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License Tag Refunds Not in Law

March 31st, 2014 by flanews

Renewing you car tag after September first will cost you less than last year. Small car fees will go down by five dollars. Mid size by eight, and large vehicles by $11.50.

Since September of last year, nearly 600,000 people have purchased a two-year sticker, pushing their renewal into 2015 and some in to 2016. Legislation ordering the lower rates specifically says there will be no refunds.

“I call it a shame,” said Rep Janet Cruz (D-Tampa). “A dirty shame.”

But a number of lawmakers like Tampa’s Janet Cruz are crying foul.

“I’m happy that the tax is being reduced,” said Cruz, “but I think that we need to take a look at those folks that bought a two-year tag that were offered by us.”

Even the original Republican sponsor is raising his eyebrows.

When asked if they deserved a refund, Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola) responded,
“Oh, I would think so. I’m just glad we can at least press on, press forward with getting it done. But you’re right that is an issue with those who have paid for two years. What about them?”

Giving everyone a refund who has at least a year left on their tag when rates go down in September will cost the state about 15 million dollars.

Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach) voted for the hike at the height of the recession back in 2009. She says a refund is worth studying…but:

“Some of the people that had renewed their license for the two-year period, therefore they paid the lower fee for two years at the time other people paid the increase. And now it’s just going back the opposite way,” said Mayfield.

Governor Rick Scott has scheduled a bill signing for Wednesday.

Posted in Sink, State News, Transportation | Comments Off on License Tag Refunds Not in Law

Universities To Legislature: We Need To Fix Our Buildings!

March 31st, 2014 by flanews

As lawmakers dig in to put the finishing touches on a budget that’s expected to be more than 74 billion dollars, charter schools and traditional classrooms are war over will get money for maintenance.  A proposal from one of the state’s cabinet members could go a long way in helping public schools and universities.

Freshman Courtney Hollis hasn’t been on FloridaState’s campus long, but she sees some room for improvement.

“I think we have a lot of nice buildings but maybe one that I’ve been in that could use some work is the chemistry lab,” said Hollis.

Students around the state have the same feeling.  When student body presidents came together last week at the Capitol, they asked lawmakers to remember how old some of their campus classrooms are.

“It’s difficult for people to expect us to cure cancer or get us to Mars if we’re learning in classrooms that were built before the eradication of small pox,” said University of North Florida Student Body President Carlo Fassi.

It’s not about diminishing the history of some of the campus buildings, but the state’s agricultural commissioner would at least like to bring them to the 21st century.

Much of public school infrastructure money comes from Public Education Capital Outlay or PECO funds which is funded by a tax on cable tv and landline phones.

“Think of the irony, think of the absurdity, that we are building dorms for the smartphone generation using taxes on landlines to pay for that building,” said Putnam.

No PECO funds were given to public schools between 2011 and 2013. Charter schools got more than $100 million dollars. Putnam’s plan would shift more than $200 million dollars toward the fund through portions of business electricity taxes. Governor Rick Scott’s proposed budget is asking for just 80 million dollars in capital funds.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Universities To Legislature: We Need To Fix Our Buildings!

Not Everyone Will See Lower Tag Fees Right Away

March 28th, 2014 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott has until Wednesday to sign into law a bill cutting motor vehicles fees by an average 25 dollars a year, nearly two million motorists will initially be left out in the cold.

The price for license plates and other motor vehicle will be going down to 2009 levels on September first, once Governor Rick Scott signs the legislation. He called for the lower fees in his State of the State Address, “so Floridians keep more of the money they earn.”

But people who need a tag before September will still pay the higher sticker price.

1.8 million who also bought two year tags will be out of luck. The legislation specifically says they are not entitled to a refund.

As recently as February, 94,000 people have bought the two-year tag, but since the legislation was passed, most tax collectors have stopped selling the two-year option.

