Today's Top Story

'Hurricane Tax' on Insurance To End posted on 7/23/14

by JIM Turner | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

hurricane andrewTALLAHASSEE— An extra charge on property-insurance and auto-insurance policies to cover claims paid for the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons will end Jan. 1.

The Office of Insurance Regulation formally issued orders Tuesday for insurance companies to move up by 18 months the end of a 1.3 percent "emergency assessment" for the state-run Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which provides backup coverage to insurers.

The assessment has hit policyholders for $2.9...

Breaking News

  • Judge won’t lift Florida Keys gay marriage stay posted on 7/22/14

    by AP

    MIAMI — A Florida Keys judge — who last week ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional — refused Monday to allow gay couples to begin marrying in Monroe County, citing a pending appeal by the state attorney general.

    Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia rejected a motion to allow immediate weddings filed by attorneys for Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, a pair of Key West bartenders whose lawsuit successfully challenged the ban. Garcia ruled last week that the ban on same-sex marriage added to the state constitution by Florida voters in 2008 is discriminatory and violates gay people’s right to equal treatment under the law.

    Garcia initially ruled marriage licenses could be issued in Monroe County beginning Tuesday to gay couples. But that was blocked by an automatic stay triggered when Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi immediately filed notice that the state will appeal.

    Bondi’s office filed papers later Monday urging Garcia to keep the stay in place and preserve the status quo until all appeals are sorted out and Garcia agreed. That means no gay marriages can take place while Garcia’s original ruling is reviewed by the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal, which could take weeks or months to issue a decision.

    In their motion, three attorneys for Huntsman and Jones wrote that gays are suffering harm because they cannot marry in Monroe County despite the judge’s ruling and because the state is unlikely to ultimately win an appeal. Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions against state marriage limits around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

    “Every day that goes by, plaintiffs and other same-sex couples are being deprived of important constitutional rights and suffering additional serious, ongoing, and irreparable dignitary, legal and economic harms,” the motion says.

    » Read more

  • State Cracks Down on Medicaid Marketing posted on 7/22/14

    by AP

    State health officials are taking a cue from past problems and are banning health insurance companies from marketing their plans directly to Medicaid consumers as the state is rolling out a massive overhaul by transitioning millions into managed care.

    Insurance companies are allowed to market to consumers under the contracts, but only if the state gives prior approval. The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration isn't approving any marketing events at this time.

    State health officials have approved insurers' billboards, radio, bus stop ads and brochures at doctor's offices, but marketing at events like health fairs or any interaction where insurers are talking directly with consumers is forbidden for now.

    » Read more

  • Scientists Want To Speak Directly To Scott, Not Administration, About Climate Change posted on 7/22/14

    by Sascha Cordner | WFSU

    Governor Rick Scott says his administration is willing to meet with 10 scientists who want to speak with him about climate change. But, the scientists say they don’t want to speak to Scott’s staff about the impacts of man-made global warming has on Florida, they want to speak to Scott directly.

    According a short documentary film from the National Geographic gives a short overview about climate change:

    It’s been a topic of discussion lately in Florida. Back when he was first running for office, Governor Scott said he wasn’t convinced there’s any “man-made climate change.” Now, years later, and running for a second term, Scott’s latest answer can be heard here, speaking to a Miami Herald reporter in May:

    “…Now, you’re not saying, ‘look, I doubt the science.’ Now, you’re saying ‘I’m not a scientist.’ Am I right in guessing that,” asked the reporter.

    “Well, I’m not a scientist. But, I can tell you what we’ve accomplished. We’ve put a lot of effort into making sure we take care of our natural treasures, the Everglades, making sure water flows South, any flooding around our coast…So, we’re doing the right thing,” Scott replied.

    Scott says he also wants to make Florida’s environment a place everyone can enjoy, and now, ten scientists say they want to help explain what’s at stake for Florida to Scott.

    » Read more

  • All Aboard rail foes pick up steam, but admit odds slim posted on 7/22/14

    by Dan Sweeney | Sun Sentinel

    Even opponents admit it may not be possible to derail All Aboard Florida's plan for train service from South Florida to Orlando.

    But it's not stopping them from trying — and enlisting the support of some political heavy hitters to join in the criticism of noise, safety and funding issues.

    "Two weeks ago, [state] Sen. [Joe] Negron took a strong position against All Aboard Florida," said K.C. Traylor, a Stuart resident who started the group Florida Not All Aboard (motto: Stop Big Choo Choo). "Congressman [Patrick] Murphy is also questioning feasibility, and Congresswoman Lois Frankel went with him to the secretary of transportation to voice the concerns of the community."

    But those powerful voices haven't cut into support for the project from officials in cities which would get stops — Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. They cite both increased tourism dollars and decreased traffic as benefits of the railway.

    Opponents say their best-case scenario goes something like this: There will be a period of public comment once a study comes out in September about the rail's environmental impact on its West Palm Beach-to-Orlando leg. If there are enough negative comments, the federal government might not loan the company more than a billion dollars. And that might kill the northern leg of the project.

    But according to All Aboard Florida President Michael Reininger, the federal loan is "one of many debt and equity financing options currently being evaluated by All Aboard Florida."

