Thursday, 17 May 2007 01:00
Personnel from the Florida Department of Education were in Ft. Myers Wednesday to brief teachers and others on how education was affected by the 2007 legislative session. The Department’s Tom Butler says lawmakers were generous.
“there’s an increase in per student funding, there’s an increase in funding for reading which could translate to more coaches and more reading instruction for our students out there. The class size reduction amendment has more funding that’s attached to it as well – reducing our class sizes”
Butler says there’s also start-up money for virtual tutoring, and that no funding was cut from any K-12 education program. The briefings will continue next week with DOE staffers traveling to Miami, Niceville and Jacksonville.
Wednesday, 16 May 2007 01:00
A loophole in Florida’s greenbelt law that allows developers to claim agricultural exemptions will remain intact for at least another year.
It’s a familiar sight throughout much of Florida – cows grazing beside the interstate or other major roadways on a scrap of land surrounded by development. State Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller has tried unsuccessfully to legislate an end to the practice he jokingly calls “Hertz rent-a-cow”
“an example used to drive to work and drive by lot – the lot was cleared for development – trees grass graded – clearly was ready to start building, but I guess the deal fell through cause what happened one day I saw four or five cows appear on that property – no trees no grass – they would bring in bales of hay – and metal trough with hose for water – no one can legitimately claim that’s agricultural.”
Geller says some urban landowners have actually rented the cows to turn the property into grazing lend to qualify for the agricultural exemption which lowers their tax rate. He says he supports the greenbelt law which protects bona-fide agricultural interests - but he says it was the agricultural lobby that kept his proposed legislation from moving forward. Geller says he’s not sure if he’ll bring it up again next session.
Florida senate minority leader Steve Geller says some land-owners are claiming unfair agricultural exemptions – by grazing a few cows on land in urban areas that’s been rezoned for development. He says it’s a loophole that costs counties millions of dollars of tax revenue.
“you don’t even have to buy the cows – you can rent the cows to put on your property – I jokingly call it calling up hertz rent a cow that’s ridiculous – its not real bona-fide agricultural use its merely getting out of paying their fair share of property taxes which means everybody else has to pay more in property taxes to make up for it”
Geller wrote a bill this year that would have ended the practice but it failed in committee. The Democrat from Broward County says his intent is not to remove tax protection from bona-fide agricultural land users. But he says the agricultural lobby in the legislature – fearing erosion of their own tax status – squashed the bill.
Wednesday, 16 May 2007 01:00
Officials with the South Florida Water Management District are asking people to cut off the sprinklers because while recent rains are helping...much more rain is needed.
The rain that pelted parts of Southwest Florida these last couple days is a huge relief for an area thirsty from one of the worst droughts in state history. But officials at the water management district say there is a long way to go before water levels are back to normal. Three feet more to be exact. Service Center Director for the district Rhonda Hague says residents can help simply by turning off the sprinklers.
“When we do get these heavy rains like we did this week, your lawn doesn’t need anymore on top of it. If they’re watering right now after we got this rain, they’re actually wasting a resource. They’re wasting water and they’re wasting the power to sprinkle that water around. So it’s good all around if people turn off their sprinklers for a week.”
Hague says the aquifers can recharge a bit if people don’t take water out, for things like watering the lawn.
Monday, 14 May 2007 01:00
With fires and smoke popping up across Southwest Florida, sometimes forcing the closure of major roadways like I-75…the Florida Highway patrol is reminding drivers of a free service to help them have a faster and safer drive home.
Though 5-1-1 is not a new service, state officials are pushing it a little harder now considering the fire and smoke problems across the state. The Florida Department of Transportation says calling 5-1-1 provides commuters with up to the minute traffic information. Spokeswoman Vicky Mixon says folks living in Southwest Florida also have the regional website if they want updates.
“We have the southwest florida 511 dot com website…available to residents and travelers in the Lee, Collier, and Charlotte area, to give them up to the minute information about major evacuations or road closures due to limited visibility.”
Mixon adds the number of calls coming in due to the smoke and fires is way up in recent weeks. During last years wildfires calls to 5-1-1 were up almost 50-percent.
Friday, 11 May 2007 01:00
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum unveiled a new ‘Cybercrime Outreach Initiative’ today. Friday.
He says the Initiative is mostly public outreach through a series of Public Service Announcements and a new website MySafeFlorida.net where kids and parents can learn about safely using the Internet.
He also thanked the Florida Legislature for passing the Cybercrimes Against Children Act of 2007 which provides funding to expand the current Cybercrimes Unit from 6 to 56 agents. And he described one of the 40 cases brought by the unit since its inception less than 2 years ago.
“One of those was a 40 year old attorney in the Panhandle who posed as a 15 year old girl, went on the Internet and induced 11 teenage boys to expose themselves and do all kinds of sexual acts on the webcam and then downloaded it. Those are the kinds of dangers when you’re a teenager…you’ve got to be thinking about who are you really talking to? Who are you really communicating with?”
About 77-million kids use the Internet every day in the United States. According to Attorney General McCollum 1 in 7 between the ages of 10 and 17 has been solicited for sex while surfing the ‘Net.
