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15 posts from March 7, 2013

March 07, 2013

Weatherford: Embrace most of Senate ethics bill and lower campaign caps

House Speaker Will Weatherford said Thursday the House Ethics and Elections Committee next week will take up a bill that embraces most of the Senate's ethics bill and another that will "dramatically" reduce the the $10,000 cap on campaign contributions.

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he could not support the House cap on campaign contributions and Weatherford said a new version, which is being drafted now, "will have that number come down dramatically."

In its place will be a tiered cap, Weatherford told the Herald/Times. A similar bill (SB 1382) has been proposed by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, that would raise contributions from $500 to $3,000 for statewide offices such as governor, Cabinet and Supreme Court merit retention races but leave the cap at $500 for legislative and countywide races. The Senate bill is scheduled for a hearing on Monday.

But, Weatherford said, the House proposed caps will be higher. Latvala's proposed levels "are better but still too low,'' he said. "If we have the $500 cap, we can all pat ourselves on the back and say that's great we're having cap but there's no cap on (Scott's political committee) 'Let's Get to Work,''' or on other electioneering and communications organizations that are regulated under federal law.

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Gov. Rick Scott's claim about $36m to ease disabled waiting list

In 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott gave his State of the State address to a tea party rally in Eustis. He called for spending and tax cuts and bashed Washington, D.C.

Flash-forward two years later, and Scott’s State of the State called for helping the poor by expanding Medicaid, boosting teacher pay and increasing funds to help people with disabilities.

"For the first time in eight years, our budget also increases funding for persons with disabilities by $36 million to help more disabled people receive community-based services, and $2.5 million for job training."

An image of a softer, kinder governor? Yep. But were his words accurate?

PolitiFact decided to research if Scott has proposed more money to help more people with disabilities receive services, and if that occurred for the first time in eight years. (Scott’s tenure started in 2011.)

Scott picks 'conservative' Forst for 4th DCA post

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday appointed Treasure Coast attorney Alan Orantes Forst to a vacancy on the 4th District Court of Appeal.

Forst had angered some judicial watchdogs for touting "conservative credentials" on his application. He replaces Fred Hazouri, who retired from the court that handles appellate cases in Broward and Palm Beach counties and the Treasure Coast.

Scott selected Forst over four judges with extensive trial court experience. Four of the six finalists were seasoned judges (Peter Blanc, Glenn Kelly, Janis Brustares Keyser and Krista Marx).

Forst is an attorney and chairman of a state agency, the Florida Reemployment Assistance Appeals Commission. The Palm City resident included in his application a section he labeled "Conservative Credentials," and name-dropped Clarence Thomas, Bob Dole and Jeb Bush.

Forst noted that he was a college Republican and Ford-Dole volunteer and worked for a pro-Ronald Reagan political action committee. He worked in President Reagan's Justice Department, where his duties included being a liaison between the agency and Clarence Thomas, who then was chairman at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

-- Steve Bousquet 

Bill to cap sugar clean-up of Everglades gets swift approval by House committee

A bill that would shift some of the cost of cleaning up the Everglades from sugar and agricultural interests to Florida taxpayers and South Florida property owners is on the fast track in the Florida House.

The measure, which phases out the tax on the agricultural industry to pay for pollution cleanup, received unanimous bi-partisan approval in the House State Affairs Commitee Thursday, just two days after it was introduced.

Supporters say the legislation (PCB 13-01) is needed to codify the Everglades cleanup settlement between Gov. Rick Scott and the federal government, in which the state agreed to spend $880 million to follow through on cleaning up the state's famed River of Grass.

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New law targeting international drivers on road to repeal

Not much attention was paid to this piece of legislation last year, and it became a classic case of a seemingly benign change of law have unintended consequences that started a firestorm. Now, SB 7022 would repeal the law approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott (2012's HB 1223) that required residents of foreign countries to hold international driver permits when operating motor vehicles in Florida.

From the News Service of Florida:

Oh, Canada, come on down. And feel free to drive.

State lawmakers are speeding toward repealing a new law that says international visitors need special permits to drive in Florida. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, has caused a brouhaha, particularly for Canadian snowbirds who pile into the Sunshine State each winter to take a break from the cold.

"We want to make sure we send a clear message that our state is open for business,'' said Rep. Daniel Davis, a Jacksonville Republican who is shepherding a repeal bill through the House.

Committees in the House and Senate unanimously approved repeal measures Thursday and pointed to an old Tallahassee bugaboo for the problem --- legislation that creates "unintended consequences."

The law called for foreign visitors to get what are known as international diving permits before leaving their home countries. Those permits would be in addition to regular driver's licenses and, so the thinking went, would help Florida law-enforcement officers sort out traffic incidents involving international visitors, especially those who don't speak English.

But the change created confusion and bad public relations for the tourism-dependent state. Rep. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican, said his Pinellas County district gets a huge influx of Canadian visitors in the winter.