“The September 1st date is at the request of the Department,” said Leslie Palmer of the Department of Highway Safety. “There’s a whole number of things that we need to do in terms of programming and sending files through our tax collector partners, and they send out renewal notices.

State Representative Jared Moskowitz (D-Broward County) calls the reduction political. “2006, 2010 and now 2014 are the largest tax cuts given in the last ten years and they’re all Governor election years,” he said.

The Governor is all for giving the money back, but not by lowering tag fees.

“You could do it through sales tax exemptions,” Moskowitz said, “which would drive people to businesses.”

The Republicans who pushed the cuts say now is the time.

“The fact that we’re now seeing improvement in Florida’s economy,” said Rep. Janet Adkins (R- Jacksonville Beach), “I think it’s good policy to give some of these tax dollars back to Floridians.”

More tax cuts are coming soon, in the pipeline are tax holidays for back to school, hurricane supplies, and energy efficient appliances.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Not Everyone Will See Lower Tag Fees Right Away

Scott Says “No” to Bonuses Tied to Ticket Production

March 28th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Following our story on Wednesday (see below), Governor Rick Scott on Friday issued a release rejecting the idea of tying trooper bonuses to citations written.  Here’s the release:

Governor Rick Scott: Tying FHP Officer Bonuses to Ticket Quotas is Outrageous and Wrong

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Governor Rick Scott today released the following statement about news outlets reporting the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is considering tying their employee bonuses to the number of tickets they issue to motorists:

“The idea that FHP would tie officer bonuses to the number of tickets they write is absolutely outrageous and wrong. All state worker bonuses should be based on better – not worse – outcomes for the people of Florida who pay the taxes to fund state government.

“Floridians paying more in tickets is not a better outcome. Period. If this idea comes across my desk, I will reject it.”

 

 

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Scott Says “No” to Bonuses Tied to Ticket Production

Voucher Expansion Still On-Track

March 28th, 2014 by flanews

School choice scholarship expansion was thought to be dead at the state Capitol after the Senate pulled their proposal. Expansion is alive and well, much to the dismay of public schools supporters.

The legislative war over expanding the near $300 million dollar school voucher program continued Friday.  The House tied the scholarship program – which gives tax breaks to businesses funding students – to another bill benefiting special needs children.

“There is a pent up demand for that program, a potential demand in the future, and we’re going to allow that demand to be met,” said Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami).

The House committee received plenty of testimony on the new proposal.  Some from students who said they got lost in the public school shuffle.

“Skipped class, I barely went to class, I barely went to school. Came here, got on the right track,” said Seven Hills Academy Student Deion Washington.

Educators like Tampa teacher Paul Goodland. The former private and current public school teacher says it’s dangerous to take money that could go to public schools and give it to private institutions that don’t require the same testing standards.

“When there aren’t safeguards against poor curriculum, poor teaching, a private school can be a really bad choice for parents,” said Goodland.

Putting voucher expansion back on the table raised a lot of red flags for some members of the committee.

Committing what could add up to almost a billion dollars to schools lacking accountability made four lawmakers vote ‘No” on expansion.

“You’re taking a struggling student and you put them in an environment where we don’t know what they’re being taught or if they’re being taught, and it seems like the state doesn’t care,” said Rep. Karen Castor Dentel (D-Maitland).

The committee chair argued that if a parent wasn’t happy with the accountability of a private school, they could simply pull their child out of it.

The proposal could lead to a stalemate between the House and Senate, with some Senators demanding more accountability from the private schools.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Voucher Expansion Still On-Track

I Can Drive 75…Maybe

March 27th, 2014 by flanews

The speed limit was raised to 70 miles an hour back in 1995. Since then, traffic fatalities have gone down every year but one. Now lawmakers want to kick the speed up a notch…to 75.

“This bill takes myth and politics and replaces it with fact and engineering,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Palm Beach).

After being stalled for weeks, the legislation cleared a key hurdle Thursday.

