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18 posts from January 16, 2013

January 16, 2013

You hear the one about the pro-Scott satanic cult?

It sure sounded funny.

An outfit called The Satanic Temple announced last week that it was gathering at the State Capitol on Jan. 25 to show support for Gov. Rick Scott, a Christian conservative.

The group’s spokesman/overlord, Lucien Greaves, explained that his group liked Scott for signing SB 98 last year, which allows school districts to create policies letting students deliver “inspirational messages” at public events.  Greaves said his members liked the bill because it allowed promotional opportunities for the dark master.

Greaves swore to god (his, of course) that this was no joke.

But upon further review, it turns out that Greaves is pulling another kind of joke on us.

Greaves is listed as the casting director of a feature film called …wait for it…The Satanic Temple.

Continue reading "You hear the one about the pro-Scott satanic cult?" »

Critical report on Florida’s campaign finance system finds a fan in Weatherford

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has made overhauling Florida’s campaign finance system one of his top priorities, so it’s no surprise that he was eager to provide a blurb endorsing a new report on campaign finance by Integrity Florida.

“There’s some thought provoking ideas there,” Weatherford told Naked Politics. “I think what they’ve uncovered is what at least some of us have already known. We already have unlimited campaign money in Florida, it’s just not going to the campaigns.”

Weatherford is referring to the money that goes to Committees of Continuous Existence, known as CCEs. Created in the 1950s, they were designed to be political committees for dues-gathering organizations and corporations. In the last 10 years, however, they have become popular as fund-raising tools for lawmakers, some of whom have used them for personal expenses.

Wednesday’s report by Integrity Florida, an independent ethics watchdog group, calls for the elimination of CCEs (while keeping other political committees) – which Weatherford favors as well.

“Instead of having all these entities that are hard to trace, we should have transparency so you can see where the money is coming in,” Weatherford said.

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Another missed dinner date for Gov. Scott, Gaetz

It happened again. Gov. Rick Scott invited Senate President Don Gaetz to dinner at the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday evening but it didn't happen.

On Dec. 6, Gaetz declined a dinner invite from the Scotts because it would not have met public-meeting notice requirements under Senate rules.

This time, Gaetz's spokeswoman, Katie Betta, said Gaetz's wife Vicki wasn't in town and that First Lady Ann Scott also might not have been available. "We just decided to reschedule," Betta said.

Senate rules require that before Gaetz can meet with the governor -- even if the discussion is purely social -- the public and news media must be given a four-hour advance notice. "At any point if he's going to be meeting with the governor, social or otherwise, he feels he would be required to post a notice with the Secretary (of the Senate)," Betta said.  

-- Steve Bousquet

Finalist for FAMU Marching 100 band director job turns it down

Florida A&M University interim President Larry Robinson says the school will start from scratch in its search for a new Marching 100 band director.

Robinson admitted that North Carolina Central University band director Jorim Reid was in Tallahassee Tuesday and that Robinson had expected to name Reid as the new band director during a morning press conference. The event was delayed, then cancelled, leaving a room full of FAMU students and supporters buzzing.

Reid ultimately turned down the job after he was unable to come to agreement with the university on the structure of the music department and the role of the marching band director, Robinson said this afternoon.

The university also issued a press release saying the search would be reopened and FAMU would consider hiring a search firm.

A search committee had interviewed four fiinalists for the job. One of them, Pompano Beach high school band director Richard Beckford was later taken out of the running because he failed to meet certain qualifications, Robinson said.

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Florida's flawed campaign finance laws come under scrutiny in House committee

Florida’s campaign finance system came under scrutiny Wednesday as the House Committee on Ethics and Elections began its review of the process that has allowed unchecked political committees to operate as candidate slush funds.

Gary Holland of the Division of Elections described the complex framework of rules and regulations that apply to candidates and political committees in Florida that has been morphed and modified as legislators respond to state and national court rulings.

The Committees of Continuing Existence, which were originally designed to be political committees for dues-gathering organizations, have become fundraising machines with the power to raise unlimited contributions and “basically give it to anybody,” Holland said.

Money can be spent on candidate travel, consultants, hotels and meals, gifts and even personal expenses, as long as they are deemed campaign related. It is a system that House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, believes if ripe for reform. He has called for the elimination of CCEs but the House has yet to draft legislation.

Integrity Florida, the independent ethics watchdog group, offered five fixes to the current system, including calling for the elimination of the $500 contribution limits to candidate campaigns in exchange for 24-hour disclosure.

“The reality is that money in politics today is dominated by unlimited donations with inadequate disclosure,’’ Krassner told the House committee. “Our goal should be to transition to a political financing system that maximizes transparency and accountability with candidates themselves becoming directly responsible for their own campaign activities.

Continue reading "Florida's flawed campaign finance laws come under scrutiny in House committee" »

House panel signs off on superintendents’ red-tape reductions

One of the things Gov. Rick Scott heard on his education listening tour was complaints from school personnel about burdensome paperwork. He pledged to study the issue and created a task force of seven superintendents that produced a list of recommendations in November.

