I-10 Crash Claims One Life

March 25, 2015

A Gulf Breeze man was killed in single vehicle crash on I-10 Tuesday.

The Florida Highway Patrol said 30-year old Geoffrey M. Edge was eastbound on I-10 approaching Davis Highway about 1:37 p.m. when his 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix left the roadway, traveled onto the shoulder and struck a tree. Edge, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected. He was pronounced deceased at the scene.

Pictured top: Traffic backs up on I-10 following a fatal crash Tuesday afternoon. Photo courtesy FDOT for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

House Pitches $690 Million Tax Cut Package

March 25, 2015

House members backed Gov. Rick Scott’s push to reduce taxes on cell-phone bills and pay TV on Tuesday.

And they bettered the governor, by $17 million, in rolling out a $690 million tax-reduction package that offers a slew of sales-tax holidays and eliminating taxes on gun-club memberships, college textbooks, materials purchased at book fairs and vehicles purchased overseas and brought to Florida by military members.

House Finance & Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said in pushing for the cuts that the state’s existing tax rates have helped build an economic surplus for lawmakers and is responsible for Florida’s job creation.

“The average Floridian pays about $1,800 bucks a year in state taxes. That is the lowest in the country, but we can do even better and we will,” Gaetz said.

The House proposal is slightly larger than a $673 million tax-cut package that Scott proposed. It remains to be seen if the Senate will go along with such large cuts. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the Senate agrees taxes should be cut but is not close to deciding the amount or which taxes would be targeted.

The House plan was announced as Scott’s office set up a display table in the first floor of the Capitol so people could calculate how much they would save if his requested 3.6 percentage-point cut to the communications-services tax is enacted.

Scott also spent time at the display table, joined by the University of Florida President Kent Fuchs. The governor, who has made tax cuts one of his top priorities of the session, intends to be back at the table briefly Wednesday with Florida State University President John Thrasher and FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher.

The communications-services tax cut is projected to create about $54 a year in savings on a cell-phone bill of $125 a month. A cable or satellite TV bill of $100 a month would be reduced by about $43 a year.

The House proposal matches Scott’s communications-services tax cut. Senate committees also have advanced legislation (SB 110) sponsored by Finance and Tax Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, that would go along with the cut.

The communications-services cut would account for $470.9 million of Scott’s proposed $673 million in tax cuts. The House projects the annual savings to become $470.5 million.

Lawmakers last year approved $500 million in tax and fee cuts that touched on a wide-range of issues. The election-year package, dubbed in the House as a “patchwork of awesomeness,” was highlighted by a reduction in vehicle-registration fees. But the patchwork also featured sales-tax holidays, a reduction in the insurance premium tax on bail-bond premiums, and the permanent elimination of sales taxes on college meal plans, therapeutic pet foods, child car seats and bicycle helmets for kids.

This time, the House is approaching the package with the catchphrase “no tax is safe.”

Along with seeking to cut the communications-services tax, the House plan matches Scott’s call for eliminating the sales tax on college textbooks, which would provide an overall $43.7 million savings. The cut is the third largest among 17 proposals in the House package.

The House is also projecting a $44 million reduction in state revenue through a three-day back-to-school tax holiday and a $40.3 million reduction from a sales-tax holiday on Nov. 28, two days after Thanksgiving, for small businesses.

House members also propose cutting a tax on commercial-real estate leases. The proposal would trim the tax from 6 percent to 5.8 percent, reducing state revenue by $22.1 million the first year, with the savings to businesses growing to $53.1 million annually.

A Senate committee this week approved a bill by Hukill (SB 140) that would make a deeper cut in the real-estate tax. That measure would reduce the tax from 6 percent to 5 percent.

Other proposed House cuts include reductions in revenue of $2.8 million by eliminating taxes on books and other reading materials sold at book fairs; $1.2 million by exempting gun club memberships from sales taxes; and $800,000 by allowing service members to avoid sales taxes on vehicles purchased overseas and brought back to Florida.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Sheriff’s Office: Track Your Valuables With Online Tool

March 25, 2015

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is introducing a free online system that will help keep track of valuable personal property. ReportIt is a free, secure online service which will allow citizens to record serial numbers and upload images for phones, electronics, and other valuables. Should those items ever be stolen, investigators say, having the information will go a long way in accurately and quickly identifying your property.