Friday, 11 May 2007 01:00
Firefighters and forestry officials are still working to contain the large fire in Picayune Strand in Collier County. It’s burned about 17-thousand 5-hundred acres and destroyed three homes. It’s now mostly contained, but wind and a lack of rain continue to work against firefighters.
And severe drought conditions across south Florida give firefighters an extra challenge while fighting wildfires. Wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Division of Forestry – Gerry LaCavera - says low water levels can be a logistic problem…
“Access to water can be a problem especially when we’re using air support or ground tankers to fill up brush trucks as we are here. Some canals in the area just don’t have enough water to draft out of, or if we had the helicopter here there would only be certain water sources the helicopter could dip out of to get a supply of water. So the lower levels of water make the turnaround time increased in some cases. Slower we get water to either the brush trucks or to our helicopter onto the fire, the longer it’s going to take to contain it. So it’s just one of those logistic problems that adds to our problems out here.“
The Picayune Fire has closed I-75…that’s Alligator Alley…from CR 951 south all the way to SR 29 several times over the past few days. It’s currently open…and is expected to stay so, at least for the time being.
LaCavera says the fire was likely sparked by lightning.
Thursday, 10 May 2007 01:00
Next week is National Police Week. And along with numerous ceremonies scheduled in the nation’s capitol, officials will remember the hundreds of officers killed on duty nationwide in 2006.
Last year 145 law enforcement officers across the country died while on duty. Sixteen of those were from Florida which was the third highest number in the nation. Those killed along with another 237 officers from past years will have their names added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Chairman and CEO of the national law enforcement officers memorial fund Craig Floyd says walking into the memorial is a special experience.
"The memorial is a beautiful three acre park in place appropriately named judiciary square. As you walk into this three acre park you will be embraced by two marble walls, on either side that have the names of nearly 18-thousand federal, state, and local law enforcement officers that have been killed in the line of duty."
One name added to the memorial will be a Lee County sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty while making a traffic stop. Deputy Margena Nunez died last October when she was hit by a drunk driver. National Police Week runs from May 13th through the 19th.
The name of Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy Margena Nunez will be one of sixteen law enforcement officers from Florida memorialized next week in Washington D-C. May 13th through the 19th is National Police Week. And thousands of law enforcement officials along with family are expected to show up in the nation’s capitol for the week long ceremony. The events are hosted by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. CEO of the Fund, Craig Floyd, describes some of the events scheduled for Sunday.
“It’s a time where 20-thousand or more police officers and survivors of the fallen and supporters of law enforcement from the general public…attend and stand at the memorial, listen to speeches, listen to beautiful songs, we light candles in honor of the fallen…we shine a blue laser light skyward in honor of the thin blue line of protection that law enforcement provides our country.”
Officials will add 145 names to the memorial this year which is the number of law enforcement officers that died in 2006 while on duty. There are nearly 18-thousand names on the memorial that date back to 1792.
Tuesday, 08 May 2007 01:00
Another group who is enjoying a good year thanks to legislative decisions is educators. The session ended last Friday with a budget of 24-billion dollars for education across the state.
Officials at the Florida Department of Education say that money will go to reducing class size, increasing spending per student, and workforce education funding. Press secretary for the FDOE Thomas Butler says there was nothing bad about this year’s legislative session when it came to education.
“First off we are extremely pleased with this budget…it’s just a phenomenal effort on the part of the governor and the legislator. Right off the bat, it’s an increase over last year’s educational budget and we saw some key increases in certain programs that we’re really excited about.”
Butler says there will be increases for reading programs and things like virtual tutoring. Butler says one of the major victories for education is the fact that there were no cuts in this year’s education budget.
Tuesday, 08 May 2007 01:00
Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee Basin could soon begin to see a change in water quality.
Lawmakers set aside 200-million dollars in this year’s session in order to help with the clean up efforts of Lake Okeechobee. This goes along with the 200-million already devoted to restoration efforts. Carol Wehle is the executive director of South Florida Water Management District. She says this was a big deal for lawmakers especially Governor Charlie Crist.
“And this was the number one environmental issue for the governor. I know that he came to Lee County and he came to Martin County and personally witnessed what has happened and so I have every indication that he will sign this legislation when it gets to his desk.”
Wehle says in the next couple of years the district will do a number of water quality projects. They also plan to create additional storage for extra water. – in an effort to keep any dirty water out of the estuaries.
Tuesday, 08 May 2007 01:00
A smoky haze continues to blanket southwest Florida from the more than dozen wildfires that have broken out in Charlotte, Lee and Hendry Counties since Monday.
Health officials are reminding residents that with this much smoke in the air even people who don’t normally have respiratory issues might have symptoms like sore throats, or itchy eyes. And that you don’t even need to be that close to fires to have symptoms.
Spokeswoman for the Collier County Health Department - Deb Millsap – says people with pre-existing respiratory issues should try and stay inside until smoke diminishes…and use their A/C at home and in car.
“If they do already have things like asthma, or respiratory problems or even chronic heart disease, then monitor their symptoms. If they’re having unusual amounts of wheezing and shortness of breath then they definitely should call their physician if they feel at all uncomfortable.”
Millsap says symptoms might appear as long as 48 hours after smoke exposure – and that smoke can last for days after a fire’s been extinguished.
For more information check out the American Lung Association’s website at LungUsa.Org.