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School lunches: Here’s what your kids will be eating if this bill passes

A bipartisan Senate agreement expected to be voted on Wednesday will include some changes to the meals your children will be offered at school, and it may be changes that would bring them to the table.

The bill, which is expected to be passed by the full Senate, will offer more flexibility to the nations nearly 100,000 public schools as it eases requirements on the use of whole grains and delays a deadline to cut the level of sodium in school lunches.

The legislation has grown out of complaints by some schools that the requirements for their meals – changed in 2012 with the support of first lady Michelle Obama – are burdensome and that children are not eating the food.

To qualify for federal reimbursements for free and reduced-cost meals, schools are required to meet federal government nutrition guidelines. The guidelines set in 2012 imposed limits on the amount of fats, calories, sugar and sodium that meals could include.

Many schools balked at the standards, saying children would not eat the healthier options. Wednesday’s vote comes after a bill that would have allowed schools to opt out of the program entirely failed in 2014.

Per the bill, the Agriculture Department would be required to revised the whole grain and sodium standards for meals within 90 days of its passage.

Here’s how the legislation would change what school lunchrooms are serving:

Grains: Currently, all grains served in public schools must be whole grains, meaning the food made from grain must have been made using 100 percent of the original grain kernel. The new legislation requires that 80 percent  of the grains used be whole grain or more than half whole grain. (Currently, schools may request waivers from the whole grain requirement.)

Salt: The implementation of stricter standards for the amount of sodium in school meals would be delayed until 2019 under the new legislation. The bill would also fund a study into the benefits of lowering salt levels in school meals.

Waste: The problem of waste is a big one in school lunches. Under the new legislation, the Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be tasked with coming up with a way to reduce what is not eaten by students – particularly fruits and vegetables. Children are currently required to take the food on the lunch line, but many toss them without touching a bite.

Summer programs: More money would be allocated for summer feeding programs – where school lunchrooms offer meals for children who qualify.

Georgia Supreme Court must decide the value of a dog

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Lola was a little hound of questionable pedigree who slept like a human, her head on the pillow and her body under the covers. She was jealous of laptop computers because she was a lap dog.

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The mixed-breed dachshund was 8 years old when she died of renal failure. Lola’s owners allege that a popular Atlanta dog kennel gave Lola medication she wasn’t supposed to receive, ultimately leading to her death. The owners have sued, and that’s why this sad case with its very thorny question will come before the Georgia's highest court on Tuesday.

What is the value of a dog?

Barking Hound Village kennel denies that it is responsible for Lola’s death. And in filings before the Georgia Supreme Court, the kennel argues that pets are property and plaintiffs may only recover the market value of their property before it was destroyed.

For this reason, Elizabeth and Bob Monyak should be barred from receiving damages for any alleged negligence that might have caused Lola’s death, the kennel said. The Monyaks paid nothing for Lola when they rescued her from a shelter and she had no market value at the time of her death. In essence, the kennel says, Lola was a worthless piece of property.

But the Monyaks said they spent $67,000 on veterinary and related expenses, including regular dialysis treatments, trying to keep their dog alive, and their suit seeks to recover that sum. They also argue that Lola’s market value isn’t the point.

“Their position is that a dog is like a toaster,” Elizabeth Monyak said. “When you break it, you throw it away and get a new one. A dog is indeed property under the law, but it’s a different kind of property.”

Both Elizabeth Monyak and her husband are attorneys. She works for the State Attorney General’s Office. He specializes in defending medical malpractice and product liability lawsuits and will argue Lola’s case before the justices on Tuesday.

Barking Hound Village, with five locations in metro Atlanta, was founded by David York, a pioneer in the upscale doggie day care and boarding business.

Joel McKie, the company’s lawyer, said Barking Hound Village cares deeply about dogs entrusted to its care and has procedural safeguards to ensure they are safe and happy during their stay.

“We are certainly sympathetic to the (Monyaks) for the loss of their beloved dog, Lola,” McKie said. “However, (Barking Hound Village) did nothing to cause or contribute to the dog’s renal failure.”

The case has attracted national attention, with veterinary and kennel organizations asking the state high court to adopt Barking Hound Village’s legal position.

If juries are allowed to consider a lost pet’s sentimental value and medical expenses paid by its owners, the costs for kennels and veterinary care will rise, groups such as the American Kennel Club, the Cat Fanciers’ Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief.