The ReportIt service is a part of LeadsOnline, the online system that works with police across the country to track and recover stolen property. ECSO Investigators use LeadsOnline to help track and recover stolen property —- everything from jewelry to sporting equipment to electronics, computers, cameras, and other items such as designer clothing, collectibles, and other items with invaluable personal worth.

The system allows detectives to search for the items using a variety of parameters, including item descriptions and serial numbers. When an item is sold to a pawn or secondhand shop, the product information is entered in the LeadsOnline database and is immediately viewable by participating law enforcement agencies across the country.

Citizens can store an unlimited number of serial numbers, item descriptions, pictures, and scans of receipts so items may be more easily identified in the event of theft. This record may also come in handy when filing claims with insurance providers in the event of loss.

Citizens wishing to participate in ReportIt can register for the free service at reportit.leadsonline.com and begin building their personal property inventory list.

Home Evacuated, Street Closed By Gas Leak

March 25, 2015

Sheppard Street in Cantonment was closed and at least one home evacuated due to a gas leak Tuesday night.

A resident in the 200 block of Sheppard Street reported smelling gas and hearing a leak outside their home about 9:30 p.m. First responders from the Cantonment Station of Escambia Fire Rescue responded and determined the leak was below the gas meter outside the home.

The home was evacuated and Sheppard Street was closed between Washington and Lincoln streets as a precaution.

Pensacola Energy responded and secured the leak by 10:45 p.m. There were no injures reported.

Tate Aggies Release Football Schedule

March 25, 2015

The Tate High School Aggies have released a tentative 2015 football schedule. Game times will be announced at a later date:

Driver Trapped After Wreck

March 25, 2015

A Pensacola man was injured single vehicle crash about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday on I-10 eastbound a few miles inside the Florida line.

The Florida Highway Patrol said 33-year old Chad Benson apparently lost control of his 1996 Ford Explorer, ran off the roadway, and the vehicle overturned. Benson was trapped, requiring an extensive extrication by firefighters from the Beulah, Bellview and Ensley stations of Escambia Fire Rescue.

Benson was transported to an area hospital with injuries that were not considered life threatening.

Pictured: Photos from the top to the bottom show firefighters stabilizing a vehicle and then using the Jaw of Life to extricate the driver following a wreck Tuesday evening on I-10 in Beulah. NorthEscambia.com photos by Kristi Price, click to enlarge.

House Opts For Door In Grocery Store Liquor Debate

March 25, 2015

The House has joined the Senate in altering legislation aimed at allowing shoppers to pick up hard spirits while shopping for groceries or other goods.

The House Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday voted 7-4 to approve an amended measure (HB 107), which would ease an 80-year-old state law that requires liquor stores to be stand-alone facilities.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, had initially proposed eliminating the law, but agreed to follow a recent Senate proposal that would lead to a door being the only barrier between a liquor store and other goods.

“Obviously just taking down the barrier has been a controversial subject,” Steube said. “I’m trying to come to some type of compromise. This is simply putting a door where there is a wall to allow patrons … instead of having to go outside into a door to going inside into a door.”

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee last week approved similar legislation, which has been opposed by Lakeland-based Publix but supported by Wal-Mart and Target.

by The News Service of Florida

Senate Gives Backing To Evacuation Gun Bill

March 25, 2015

After a debate that conjured memories of Hurricane Katrina, the Florida Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill that could lead to more people carrying concealed weapons when fleeing natural disasters.

The bill (SB 290), sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would allow people to carry guns without concealed-weapons licenses for 48 hours during mandatory emergency evacuations. The bill would only apply to people who legally own guns.

Brandes said people ordinarily can face third-degree felony charges for carrying concealed weapons without licenses. He said the bill would allow people to take firearms, along with other valuables, when they are forced to leave home because of hurricanes or other disasters.

“This is about this incredibly rare instance, this incredibly tailored instance, where people are fleeing for their lives,” he said.

