Florida is nearly doubling the amount of money available to help first-time homebuyers under a plan going before state lawmakers next week. A legislative panel is expected to sign off on spending $60 million. The money came from a national $25 billion settlement with five of the nation's largest mortgage lenders over foreclosure abuses. Read more from the AP, the Miami Herald and the Florida Current.
You can get some "Mama's Chicken Biscuits" at the Yardbird in Miami.
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An old guide to understanding our state’s politics and culture claimed that in Florida, the South is in the north, while the North is in south Florida. The division held true for food, too: Mullet, grits and fried chicken on one end of the state; bagels, hotel haute cuisine and Floribbean touches on the other. No longer. Read the full story here and see Chris Sherman's picks for other hot southern dining spots around the state.
Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday made five new appointments to the 17-member State University System's Board of Governors. They give Scott extra voices on the board at a time when he, university officials and lawmakers are locked in a debate over the future of the university system and the cost of tuition. [Source: Orlando Sentinel]
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Initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits went up nationwide the past two weeks, but in Florida filings plunged at the end of the year, the Labor Department reported. [Source: Palm Beach Post]
An independent team of experts will review Florida's hospital trauma center system, following a high-profile legal fight over who gets to treat the most critically injured. [Source: Tampa Bay Times]
ALSO AROUND FLORIDA:
› Backyard-citrus harvest will help food banks [Orlando Sentinel]
For years Sue Rudolph had to work at finding willing recipients for the bounty from her backyard-citrus trees. Then she heard about the Society of St. Andrew, which each year holds a backyard-citrus drive in Central Florida, picking and collecting fruit from anyone in the Greater Orlando area who wants to donate it to local food pantries.
› Florida election supervisors want up to 14 early voting days [Tampa Bay Times]
Hoping to avert future voting meltdowns, Florida election supervisors will urge the Legislature to restore up to 14 days of early voting and expand voting locations. They also want lawmakers to limit legislatively-backed constitutional amendments to 75 words on the ballot, a requirement for citizen amendments.
› Rebuilding Orlando’s battered construction industry will take years [Orlando Sentinel]
About six years ago, more than 90,000 people in Metro Orlando were working in construction. Today, it’s roughly half that. There's recently been a small uptick in construction hiring, but it’s really just a blip in a sea of bigger, more frightening, numbers.
› Sen. Bill Nelson is going python hunting [Tampa Bay Times]
Sen. Bill Nelson has taken some ribbing for his focus on Pythons in the Everglades. But the problem is real. So little surprise the 70-year-old Democrat will participate in Florida's first snake hunt, which begins Saturday and offers cash prizes.
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› TIA loses two of its five weekly flights to Cuba [Tampa Bay Times]
Xael Charters told the airport it will cease flights out of Tampa on Feb. 14 so that it can relocate to Fort Lauderdale. There, company officials told the airport, they'll have less competition and grab a bigger market share of the Cuba flights.
› SunTrust names new head of South Florida [Miami Herald]
SunTrust said Thursday that Margaret Callihan has been named president and chief executive of SunTrust Bank, South Florida. She succeeds James W. Rasmussen, who plans to retire on March 31, after a 36-year career with the company.
› Fast growing supplement company buys new headquarters in Manatee [Sarasota Herald-Tribune]
One of Southwest Florida's fastest-growing companies has bought a new headquarters overlooking the Manatee River, which will likely allow it to better handle its rapid expansion.
› Move over Florida, it’s the law [Apalachicola Times]
During the month of January, Florida Highway Patrol troopers will pay special attention to drivers violating the state’s Move Over law, which protects law enforcement officers, emergency workers and tow truck drivers who are stopped along Florida roadways doing their jobs.