Today's Top Story

Tallahassee federal judge throws out Florida's ban on same-sex marriage posted on 8/22/14

by JESSICA PALOMBO | WFSU

United States District Court for the Northern District of FloridaA federal judge in Tallahassee has struck down the state’s gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. The ruling comes with an automatic stay preventing the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Hinkle found in favor of eight same-sex couples who had married in other states, one couple seeking to get married, and one woman whose partner had died.

Hinkle says Florida’s...

Breaking News

  • Few Days Left To Vote Early Ahead Of Florida's Tuesday Primary posted on 8/22/14

    by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

    Residents have until Saturday to vote early ahead of the August 26th primary election. And, depending on the area, it could end at different times.

    For example, in Bay County, early voting will end at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, Leon and Wakulla counties' will end at 6 in the evening.

    To participate in the primary, voters must have registered to vote on or before July 28th.

    Those who missed out on early voting still have a chance to vote Tuesday in the primary election. Area residents will decide some high-profile state races, including the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates. They’ll also decide the Democratic candidate, who will face off against Attorney General Pam Bondi in the general election.

    » Read more

  • GOP Candidates Square Off in Panhandle Stronghold posted on 8/22/14

    by MARGIE MENZEL | News Service of Florida

    With state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, leaving office this fall due to term limits, six candidates have lined up to represent his Northwest Florida district.

    But while a Democrat and a Green Party member are among those vying for the seat, the winner of a four-candidate Republican primary Tuesday will almost certainly win the November general election to replace Patronis in House District 6.

    The district, which covers southern Bay County, Panama City and Tyndall Air Force Base, votes overwhelmingly Republican: 70 percent for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 and nearly 66 percent for then-gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott in 2010.

    "I feel like there'll be a good, strong Republican nominee," Patronis said. "And whoever that is, I'll be doing everything I can to help them win."

    The GOP candidates are Tho Bishop, 24, a former deputy communications director for the U.S. House Financial Services Committee; Melissa Hagan, 45, a former development officer at Gulf Coast State College who runs a business connecting military veterans with jobs; Thelma Rohan, 68, a retired nurse, former school board member and longtime party official; and Jay Trumbull, a 25-year-old businessman who, as of earlier this month, had raised more money than all the others put together.

    Campaign-finance records show that Trumbull has received money from influential businesses and groups such as The St. Joe Co., the Florida Medical Association, TECO Energy, AT&T, Bank of America, various Disney entities, the Florida Insurance Council and former Republican House speaker Dean Cannon, who now runs a lobbying firm.

    » Read more

  • Solar lab teaches, and provides, alternative energy posted on 8/22/14

    by Shelby Webb | Herald-Tribune

    LAKEWOOD RANCH - As Everglades University builds more alternative energy sources at its campus here, students are getting first-hand lessons they hope will lead to jobs in a growing field.

    Everglades University's Sarasota campus has just finished construction on its new outdoor Solar Energy Teaching Lab, complete with more than 50 solar panels and five energy inverters. University officials plan to use the new lab — which can seat 18 students under its outdoor awning — to enhance its alternative and renewable energy management program.

    That four-year degree program began in 2012. Twenty students are enrolled this year.

    Caroline King, vice president of the Sarasota campus, said having a strong alternative energy program at the university can help attract future students to the program.

    “We want everyone to come check it out, high school groups, kindergarten through 12th-grade students, community groups, anyone who wants to know how this works,” King said. “Our students want to be agents of change; they have a passion for sustainability.”

    The lab itself has five different solar panels, some manufactured in the United States, and two from China. Each rack of cells has a plaque identifying where it was made, how much wattage each module produces and which inverter it uses.

    King said the program is focused less on teaching students how to install solar panels and more on teaching them every step of the process — from finding a spot for a solar array and applying for building permits to maintaining the solar array and generating the most electricity possible.

    The alternative energy program goes beyond solar.

    » Read more

  • A Third With Medicaid Chose Own Plan posted on 8/22/14

    by AP

    Only about one-third of Florida’s Medicaid recipients transitioning into managed care statewide chose their own health insurance plans.

    Enrollment for the general population started in May and ended in August. Consumers received a letter in the mail two months before enrollment and were given at least 30 days to choose an insurance plan. Those who did not choose a plan were automatically enrolled into a plan by state health officials.

    State health officials said 34 percent of Medicaid recipients chose their plan while 66 percent were assigned one. But nearly half of the 66 percent who were automatically enrolled were assigned to a plan they had a prior relationship with.

  • Duke Energy saps customers, senator says posted on 8/22/14

    by josh boatwright | tampa tribune

    ST. PETERSBURG — Duke Energy officials say the longer billing cycle and higher rates appearing on thousands of customers’ bills this month are a one-time hassle that will make business more efficient as they change travel routes for power meter reading.

    Florida Sen. Jack Latvala on Thursday accused the utility of cashing in on 267,000 customers whose bills could be lengthened by up to 12 days during one of the hottest months of the year.

    “Although it may be legal for utility companies to squeeze additional money from customers in this manner, it certainly isn’t moral,” the Clearwater Republican wrote in a letter to Duke President Alexander Glenn.

    The utility maintains the change in billing is industry standard practice as workers change their meter-reading routes to cut down on travel.

    The side effect for customers is the shift in dates will mean the number of days on their next bill could exceed the typical 24-31 day cycle.

    While some customers will have a shorter billing cycle, the added days for others could drive their electricity usage above the standard usage rate of $11.34 per 100 kilowatt hours.

    After surpassing 1,000, the rate goes up to $13.70 per 100 kilowatt hours, which could add up quickly in a month of constant air conditioning use.