But some Democratic lawmakers blasted the proposal, saying it would introduce more guns into the chaos and emotions of a mandatory evacuation. Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, said supporters had not presented any evidence of why the bill is needed.

“I need to know why we need to change the law,” Sachs said.

Senators voted 29-10 to approve the bill, which has the backing of the influential National Rifle Association. The House version (HB 493), filed by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, has moved through committees and is ready to go to the full House.

A similar bill died last year in the Senate, amid concerns by the Florida Sheriffs Association and some Republican and Democratic senators. But Brandes made changes that addressed the concerns, such as adding the 48-hour time period for carrying weapons. The 48 hours could be extended by the governor.

The specter of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that devastated the New Orleans area in 2005, was raised by senators on both sides of the debate Tuesday.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, pointed to Katrina and its chaotic aftermath in arguing against the bill.

“In Katrina, we saw people living in close quarters with their families,” she said. “So why in the world would we want to increase anxiety by having a lot of guns next to children and families?”

But bill supporter Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, emphasized that the bill only applies to lawful gun owners and that weapons would have to remain concealed.

“At the end of the day, in Katrina there (was) looting beyond explanation,” said Abruzzo, one of four Democrats who backed the bill.. “Almost any house that was able to get ransacked was. And to say people have to leave guns in their home under those conditions is not safe.”

by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

House Panel Moves School Choice Bill

March 25, 2015

A wide-ranging bill that would allow parents more freedom to choose where their children go to school was overwhelmingly approved Tuesday by a House panel, even as some critics and educators worried the legislation is moving too quickly.

The measure (HB 1145) — sponsored by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor — was approved by the House K-12 Subcommittee in an 11-2 vote, with two Democrats joining the panel’s nine Republicans in voting for the bill.

It would allow parents to transfer their students to any school in the state that had not reached 90 percent of its capacity, regardless of county lines. It would also require districts to set up a process for parents to request that their children be removed from teachers’ classes.

Supporters have touted the legislation as the logical extension of the state’s school-choice reform movement, while opponents have raised questions about whether the process could be orderly.

Even speakers who were not overtly opposed to the bill raised questions about whether the legislation is too ambitious. Vern Pickup-Crawford, a lobbyist for Palm Beach County schools, said the July 1 effective date of the legislation could force school districts to adjust quickly to the new landscape.

“To try to have this implemented this next school year is something resembling organized chaos,” he said.

The issue is compounded, critics say, by the lack of hard information on how many parents might take advantage of the chance to place their children in virtually any nearby school.

“The problem to me is, we really have no idea whether this is going to be a few students, a lot of students or a flood of students,” said Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura, the panel’s top Democrat and one of the two votes against the bill.

Geller also raised questions about a provision that would have the state funding for each child “follow” that student if a transfer is made. He suggested that provision could harm districts with smaller budgets.

“They’re having a hard time keeping up as it is,” Geller said. “And I understand when we say it’s per pupil, but the fact is, there is some economy of scale there and when you start to lose that funding, I think it drags down the entire district.”

That drew a response from Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah.

“There should be no hesitation in allowing a student who has not been provided the right opportunity in whatever arbitrary, designated county they live in to be able to cross that line and get a better opportunity,” he said. “I will tell you that if that school district and that school that that student is supposed to be zoned for is doing their job and providing them the best opportunity, the parent’s not going to be looking for another one.”

Similar legislation (SB 1552) has also passed the Senate PreK-12 Committee on a party-line, 7-4 vote.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

15-Year Old Driver Killed In Ensley Crash

March 24, 2015

A 15-year old driver was killed in a single vehicle crash Monday morning in Ensley.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Justin B. Taylor of Pensacola was northbound on Untreiner Avenue  in a 1997 Dodge Dakota about 8:35 a.m. when he lost control, ran off the roadway and struck a concrete utility pole. The pickup overturned, ejecting Taylor.

Taylor was transported to Sacred Heart Hospital where he was pronounced deceased about 9:30 a.m.

Taylor was a sophomore at Tate High School. Grief counselors will be on hand at the school Tuesday for students that wish to speak to them.

There were no passengers in the vehicle.

NorthEscambia.com photos by Kristi Price, click to enlarge.

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