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NAACP Says No To Confederates

February 27th, 2015 by flanews

Should Confederate soldiers from Florida be recognized as Veterans enshrined in the state’s hall of fame? Matt Galka first told us about the story earlier this month, and now tells us the NAACP is saying no.

We first brought you the unique story of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans asking Florida’s Governor and Cabinet to let Confederate soldiers into the state’s veterans hall of fame earlier this month.

“Don’t tell me about he’s a rebel and he did all these other kinds of things. Poppycock! He is an American Veteran, recognize him,” said H.K. Edgerton, an African-American supporter of the Confederates.

The request to put Florida soldiers who fought for the South caused the Governor and Cabinet to delay the inductions of this year’s class.  But the NAACP is saying there’s nothing to think about.

“It’s very much a slap in the face,” said NAACP Tallahassee Chapter President Dale Landry

Landry is a US Army veteran who says the Hall of Fame’s rules are very clear.

“The requirement was that you had to be honorably discharged from the United States Armed Forces. The Confederate Army was not a part of the United States Armed Forces,” he said.

The NAACP argues that if you let confederates in, where do you stop?

“The Japanese military, the Japanese army, the Japanese navy, you see? The Germans, the Nazis. I’m sorry but that’s the same to me,” said Landry.

Floridians that fought for the stars and bars that could be nominated for the class include former Governor Edward Perry, David Lang who helped form the National Guard, and former U.S. Senator Samuel Pasco.

The NAACP has launched on online petition opposing Confederate soldiers inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

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Solar Wars

February 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A dust up between solar advocates and a state Senator is erupting on the eve of the annual legislative session. The fight is a window into the often unintended consequences in state politics. At the center is legislation that would allow greater use of solar resources, but advocates worry utilities could end up being the big winners.

Under Florida law, only regulated utilities can see electricity. The regulation has thwarted stores like Publix who want to install solar on their rooftop, then sell what power they don’t use to stores next door. State Senator Jeff Brandes has filed legislation that would allow just that.

“It’s something that I think is the right policy for the state of Florida. It shouldn’t be illegal to sell power” says Brandes.

But a part of Brandes’s bill has the solar community’s hair on fire. The bill allows utilities to “recover the full actual cost of providing services” which some says would allow utilities to hike the rate for connecting a business to the grid. Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is hoping the bill is withdrawn.

“We don’t want something thats going to put onerous charges on people who want to put solar up” says Glickman.

Glickman’s group is also part of a coalition circulating petitions.

This proposed constitutional amendment allows the sale of excess solar, but it makes no mention of utilities being able to charge you more for hookup. Glickman would prefer the ballot measure over legislation.

“We think the ballot measure is a clear shot to getting the kind of policy that they have in other states.  Again, we are one of only five states that don’t allow this” says Glickman.

That the fight is even happening…in the public…is a testament to how far clean energy advocates have been able to move the legislative priorities in what has been a utility dominated arena.

Campaign records show Florida Power and Light gave more than a million dollars to the Republican Party of Florida Last Year. Duke Energy contributed just over a quarter million to the RPOF. The totals don’t contributions to individual legislators.

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Ray Sansom Gets Day in Court

February 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom of Destin spent the day in a Tallahassee courtroom. He and his lawyer are arguing they deserve more than 817 thousand dollars in legal fees stemming from criminal charges later dropped that alleged Samson misrepresented a six million dollar item in the state budget when he was appropriations chairman. The money was to go to an emergency operations center, which turned out to be a hanger for a political contributor of Sansom’s. The criminal charges were dropped after a procedural ruling. Under state law. Someone accused of a crime while acting in their official capacity can recover legal fees if they are not convicted. The trial is expected to continue tomorrow.


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Housing Funds Getting Slashed Because of Amendment 1?

February 26th, 2015 by flanews

Affordable housing funds could be taking a hit this year, and as Matt Galka tells us, it could be because of environmental amendment 1. But both sides say that isn’t fair.

Theo Anderson was down on his luck, inured, and living with two children in a run down home before state housing assistance helped him get back on his feet.

“People need help, cause, you know, you never know when a hard time is going to come upon you,” he said.

The state money used to help Anderson and others could be getting raided again. Business and faith groups, builders, and the Florida Chamber stood with housing advocates to tell the legislature the money is better spent in its own program.  But the passage of environmental Amendment 1 could be changing that.

“We do feel that we’re being pitted, the environmentalists and affordable housing advocates are being pitted against each other and that really isn’t fair,” said Florida Housing Coalition President Jaimie Ross.

Both the conservation amendment and the housing programs get money out of a state real estate tax. Amendment 1 will get 33 percent, housing has been receiving 16 percent.

