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8 posts from March 26, 2013

March 26, 2013

Norman Braman on Miami Dolphins' latest stadium offer: "It's playing with the numbers"

UPDATED at 9:01 p.m. with more information on Dolphins' critique of Norman Braman and government subsidies.

Norman Braman has reviewed the Miami Dolphins' latest offer, and he argues the concessions aren't worth as much as they seem. The culprit: inflation.
This week, a Dolphins proposal surfaced in which the team offers two new payments to Miami-Dade in exchange for using hotel taxes to help fund a nearly $400 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium. Both involve payments to Miami-Dade 30 years after the renovation starts.
For the first payout, the Dolphins will pay back Miami-Dade $120 million, the county's proposed share of the initial renovation costs. For the second, the Dolphins would pay penalties if promised sporting events didn't come to an upgraded Sun Life -- including $15 million per Super Bowl if the stadium falls short of a four-Super Bowl quota within 30 years.

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Trooper fired after I-10 traffic stop involving state lawmaker

A state trooper who said he was "trying to be nice" stopped a state legislator for speeding. But instead of writing Rep. Charles McBurney a $250 speeding ticket, the trooper offered him a much less expensive alternative: a $10 fine for not having proof of insurance.

McBurney said he was not speeding and that he did have proof of insurance, which Trooper Charles Swindle didnt request. Outraged by the trooper's conduct, the lawmaker promptly complained to Col. David Brierton, the head of the Florida Highway Patrol, and last week the FHP fired Swindle for violating department rules.

Swindle is appealing the firing, claiming the patrol has a long-running "quid pro quo" policy of not issuing traffic tickets to legislators. Swindle's lawyer, Sidney Matthew of Tallahassee, argues in a legal challenge of the trooper's firing that before offering McBurney the cheaper option of a $10 fine, he notified his superior, Sgt. Gary Dawson, who OK'd the action.

"This stinks," Matthew said. "FHP can't have it both ways, with a policy of discretion to cut breaks to legislators who are speeding and then turn around and fire them."

"That's horse hockey," said Julie Jones, executive director of the patrol's parent agency, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. "There is no policy that says we give anybody a free pass because they're elected officials." The agency is compiling records to show that nearly a dozen state lawmakers have been cited for speeding or other moving violations in recent months.

The McBurney incident happened on the morning of last Nov. 19 as he and his wife Deborah were driving from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for the one-day organizational session of the Legislature. McBurney, a former assistant state attorney, was driving a black Toyota with a distinctive state legislator specialty license plate when he was pulled over in Madison.

"I didn’t think that what he did was proper," McBurney said. "I didn’t think that was the way he should have acted towards me, or anyone else for that matter. I felt obligated to write the letter. My concern was, if he did that to me, he would do that to anybody."

-- Steve Bousquet

 

Business group urges Floridians to say 'No thanks' to Medicaid expansion

While some of the state's top business groups have warmed up to the idea of accepting federal money and expanding Florida's Medicaid program, The National Federation of Independent Business is saying "No Thanks."

In a new ad, the group said it worries that the federal government will not follow through with its promise to pay for most of the cost of providing healthcare coverage for more lower-income residents. That would lead to budget problems in Florida--including cuts to education spending, the group says in its ad. Supporters of Medicaid expansion counter that it will create jobs, improve health outcomes and save the state money.

Gov. Rick Scott is supporting an expanstion of the Medicaid rolls, while the Florida Legislature has rejected the idea. Lawmakers are hoping to work on a compromise.

 

Prison officials offer tour of shuttered inmate re-entry center

 

Top state prison officials hosted a guided media tour Tuesday of a vivid symbol of the agency's long-festering budget problems: a shiny new $17 million medium security inmate re-entry center that's finished but sits idle. The reason: Go. Rick Scott's Department of Corrections doesn't have enough money to operate the center.

The 432-bed Gadsden Re-Entry Center sits on the campus of the Florida Public Safety Institute in Havana, about 15 miles northwest of Tallahassee. With its three dormitories, chapel, classrooms and computer lab, it is designed to ease inmates through the difficult transition from long-term incarceration to civilized society by teaching them vocational and life skills, such as obtaining a high-school equivalency or learning how to balance a checkbook.

Helping inmates re-enter society is a priority of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews, who acted as tour guide. "We can stick our heads in the sand," Crews said, "or we can do what we can to ensure that they succeed when they get out."

Gov. Scott's proposed $74 million budget includes $5.4 million to open the center on July 1. The proposed Senate budget has enough money to open it next January, Crews said, and he's waiting to see what the House proposes in its budget, to be released in the coming days.

