Morning Report: Florida's website woes sound familiar

The new government website cost millions of dollars but has as many traffic jams as I-275 at rush hour. Users face long delays, error messages and worry about receiving their benefits.

The complaints may sound familiar, but they have nothing to do with the fitful start-up of Obamacare.
No, these technical glitches are closer to home, plaguing the launch of Florida’s $64 million jobless benefits system.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called on the U.S. Labor Department to investigate the problem, its scope and how it is being resolved. The state of Florida already has a tense relationship with federal Labor officials for refusing to let citizens file claims in person.

"The main purpose behind this federal-state program is to help stabilize the economy during recessions. But it certainly won't be of much help in my state if those who have lost their jobs face protracted delays in seeking or receiving benefits," Nelson wrote to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

The website debuted last week to long waits and system crashes for unemployed Floridians trying to enroll or file claims.

Making matters worse, they were turned away from unemployment offices, under a state rule that restricts filing to the state website. Phone lines are so jammed that people calling customer support are disconnected.

Officials with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity explain that the problems are minor and that it will take users longer to enroll in the new system, called CONNECT, because of added security to prevent fraud.

Light rail gains momentum: When the state builds a new span to replace the aging Howard Frankland Bridge, it will spend $25 million to develop a pathway that could accommodate light rail.

Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad made that pledge before the Tampa Bay Partnership on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reports.

The highway chief was discussing plans to spend $390 million to replace the north span of the bridge between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

But the state wants residents in Pinellas and Hillsborough to give the green light for light rail. Pinellas voters will decide a transit tax referendum in November 2014; Hillsborough voters rejected a similar plan in 2010.

The Tampa Bay Times is reporting the results of a new poll showing that a majority of Pinellas County voters favor a penny sales tax to fund a light rail system. The poll was sponsored by the Times, Bay News 9 and WUSF Public Media.

Scientology sign violates city code: The city of Clearwater and the Church of Scientology are at a standoff.

The city is ordering local Scientologists to remove a giant shrink-wrap sign printed with the gold letters “KSW” for Keep Scientology Working from a downtown facility that is five stories high.

The Church of Scientology has erected a 150,250-square-foot tent for an upcoming convention of the International Church of Scientology. The tent, with its shrink-wrapped message, is in a prominent area of downtown.

That's not exactly the welcome sign that city leaders would like Clearwater tourists to see on their way to the beach.

So far, the church is not complying with the order, arguing the acronym and accompanying phrase, “The Golden Age of Tech,” are religious symbols.

But the city says the giant message violates the local sign ordinance.

"Bottom line is, we need to have them take it down," planning director Michael Delk told the Times.

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