Affordable housing advocates say there’s no need to slash money, because there’s plenty to go around

A legislative bill meant to pave the way for Amendment 1 would cut more than $100 million dollars from the housing program. But with more than $2 billion dollars available from the tax revenues, Florida Association of Local Housing Finance Authorities Executive Director Mark Hendrickson says it doesn’t make sense to cut anything.

“There’s enough money within the doc stamp distributions to fund both fully.  It isn’t an amendment 1 versus housing, it’s a how are doc stamps to be distributed,” he said.

The Governor’s budget also proposes cutting the housing money; taking it down from around $267 million to only $100 million.

Amendment 1 advocates agreed that there is plenty of money in the tax pool to continue to fund affordable housing fully and provide money to the environmental programs.

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Test Anxiety Take Two

February 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Despite complaints from School Superintendents, teachers and parents, the state says new statewide testing that begins Monday will count toward school grades and teacher evaluations. This is not the first time testing changes have been an issue.

The Florida Student Assessment test replaces the FCAT this year. Some testing begins as early as Monday. And despite calls from school superintendents, the teachers union, and parents, Education Commission Pam Stewart says the new tests will count toward school grades.

“I believe that without a doubt they are ready. So it’s important that we measure their progress” say Stewart.

Holding the line on testing has proven embarrassing for the state in the past. In 2011, 81 percent of the students statewide passed the FCAT writing test. A year later, after changes in how the test was graded, just 27 percent passed the test.

As a result, the state Board of Education held an emergency hearing, changed the grading scale, and kept hundreds of schools from failing.

Then Commissioner Gerard Robinson defended the re-scoring. “I wouldn’t describe it as eating crow. I would describe it as a process that the board and myself took a look at data.”

Now, educators are raising similar alarms over the switch from a paper test to a computer based assessment. Kurt Browning is the Pasco County School Superintendent.

“Addition, subtraction, multiplication, subtraction signs, you’ve got to click on these. It’s not like you just take a pencil and write the sign and do the math. Ah, so it is….the whole keyboarding piece is something our students are not familiar with” says Browning.

The current commission is sticking to her guns. We’re ready, the test is ready. But the real answer won’t be know until the tests are ready” says Stewart.

But the real answer won’t be know until the tests are graded.

This springs test results will be ready in early summer. The changing of test criteria in 2012 forced the state to set up a hot line for parents. On its first day, more than 250 parents called with concerns.


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Tax Dodging

February 25th, 2015 by flanews

Who’s really paying for Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, a new report about the state’s biggest companies says its not them, and they’re dodging taxes.


Florida’s Governor makes his agenda pretty clear. “The most important thing you can do to change lives is give someone a job,” said Rick Scott at January’s inauguration.

Scott’s quest for more jobs even took him to Philadelphia earlier this week to try and poach more companies. But a new study says corporations in Florida aren’t paying their fair share.

“Floridians should know that there’s more money coming out of our pockets from the public to the largest corporations in this state, in terms of contracts and subsidies, than those companies pay back on their profits taxes to state governments nationally,” said Dan Krassner with Integrity Florida.

The government watchdog’s new study looked at 17 Fortune 500 corporations in the state. It found that the 13 profitable ones paid, on average, below the state’s tax rate. Of the combined $35 billion the companies made, they paid less than a billion in taxes.

“Well the question is who should pay for Florida? Who should pay for Florida today and our future?” asked Krassner.

The study says that taxpayers provided more than $2 billion dollars to the companies in the form of state contracts. The Governor wants to eliminate the corporate tax rate all together. At the very least, exempt more profits from being taxed.

“It’s a mixed bag, which is like a lot of things, there’s no guarantee that a lower rate produces anymore jobs at all,” said Alan Stonecipher, who helped author the report.

If the proposal goes through, it would mean less money for the state budget. Exempting more corporate income has been scoffed at in the past, but a bill that would do just that has already cleared two committees ahead of next week’s session.

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Testing Anxiety Hits Home

February 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s testing scheme is getting a “D” or an “F” from a majority of parents, teachers and school employees. The results of the online survey sow the frustration of parents as Governor Rick Scott cancelled one test and is asking lawmakers to  consider eliminating others.

Rick Scott’s executive order suspends the Florida Standards English Assessment test for 11th graders. High school principal Billy Epps says the students have already proven they can read. “These are the tenth graders who were promised last year who were told if they passed the tenth grade FCAT, they would be done with reading comprehension testing,”

In an online survey, JoAnn McCall, Vice President of the Florida Education Association,  the union representing Florida’s teachers says parents give Florida’s overall testing scheme a D or an F. “Our parents, 64 percent, gave testing an F grade in Florida. And twenty-two percent handed out a D.”

