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Genetically modified mosquitoes could join Zika virus fight

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday he'd support the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help stop the spread of the Zika virus.

"I think this is going to be such a crisis that we've got to move ahead with it, certainly the pilot study," Nelson told reporters during a stop at Tallahassee International Airport.

Florida has reported 102 documented cases — the most in the nation — of the mosquito-borne virus, which emerged last year in South Africa. The virus, while causing mild sickness, has been associated with severe birth defects.

Oxitec, a British company, wants to release about 3 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys as part of the first-ever trial in the U.S. of such engineering. The genetic change is intended to produce offspring that die young and can't reproduce.

"It's not like taking a gene out of something and replacing it in the genetic makeup of something else," Nelson said. "This is altering a gene in the genetic makeup of the (Aedes) aegypti mosquito to turn off that mosquito's ability to reproduce. You have to meet a crisis head-on. And if this is what it takes to eliminate that strain of mosquito, then that is what we're going to have to do."

Nelson's comments came a day after Gov. Rick Scott announced he intends to travel to Washington next week to ask federal officials to quickly come to agreement on a plan to deal with the spread of the Zika virus.

Nelson on Thursday also continued pushing for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help deal with Zika. The funding request, which was made by President Barack Obama, remains tied up in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday he'd support the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help stop the spread of the Zika virus. "I think this is going to be such a crisis that we've got to move ahead with it, certainly the pilot study," Nelson told reporters during a stop at Tallahassee International Airport. Florida has reported 102 documented cases --- the most in the nation --- of the mosquito-borne virus, which emerged last year in South Africa. The virus, while causing mild sickness, has been associated with severe birth defects. Oxitec, a British company, wants to release about 3 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys as part of the first-ever trial in the U.S. of such engineering. The genetic change is intended to produce offspring that die young and can't reproduce. "It's not like taking a gene out of something and replacing it in the genetic makeup of something else," Nelson said. "This is altering a gene in the genetic makeup of the (Aedes) aegypti mosquito to turn off that mosquito's ability to reproduce. You have to meet a crisis head-on. And if this is what it takes to eliminate that strain of mosquito, then that is what we're going to have to do." Nelson's comments came a day after Gov. Rick Scott announced he intends to travel to Washington next week to ask federal officials to quickly come to agreement on a plan to deal with the spread of the Zika virus. Nelson on Thursday also continued pushing for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help deal with Zika. The funding request, which was made by President Barack Obama, remains tied up in Congress.U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday he'd support the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help stop the spread of the Zika virus. "I think this is going to be such a crisis that we've got to move ahead with it, certainly the pilot study," Nelson told reporters during a stop at Tallahassee International Airport. Florida has reported 102 documented cases --- the most in the nation --- of the mosquito-borne virus, which emerged last year in South Africa. The virus, while causing mild sickness, has been associated with severe birth defects. Oxitec, a British company, wants to release about 3 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys as part of the first-ever trial in the U.S. of such engineering. The genetic change is intended to produce offspring that die young and can't reproduce. "It's not like taking a gene out of something and replacing it in the genetic makeup of something else," Nelson said. "This is altering a gene in the genetic makeup of the (Aedes) aegypti mosquito to turn off that mosquito's ability to reproduce. You have to meet a crisis head-on. And if this is what it takes to eliminate that strain of mosquito, then that is what we're going to have to do." Nelson's comments came a day after Gov. Rick Scott announced he intends to travel to Washington next week to ask federal officials to quickly come to agreement on a plan to deal with the spread of the Zika virus. Nelson on Thursday also continued pushing for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help deal with Zika. The funding request, which was made by President Barack Obama, remains tied up in Congress.

Zookeeper killed by tiger was leaving zoo for new job

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Stacey Konwiser, the zookeeper killed Friday by a tiger at the Palm Beach Zoo, had worked there for three years but was planning to leave. She had taken a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to zoo officials.

“Konwiser had recently accepted a position with the FDA, looking at long-term career progression to get into U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. We were in the process of crafting another position to retain her,” Palm Beach Zoo General Curator Jan Steele said in a written statement Saturday morning.

