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14 posts from February 13, 2013

February 13, 2013

'Parent trigger' is back for round two

Narrowly defeated in the Senate last year, charter school management organizations and conservatives are ready to push so-called “parent trigger” legislation once again.

Part of the reason advocates are taking another stab at what they prefer to call the “parent empowerment” law is because last year’s tie vote that killed the bill was partially blamed on in-fighting among Republican senators. However, there has since been turnover in both chambers with Democrats gaining seats. That makes “parent trigger” an even tougher battle this session.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, filed SB 862 today. It is similar to the final version of last year's failed SB 1718. The proposal would allow parents at failing schools to choose a turnaround strategy for the school by signing a petition. One option, of course, is to convert the school into a charter school.

SB 862 allows local school boards to choose the option it thinks is best for students even if they disagree with what parents indicated. However, the state Board of Education can override that and side with parents. Stargel said she agreed to sponsored the legislation in the Senate (a House version is expected soon) because as a parent of five chilren she believes in its mission.

Noting how similar the bill is to last year's version, she said she doesn't plan any major changes in strategy for getting it passed. "Some of it was on the policy, a lot of it was based on politics," Stargel said about last year's failed effort.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education or state-based Foundation for Florida's Future along with charter school management organizations are expected to be major proponent of the bill.

Continue reading "'Parent trigger' is back for round two" »

Collins Institute report: Local governments making progress on pension problems

The Collins Institute (not affiliated with the now-closing Collins Center) and Florida TaxWatch have released another report on the status of local government pension problems. See below for their answer on the source of their funding.
From their press release:
Some Florida cities are taking meaningful steps towards reducing their pension liabilities, according to a Report released today by Florida TaxWatch, the statewide, independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institution and government watchdog headquartered in Tallahassee, and the LeRoy Collins Institute, housed at Florida State University. 

Looking at Florida's Municipal Pensions: How some Florida cities are dealing with pension funding issues highlights the steps being taken by cities like Lakeland, Miami, and Jacksonville, among others, to reduce the burden on local taxpayers as a result of promised pension benefits to municipal employees. 

"A number of Florida cities are faced with significant, almost crippling liabilities in their municipal pensions that bring into question the long-term sustainability of these pension systems," said Dominic M. Calabro, President & CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "This Research Report shows that while some have chosen to kick the can down the road, there are some cities stepping up and making the hard, yet necessary choices on behalf of taxpayers. Some of these solutions show that it is not just a funding problem, it is a systemic problem."

Continue reading "Collins Institute report: Local governments making progress on pension problems" »

Voting changes win bipartisan support in House panel

Democrats joined with Republicans Wednesday in a bipartisan vote in support of four changes to Florida's voting laws prompted by the chaos and long lines last fall. The House Ethics & Elections Subcommittee passed the bill on a 12-0 vote.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, the sponsor, called the bill a "collaborative effort to address the difficult experiences by many voters in the 2012 election."

The changes, broadly supported by voters, election supervisors, Gov. Rick Scott and the state elections division, would undo two of the most controversial changes in a Republican-backed rewrite of the election laws two years ago. The bill would require early voting on a minimum of eight days and a maximum of 14 days with optional early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. It also would expand early voting locations to include county courthouses, fairgrounds, convention centers and civic centers.

Under the bill, a county could offer as little as 48 hours of early voting (six hours for eight days) but no Democrat on the panel raised an objection to the provision. The maximum early voting hours would increase from the current 96 to 168 hours, or 12 hours a day over a 14-day period.

The bill (PCB EES 13-01) also would limit ballot summaries to 75 words for constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, the ranking minority member on the panel, said more work is needed to prevent voters from being disenfranchised. "There's a firm realization that Florida needs more voting days. We need more polling locations and they need to be properly staffed and properly equipped," Cruz said. "I really hope we can work toward a better solution."

Among those voting for the bill was Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, sponsor of the 2011 changes that triggered a flurry of lawsuits and Democratic complaints of voter suppression that are now viewed with disfavor even by Republicans. "I don't think any of us would want to inhibit a person from being able to participate," Baxley said. 

In a deal cut between the two parties to promote a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, Democrats withdrew nine amendments, including allowing early voting at community colleges, making Election Day a paid holiday and requiring early voting on the Sunday before Election Day. The amendment sponsors, Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation and Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said they would propose them later when the bill gets to the House floor during the regular spring session.