The state is switching to its own version of common core this year. A demonstration test was difficult to maneuver through and instructions were difficult to understand. 0

FEA President Andy Ford says teachers are calling for the tests to go forward, but not count, until the results can be verified. “The way we ask questions is new. I mean everything has changed and now its time to see what the results are without punishing kids in the process,”

And educators familiar with the test say if lawmakers were to sit down and take it, there’s no doubt they would suspend it for at least a year.

Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning says superintendents across Florida would like a moratorium on the new tests. “We have not had the time to prepare our students because we have not really seen what the test looks like” says Browning.

In a report, the state Department of Education calls for the elimination of more tests that it considers redundant.

Lawmakers will be asked to ratify the Governor’s order ending the 11th grade test when they begin meeting next week.


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A New Retirement Problem Down the Road?

February 24th, 2015 by flanews

New data suggests that Florida could have another crisis for retirees on its hands. As Matt Galka tells us, it goes beyond local pensions and into the world of healthcare.

Pension problems have been ongoing in the state. Unfunded liability for local governments have put future benefit burdens on taxpayers.  The problem is so bad in Jacksonville that Representative Janet Adkins called for an investigation earlier this month.

“Florida, as many of you know, is faced with approximately $11 billion dollars in unfunded liability for pensions. Over $1.6 billion of that unfunded liability is associated with the Jacksonville police and fire pension fund,” she said last week while addressing a legislative auditing committee.

But a new report suggests there could be another problem on the way.  Policy thinktank the Leroy Collins institute released data about another unfunded liability for local governments: healthcare benefits.

“It’s a problem because it’s a pay as you go system, so a lot of the local governments are not really paying for those benefits of the future. So they’re paying today, but they’re not paying for what they’re going to have to pay for when these people retire,” said Collins Institute Director Carol Weissert.

The report says that cities and counties are facing an $8 billion dollar shortfall in healthcare benefit liability for retirees. A majority of Florida governments aren’t setting aside future money for their retiree benefits.  It could especially hurt as more baby boomers start leaving the workforce Florida TaxWatch says both the pension problems and the healthcare problems have to be dealt with now.

“It really is a double whammy.  These work together to be obligations that add up to nearly 20 billion dollars that Florida taxpayers will owe,” said Robert Weissert with Florida TaxWatch.

If the local governments aren’t able to shore up their healthcare promises, it could mean that employees are out of luck or taxpayers are on the hook. Experts say the solution starts at the local level and budgeting yearly for future payments.

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Big Sugar Buy?

February 23rd, 2015 by flanews

Everglades advocates opened up what could be a legislative session – long fight over funding.  As Matt Galka tells us, the push is on for the state to make a land buy…and time is running out.

Environmentalists are making a full court press and will attempt to get the Governor and the legislature to buy in to a land deal before time runs out this year.

Everglades advocates have started to roll out television, radio, and internet ads pressing the state to buy thousands of acres of land in the name of Everglades restoration.  Florida signed a deal in 2010 with US Sugar and the clock is ticking.

The legislature has until the end of the 2015 session to act on buying the land. If not, the contract would expire.

The purchase would cost around $350 million bucks.  The campaign says the state can use Amendment 1 money to buy the land. Advocate Will Abberger says that’s what it’s meant to do anyway.

“It is a water and land conservation amendment so we’re talking about using land conservation as a tool to protect water at its source and keep pollution out of those water bodies by buying the land around them,” he said.

The proposal focuses on the area around Lake Okeechobee to get water to flow further south in the State.

Clearly amendment 1 specifically talked about providing funding for everglades restoration.

How to deal with water is expected to be one of the prominent issues for the next two month as the legislative session plays out. Insiders expect the US Sugar industry to respond in the coming weeks.

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Pennsylvania Paper Declares War on Rick Scott Jobs “Poaching”

February 20th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott will spend Monday and part of Tuesday in Pennsylvania, his first trip since being reelected to try and recruit businesses to move here, But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he’s getting a cold reception in more ways than one.

One of the major themes of Rick Scott’s second inaugural was his continuing efforts to bring jobs here. “I have a message today for the people of New York, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, and others. Move to Florida, chimed Scott in his inaugural address.

His first job luring trip starts Monday in chilly Philadelphia. In letters to Pennsylvania papers, Scott says Pennsylvania’s Governor is trying to increase taxes and regulations.

That prompted the Patriot News, Pennsylvania’s capital city newspaper, to declare war.

John L. Micek is the opinion editor who wrote the editorial.

“It seems like a good time to draw a line in the sand. As we note in the editorial, its kind of like inviting someone over to dinner and having them walk off with your best silverware.”

In the tongue in cheek editorial, the paper told people to call Scott and tell them for every job he poaches, they’re taking a Disney character.  “If he wants to bring it, let him bring it. He’ll be down to one dwarf and a castle. We’re taking this pretty seriously” says Micek.