“Concerns over expanded liability may cause some services, such as free clinics for spaying and neutering, to close,” the groups said. “Shelters, rescues and other services may no longer afford to take in dogs and other pets. Fewer people will get pets, leaving more pets abandoned in shelters to die.”

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed its own brief in support of the Monyaks’ position. It cited industry studies showing U.S. pet owners spent a collective $58 billion on their animals in 2014, including $4.8 billion on pet grooming and boarding.

“It is hypocritical for these businesses, including (Barking Hound Village), to exploit the value of the human-companion bond, while simultaneously arguing that the same should be unrecoverable when that bond is wrongfully – and even intentionally – severed,” the defense fund said.

Michael Wells, a University of Georgia law school professor specializing in tort and insurance law, said he believes pet dogs have value beyond their market value. The same goes for other properties, like a treasured family photo.

“I assume (the Monyaks) paid a substantial amount of money to the kennel to take care of their dog,” Wells said. “To then say the dog has no market value doesn’t seem to square with the commitment the kennel made and the money it made from the transaction itself.”

In 2005, the Monyaks had a Labrador retriever named Callie. But their oldest daughter, Suzanne, then 10, wanted a dog of her own.

Elizabeth Monyak said she finally agreed, but only if they adopted a relatively mature, smaller dog. Suzanne found Lola, then 2 years old, on a pet finder website and the family adopted her from the Small Dog Rescue and Humane Society in front of a pet store in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

In 2012, the Monyaks decided to take their three children on a family vacation to France and boarded Lola and Callie in “The Inn,” a Barking Hound Village kennel. At that time, Callie had been prescribed Rimadyl, an anti-inflammatory for arthritis. It is the Monyaks’ contention that the kennel incorrectly gave the Rimadyl to Lola, instead of to Callie, during the time they were boarded there.

In court motions, the Monyaks allege that Barking Hound Village knew that a medication error had occurred during Lola’s stay, and the kennel then covered it up by destroying evidence and withholding critical information.

Barking Hound Village denies any wrongdoing and said when the Monyaks picked up their dogs on June 7, 2012, both Lola and Callie appeared to be normal. “(There) is no competent evidence that the dachshund was ever incorrectly medicated,” the kennel said in a court filing.

The family immediately noticed something was wrong with Lola, Elizabeth Monyak said. Normally a voracious eater, she had little appetite. Lola then began trembling, vomiting and experiencing severe pain.

Within days, Lola’s vet determined the dachshund was suffering from acute kidney failure, with the likely culprit being overdoses of Rimadyl. The vet also told the Monyaks he had recently received a phone call from someone at Barking Hound Village, who told him that the prescription for Lola had run out of pills, court filings say. This was odd, the vet said, because he had not prescribed Lola any pills, except those for routine heart-worm medication.

Ultimately, vets recommended that Lola be transferred to the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital because there was no facility in Georgia that could provide the necessary dialysis. The treatments were intermittently successful and Lola was able to return home for extended periods.

“Her kidney was never fully repaired, but there were times when she was doing well,” Monyak said.

In March 2013, the Florida clinic called with bad news: Lola’s kidney was failing again and no longer responding to treatment. Before the family could drive down and return Lola to her Atlanta home one last time, the clinic called to say she had died.

In addition to recovering their expenses for Lola’s treatment, the Monyaks also want a jury to consider evidence that demonstrates Lola’s value to their family.

“She was a smart, fun dog that gave us a lot of enjoyment,” Elizabeth Monyak said.

In court filings, Barking Hound Village’s lawyers contend there are court precedents dating back more than a century that said any recovery of damages for injured or lost animals should be decided by market value, not sentimental value.

“The purchase price of the dachshund was zero dollars, the rescue dog never generated revenue and nothing occurred during the Monyaks’ ownership of the dog that would have increased her market value,” the company’s filing said. “The mixed-breed dachshund had no special training or unique characteristics other than that of ‘family dog.’”

Gun rights groups to stage mock mass shooting at UT

Gun rights groups say they will conduct a mock mass shooting this weekend at the University of Texas campus as they try to end gun-free zones.

The Open Carry Walk and Crisis Performance Event will involve actors “shot” by perpetrators armed with cardboard weapons, said Matthew Short, a spokesman for the gun rights groups Come and Take It Texas and DontComply.com.

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“It’s a fake mass shooting, and we’ll use fake blood,” he said. He said gun noises will be blared from bullhorns. Other people will then play the role of rescuers, also armed with cardboard weapons.