>>Tiger kills handler at Florida zoo

The male Malayan tiger that killed Konwiser remains at the Palm Beach Zoo and is recovering from the tranquilizer administered after the encounter, zoo spokeswoman Naki Carter said at a news conference Saturday.

Carter declined to say which of the zoo’s three male Malayan tigers killed Konwiser, known as the “tiger whisperer.”

>>More on Konwiser, the tiger whisperer

The zoo will be closed through the weekend and remains under active investigation by West Palm Beach police as well as OSHA and the FWC, Carter said. The zoo is not commenting on whether Konwiser was alone in the tiger’s “night house” when the attack took place.

Carter also would not say whether the tiger exhibit will remain open at the zoo or if they will euthanize the tiger.

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Funeral arrangements are being made and the zoo is working with Konwiser’s family to set up a fund in her memory, Carter said.

An animal rights group is calling for federal authorities to impose the maximum penalties on the Palm Beach Zoo following the death of the zookeeper.

The details on how Konwiser died are still a matter of speculation. She was in the tiger’s enclosed area, dubbed the “night house,” that is not visible to the public when the bite occurred. Zoo officials initially said Konwiser had done nothing wrong, but it remains unknown if she was having direct contact with the 300-pound male tiger or if the area somehow was breached by the tiger.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund called upon the OSHA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expedite its investigation and impose a penalty that would “ensure an end to these preventable deaths in zoos.” The group has previously called upon OSHA to enact specific standards governing workplace safety for employees who work with dangerous wild animals.

“As long as employees are allowed to work in dangerously close proximity to tigers, elephants, and other dangerous animals, a significant risk of serious injury or death persists,” a statement from the group read.

The animal rights group says Konwiser’s death could have been prevented with appropriate safety measures. The group headquartered near San Francisco focuses on litigation to stop animal abuse — whether it involves companion animals, factory farming or the entertainment business.

Since 1990 there have been at least 24 deaths—and 265 injuries—caused by captive big cats in the United States resulting in the deaths of over 128 big cats—many of whom were endangered species, the group stated.

Where to score the best Tax Day deals and freebies

Yes, Tax Day can be a last-minute rush to file your taxes. But it also can be a great time to score some free or discounted goods.

This April 18 — that’s right, Tax Day comes a little later this year — stores and restaurants are rolling out deals and freebies to make the stress of tax season a little easier to handle.

From free shredding — spring cleaning, anyone? — to free and discounted food, here are some of the top deals, collected in part by Offers.com, when they’re available and what you have to do to get them.

• Boston Market: Get a half-chicken individual meal for $10.40. The meal includes two sides, cornbread, a regular fountain beverage and a cookie. This is available only on April 18. Click here to get the offer.

• Buca di Beppo: Get 18 percent off your Tax Day purchase at Buca di Beppo when you present this coupon.

• Chili’s: At participating locations, get $5 Presidente Margaritas now through April 18.

• Hard Rock Café: Get a free Local Legendary Burger if you get onstage and sing for it. Only available April 18.

• Kona Ice: Find your local Kona Ice truck by tweeting your ZIP code to @KonaIce. Trucks across the U.S. will park at post offices, businesses and tax preparation centers to hand out free cups of shaved ice and free Hawaiian leis.

• McDonald’s: McDonald’s is offering its usual Tax Day deal: When you buy one Big Mac or Quarter Pounder at regular price, get another of the same sandwich for a penny.

• National Parks: This deal actually is in celebration of National Park Week, not Tax Day. From April 16-24, get in free to any National Park.

• Office Depot and Office Max: Shred five pounds of paper for free until April 23.

• Sonic: Get a single cheeseburger at half-price on Tax Day.

• Sonny’s BBQ: On April 18, get a sweet and smokey or house dry-rubbed rib dinner with two sides and bread for half-price.

• Staples: Shred up to five pounds of documents and papers for free on Tax Day.