    Despite all the ifs and maybes, the voices of residents of north Palm Beach County and Martin County have grown louder and louder in their opposition. Traylor is organizing homeowners who live near the Florida East Coast railway in every county from Broward to Brevard, though her group is at its strongest in Martin County. Another group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, includes representatives from country clubs, gated communities and marinas around northern Palm Beach County and Martin County.

    » Read more

  • Medicare plans cutting doctors posted on 7/21/14

    by diane c. lade | Sun Sentinel

    Unexpected breakups can be painful, as South Florida seniors have been finding out lately.

    Some Medicare Advantage plans have retooled or shrunk their provider networks in the past year, forcing patients to find new physicians or facilities for treatment.

    Simply Healthcare is the latest Medicare Advantage insurer to shuffle its provider network. The Coral Gables-based company is cutting some doctors in Broward County this summer and reassigning new physicians to affected members, said Betsy Henao, senior director of corporate marketing.

    The plan has 4,842 members in Broward. Those who don't want their assigned doctor can choose another from the company's updated network, she said.

    Network rejiggering "is a common practice in the Medicare Advantage system. It sustains us and maintains good quality," Henao said. She declined to say how many doctors were cut.

    Officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said they can't release details on Medicare Advantage plan changes because the companies are private entities.

    Companies have the right to terminate their contracts with physicians, therapists and hospitals at any point, but almost all enrollees are stuck with their plan choices until the end of the calendar year.

    » Read more

  • Weekly Roundup: It's All About the Appeal posted on 7/21/14

    by DARA KAM | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

    It was a week of appeal-related decisions, both legal and political, that could have far-reaching implications.

    House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz shocked Capitol insiders when they announced they would not appeal Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis' ruling last week striking down the Legislature's congressional map. Instead, the legislative leaders want Lewis to let lawmakers wait until after the November elections -- when Gaetz and Weatherford will no longer be in power -- to redraw the Northeast and Central Florida districts at the heart of Lewis' ruling.

    Attorney General Pam Bondi ignored the pleas of gay couples and gay-rights advocates who won a first-of-its-kind ruling in Florida in a lawsuit challenging the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Bondi immediately filed a notice to appeal a Monroe County judge's decision that found the voter-approved ban violates due process and U.S. constitutional protections against discrimination.

    And former Gov. Charlie Crist, trying to make a comeback as a Democrat, enlisted Annette Taddeo to be his running-mate in what some consider a "two-fer" in his efforts to appeal to Latino and women voters, both blocs whose support is considered critical to Crist's bid to overthrow Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

    » Read more

  • What We Learned This Year Watching Schools Prepare For Florida’s New Standards posted on 7/21/14

    by JOHN O'CONNOR AND JACKIE MADER | State Impact

    For the past year The Hechinger Report and StateImpact Florida have taken you into two schools to hear what preparations for Florida’s new Common Core-based standards sound like. The standards outline what students should know in math and language arts. When classes start this fall every grade in every Florida public school will use them. But are schools ready?

    The Hechinger Report’s Jackie Mader and StateImpact Florida’s John O’Connor tell us what they’ve learned.

    » Read more

  • Medical marijuana: Florida’s new business boom posted on 7/21/14

    by AUDRA D.S. BURCH | Miami Herald

    Before the sun set over the rows of palms and ferns and hibiscus that Thursday, Chuck Buster had heard from a half dozen friends, all calling to tell him that his next venture could be in Florida’s medical marijuana business.

    For more than three decades, the co-owner of Alpha Foliage has tilled the Homestead earth near the southern tip of Florida, raising tropical foliage season after season. But a rising drumbeat to bring medical marijuana to Florida, plus a Legislature that relented on the last day of the lawmaking session last spring have combined to create a potential new business boom for nursery owners such as Buster.

    What he learned on that Thursday in May was that his nursery qualified as a potential pot growing location. So with 300 acres at his disposal and 30 years of experience in the foliage business, Buster suddenly found himself poised to enter the legal pot business.

    He’s far from alone. Alpha Foliage is one of 50 veteran nurseries, including 12 based in South Miami-Dade County and one in Broward County, eligible to compete to become one of five regional growers. That has fueled a frenzy of callers — ganja-preneurs, investors, technology companies — looking to partner with an eligible nursery in what will become Florida’s newest legal crop, a limited, low-THC form of marijuana for medical purposes. It will be used for patients with seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and cancer.

    “I started getting all these inquiries as to whether I had any interest in partnering in a marijuana growing operation,” said Buster, as he surveyed the growing list of agricultural companies from the town of Havana in North Florida to Homestead, that met the criteria of operating for at least 30 years and having an inventory of 400,000 plants. “Everybody is trying to be a part of this.”

    » Read more

  • Fla. leads nation in foreclosures so far this year posted on 7/21/14

    by AP

    ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida led the nation in foreclosures during the first half of the year.

    A report released last week by the research firm RealtyTrac says Florida's foreclosure rate was the nation's highest for the first half of 2014.

    RealtyTrac says 1 in 74 Florida homes had a foreclosure filing in the first six months of the year.

    More than 121,000 properties had a foreclosure filing, the most of any state. However, that number was down 22 percent from a year earlier.

    Miami had the nation's highest metro area foreclosure rate, with 1 in 61 homes involved in a filing in the first half of the year.

    Miami was followed by Orlando, Port St. Lucie, the Space Coast and Tampa in having the top five foreclosure rates by metro areas.

    » Read more

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