Crews emphasized that a re-entry center is not a work release center. Inmates sent to Gadsden will not be leaving the grounds for outside employment. "That is not going to happen," Crews said. "This is about skills, jobs, education. Their time will be spent inside the fence."

-- Steve Bousquet

Jesus stomping incident at FAU draws Rick Scott rebuke

UPDATE: A spokeswoman says the State University System has been paying close attention to the events at Florida Atlantic University but isn't ready to address the governor's letter.

"The State University System prides itself not only on its commitment to academic freedom, but at the same time, its awesome responsibility to the people it serves," wrote spokeswoman Kim Wilmath. "We are gratified to know that FAU has apologized for any offense the exercise has caused and has pledged never to use this exercise again. Clearly, there were things the university could have done differently by its own acknowledgement."

ORIGINAL POST: Florida Atlantic University has apologized for a controversial classroom lesson that led critics to accuse the school of religious intolerance. But that didn't stop Gov. Rick Scott for stepping into the fray today.

Scott penned a letter to State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan demanding an investigation. "I am requesting a report of the incident, how it was handled and a statement of the university's policies to ensure this type of 'lesson' will not occur again," Scott wrote.

Earlier this month, a FAU instructor told students in an intercultural communications class to write the word "Jesus" on a piece of paper, throw it on the floor and stomp on it. A student later complained he was thrown out of class when he refused to participate.

The university initially defended the assignment, saying it was supposed to make students uncomfortable as they dealt with the power of words. Students were expected to hesitate and the lesson was intended to expose the emotional connection to cultural symbols, according to the Sun-Sentinel's overview of the lesson plan written by a professor in Wisconsin.

The incident became fodder on blogs and among conservatives who questioned whether such liberties would have been taken with other religions.

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Political winds shift, nationwide and in Florida, on same-sex marriage

By Adam C. Smith

Opponents of same-sex marriage will march en masse outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as justices hear arguments on two cases.

Even if traditional marriage activists win the court battles, though, it looks more and more like they have already lost the war.

Public opinion in America has undergone such a rapid sea change that opponents of same-sex marriage increasingly look like they soon will hold the fringe position. A growing chorus of conservatives argue that what only a few years ago was a fundamental plank of the GOP platform — opposing gay marriage — has now became a major liability.

“In 10 years or so, no one is going to be talking about this,’’ conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin predicted recently on a panel of Republicans supporting same-sex marriage.

“I would suggest the debate has already taken place in America. We cannot be at war with America on issues of fairness, on issues of equality.”

Look no further than Florida to see how remarkably the political landscape has shifted.

Barely four years ago, nearly 62 percent of Florida voters approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. Last week, a poll released by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found just 23 percent of Florida voters oppose legal recognition of both gay marriages and civil unions, and 75 percent support either gay marriage or civil unions. Among Republicans, 53 percent support civil unions, and 21 percent support legal same-sex marriage.

More here.

Lawmakers grapple with future of special-needs students

For an afternoon, Mariah Harris wasn’t just the girl with Down syndrome. She was the star of the Senate Education Committee meeting.

“I need a real high school diploma,” the sixth-grader told the panel last week, her sequined headband glittering in the artificial light. “My dream is to go to college with my friends one day. I want to buy a condo and live on a golf course.”

Mariah and her mother traveled 452 miles from Broward County to champion a bill that they say would let the parents of special-needs students play a larger role in their child’s education. For Mariah, the proposed legislation could mean the difference between a special diploma and a standard diploma, her mother said.

The bill has spurred some of the most emotional moments of this year’s legislative session. But it has also met resistance from some advocacy groups, who say teachers and schools personnel — not parents — should have the final word in determining a child’s educational goals.

A provision that would allow parents to contract with private therapists during school hours is also drawing ire; some observers see it as an attempt to further the school-privatization agenda.

“This usurps the power of the schools at the most basic level,” said Kathleen Oropeza, of the Orlando-based parent group, Fund Education Now. “Can you imagine a class of 15 [special-education] kids with 15 hired consultants in the classroom?”

Read the rest of the story here.

Foundation for Florida's Future tries to rally support for parent trigger

Is the contentious parent-trigger proposal in trouble?

Patricia Levesque, the executive director of former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, held a press conference Tuesday morning to "debunk myths" associated with the proposal.

She was accompanied by Pat DeTemple, a senior strategist for Parent Revolution, the group that helped create the law in California. Nikki Lowery, of former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's organization, StudentsFirst, joined via telephone.

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