• Tony Roma’s: Join the Tony Roma’s email club now and get a coupon emailed to you that’s good for a free dessert through April 29. If you’re not an email club member but still chow down at Tony Roma’s on Tax Day, you’ll receive the same coupon to use later.

• World of Beer: Get a free select draught on April 18. Offers and beer variety vary. Find a local World of Beer location for more details.

This list will be updated. Are you a local business owner with a Tax Day deal? Send it to kwebb@pbpost.com

Tax break for manufacturers, back-to-school shoppers signed by Scott

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

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Complete legislative and political coverage, MyPalmBeachPost.com/politics

A back-to-school sales tax holiday and breaks for manufacturers and a host of other industries were included in legislation signed into law Wednesday by Governor Rick Scott.

Clothing, shoes and backpacks costing $60 or less will be exempt from the state’s 6 percent sales tax the weekend of Aug. 5-7, while school supplies costing $15 or less also will be tax-free.

The back-to-school break amounts to $28.7 million of the $129 million tax-break bill (HB 7099), with the biggest savings going to manufacturers. They’ll get to keep $73.1 million they would have paid in sales taxes on equipment purchases.

The elimination of the tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment is permanent, while the three-day sales tax holiday for school supplies is just for this year. It’s also scaled back from last year’s tax holiday, when shoppers got a 10-day holiday.

House Finance and Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, touted the cuts, saying, “We have made the decision in Florida that we can grow our economy, meet the needs of our state and care for the vulnerable not by having more taxes, but by having more taxpayers. These tax cuts welcome new families, businesses, and visitors to our state each day.”

Other reductions included in the bill affect taxes paid on aviation fuel, asphalt and pear cider. It also affects taxes paid by fruit and vegetable packing houses and how the state levy on some tobacco products is calculated.

The bill signed by Scott was a central part of just over $400 million in tax breaks approved by lawmakers this year.

The biggest share of the reduction, however, will go to property taxpayers, with lawmakers having agreed to reduce taxes used to finance schools. That property tax cut was set in motion when Scott last month signed the state’s $82 billion budget for the year beginning July 1.

Scott’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature sharply scaled back a $1 billion tax-cut plan he sought, and also ignored his pitch for $250 million in economic incentives — which might explain why Scott’s signing of HB 7099 came with little flourish.

Scott held a ceremonial bill-signing as the undercard of his attendance of an announcement by Novolex — which makes plastic bags — that it’s expanding a manufacturing facility in Jacksonville.

In a release, the governor’s office noted that “during the announcement, Gov. Scott also ceremonially signed HB 7099.”

“This bill will not only give Florida families an important back-to-school sales tax holiday, but it will also permanently eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment so companies like Novolex can invest more money in growing their business and creating new jobs,” Scott said in the release.

Scott had campaigned vigorously for his more expensive plan, running television ads, conducting a bus tour in January, and soliciting letters of support from dozens of city and county officials for the tax breaks and economic incentives that he cast as a blueprint for sparking the Florida economy and creating more jobs.

Lawmakers, however, were uneasy about the potential long-term impact of Scott’s plan on Florida’s financing. They also were skeptical of his approach.

Scott’s $1 billion in cuts were aimed almost exclusively at businesses. His bid for another $250 million in economic incentives also was dismissed by state lawmakers wary of handing the governor cash he could use to woo companies of his choice.

Instead, lawmakers tipped tax breaks more toward property owners.

The almost 6 percent reduction in the property tax that the state requires all school districts to collect for public schools — a portion called the “required local effort” — should mean a tax savings of $58 a year to the owner of a $250,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption.

That amounts to about $290 million of the $400 million in overall tax breaks passed by the Legislature this year. At the same time, lawmakers increased public school funding by $458 million, a 1 percent boost, by using other types of taxes and fees collected by the state.

