land, But… “It seems like bad public  policy to try write the state’s budget into the constitution,” Adam Putnam, Agriculture Commissioner.

If approved by 60 percent those who vote next November, the Amendment would only stay in the Constitution for the next 20 years.

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