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20 posts from March 5, 2012

March 05, 2012

$70 billion budget deal in place

Legislative leaders struck a budget deal Monday marked by the creation of a new state polytechnic university in Lakeland, fulfilling the vision of a single lawmaker who wanted the school to grow independently from the University of South Florida.

The creation of Florida Polytechnic University, a priority of the departing Sen. JD Alexander, ensures that lawmakers will be able to pass a budget before the 2012 session is scheduled to end Friday.

Negotiations tipped when lawmakers agreed to cover most of the costs associated with splitting the Lakeland campus from USF.

"It's very, very, very good. I'm very pleased," USF President Judy Genshaft said. "I want to thank everyone in the community. It truly made a difference showing the strength of the University of South Florida."

Read the full story here.

House passes $10.75 million claims bill for Eric Brody

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Mitzi Roden holds her son Aaron Edwards, 14, in the House Visitors gallery. The House passed several claims bills, including a $15 million for Edwards who was permanently injured at birth, allegedly due to malpractice at a Lee County hospital. [Scott Keeler, Times]

A Sunrise man who was paralyzed by a speeding cop 14 years ago is nearly a signature away from receiving a $10.75 million payment from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

The Florida House of Representatives passed a claims bill for Eric Brody, now 32, approving the compensation package more than six years after a jury awarded his family $30.9 million.

The bill, which passed the Senate on the first day of session as a priority of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R- Merritt Island, will head to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott if the two chambers can agree on an appropriate amount of attorney's fees and costs.

The Senate caps the fees at about $2.7 million, while the House version caps the costs at $400,000.

Continue reading "House passes $10.75 million claims bill for Eric Brody" »

Judge to rule Tuesday whether legislators dug a $2 billion budget hole or not

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford announced Monday that she will announce her decision in the union lawsuit against the state over state worker pensions at a special hearing in her courtroom on Tuesday.

Depending on how Fulford rules, legislators could face a $2 billion budget hole or dodge a bullet. The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions sued the state last year after the Legislature cut worker salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, for retirement benefits, and shifted the money into the general revenue fund to save the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session.

If Fulford rules against the state, legislators may have to find $1 billion to repay state workers for the money removed from their salaries this year and come up with another $1 billion to repair another budget in the 2012-13 budget year. If she rules in favor of the state, the 3 percent cut from worker salaries will remain. 

Fulford heard arguments in the case Oct. 25 and concluded that the state broke the contract with employees but left unanswered whether the move was unconstitutional.

Continue reading "Judge to rule Tuesday whether legislators dug a $2 billion budget hole or not " »

A Times investigation: State regulators failed to address onslaught of timeshare resale schemes

From Sunday's Tampa Bay Times investigation: Timeshare resale schemes have quietly become the most rampant form of consumer fraud in Florida, affecting people across the United States and in some foreign countries. The state Attorney General's Office received 964 complaints against Florida timeshare resale companies in 2008. Then 2,929 in 2009. Then 12,257 in 2010.

Last year, even with a dip in calls, Florida's fraud hotline fielded more complaints about timeshare resale companies than the next four categories of consumer complaints combined.

The Tampa Bay Times reviewed thousands of those complaints and spent six months investigating timeshare resale companies and the state's attempts to stop their abuses. Despite an avalanche of allegations, Florida regulators and law enforcement agencies at every level have failed to take basic steps to protect consumers and curb fraud:

Continue reading "A Times investigation: State regulators failed to address onslaught of timeshare resale schemes" »

Fox News Latino poll: Hispanics favor President Barack Obama over GOP hopefuls

From Fox News Latino:

Despite growing disappointment in his handling of immigration issues, Latino voters favor President Barack Obama by six-to-one over any of the Republican presidential hopefuls, showed a Fox News Latino poll conducted under the direction of Latin Insights and released Monday.
 
The national poll of likely Latino voters indicated that 73 percent of them approved of Obama’s performance in office, with over half those questioned looking favorably upon his handling of the healthcare debate and the economy, at 66 percent and 58 percent respectively.
 
Released on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries in the race for the GOP nomination, the Fox News Latino poll shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 35 percent of Latino voter support, to Texas Rep. Ron Paul's 13 percent, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's 12 percent, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's 9 percent. 
 
But the poll shows that the overwhelming choice among likely Latino voters is President Obama. In head-to-head match-ups none of the GOP candidates would garner more than 14 percent of the Latino vote come November, the poll said.
 