“By reducing local millage rates we are ensuring that state tax dollars, rather than local property taxes, cover a larger share of the unprecedented K-12 per-student funding allocated this year in our budget,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

One dead, several injured in hazmat situation near University of Texas campus

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Austin firefighters responding to a hazardous materials call found a man thought to be in his 20s dead in anapartment Wednesday afternoon. It was unclear if the victim is a University of Texas student, firefighters said.

Paramedics took two people to University Medical Center Brackenridge in connection with the incident at 21 Pearl Apartments in West Campus near 21st and Pearl streets. Three others were treated at the scene, Austin Fire Division Chief Palmer Buck said.

Firefighters responded to the hazardous materials call at about 3:22 p.m. They found the man in cardiac arrest and attempted to resuscitate him, Buck said. Firefighters also found indications of hydrogen sulfide inside the apartment.

Buck said the first firefighters found a “warning sign” outside of the victim’s apartment but Buck did not elaborate further.

The manner and cause of death of the man will be determined by the Travis County medical examiner’s office.

Residents of the apartment building, mostly UT students, have remained outside of the building for about an hour.

At 4:30 p.m., Pearl Street remained closed from 21st to 23rd streets, officials said.

High winds take down dairy's cow statue

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Damages are widespread this evening after high winds knocked down trees across the area.

At Young’s Jersey Dairy, the famous cow statue that sits atop the restaurant’s sign was blown down, according to a post on the dairy’s Facebook page.

The restaurant reports that after 40 years of being on the sign, the cow survived the ordeal and repairs will get underway on Monday. Near Young’s Jersey Dairy, a large tree fell across U.S. 68, blocking traffic in both directions.

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It was not the only damage caused by strong winds Saturday.

Reports also indicate that part of a roof blew off a building at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

A National Weather Service employee reported that a semitrailer was blown over and overturned on Interstate 75 in Shelby County, near exit 99. This happened around 6:20 p.m.

In Huber Heights, large trees fell on two houses, with downed trees knocking out the entire power grid in the city. A tree that fell on a house on San Juan Court in Huber Heights caused extensive damage.

At University of Dayton Arena, a large tent in place for a winter guard tournament at the facility, was blown over.

At a Shell gas station, a roof over the pumps toppled around 7 p.m.

In South Charleston, a barn collapsed today due to high winds in the 10000 block of Chenowith Road.

Trees are blocking roadways in all parts of the region, including Dayton, Trotwood, Miamisburg, Brookville, Jefferson Township, German Township, and multiple power lines have been taken down by felled trees and branches, leading to thousands of power outages.

People post political comments on Facebook for 'self-affirmation,' study says

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Growing tired of the endless Bernie memes or Trump posts on your Facebook feed?

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A set of studies have found the reason why your social media connections feel the need to post their views.

The Huffington Post reports that a Harvard study found that sharing personal beliefs or feelings on social media works as a release for people because it rewards them for letting something out rather than keeping it in. “Expressing beliefs that are important to you functions as a self-affirmation,” psychology professor Joshua Hart of Union College told The Huffington Post. “It reminds you of the values that are central to your identity, and this gives you a psychological boost.”

A study by the Pew Research Center found that the people posting their opinions on social media are “less likely to share their opinions in face-to-face settings” because people are more likely to feel safer giving out their retorts when behind a computer screen rather than in person. “They’re expressing themselves in a forum where they’re likely to get a reaction, whether it’s the one they want or not,” Hart told The Huffington Post.

Hart said most people who post are also looking for the approval of others and “become more confident in their beliefs” when more people like, retweet or comment on the post. The Huffington Post said that there is not very much difference between Republicans, Democrats and independents regarding the number of posts with the leading posts on your own feed most likely factoring in based on your location.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

Sneaker collection sparks SWAT situation

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A sneaker collection was at the center of a three-hour standoff with Pittsburgh police Saturday.

Two juvenile suspects allegedly tried to steal a large number of tennis shoes from a home in Lawrenceville. 

Police responded to the scene just after 6:30 p.m. 

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Police entered the home and didn’t find any additional suspects, although they originally thought two more suspects were inside. The incident ended around 9 p.m.

Nobody inside the house was injured. 

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