-- Steve Bousquet


Politics, Poland Spring and Sen. Marco Rubio - reactions to speech from around the Web

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
Here's a roundup of stories-reactions to Sen. Marco Rubio's speech - from the serious to the not so serious (yes, the water bottle sip became a story)

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a forceful argument for the Republican agenda for the middle class Tuesday night, contrasting his party’s vision for economic prosperity with President Barack Obama’s call for a more robust federal government.
In his bilingual response to the State of the Union address, infused with personal anecdotes as a child of immigrants, Rubio depicted the GOP as the party who would best advocate for a free-enterprise economy, generate economic growth and ultimately lift the middle class.
“Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity,” Rubio said in his response, at times delivered cautiously and interrupted once for a drink of water. “But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”
While Obama touted his view of a “smarter government” to work on behalf of the middle class, Rubio repeatedly drove the message that the president wanted to expand the presence of the federal government in people’s lives — much to the nation’s detriment, the senator argued.
Read more

From the Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address included an impromptu water break to quench his thirst.
Rubio appeared to wipe away sweat during his rebuttal from the Speaker's conference room in the U.S. Capitol shortly after Obama's address. At one point, Rubio reached out with his left hand and took a quick swig of water from a small Poland Spring water bottle.
The brief sip of water lit up social media outlets such as Twitter, with people commenting on Rubio's thirst.
Garrett Jackson, Mitt Romney's personal aide during his 2012 presidential bid, tweeted that he "would have had that water bottle closer, had it been the Gov. Haha. Marco needs an aide."
Rubio tweeted a photo of the water bottle.

From McClatchy Newspapers DC Bureau
WASHINGTON - In English and Spanish, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday night delivered a scathing rebuke of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, signaling a Republican battle for middle-class voters that could help re-energize his party and also propel a potential 2016 White House run.
The Florida senator delivered his party’s official rebuttal to Obama’s speech, but he wasn’t the only Republican responding Tuesday night. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another potential Republican presidential contender, responded to Obama’s talk on behalf of the tea party.
Read more here

The Washington Post
Republicans chose Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a fresh new face of the party, to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
But if the messenger was new, the message Rubio offered was back-to-basics, a re-commitment of the party to traditional conservative notions of economic growth.
He argued low taxes, limited regulations and smaller government would free the economy from the shackles of big government he contended Obama offered in his own address.
But the Florida senator offered a new laser focus on how such ideas could boost the middle class and improve the lives of individual people, part of a new Republican effort to more clearly connect their visions with the everyday problems of ordinary Americans.

New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal
In his speech, Mr. Rubio followed the Republican rebranding strategy by rephrasing the party’s grand old policies without offering any new ideas. He did a pretty good job sounding like he learned the lessons of 2012.
Mr. Rubio declared that he was particularly concerned about seniors who depend on Medicare, like his mother, and that “anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it.”
Funny Mr. Rubio should say that, because on Tuesday night, Mr. Obama argued that we can’t leave Medicare as is: “Those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms.”

New York Time Political Reporter Jeff Zeleny
The Republican response by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is now competing with chatter about his awkward sip of water during the middle of his speech, but his pointed message about which party treats the middle class better could be the ultimate takeaway.
“The idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers – that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried,” said Mr. Rubio, who made at least 16 references to the middle class during his remarks.
Mr. Rubio kept a sharp focus on President Obama. It was one of many signs throughout the evening that Republicans are still intently fixated on criticizing the president above anything else. He used the speech – one of his biggest steps yet on the national stage – to introduce himself and his own upbringing.

From National Public Radio
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio drew on his own humble beginnings and the continuing struggles of his West Miami neighbors — many of them immigrants like his Cuban-born parents — in the Republican response Tuesday to President Obama's State of the Union address.
In a speech delivered from the Speaker's Conference Room in the U.S. Capitol, Rubio strove mightily, and somewhat nervously, to transform the perception — cemented during last year's presidential race — that his party's embrace excludes those who aren't rich and white to one that has middle-class interests at heart.

Best of Twitter

Rubio: I don't always drink water, but when I do, it's only during my State of the Union rebuttal. Stay thirsty my friends #watergate

And if you missed the Water-gate moment, click here