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Should Broward help pay for Dolphins stadium upgrade? Dade lawmaker thinks so

After adding an amendment to require Miami-Dade voters to approve a new local hotel tax to help pay for a $400 million upgrade of the Miami Dolphins stadium, skeptical lawmakers may be planning more changes for the controversial proposal. 

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, implied that the bill should include a contribution from Broward County taxpayers as well, since much of the economic benefit from the Miami Gardens stadium takes place north of the Dade County line.

“One concern that I have is Dade County is paying 100 percent of the tax,” said Trujillo. “We receive, best case scenario…38 percent of the tourists. The majority stay in Broward and Broward doesn’t have to pay anything.”

Trujillo sits on the Finance and Tax Committee, where the bill will be heard on Friday—along with four lawmakers from Broward County. A Senate version of the bill passed its second of four committee stops on Wednesday, with a unanimous vote.

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Health care workers criticize Weatherford stance on Medicaid expansion

Photo (6)Using characters from the "Wizard of Oz" to drive their point, health care workers rallied at the Capitol today in support of Medicaid expansion. Alongside men dressed in costumes to portray the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man, speakers encouraged Republican lawmakers to "have a heart," "have courage" and "use your brain" when considering Medicaid expansion.

The harshest words at the rally were saved for House Speaker Will Weatherford, who opposes Medicaid even after the revelation that his own family once utilized the program to pay medical bills.

"It's really about fairness and equity. Let's ensure that people in this state who make $26,000 or less will have the same health care that the speaker's family had," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, to cheers from the crowd that topped 300. The rally was sponsored by the South Florida chapter of union SEIU.

"Let's not be a hypocrite," said executive vice president Monica Russo later. "Your family needed health care at a very critical and difficult moment in the life of their family. And hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt could have been the answer, but Medicaid covered their expenses. We're not askng for anything more than what the Weatherford family had access to."

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Hot-button ‘parent trigger’ bill gets first nod from House subcommittee

A bill that empowers parents.

A bill that hands public schools over to private interests.

A red herring.

No matter what you think of the so-called parent trigger proposal, one thing was made clear Thursday: the bill will be among the most contentious of the legislative session.

The proposal, which would allow parents to petition for dramatic changes at failing public schools — including having a charter school take over — won the approval of a House education subcommittee by an 8-5 vote along party lines.

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Miami-Dade Republican blasts anti-'living' wage efforts in Tallahassee, questions Van Zant's 'theology' ties to communist Cuba


Natacha Seijas, the former Miami-Dade commissioner who championed ordinances creating a local "living wage" and preventing wage theft, took Florida lawmakers to task Thursday for considering legislation that would force counties to repeal those laws and ban them from enacting them in the future.

Seijas, a Republican, leveled particularly pointed attacks at Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, who has filed a bill, HB 181, that would prohibit local governments from imposing minimum-wage or health-benefit requirements on contractors hired for public works projects.

"Rep. Van Zant from Palatka doesn't think we need any local wage ordinances. Well, God bless Rep. Van Zant," Seijas said, pointing to Van Zant's legislative biography, which says he earned a doctorate in theology from the Western Baptist Theological Seminary in Havana from 1999 to 2001. "He probably thinks everybody in Miami-Dade County should live in poverty just like all those people he saw in communist Cuba."

She was joined in a news conference on the steps of downtown Miami's historic civil courthouse by former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, a Democrat, and union workers. Martinez also mentioned Van Zant.

"I don't know how many of you have been to Palatka -- I've been to Palatka," Martinez said. "Palatka happens to be one of the poorest cities in the state of Florida."

Miami-Dade, whose home-rule charter give it special powers from the state, has three policies that would be preempted by several Tallahassee bills pushed by lawmakers calling for statewide uniformity on wage-related issues. Similar laws exist in Broward and Palm Beach, and in cities such as Miami Beach, Orlando and Gainesville.

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Brandes gets bill passed for tougher pension accountability

He had to scramble to do it, but Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, got his bill for more pension scrutiny passed in a senate committee.

The Senate’s Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee approved SB 534 by a 7-2 vote Thursday. It requires the state’s 492 publicly funded defined benefit pension plans to report a different type of information to the Florida Department of Management Services then they do now.

Sounds harmless enough, but it’s actually one of the more hotly contested pension bills this year in a year that’s filled with them.

Brandes said his bill is only adding another set of eyes to Florida’s pensions, about 300 of which are below an 80 percent level of funding that is generally considered healthy. Brandes said this new reporting method would use more conservative rates of return, more in line with those used in private companies, of about 4 percent.

Many pension plans use rates of return of more than 8 percent, and Florida’s $136 billion pension plan uses a return of 7.75 percent.

Brandes said his proposed bill is a better model than what’s currently used and would more accurately portray the solvency of plans.

But opponents to the measure, which include groups like the Florida Professional Firefighters and the Fraternal Order of Police, say the method would provide bad information that would only exaggerate the instability of the funds.

“We want disclosure, but we want it to be accurate,” said Robert Suarez, vice president of FPF and a fire lieutenant with the Miami Fire Rescue Department. “There’s a difference between reporting facts and deceiving.”

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