News You Should Know

ICYMI: Florida to Explore Accepting Payments by Cryptocurrencies, FPL Bills to Go Up Because of Fuel Costs

Here are some of the top stories from the past week from NBC 6 News:

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Here are some of the top stories from the past week from NBC 6 News:

Florida to Explore Accepting Payments by Cryptocurrencies

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced this week his proposed budget for next year. In it, he wants the State of Florida to begin accepting cryptocurrencies like bitcoin when it comes to three programs

They are three pilot programs, only $700,000 in almost a $100 billion budget. It could, however, see what could be expanded in the future. 

If passed during the next legislative session, the state of Florida would have three different crypto programs: $250,000 to allow people to pay for vehicle titles with cryptocurrency to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, $250,000 to the Agency for Health Care Administration to identify Medicaid fraud, and $200,000 for the Department to Financial Services so businesses can pay state feeds in crypto.

“I think, as you've seen in South Florida, a lot of people have flocked to Florida over this issue. So, our view at the state government is this is something we welcome and we want to make sure that the state government is crypto-friendly,” DeSantis said. 

One key thing the state will have to figure out is how to handle taking payments for such a volatile currency, where its value can change a lot during a week or within the course of a day. 

“What’s indisputable is that technology is a greater and greater part of our everyday life,” said City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who has touted cryptocurrency in his role in city government. 

The City of Miami is currently looking for a company to transfer crypto payments into U.S. dollars. Suarez told NBC 6 legally the state or cities can only accept hard currency so they’ll have to hire a third-party company to change crypto to USD. 

Gun sales have been on the rise with the largest year-over-year spike since 2016.

Gun Sales Increase Across Florida During 2021 Black Friday Shopping: FDLE

The state of Florida may have a new nickname after people went shopping during the Black Friday weekend in 2021: the "Gunshine" state.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported over 8,600 criminal records checks were done during the busy shopping weekend, up 14 percent from the same weekend in 2020.

Gun shop owners said this was one of the first years where online gun sales made up a bulk of orders.

“For Black Friday, a huge pile of online sales was stacked to the roof,” Joshua Araujo, a worker at a gun shop in Cape Coral, told NBC affiliate WBBH-TV. “It’s getting easier. People can use their phone, use their laptop, they don’t have to leave their couch. It can be in the shop in 3-5 days.” 

Araujo said many new gun buyers are first-time owners who recently moved to Florida but advised those purchasing online must follow the same rules as those purchasing in-store.

“They have to follow the legalities of the background check and doing the paperwork and passing the other requirements,” Araujo said. “Here in Florida, they just have to wait three days- pass a background check and they can have it before Christmas.”

Normally giving food to wild animals is considered off limits, but the dire situation in Florida with more than 1,000 manatees dying from starvation due to manmade pollution is leading officials to consider an unprecedented feeding plan.

Test Feeding Plan in Works for Starving Florida Manatees

Normally giving food to wild animals is considered off limits, but the dire situation in Florida with more than 1,000 manatees dying from starvation due to manmade pollution is leading officials to consider an unprecedented feeding plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state environmental officials intend to unveil a limited proposal this week to feed the beloved marine mammals in one specific Florida location to test how it works. This is not usually done with any wild animal, but the situation has become such an emergency that it has to be considered, said Save The Manatee Club Executive Director Patrick Rose.

The club was co-founded in 1981 by Florida troubadour Jimmy Buffet and former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

“It’s the entire ecosystem that is affected by this and will be affected for a decade to come,” Rose said in an interview Tuesday. “This is a necessary stopgap measure. It is a problem created by man and man is going to have to solve it.”

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said in an email that the agency “does have approval to move forward on a limited feeding trial” but that details are not yet finalized. A formal announcement is expected later this week.

The emerging plan would involve feeding manatees at a Florida Power & Light plant in Cape Canaveral, along the Indian River Lagoon on the east coast where manatees congregate in cold winter months because of the warm water discharge from the plant. It would be an experiment involving lettuce, cabbage, and other greens delivered in a controlled manner such as via a conveyer belt, Rose said.