“Speed limits are probably the most commonly violated law outside of prohibition,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). “We really need to update our laws.”

Out on Interstate 10, most traffic was already moving faster than the posted 70 miles an hour. We met Steve Cooper walking his dog in a rest area, on his way home to Missouri.

When Steve Cooper, a retired firefighter, told us he usually drives about 75 on the interstate, we asked him if he would drive faster if the speed limit were 75. “No, I don’t think so,” he said.

But most studies say otherwise.

The bill staff analysis says that by raising the speed five miles an hour, the average speed will go up three miles an hour.

AAA Motor clubs doesn’t like faster speeds. It says most states with higher speed limits are seeing fatality rates above the national average.

“Distracted driving, cell phone usage, speed-related that we’re gonna have more deaths and as you know speeding kills,” said Karen McFarlane of AAA Motor Clubs.

Speed limits could only be raised after a safety study, but never through urban areas, they couldn’t be higher than 70 on divided non- interstate roadway.

One roadblock to higher speeds could be the House Economic Affairs Committee. It has yet to put the bill on the agenda for its final meeting next week.

 

Posted in State News | Comments Off on I Can Drive 75…Maybe

Everyone Gets a Gun!

March 27th, 2014 by flanews

A new proposal could suspend concealed carry gun laws during mandatory evacuations in Florida, but law enforcement is concerned about opening the door for non-permitted citizens to carry around a gun.

Millions of gun owners could be forced to leave their guns at home in emergency evacuation situations if they don’t have a concealed carry permit. Representative Heather Fitzenhagen’s bill makes it easier for owners to take their guns with them if they’re forced to leave home.

“It merely allows you, if you’re in an emergency, to not have to comply with the necessity for the proper carriage of your weapon,” said Fitzenhagen.

That’s a problem for the Florida Sheriff’s Association.  They worry that a state of emergency might be the worst time for a suspension of gun restrictions.

“Do the members of this committee want to extend a huge number of people the privilege of a concealed and loaded weapon at exactly the time they are least likely to use it in a responsible manner?” said FSA lobbyist Electra Theodorides-Bustle.

The NRA believes the transport is covered under the 2nd amendment.

“This bill is about law abiding people being able to protect themselves and their families during a state of emergency. It is not about the convenience of law enforcement,” said NRA representative Marion Hammer.

There were concerns that this bill would allow anyone to walk down the street during an emergency carrying a gun.

“This language, without parameters that we’ve heard through discussion, creates a local militia,” said Rep. Kionne McGhee.

State Rep. McGhee was the only “no” vote on the committee.  The bill covers owners who are in the “act of evacuating,” something the law doesn’t clearly define.

Florida law allows a state of emergency to last no more than 60 days unless it is renewed by the governor…which raised concerns of how long exactly a person could carry their weapons around if the bill became a law.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Everyone Gets a Gun!

Florida Flood Insurance Incentives

March 26th, 2014 by flanews

If you are one of the 200,000 Florida homeowners who must carry flood insurance and you’re unhappy with the National Flood Insurance rates, cheaper options may be on the way. The State Senate today unanimously passed legislation offering incentives to get private insurance to write more flood coverage.

Flood insurance premiums skyrocketed this past year. Congress stepped in and slowed the increase, but rates under the national program aren’t going to be going down.

Now the state legislature is offering incentives to bring more private insurers into the market. Florida sends $4 in premiums to the national program for every $1 paid in claims. Sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) says there is profit to be made and still offer lower rates.

“I think over time you’re going to see,” said Brandes, “five, ten years from now, a majority of flood insurance in the state of Florida will be private… It’ll save [people] thousands of dollars in some cases.

The legislation removes barriers for companies who want to write policies. But it’s still not a done deal. Still to be worked out, how much insurance you’ll actually have to buy.

The Senate wants companies to write policies that cover only what you owe the bank. The House is so far insisting you cover the full value of the property. Bankers, who get their money either way, are staying out of the fight.

