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Matthew Paulson / Creative Commons

Tampa is the best place to live in the entire Southeast United States, according to Money Magazine.

New jobs at companies such as Amazon and Bristol-Myers Squibb were among the reasons Tampa ranked as the top Southeastern city in the Best Places to Live 2015 report. It looked at the job market, housing costs, access to health care and other amenities such as the expanded flights at Tampa International Airport.

The other top cities included Denver, Omaha, Pittsburgh and Mesa, Arizona.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature - which has been split this year over health care and a new state budget - is divided yet again, this time over a new map for congressional districts.

With just days left in their special session, legislators in the House and Senate are now working on different plans to change the state's 27 congressional districts. Lawmakers are holding a rare August special session after the state Supreme Court threw out the current map.

The WUSF News team collected eight awards at the Society of Professional Journalists Sunshine State Awards in Miami this past weekend.

Morning Edition host Carson Cooper was named Anchor of the Year in Florida, besting television and radio anchors from across the state.

Exploring Miami Beach one recent afternoon, Swiss tourists Adrian Cannistra and Shkunte Mustafa said they considered vacationing on a beach closer to home before booking the lengthy overseas flight.

Greece might have been ideal — with the financial crisis, bargains can be had and many Swiss are taking advantage. Cannistra has vacationed in Tunisia but said recent terrorist attacks there scared him away from North Africa.

"The Swiss don't go there anymore," he said. "They're afraid."

State of Florida

Florida law enforcement officers provided around-the-clock security for Attorney General Pam Bondi for six weeks this year due to a threat that is still under investigation.

Authorities had not previously acknowledged the threat until today. That’s because a new report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showed the state had spent more than $216,000 on providing security for Bondi this past year.

FDLE officials would not provide any details about the threat but called it “credible.” They provided security for Bondi from late May until early July.

Port Tampa Bay

A new, 45-acre "vision" for Tampa’s downtown waterfront was unveiled Thursday by city and port officials.

The master plan for the eastern edge of downtown from the Florida Aquarium north to the old banana docks, is in addition to the Channelside re-development being worked on by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's group.

U.S. House of Representatives

The Florida House is moving ahead with changes to the state's 27 congressional districts, despite criticism it would disenfranchise black voters.

A House panel on Thursday approved a new map that would make several significant changes, including shifting the district now held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown.

There are just a few days left for Florida’s 10-day Back-to-School Sales Tax holiday.

FL Gay Couples Sue Over Names On Birth Certificates

Aug 14, 2015

The first couple to be issued a same-sex marriage license in Florida sued the state Thursday, saying that the Bureau of Vital Statistics still won't allow hospitals to list both same-sex parents on birth certificates.

Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello of Miami filed the lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee. Pareto and Arguello had twins on Aug. 6. Two other married, same-sex couples – including one in St. Petersburg -- also are part of the lawsuit.

Pasco Flood Watch Remains Through Thursday Evening

Aug 13, 2015
National Weather Service

A flood watch is in effect for Pasco County until 8 p.m. Thursday evening. More widespread rainfall is forecast to return throughout the week.

Residents can access updated information on the flooding here.

The Pasco County Flood Recovery Center is open and located on the second floor at 7536 State St., New Port Richey.

  A manhunt was underway in Thonotosassa after a sheriff's deputy was shot in the thigh early Thursday while responding to a 911 call about shots being fired in the neighborhood.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski told local television stations that shots were fired in the direction of three arriving deputies around 12:30 a.m.

Steve Gaskins / FHP

It wasn't happy hour, but the beer was flowing on southbound Interstate 75 when a Budweiser truck overturned.

The Florida Highway Patrol says beer cans were strewn along the highway north of Tampa early Tuesday after 23-year-old truck driver Malcolm Jamal Wilcox of Fernandina Beach became distracted by a small dog riding in the cab and lost control of the vehicle.

The truck went onto the outside shoulder and the driver overcorrected, crossed the highway and hit the center median guardrail before overturning.

'Smart Solar' Group Rakes In $463K

Aug 11, 2015

With backing from four major electric utilities, a newly formed group known as "Consumers for Smart Solar" raised $463,000 in July for a solar-energy ballot initiative, according to a finance report filed Monday.

The group last month announced it would seek to put a solar-energy initiative on the November 2016 ballot.

The proposal is competing with a rival solar-energy initiative by a group called "Floridians for Solar Choice."

The finance report indicates Consumers for Smart Solar collected $463,045 and spent $194,177 between July 23 and July 31.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, still angry at being forced into action by the state's highest court, launched yet another bid on Monday to reshape the state's congressional districts.

Legislators returned to the Capitol to kick off a 12-day special session to draw a new map that could make it difficult for several incumbent members of Congress to get re-elected. This is the third time lawmakers have worked on a congressional map since 2012.

Medical Marijuana Group Collects $770K

Aug 11, 2015

A group seeking to ask voters in 2016 to legalize medical marijuana raised more than $770,000 in July, buoyed by contributions from its leader, Orlando attorney John Morgan, according to a newly filed finance report.

"People United for Medical Marijuana" raised $770,534 during the month and spent $756,419, as it tries to collect enough petition signatures to get on the November 2016 ballot.

The Morgan Firm PA contributed about $704,000 of the July total, with Coral Gables retiree Barbara Stiefel chipping in another $40,000, the report shows.