"This is what we're seeing across the country," said Gabriela Domenzain, Obama campaign spokesperson. "The more Latinos learn about the candidates, the more they reject them."
 
Caught-up in the throes of a bitterly contested primary season, the GOP hopefuls seem to be losing traction among Latino voters. 

More here.

Haridopolos: We'll be back for a special session on redistricting

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Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R- Merritt Island, reflection can be seen in his office conference table during a press conference Monday. Haridopolos all but admitted defeat Monday in the first round of court reviews over the legislature's redistricting map and predicted lawmakers would be back in a special session to revamp their maps. [Scott Keeler, Times]

Senate President Mike Haridopolos all but admitted defeat Monday in the first round of court reviews over the legislature's redistricting map and predicted lawmakers would be back in a special session to revamp their maps.

“We’re going to be here for extraordinary session, my guess, I think, given the give and take last week in the Supreme Court,'' Haridopolos told reporters Monday.

His reasoning: “nothing surprises me in the Supreme Court anymore,'' he said.

During rigorous questioning last week, four of the seven justices -- led by Justice Barbara Pariente -- raised questions about the maps, particularly that drawn by the Senate. Justices Pariente, Quince and Lewis and Perry appeared to be seeking advice on how to define the new standards voters approved when they put the new anti-gerrymandering amendments into the state Constitution in 2010. By contrast, Chief Justice Charles Canady appeared solidly opposed to getting into the details of implementing the new rules, preferring instead to have it sorted out at the trial court level and then ultimately appealed to the high court.

Continue reading "Haridopolos: We'll be back for a special session on redistricting" »

Antiabortion bill dies in the Senate

A wide-ranging antiabortion bill that stirred controversy in the House last week will not be heard in the Senate, likely ending debate on the bill for this year.

A bipartisan coalition of senators Monday voted not to bring the bill up for consideration on the Senate floor.

"This public is calling and screaming, pleading with us to concentrate on bills that give us jobs, put food on our table and lower our cost of living," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who forced a vote on whether or not to bring the measure to the floor.

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Florida surgeon general resigns, announces wife battling cancer

Dr. Frank Farmer, the state's surgeon general and head of the Department of Health, announced his retirement today. His last day will be Friday.

In his letter to Gov. Rick Scott, Farmer said he was stepping down from his post to help care for his wife, Peggy, who is battling breast cancer.

Farmer told Scott that the diagnosis came before Christmas and his wife has undergone surgery and radiation treatments. They both decided it was best for Farmer to continue his work as the state’s chief medical professional through the legislative session, which is scheduled to end Friday.

“We are both confident that she will have a complete recovery and cure but it is time for me to retire and support her and our family through this time,” he wrote.

Continue reading "Florida surgeon general resigns, announces wife battling cancer" »

Baker Act bill passes, giving Dade Democrats first legislative win

A proposal to give nurse practitioners the authority to Baker Act mentally ill patients passed the House on Monday, and is headed to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Sponsored by Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, it was a rare legislative victory for the Democratic half of the large Miami-Dade County delegation of lawmakers. It’s the only substantive bill chiefly sponsored by a Miami-Dade Democrat to make the trek to the Governor’s desk so far this session.

The bill, HB 1195, would allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to sign off on detaining and examining a dangerous or suicidal mentally ill patient under the Baker Act.

Continue reading "Baker Act bill passes, giving Dade Democrats first legislative win" »

Surplus lines insurance bill amended, now opt-in

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Senator Garrett Richter, R-Naples, debates a proposal to shrink the size of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by allowing unregulated surplus lines companies to take over policies. Richter said the amendment amounted to a ñstraight jacketî that would discourage private insurers from coming to Florida.   [Scott Keeler, Times]

A proposal to shrink the size of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by allowing unregulated surplus lines companies to take over policies hit a speed bump Monday, with a Senate amendment intended to make the bill more consumer-friendly.

The amendment, filed by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne would change the program from an automatic takeover process to one that consumers have to proactively opt-in to coverage-switch.

The controversial bill comes in a year when property insurance reform has played a minor role despite insurance industry cries that a hurricane would cause the state financial chaos.

Bill sponsor Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said the amendment amounted to a “straight jacket” that would discourage private insurers from coming to Florida.

Continue reading "Surplus lines insurance bill amended, now opt-in" »