“That’s a policy decision they’re going to have to make,” said Anthony DeMarco of the Florida Bankers Association.

But cautious insurers worry about what happens when you lose everything.

“If there’s a flood, you’re gonna lose your house,” said Michael Carlson of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida. “If you lose your house and are unable because of the low coverage limit, to rebuild it, you may abandon that home, that may create blight.”

The legislation bypasses regulatory pre approval of rates. That means companies can begin offering policies the day the bill becomes law.

Posted in Housing, Insurance | Comments Off on Florida Flood Insurance Incentives

Single Gender Public Schools

March 26th, 2014 by flanews

Kids learn to interact with members of the opposite sex at school, but a new proposal could allow same sex classrooms. Supporters of the single-gender classroom model say children can learn better without pressure from the opposite sex.

Reverend R.B. Holmes’ Steele-Collins Charter middle school switched to boys only last year. He says the benefits are already apparent.

R.B. Holmes/

“We felt that, in the 21st century, we need to be very focused on helping young boys, and trying to help young gentlemen become men,” said Holmes.

A proposal moving through the House would take the same sex classroom model to public schools

Supporters of the single gender classroom program say it’s already working at charter schools like this one.

Representative Manny Diaz fielded questions from the House on his bill allowing parents to enroll kids into same sex classrooms.

“We know that young girls and young boys develop at different paces, socially their interaction is different when they’re in a blended classroom,” said Rep. Diaz.

Not every member seemed convinced of the benefits.

“Isn’t it an unrealistic combination of human beings not living and working every day with members of the opposite sex?” said Rep. Elaine Scwartz.

The bill would still have interaction between boys and girls during lunch, recess, and electives. Diaz says the idea stems from a visit to a HillsboroughCounty school that is trying the model out.

“The boys were more active when it came to art classes and things of that nature because they did not have the girls there so there was no social pressure on them,” said Rep. Diaz.

The bill would leave the details of the program up to school districts.  Schools would choose if teachers would also have to be the same gender as students.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Single Gender Public Schools

FHP Bonuses Come with Unintended Consequences

March 25th, 2014 by flanews

The Governor is proposing that all state employees, including law enforcement agencies get pay raises based on their performance, not across the board. But when it comes to law enforcement agents, it looks like that’s going to produce some unintended consequences.

State troopers issued more than 800,000 tickets last year. Governor Rick Scott wants to offer $2,500 and $5,000 bonuses to all state workers. That includes troopers, game commission officers, and some FDLE agents.

“I believe in the bonuses,” said the Governor in January 2013. “I believe in variable pay”

The agency negotiating for the state has told the union it wants troopers to have three contacts an hour for the $2,500 bonus, four contacts for the full $5,000. Negotiators turned it down.

“You are, especially when you tie a bonus to it,” said Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, “that you are getting into the realm of quotas and paying a bonus for these types of quotas.”

Four trooper contacts an hour would more than double the number of tickets that were written over last year. State lawmakers briefed on the impasse say negotiators have gone too far.

 

“I do not support a quota system nor would I support a quota system,” said Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-Keystone Heights). “I think that’s wrong. That’s wrong. Patrolling, that’s wrong. Public safety.”

Another member of the impasse committee is actively trying to stop the would be quotas.

“You’re gonna have highway patrolmen pulling people over for going six miles per hour over the speed limit if we lash their pay to how many speeding tickets they write,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Ft. Walton Beach).

Both the highway patrol and the Department of Management Services which is doing the actual negotiation, declined to appear on camera. The Highway Patrol said in an email that they have no policy on quotas.”

The state has told the union it will be sending a new offer in the near future.

 

UPDATE. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 26, 2014

The Governor has been getting a lot of calls and aced u to post this response:

Section 316.640(1), F.S., provides:

2. An agency of the state as described in subparagraph 1. is prohibited from establishing a traffic citation quota. A violation of this subparagraph is not subject to the penalties provided in chapter 318.