Those recommendations are are now contained in the first committee bill of the 2013 session: PCB 13-01 (also known as KTS1). The House’s K-12 Education Subcommittee is sponsoring the bill and approved it during today’s meeting.

The measure repeals dozens of outdated, inactive or unfunded regulations, committee chairwoman Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said. For example, it removes a requirement that public schools submit reports on recycling materials and the state Department of Educaiton would no longer have to post school wellness programs online.

Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, said districts deserve the relief the repealer bill provides.

“It’s important to give the school boards and classrooms and teachers flexibility,” she said. “I look forward to digging into these statutes and finding even more.”

Bill Nelson, Everglades Foundation lament Ken Salazar's departure

Though his boss has yet to visit the Everglades, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was a regular visitor who made restoring the River of Grass one of the Obama administration's top environmental priorities.

Salazar on Wednesday became the latest Cabinet member to step down for the president's second term. The Everglades Foundation, an influential advocacy group based in Palmetto Bay, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, praised the former Colorado senator's role in reviving Everglades restoration.

Salazar, who visited Florida at least 10 times during his four-year term, championed efforts to ban the import of Burmese python and create a new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Area north of Lake Okeechobee. Federal spending on the Everglades ramped up dramatically during the Obama administration, with $1.5 billion directed toward restoration programs. He supported adding more bridging along Tamiami Trail. Interior, working with the Environmental Protection Agency, also negotiated a landmark expansion of Florida's pollution clean-up efforts.

Eric Eikenberg, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation, said Salazar's departure in March meant "the loss one of the nation’s true friends of America’s Everglades.”

Nelson said the Interior secretary, a rancher who typically showed up in cowboy boots and hat, would be missed.

“Ken Salazar is my personal friend, and he’s much more,'' Nelson said in a statement. "He’s been a good friend to Florida and will always be a friend of the Everglades.''


Repeat performance: Scalping bill returns for 2013 session

A proposal supported by online ticket seller StubHub that would make it easier to re-sell event tickets online stalled out during the legislative process when the state's performing arts and sports venues mounted an opposition campaign.

Now the so-called scalping bill  is back for the 2013 session with a new sponsor and a much more streamlined message. The 2012 legislation was backed by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the South Florida lawmaker who lost her re-election bid this fall, and Rep. Matt Gaetz. Both bills died in committee.

The new version, HB 163, is sponsored by Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto. The bill would restrict any laws or regulations that prevent a person from reselling or transferring an event ticket. Proponents are hoping to shape the argument as one about personal property rights.

"This is a simple, fan-friendly bill says Jon Potter, president of Fan Freedom, a national fan advocate organization funded and supported by StubHub. "You bought it, you own it. If your plans change and you can't make it to a concert or a game, you have the right to give away your ticket or resell it on the secondary market.

However, venue operators say the idea would make it easier for online third-party vendors to control the event sales market could lead to steeper prices and quicker sellouts. We expect to hear from venues like the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa and Miami's Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and even sports teams as they catch win that the scalping bill has returned.

Chamber releases long list of legislative proposals

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has put out its legislative agenda for 2013.

The Chamber, which holds considerable sway in the Capitol, said that it predicts 170,000 new jobs in Florida this year, and claims its proposals will make Florida

“The very best way to secure Florida’s future is to grow Florida one company at a time,” said Mark Wilson, president of the Chamber.

The agenda, which can be found here, outlines business-friendly strategies on a range of issues that includes education, gambling, taxes, legal reform, healthcare, property insurance, workers’ compensation, medical malpractice, universities and more.

The group has had considerable sway in passing laws over the last two years, championing major legislation on business taxes, auto insurance, economic incentives and more. The impact on the economy has been mixed. Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped rapidly, but job creation remains slower than most states and lower than the national average. Wages are also down, as the jobs that have been created pay lower wages than the ones that were eliminated.

The organization stopped short on weighing in on the federal healthcare law, saying that the state needed to take its time to make the right decision on what to do.

See the Chamber’s press release below:

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State employee health insurance costs, enrollment expected to surge under Affordable Care Act

In addition to wrangling with questions on whether to expanding Medicaid and create an exchange under the Affordable Care Act, Florida also is grappling with how the law will impact its own employee health plan.

There are between 160,000 and 170,000 employees in the state government, and Florida must abide by the components of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that relate to large employers. The price tag could be as much as $410 million in 2014-2015, the first full year that many of the more costly provisions of the law are in effect.

The House Select Committee on PPACA received a report on the estimated impact of the Affordable Care Act on state employee insurance plans during today's meeting.

The biggest decision for Florida: whether to change state law so that OPS (other personal service) employees are eligible for health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, the state will either have to offer insurance to all of these contract workers who work at least 30 hours a week or pay a hefty fine.

In 2014-2015, it would cost Florida $44.3 million to provide insurance to OPS workers. But if the state refuses to do so, it would face a $318 million penalty. The state estimates that there are roughly 7,000 OPS employees, mostly workers at state universities.

Continue reading "State employee health insurance costs, enrollment expected to surge under Affordable Care Act" »