    “Almost 60 percent of the customers in Pinellas County won’t see any change. They’ll either have a bill that has fewer days on it or a normal bill,” said Duke spokesman Sterling Ivey, adding that the irregular cycle will only appear on one bill. “The remaining 40 percent will have a bill that might have extended days on it.”

    » Read more

  • Area real estate recovery is steady posted on 8/22/14

    by Yvette C. Hammett | Tampa Tribune

    TAMPA —The median price for homes selling in the Tampa Bay area rose by nearly 2 percent in July compared to a year ago. And while inventory is slightly down in this area, it is generally up throughout the state.

    The number of closed sales fell slightly in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area last month, but statewide, sales were up 5 percent when compared to July 2013, according to the July housing report released by Florida Realtors.

    “Florida’s housing market continued its steady pace in July,” said Florida Realtors President Sherri Meadows. “Median sales prices rose year-over-year for both single family homes and townhomes-condo properties in July, marking 32 months in a row for higher median prices. Statewide, inventory (active listings) for single family homes last month rose 17.5 percent year-over-year, while the townhouse-condo inventory ... rose 10.9 percent.”

    In the Tampa Bay market, 3,517 single-family home sales closed in July, a 0.5 percent decline over July 2013, Florida Realtors reports. The good news is that the median sale price for a single-family home is up 1.9 percent to $168,110.

    The price of condominiums and townhomes in the Tampa Bay market showed a greater increase, up 8.2 percent year over year to a median price of $115,000, according to the Florida Realtors report. Sales are down locally year-over-year by 2.3 percent. A total of 1,236 townhomes and condos sold here in July.

    “We don’t even know what normal is any more, but the market is improving,” said Tina Harris, president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. “We are slowly inching our way back.”

    Statewide, the median price for a house in July was $185,000, up 3.6 percent compared to last year. The statewide median price for a townhouse-condo in July was $137,500, up 7.4 percent year over year, according to Florida Realtors’ Industry Data and Analysis department, which partners with local Realtor boards and associations to compile the numbers.

    » Read more

  • Scott seeks to drive road, seaport, airport upgrades in second term posted on 8/21/14

    by JIM Turner | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott is hyping a plan to reinforce the state’s roads, ports and airports as he campaigns across Florida this week.

    The proposal, which also pushes safety enhancements for bicyclists while highlighting spending on transit since Scott has been in office, is the latest part of the governor’s re-election platform.

    “I am committed to keeping Florida moving by creating strategic investment opportunities to expand our state’s transportation system,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

    The plan focuses heavily on expanding parts of the existing transit infrastructure by affirming support for the state Department of Transportation’s $41 billion, five-year work program. Specifics projects that could be undertaken still would need to be worked out annually with the Legislature if Scott is re-elected, a campaign spokeswoman said.

    Scott, who has conducted similar tours for other parts of his platform, has titled this week’s campaign effort “Let’s Keep Florida Moving.”

    Although specific times and locations had not been announced as of Wednesday, stops this week include Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Miami, Panama City and Tampa.

    The plan doesn’t address any proposals for passenger or freight rail transportation, which has become a hot topic in parts of the state during this year’s elections.

    » Read more

  • Report: Miami-Dade’s Poorest Schools Have District’s Least Experienced Teachers posted on 8/21/14

    by JOHN O'CONNOR | State Impact

    Students in some of Miami-Dade’s lowest-income schools are more likely to have teachers who are new to the profession, who miss more school time and who receive lower evaluation scores, according to a new analysis by the National Council for Teacher Quality.

    Washington, D.C.-based NCTQ looked at student and school data by school board district at the request of the Urban League of Miami. The group focused on district 1, an area along the county’s northern border which includes Miami Gardens and Opa-locka, and district 2, an area north of downtown including Little Haiti and Liberty City.

    Those school board districts have the highest percentage of black students and the highest poverty, as measured by percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, in the school district.

    Of the 60 schools which received a D or F on the state’s grading system for public schools, 70 percent were located in school board district 1 or 2. And poor students were less likely to pass the state’s standardized tests.

    At a town hall meeting at the Urban League of Miami, NCTQ researcher Nancy Waymack said districts across the country struggle to place top teachers in high poverty schools.

    “This is not a secret,” she said, “but, when we see data like this it’s time to redouble our efforts.”

    » Read more

  • Property appraiser raises train concerns, Realtors say it’s local fight posted on 8/21/14

    by Kimberly Miller and Jennifer Sorentrue | Palm Beach Post

    All Aboard Florida was not up for discussion at last week’s Florida Realtors conference, even as local Realtor associations come out against the express passenger rail service and Palm Beach County’s property appraiser is raising concerns over home values.

    Bill Hall, president of the Jupiter Tequesta Hobe Sound Association of Realtors, which is opposing the Miami to Orlando train service, said he suggested the statewide Florida Realtors group bypass All Aboard Florida for now, calling it a “local fight.”

    “It’s something you can’t win on from a larger association standpoint because there are so many people on all sides,” said Hall, who is also chairman of the Florida Realtors subcommittee on land use, property rights and sustainable growth.

    The Florida Realtors, a public policy and trade organization, has 127,000 members statewide and represents 61 local boards or associations. It held its annual conference in Orlando last week.

    At least three Realtor associations have come out against All Aboard Florida, fearing the increase of 32 trains per day on the Florida East Coast Railway Tracks will lower property values — a concern bolstered Wednesday by Palm Beach county Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits.

    “I think common sense would tell you that if you are living up along the railroad track and you have one or two trains a day going by, maybe that is not so bad, but if you are going to have dozens of trains going by every day that might be a problem,” said Nikolits, who spoke at the Economic Forum of Palm Beach County. “We suspect it is probably going to have a negative impact.”

    » Read more

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