He said the group was not seeking any sort of permit for the event from Austin or UT. University officials were not immediately available for comment.

“Criminals that want to do evil things and commit murder go places where people are not going to be able to stop them,’ he said. “When seconds count, the cops are minutes away.”

Asked if he was worried the demonstration, which will be preceded by a walk through Austin with loaded weapons might appear in bad taste following the mass shootings in San Bernardino and Paris, Short said: “Not at all. People were able to be murdered people because no one was armed.”

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Loaded weapons are currently not allowed on UT campus, but that will change next August when the new campus carry law goes into effect. The law will allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry their handguns into dorms, classrooms and other public university buildings, though universities may draft some campus-specific rules that may include limited gun-free zones.

Critics of the law have urged UT to take a highly restrictive approach, prompting the pushback from gun rights groups.

“We want criminals to fear the public being armed,” Short said. “An armed society is a polite society.”

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“We love freedom and we’re trying to make more freedom,” he said.

The organizers of Gun Free UT, an organization supported by thousands of UT students and faculty that aims to keep guns out of the UT campus, were not immediately available for comment.

Man chokes to death while eating birthday dinner

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A man celebrating his 57th birthday at Ted’s Montana Grill in Estero, Florida died after choking on a bison steak.

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Christopher Russ went with his landlord and her father to the restaurant looking for a steak dinner, the News-Press reports. Francine Ryan, Russ’ landlord, told the News-Press that when she realized Russ was choking she began hitting Russ’ back while another man gave him the Heimlich. When that wasn’t working, she said she began to perform CPR on him before the medics arrived.

“When he turned blue and gray … you just know. I knew there was nothing you could do,” she said.

She said Russ had mentioned being “given a clean bill of health” from the doctor the month before. “I’m afraid now to eat,” Ryan said. “I’m going to be very careful."

Read more at the News-Press.

Florida airport bar ranks among the U.S.'s best

If you’re looking for a cold one before jumping on your plane this holiday season, a Florida airport has one of the best bars in the nation.

Thrillist compiled a list of the best airport bars in the United States for 2015 and Tampa International’s Cigar City Brewpub made the cut.

According to the list, Cigar City Brewpub is the one reason to visit this Tampa-area airport. It was called “one of the best brewers in the country” and offers great beers such as the Frivolous Diversions sour ale and Florida Cracker. 

Other top brew stops include Saxon Pub in Austin-Bergstrom International, BRKLYN Beer Garden in John F. Kennedy International, Biergarten in LaGuardia International, Cisco Brew Pub in Logan International and Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego International.

Thrillist also recently listed three Palm Beach County breweries on their best of Florida craft beers list, named Florida the worst state in the U.S. and poked fun at Florida with an “honest map.”

Read more at Thrillist.

Fireworks all around at GOP debate, but Trump presence resounded

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So much for the notion that Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump might tone down his reality show bombast for his first-ever political debate Thursday night.

Trump wouldn’t rule out a third-party White House bid if he doesn’t win the GOP nomination, shrugged off past bankruptcies by his businesses, said he made political contributions to buy influence and refused to back down from harsh comments about Mexican immigrants.

“If it weren’t for me you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration,” Trump said of the issue that has generated Hispanic outrage and catapulted him to the top of Republican polls.

>> Trump’s presence dominated the 10-candidate debate televised by Fox News

There were also fireworks between Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over data gathering by the National Security Agency, and a more low-key effort by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to separate himself from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Rubio, 44, cast himself as a candidate of the future and a product of middle class upbringing, drawing a distinction from the 62-year-old Bush, the scion of a wealthy political dynasty.

“This election better be about the future, not the past,” Rubio said.

“If I’m our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck. How is she going to lecture me about student loans? I owed over $100,000 just four years ago. If I’m our nominee, we’ll be the party of the future,” Rubio said.

Rubio also took issue with the Common Core education standards favored by Bush. While Bush insisted local governments should set education standards, Rubio claimed the U.S. Department of Education “will not stop with it being a suggestion” and would turn Common Core into a federal mandate.

Before the main event, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina dominated a debate of seven GOP candidates excluded from the main debate by Fox News because of their low polling numbers. Fiorina skewered Republican front runner Trump over his ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton and shifts on abortion, immigration and health care.

