Florida Top Ten Stories of 2011

Atlantis' rolling stop on a Kennedy Space Center runway in July marked the end of the 30-year-old space shuttle program.

The end of the space shuttle program after more than three decades of flights to low-earth orbit launched past Gov. Rick Scott's shakeup of state government and the Casey Anthony murder trial as Florida's top story of 2011, according to a poll of newspaper editors conducted by The Associated Press.

1. End of the Space Shuttle program

Atlantis' rolling stop on a Kennedy Space Center runway in July marked the end of the 30-year-old space shuttle program. It was a moment of celebration and apprehension for NASA's thousands of workers and contractors, many of whom lost jobs with the last shuttle flight.

Thousands of skilled space workers are now looking for jobs in a state with a 10 percent unemployment rate.

2. Gov. Rick Scott loosens growth-management laws

Scott successfully pushed for the elimination of several state agencies dealing with growth management, labor, trade and economic development and cobbled them together into the Department of Economic Opportunity. Environmentalists and planning advocates criticized the dismantling of the growth management agency, saying it will open the door to sprawl and pollution.

3. The trial and acquittal of Casey Anthony

Anthony was acquitted on charges of murdering her 2-year-old daughter. During the trial, national television shows provided hourly updates and round-the-clock commentary on the criminal proceedings, and local television stations broadcast the trial live gavel-to-gavel.

4. Scott's pension changes

Shortly after he became governor in January, Scott pushed to shut down the main pension plan to new state employees, and he wanted public employees to contribute five percent of their salary to help cover pension costs. Legislators instead settled for a three percent contribution rate that public employee unions are now challenging in the courts.

5. Tourism makes a comeback

After a disastrous tourism season following the Gulf oil spill in 2010, tourism along Florida's Gulf Coast rebounded to record levels. Local tourism boards were aided by millions of dollars in BP money that allowed them to try promotions they had never done before.

6. Pill-mill database gets started

Florida is regarded as "ground zero" for the nation's prescription drug problem, Scott had his doubts about a state prescription drug tracking system. But he later relented after facing opposition from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and some state lawmakers. The system started operating in September.

7. Hazing death at FAMU

The beating death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion after a November football game revealed a culture of hazing at the Tallahassee-based school and created a public awareness of hazing rituals at schools around the nation.

8. Teacher merit pay starts, tenure ends

Scott signed into law a merit pay requirement for new teachers. Once the law goes into effect in 2014, new teachers will be given one of four performance ratings, half of which will be based on student growth on tests. The ratings will be used in determining pay. The law also got rid of teacher seniority during layoffs.

9. Election law changes

Scott signed into law an election bill that reduces the number of early voting days, slaps new requirements on groups conducting voter registration drives, requires voters changing out-of-county addresses at the polls to cast provisional ballots and makes it more difficult to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.

10. Health care overhaul ruled unconstitutional...for now

A federal judge in Pensacola ruled that President Obama's massive health care overhaul was unconstitutional, saying the federal government had overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce by requiring all Americans to carry health insurance. Three other federal judges have upheld the law and a fourth has ruled against it, leaving it up to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality.

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