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Florida lawmakers are kicking off the 2016 session Tuesday hoping to avoid the chaos of 2015, when the House and Senate had a tough time agreeing on anything. State Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) is term limited and serving in his final session.

Ethics Reform at the Grassroots:

Brian LeBlanc

Since November of 2015, we’ve been getting to know Brian LeBlanc of Pensacola. He has been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Now in his mid-50's, he has known about his condition for a little over a year now. As we continue our conversation, we focus on how the disease has impacted his daily life and how he’s dealing with it.

“Being this is radio, you can’t see what I’m doing right now, but I’m holding up my cell phone,” said LeBlanc. “That’s my constant companion.”

According to LeBlanc, his phone tells him everything, even when to eat.

Photo via Flickr// Alberto G. / https://flic.kr/p/9UnRWS

On a 6-1 vote this week, the Florida Board of Education approved Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s test score and school grade proposals. But other proposals are expected to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.

Board members considered where to set two critical benchmarks of the state's education accountability system: "cut scores" that determine the levels of achievement students get based on their performances on standardized tests, and the school grades tied to how well students do on those tests. Stewart calls it the “right approach and right balance.”

WUWF Public Media

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses the recent Chinese stock market crisis and its possible lasting effects. Also, he predicts how the Pensacola-area economy will fare in 2016.

China’s stock market has had a rocky beginning to 2016, and that is feeding doubt among investors about the country’s economic stability.

“China is a source of great uncertainty right now,” Harper said. “We had the shortest trading day ever in China as a result of the market falling 7.3 percent in about half an hour, which led authorities to shut it down.”

Photo via Flickr// Mike Mozart / https://flic.kr/p/nPpf9p

Santa Rosa County’s gas tax doubled on New Year’s Day: from $0.06 to the maximum $0.12 per gallon.  The hike is expected to bring in millions for county road projects, which may not be enough.

County Commissioners approved the levy on two votes in September. The first for a five-cent local option gas tax increase and the second for a penny raise, called the “ninth cent.”

Georgia Barrett / WUWF News

The debate over allowing food trucks in Pensacola may not be over, but those mobile businesses celebrated a milestone in downtown Pensacola Thursday.  

A.J. took some time out from chopping onions in the Cajun Meat Train food truck Thursday morning, getting ready for the first day of serving lunch in the parking lot of Pensacola City Hall. "[We're] feeling great and hoping it opens eyes to everyone around and we get to park in some more places around town. Hopefully something good comes out of it and I'm excited and optimistic."

Photo via Flickr// ** Parapluie ** / https://www.flickr.com/photos/restreguas/4509084689/

An interlocal agreement was made this week between the city of Destin and Okaloosa County to fund the sheriff office’s enhanced law enforcement plan for Spring Break 2016. WUWF’s Danielle Freeman reports, although the cost will be shared by both parties and the measure is just a contingency plan, the source of the funding is still uncertain.

Calls are going out from the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless, for volunteers to take part in the annual count of the homeless on January 27-28.

“Point in Time” allows agencies that provide services to the homeless to get a handle on the overall population in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, and how to tailor those services to help move them out of homelessness.

“We actually dispersed teams out on the street and in areas where the homeless normally gather: Alfred Washburn Center, Salvation Army, places like that,” said Alison Griffith, the program’s coordinator.

National Writing Project

In 1974 The University of California Berkeley established a program for teachers called the Bay Area Writing Project. In just two years it expanded to 14 sites in six states. That was the beginning of the National Writing Project. Now the University of West Florida has become one of the Project’s newest sites.  

Photo via Flickr// Allan Chatto / https://flic.kr/p/9PBUZ3

High School graduation rates in Florida for the class of 2015 were the highest in 12 years, according to figures released by the state Department of Education.

That 77.8% statewide graduation mark is up more than 18 points since the 2003-04 school year, and nearly two percent higher than last year. The Escambia County district's 2014-15 graduation rate came in at 72.7%, up from 66.1% in 2013-14, and 15 points from 2010-11.

"Our funding is running out. At the end of March, if we haven't used the money, we have to give it back". That's Andrea Wick, the Executive Administrator of REBUILD Northwest Florida. She’s talking about the grant money from FEMA that funds REBUILD NWFL. "If we've used (the money) and we show that there's a large enough response, there's a chance we can get more to continue."

Photo via Flickr// Mike Mozart / https://flic.kr/p/oL8CZc

AAA South says the national average price of gas could remain relatively flat, or drop another 10 cents per gallon over the next few weeks.

Florida’s average for self-serve regular is below the $2.00 per gallon mark for the first time since March of 2009. Mark Jenkins at the auto club says the projection is between $2.25 and $2.45, comparable to the $2.40 a gallon average for all of 2014.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward recently dropped by the studio, for a chat with Dave Dunwoody to look ahead at the year in Pensacola governance.

DD: Mayor, before we look ahead to 2016, let’s look back at 2015. What do you consider to be some of the accomplishments in city government?

WUWF Public Media

In 2015, the nation’s economic recovery continued its slow, steady improvement. And, now as the year comes to a close, we’re taking a look at some of the economic highlights during the past 12 months here in Northwest Florida.

“Actually, good news, of course, with unemployment,” said University of West Florida economist Rick Harper, referring to the 5.0 percent unemployment rate recorded in October of 2015 for the Pensacola Metro area, which includes Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Pensacola Pelican Drop Facebook page

  The 8th annual Pelican Drop is set to begin at 3pm on New Year's Eve in downtown Pensacola. There have been some changes made to this year’s event. "We've moved the Pelican to (the intersection of) Garden and Palafox. It's a much bigger area". That’s Danny Zimmern from Pensacola Mardi Gras. They’re the company that produces the Pelican Drop for the Downtown Improvement Board.  He says the new location allows for a bigger stage and more area for people to stand and watch the bird fall.

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