Fiorina didn’t name Bush but said the GOP nominee “cannot stumble before he even gets into the ring.” She confirmed after the debate that she was talking about Bush’s recent remark that “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”

Bush’s comment angered many conservatives because it conflated the debate over Planned Parenthood and its use of aborted fetal tissue with the broader question of women’s health and allowed defensive Democrats to go back on offense.

Asked specifically about Bush in a post-debate interview, Fiorina said: “It’s disappointing. I spent all of last year with a lot of other conservatives pushing back effectively against the ‘War on Women’…It’s really disappointing when a front-runner gives the Democrats an ad and a talking point before he’s even in the ring.”

4 takeaways from Thursday's GOP Debate

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The Donald goes Full Trump

So much for the notion that Donald Trump might tone it down a little and act presidential in his first political debate. He wouldn’t rule out a third-party bid for president if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination. “I don’t have time to be politically correct,” he said when asked about harsh comments about women. On his remarks about Mexico sending criminals to the U.S., he said, “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration.”

Rubio separates himself from Bush

Differentiating himself from 62-year-old former Gov. Jeb Bush and his wealthy family, 44-year-old Sen. Marco Rubio said: “This election better be about the future, not the past. … If I’m our nominee, how is Hillary Clinton going to lecture me about living paycheck to paycheck? I was raised paycheck to paycheck. How is she going to lecture me about student loans? I owed over $100,000 just four years ago. If I’m our nominee, we’ll be the party of the future.”

Paul and Christie mix it up on data gathering

Libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul said “I want to collect more records from terrorists but less records from innocent Americans.” Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, called that answer “ridiculous.” Paul noted that Christie once gave President Obama “a big hug.”

Fiorina steals early show

In a seven-candidate debate before the main event, Carly Fiorina skewered Trump over his ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton and shifts on abortion, immigration and health care without insulting the Trump followers Republicans need. Clearly referring to Bush and his recent women’s health gaffe, she said the GOP nominee “cannot stumble before he even gets into the ring.”

Austin snake attack: 5 things to know about monocled cobras

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Ever since police found Grant James Thompson unresponsive in a North Austin parking lot from an apparent snake bite on Tuesday, what remained missing was the prime suspect: a monocled cobra.

Authorities said the 18-year-old man, who worked at a pet store, had suffered cardiac arrest before he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Thompson had puncture wounds on his wrist, police said, but an autopsy report on his death is pending. A cobra has been found dead on a service road near where Thompson was found.

One non-venomous snake, six tarantulas and a bullfrog were found in the vehicle. But when authorities searched Thompson’s home in Temple, a monocled cobra was missing from its cage.

Here are five things to know about the animal:

1. The “monocle” in the snake’s name refers to the O-shaped pattern on its hood that looks like the old-fashioned eyewear. It’s the most obvious way to distinguish it from its more famous cousin, the Indian cobra, which has a V-shaped pattern.

2. The monocled cobra is native to Southeast Asia. It prefers swampy habitats, but the snake can be found in grassy places and tree holes. In urban areas, the snakes prefer hiding under houses and other covered places during the day.

3. Its neurotoxic venom makes this cobra so deadly that a bite can kill an adult human within an hour if a vein is hit. The venom affects the central nervous system, leading to respiratory failure or heart failure.

4. It can grow to nearly 5 feet long and typically eats small mammals, frogs and sometimes other snakes and fish.

5. You can legally keep a monocled cobra in Texas. State law does not require a license for having one, but it does require a controlled exotic animal permit that you can get with a $30 fee.

4 things to know about the Supreme Court's pro-gay marriage ruling

1. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Constitution requires states to license same-sex marriage and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed elsewhere. [Read more]

2. The court's majority includes Justices Anthony Kennedy (the conventional "swing vote") joining the bench's liberal wing: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer. The opinion appears to hinge on the dual Consitutional reasoning of fundamental rights and equal protection. [Read the complete opinion]

3. Justice Kennedy, a Republican appointee, has become the court's most prominent defender of same-sex relationships -- authoring its majority opinions in the three major gay rights decisions: Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor and now Obergefell v. Hodges. Observers say this reflects Kennedy's deeply-held beliefs about individual privacy and liberty. [Read more]

4. Some opponents of same-sex marraige say they are being "bullied" for their beliefs, and now fear speaking out publicly. Beyond the verbal backlash that many say they are receiving, these opponents assert that speaking their minds could hurt their businesses, their employment or their chances for advancement at work. [Read more]

Arrests from biker gang shooting in Waco

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