Authorities say a man is back in a Florida jail for crashing his SUV into the building's entrance and causing a gas leak — two weeks after doing doughnuts in the facility's lawn and hitting a flag pole.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office reports that 31-year-old Michael Lee Roberts made a quick trip to the hospital after Sunday morning's crash before being returned to the jail that afternoon as an inmate. Technicians had the leak stopped within hours.

The families of two Florida boys who went missing at sea say they've called off their private search.

The Coast Guard spent a full week looking for Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, who went missing on a fishing trip July 24. The family then launched a private search for the 14-year-old Tequesta teens, with volunteers scouring waters off Georgia and the Carolinas by helicopter, plane and boat.

But the families called it off Saturday, saying there was no new credible evidence or clues to guide the search.

Florida's political landscape could undergo a dramatic shift under a proposed new map for Congress released Wednesday by the state Legislature.

The new map could help resurrect the political career of former Gov. Charlie Crist who will likely mount a run for a reconfigured House seat in Pinellas County.

Associated Press

SeaWorld says its theme park attendance is still falling as animal activists protest the company's treatment of whales, but the company says some of its parks – including Busch Gardens Tampa -- are doing better as it prepares to launch a pair of new roller coasters.

The company also maintained its annual outlook, and its shares rose more than 4 percent.

Associated Press

After a circus tent collapse that killed two spectators, questions have arisen about how the Sarasota-based circus operator could have prepared for and put on a show at the town's fairgrounds without getting a permit or having the giant canopy inspected.

Police in southwest Florida say vandals spray painted the words "lion killer" on the garage door of the vacation home owned by a Minnesota dentist who has been identified as the hunter who killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

Marco Island police Capt. David Baer says the vandals also left at least seven pickled pigs' feet on the driveway of Walter Palmer's $1.1 million home. Baer says police have opened an investigation.

A hand-made sign criticizing Palmer was left in the yard last week. A security company has been hired to protect the property.

St. Petersburg Free Clinic

Monica Smith came to the St. Petersburg Free Clinic's women's program in 2012, after drug addiction and a felony record led to her losing custody of her three children. The program helps homeless women gain independence through job training and mentoring

Construction, which started earlier  has started on a new building that will house up to 50 women. Smith, who currently works at the Clinic, will be working as an intake coordinator--helping to determine which women are best suited for the women's program.

Salvation Army On Standby For Flood Victims

Aug 4, 2015
Daylina Miller/WUSF

In the wake of heavy rains in the Tampa Bay area, the Salvation Army has called in reinforcements to assist in providing aid to first responders and victims.

The Salvation Army has stationed volunteers throughout Pinellas and Pasco counties with canteens, or moving kitchens, to supply those in flooded areas with a hot meal.

In addition to the canteens, they have also deployed their eight-unit shower truck and about two dozen volunteers to the Red Cross, which previously set up an evacuation shelter at the First Presbyterian Church in Port Richey. 

Daylina Miller/WUSF News

While two residents in the flooded Port Richey neighborhood of Gulf Highlands chose to evacuate their homes, others, like Craig Caley, stayed behind.

Caley's house is one of several on Ashwood Drive boxed in by water that is waist deep at its worst. Caley said residents could slowly drive to work or for groceries through the flooding last week, but by Sunday night, they were stuck. 

Scott Seeks Hospital, Insurer Audits

Aug 4, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday directed the state Agency for Health Care Administration to audit at least some contracts between hospitals and health insurers to determine if they comply with a state Medicaid law.

Scott contends that contracts could exceed a legal limit on Medicaid payment rates.

AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek on July 17 requested that hospitals and insurers certify that they did not exceed the limit, which is 120 percent of a Medicaid fee schedule. The letter listed an Aug. 1 deadline to respond.

Rubio: Planned Parenthood Should Not Get Taxpayer Money

Aug 4, 2015

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said Planned Parenthood should have its federal funding cut.

In an op-ed published Monday, the Republican Senator and presidential candidate says, “Planned Parenthood should never receive another dime from American taxpayers.”

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (d-Florida) voted Monday evenbing to not to take federal money away from Planned Parenthood.

Sebastian Fuentes / AP Photo

A circus tent collapsed when a severe storm raked a northern New Hampshire fairground Monday, killing two people and injuring 15 others, authorities said.

WMUR-TV reported that state Department of Safety spokesman Michael Todd confirmed the fatalities.

Don Becker / U.S. Geological Survey

Residents living in flood prone areas of Polk County are encouraged to be proactive and fill up some free sandbags now.

Polk County Fire Rescue stations at 14 locations are offering free sandbags.  Each household can fill a maximum of 25-30 sandbags beginning at 2 p.m.

Be sure to bring your own shovel.

Floridians Continue To Hang Up Traditional Phones

Aug 2, 2015
Wikimedia Commons

As more evidence of the transformation of the telephone industry, the Florida Public Service Commission released a report Friday that said the number of residential wirelines in the state has dropped by about 6 million during the past decade.

Meanwhile, the report said Florida had about 19 million wireless-phone subscribers as of the end of 2013 --- nearly one wireless device for every resident of the state. The Public Service Commission sends a report to the Legislature by Aug. 1 each year about the status of competition in the telecommunications industry.

Associated Press

The largest Florida corporate donor to a super political action committee backing former Gov. Jeb Bush's presidential run is NextEra Energy Inc., the company that owns electric utility giant Florida Power & Light.

Bush, a leading Republican contender, knows the company well. In 2009, more than two years after leaving office, he penned an opinion piece in the state capital's newspaper urging regulators to approve the utility's proposed rate increase for Florida customers.

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