The agencies described in that statute are:  The Division of Florida Highway Patrol of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles; the Division of Law Enforcement of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; and the agents, inspectors, and officers of the Department of Law Enforcement

FHP doesn’t have any evaluation standards that incentivizes the giving of tickets.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on FHP Bonuses Come with Unintended Consequences

Hearing Impaired Seek Justice

March 25th, 2014 by flanews

Felix Garcia was convicted of murdering a man in Tampa in 1983.  Felix is deaf and the court had no interpreter to help him understand his trial. He has spent every day since behind bars – even after his brother has admitted to the murder.

“He went into court, he didn’t know what was going on, he signed things he didn’t know he was signing and the result was he was incarcerated and he’s still in jail,” said Lissette Molina Wood through an interpreter. Wood is the Florida Association of the Deaf President.

Hundreds of Floridians rallied at the Capitol seeking Justice for Felix. The majority of the group deaf and demanding legislation that would require all interpreters to be certified … legislation they say could have helped Garcia.

“It is critical that those interpreters are competent and qualified,” said Vicky Fales of the Florida Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

The group hopes that if the bill were to ever become a law, what happened to Felix in the 1980’s would never happen again.

“This is about information, this is about the ability for individuals to receive proper legal representation, proper healthcare, proper education,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Thad Altman.

Tom Linares and his family traveled from Clearwater to show support. He says his son can’t get proper treatment in hospitals because of the communication barrier

“There’s a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications. We want bill 1125 passed and it would mean a quality of life that is so important,” said Linares as he signed through an interpreter.

Altman’s interpreter bill has been filed but has not made an agenda in any committee stop.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Hearing Impaired Seek Justice

School Grading Standards Changing…Again

March 24th, 2014 by flanews

A major overall of the way schools are graded generated thousands of calls, emails and text messages to lawmakers over the weekend.  Educators are split on the changes.

How schools are graded has been controversial since the system began more than a decade ago. This year is no different.

“These calculations will focus more closely on student performance,” said Rep. Janet Adkins (R-Jacksonville).

The 130-page bill being considered is needed because the state is switching from the FCAT to yet another to be developed test.

25-year classroom veteran Patricia Crutcher drove five hours from Brevard County on spring break to tell lawmakers the current test is making her kids physically ill.

“Another student got so nauseous that I had to get the nurse to take her out of the room,” said Crutcher. “A third student got a nose bleed.”

Sandra Butler came from Panama City to say the same thing.

“We’re all for accountability, but it needs to be the right accountability,” said Butler. “They need to go into the classroom and find out exactly what’s going on, not the grades because of a one-day test.”

The bottom line: the schools won’t be penalized for one year as Florida switches standardized tests.

The one-year pass on penalties is what brought the Florida PTA to speak against the bill.

“We just think it’s too fast. It’s  moving too fast,” said Kathy Foulk of Florida PTA.

But school boards say a year is enough time.

“This would allow us at the local level to establish a base line next year and not be penalized as the grades go up or down,” said Wayne  Blanton of the FL School Board Association.

And while many of the specifics may change as the bill moves on, the one thing it does that won’t change, is affirm the state’s commitment to keep testing children’s’ progress.

The bill has one more committee stop before being heard by the full House.

Posted in Children, Education | Comments Off on School Grading Standards Changing…Again

Not Quite a Red Light Repeal

March 24th, 2014 by flanews

The Mark Wandall traffic safety act was signed into law in 2010 and is better known as the Red Light Camera law.  Wandall was killed by a driver that ran a red light. His widow came to Tallahassee to remind lawmakers why it was originally approved.

“Red light safety cameras have a human value. One person had to die in order to save others, and that one person was my husband,” said Melissa Wandall.