Community groups are holding a demonstration in Miami Thursday to protest proposed rate hikes by Florida Power & Light. NBC 6's Paxton Boyd reports

FPL Bills to Go Up Because of Fuel Costs

State regulators Tuesday approved allowing Florida Power & Light to collect an additional $810 million from customers in 2022 amid higher-than-expected costs for natural gas that plays a key role in fueling power plants.

The decision by the state Public Service Commission will add nearly $7 a month to the bills of residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. The increases will start in January.

FPL and other utilities, which are heavily dependent on natural gas, have grappled in recent months with higher fuel costs. Utilities pass along such costs to consumers and are not supposed to earn profits on them.

Maria Moncada, an attorney for FPL, told the commission Tuesday that the utility has taken a “long-term view” to try to mitigate spikes in gas prices. That has included making power plants more efficient.

“Whenever we generate a megawatt hour of electricity, we do so using less fuel,” Moncada said.

But representatives of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Vote Solar, Florida Rising and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida argued that FPL has not done enough to shield customers from such increases. They pointed to a need for ramped-up programs to help consumers use less electricity.

“Unfortunately, for years, FPL has done little to insulate customers from this kind of price shock,” said George Cavros, an attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

After receiving a Comcast RISE Grant, two brothers grew their cider business amid the global pandemic. NBC 6's Amanda Plasencia reports.

Cheers!: South Florida Cider Bros to Forge Ahead Thanks to Comcast RISE Grant

While many businesses have struggled during the pandemic, some organizations have stepped up to help those in need. Comcast, which is the parent company of NBC 6, has offered thousands of dollars to minority owned businesses through their Comcast RISE grant initiative.

One of the lucky award recipients are the Verdugo brothers, who are pouring up good vibes and cider at Broski Ciderworks in Pompano Beach. 

David and Daniel Verdugo first started off brewing beer at home back in 2013, but then they stumbled upon the world of cider by accident.

“I went to a bar and they gave me a drink. I ordered a beer and they gave me a cider. I tried it and I was hooked,” said David Verdugo, president and co-founder of Broski Ciderworks. 

With David’s mathematical engineer background and Daniel’s distributor skills in the alcohol industry, their cidery dreams started to get off the ground.

“At that point a little light bulb flashed in my mind and we said, you know what, there’s no local cidery in South Florida, let’s try to see if we can make this a project,” Verdugo said. 

The Verdugo brothers learned the cider craft in upstate New York and started sending their samples back home. People loved their concoctions and they quickly started winning awards. 

“We took the leap of faith to start Broski Ciderworks in 2015, to be the first craft cidery local to South Florida and we opened our doors in 2016,” Verdugo said. 

Now that the first semester of school is almost over, NBC 6's Ari Odzer looks at the state of education in South Florida as schools relax COVID mandates.

The Pandemic Effect On Education: A Special Report

21 months have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit schools like a sledgehammer. Since then they’ve been through closures, distance learning from home, optional reopening of schools, mandatory reopening, and battles over mask mandates. 

Now that the first semester is nearly over, teaching and learning is happening in classrooms all over South Florida, but no one is pretending that the pandemic hasn’t changed education. 

“So what we’ve learned through COVID is that education is constantly fluid, and how we deliver services to our students is constantly evolving,” Dr. Vickie Cartwright, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools said. 

“Number one, we’re learned as a result of the pandemic that teaching and learning can actually happen 24/7 not just limited to bell-to-bell instruction in the school house,” Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools said. “I think the silver lining of this pandemic is that we actually upped our skill.”

Teachers have become adept at different ways of reaching their students, whether it’s virtually or in person. 

“As a result of going into that virtual world for providing instruction, it has really propelled education and many of our instructional methodologies probably about 20 years, to be frank with you,” Cartwright said.

There’s a feeling among educators that the time is ripe to reinvent public education. 

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