The temperature when Scott is in Philadelphia will top out at 21. But Micek points out Florida is having it’s own temperature issues where a hard freeze hit the Capitol city on Friday.

And while it is cold in the northeast, that hasn’t stopped at least two high profile Floridians from taking jobs in Pennsylvania. FSU President Eric Barron left in April for Penn State, Former University Chancellor Frank Brogan took over the PA Chancellor’s job six months earlier.

The tongue in cheek editorial produced more than a hundred responses from readers, many supportive of Scott’s efforts.

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Prison Healthcare Up for Rebid

February 20th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Two vendors who won a billion dollar contract to provide health care for prison inmates may be out in the cold. This afternoon, the Department says it intends to issue a new invitation to negotiate.  That opens the door for other vendors who lost to re-compete. Reports of deaths and poor service prompted the contract review. Corrections Secretary Julie Jones alerted lawmakers earlier this month that she was unhappy with the current situation.

“I don’t think privatization was the wrong thing to do, we just didn’t do it in the right way. A better better way to have done it would have been an invitation to negotiate. We can go in and talk, basically talk turkey with the vendor to get what we need and not have it prescribed, this is out proposal, take it or leave it” says Jones.

The Privatization is supposed to save the state millions of dollars.

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Dozier School Investigation may be Reopened

February 19th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

More bodies found

For more than 60 years, the Dozier School for Boys in rural north Florida was a place to be feared, A 2009 investigation by the Department of Law Enforcement found 31 marked and unmarked graves. Now, after researchers found another 20 bodies, Mike Vasilinda tells us, there are calls for a state law enforcement  investigation to be reopened.

When USF researchers began unearthing bodies at the defunct Dozier School for Boys many local residents, including John Perkins and John Cooper were unhappy.

“It’s something that happened 50-60 years ago, you know, let bygones be bygones” says Perkins. Cooper was more blunt:  “I believe it’s going to be a hornets nest.”

A hornets nest indeed.

A report submitted by USF  last month shows researchers uncovered 51 remains….20 more bodies than the Department of Law Enforcement says it located in 2009. The finding has prompted state Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam to ask FDLE to consider another look.

Bill Montford represents the area in the state Senate.  “And we need to close this chapter, this sad chapter in Florida’s history. But to do that, I agree with Commissioner Putnam, lets move forward, lets find out what the answers are.”

“They said they were going to do right, They never wanted to go there again.” says State Senator Arthenia Joyner, who taught school in the 1960, including some who had been to Dozier. She supports opening the investigation.

“How many lives were lost at Dozier?”

Q:”And how, perhaps?”

“Yes, and how those deaths occurred.”

FDLE will only say it has received the letter, and is taking it under advisement.

And without closure for the families…and the community…what happened at Dozier will keep festering like a wound that won’t heal.

USF has only been able to so far identify five of the 51 remains.

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Entrepreneurs Seek Legislative Change

February 19th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Hemp as a Cash Crop

From clothing, to rope, to building insulation, a group of would be entrepreneurs want the state to legalize industrial hemp. The weed, a non euphoric version of marijuana is a cash crop in some counties and is heartier than cotton or synthetic fabrics. Bob Clayton of Tarpon Springs build a house using hemp insulation that cut his heating and air conditioning bill to less than 80 dollars a month.

“Florida has a unique environment. We can pull three or four crops year out of Florida. In North Dakota, they can only get one. So, we have great potential for hemp in Florida that no other state has.”

Two bills have been filed to allow the industrial growing of hemp in Florida.

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Schools to Share Engineering School

February 19th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

FSU/FAMU Engineering School 

The University system Board of Governors today approved an agreement between FAMU and Florida State to keep a joint engineering school intact but make significant changes in the governance of the school. FSU tried to take control of the school last year. Under the new agreement, a new 12 member council will guide the school and funding from lawmakers will go directly to the school instead of both universities. FSU President John Thrasher says students will win.


“We need to speaking as one voice. Its important for our engineering students, and thats the key to all of this. Its about them, its not about Florida A and M or Florida State University. Its about the quality we get and the opportunity we give these students.”


Ironically, it was John Thrasher, then a state Senator, who sought to split the school last year. An independent report estimated a split could cost upwards of a half billion dollars.


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Board of Governors Approve Planning Money for USF

February 19th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

USF Downtown Campus

The University system Board of Governors today approved planning money for the University of South Florida in Tampa to open a downtown campus for its medical school.  The move is important for USF  says President Judy Genshaft because it puts students closer to Tampa General, which is USF’s teaching hospital.

For us to be co located with the teaching hospital is absolutely essential. It means a  lot of work together in the interdisciplinary fields as well as the doctors working with patients all the time and medical students among them. So its really really important project,a s well as for downtown economy” says Genshaft.

Funding must still be approved by state lawmakers.

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