A House committee heard Representative Frank Artiles bill Monday.  It isn’t a full repeal, but would put restrictions on the revenue stream the cameras take in.

“My bill does not eliminate red light cameras, it basically puts accountability for municipalities,” said Rep. Artiles.

The bill was originally written to cut a red light ticket fee in half, but it was amended and the fee will remain $158 dollars.

Red light tickets have been money makers for local cities.  A study released last month showed that the program generated more than $115 million dollars. The amount was split almost evenly between the state and local governments.

“We think that we should take a little bit more time to study the changes we made last year before we propose any new changes,” said League of Cities spokesman Casey Cook.

The proposal would require 70 percent of the revenue collected by local governments to go towards traffic safety.  Originally the bill would have banned cities from putting up more cameras, but that was scratched. Something that Melissa Wandall is thankful for.

“The statistics are showing that they are changing driver behavior at those intersections with red light safety cameras. I absolutely think we have to continue to put up those red light safety cameras,” said Wandall.

A Senate committee will hear a proposal for a full repeal later this week

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Not Quite a Red Light Repeal

Voucher Wars

March 21st, 2014 by flanews

Florida is spending almost $300 million dollars a year on voucher programs. House Speaker Will Weatherford wants massive expansion of the program which would nearly double the number of students who could attend private schools with state help.

The Florida Education Association, who is adamantly opposed to the expansion, released videos from a pro-voucher conference in 2011. The FEA says the videos show the program is a money grab.

“It makes more sense for us if the state does more to help students all throughout the state rather than a select few that might go into an unregulated voucher program,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow.

The vouchers are funded through businesses that receive tax credits for their contributions and serve about 60 thousand students. The Senate dropped an expansion bill because the House won’t agree to testing voucher students.

Supporters of the bill in the House say that this is a setback, but the fight is far from over.

Representative Ritch Workman is a sponsor of a House expansion bill.  He said the move by the Senate was disappointing, but he still has hope.

“We are not laying over, we think it’s the right thing to do, we think this particular bill will get some momentum here,” said Rep. Workman.

The bill would have offered partial scholarships to families earning more than $60,000 and increased the money available to the program.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Voucher Wars

Warning Shot Bill Close

March 21st, 2014 by flanews

State lawmakers spent two hours discussing whether people who feel threatened should be immune from prosecution if they fire a warning or non-lethal shot. The change is intended to send a message to prosecutors whom lawmakers believe have misused the current Stand Your Ground law.

In 2012, Marissa Alexander was offered three years in prison for firing a gun in the direction of her estranged husband. She refused, claimed self-defense under Stand Your Ground, lost and got 20 years. A court has ordered a new trial.

Now lawmakers are moving quickly to add the words “threatened use of force” to the Stand Your Ground law.

“You should not be punished and sent to prison for refusing to take a life,” said Marion Hammer of the NRA.

They say they’re sending a message to what they believe are over-zealous prosecutors.

“We want to send a message to prosecutors everywhere that here’s the intent of Stand Your Ground, here’s the intent of our law,” said Rep. Neil Combee (R-Polk County).

The measure has cleared the full house and is slated for a final vote in the Senate.

Lawmakers say that they’re sending a message, prosecutors say, they’re not really listening.

Prosecutor Willie Meggs of the Second Judicial Circuit says the law already allows people to threaten the use of force without going to jail.

“If you can cause somebody to leave you alone that you’re in fear of by shooting a shot in the ground or up in the air,” said Meggs. “I think you’ve probably always been able to do that.”

But Meggs and others are worried about one part of the bill, which they say turns their job upside down. “The prosecutor has the burden of proving what a defendant was thinking,” said Meggs.

The legislation lets people who are arrested but later let go for threatening force to have their arrest records expunged. It also encourages people like Marissa Alexander to apply for clemency, sending a message to the Governor that lawmakers don’t think threatening force should send someone to jail.

Posted in State News | Comments Off on Warning Shot Bill Close

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