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19 posts from March 27, 2013

March 27, 2013

Gun-toting teachers? House education panel says 'yes'

A controversial bill that would allow schools employees to carry weapons on campus won the support of the House K12 Education Subcommittee on Wednesday.

If the proposal were to become law, principals and superintendents could designate school employees to carry concealed weapons. The employees would have to undergo extensive training, said Rep. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican sponsoring the bill.

Steube amended the proposal slightly before Wednesday's meeting; it now requires the firearm to remain on the employee throughout the school day. Steube also expanded the proposal so that it applies to both public and private schools.

"I’ve been getting feedback from principals all over the state about how strongly they support an initiative like this," Steube said.

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House OKs raises for teachers, remains silent on specifics

House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Erik Fresen rolled out his $20.2 billion proposal for education spending on Wednesday, and won the support of Democrats and Republicans on the panel.

But some observers raised objections.

Supporters of the Florida Virtual School, for example, took issue with a proposed tweak to the way Florida calculates per-student funding. They argued the new model would cost the state's online school about $35 million in public money.

Lady Dhyana Ziegler, who sits on the FLVS Board of Trustees, called the proposal “a direct and scathing attack on Florida Virtual School funding and course offerings.”

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Dolphins: We'll pay back more of stadium tax dollars

With the clock winding down on the Miami Dolphins’ quest for a taxpayer-supported stadium overhaul, the team called an audible Wednesday, announcing new concessions aimed at boosting support for the deal.

At back-to-back a press conferences in Tallahassee and Miami Gardens, the team announced it would be willing to repay much of the taxpayer financing it is seeking after 30 years, including nearly $50 million in state tax rebates.

It’s the most recent of several concessions made by the Dolphins, who are seeking taxpayer help despite the political uproar over publicly-financed stadiums in South Florida. (A widely criticized deal for a new Miami Marlins sparked the recall of former county mayor Carlos Alvarez).

“I hope the opposition sees how willing we are to work to make [the deal] better,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican sponsoring the effort. “And I hope a lot of the people who are opposed will be willing to come on board and help us with this great project for Miami-Dade County.”

Among the concessions: The Dolphins have agreed to keep the team in South Florida for three decades, snag at least one Super Bowl by 2017, allow Miami-Dade voters to decide on whether to raise hotel taxes and, possibly, cover the cost of that referendum vote. The team also offered to pay back much of the funding from hotel taxes and also pay penalties if the new stadium did not attract a certain number of high-profile sports events over the next 30 years.

According to a release from the Dolphins, the team would pay back a total of $167 million, including $120 million to the locals and $47 million to the state.

The Dolphins are hoping Miami-Dade County will raise the mainland hotel tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, to provide funding for a stadium renovation that could cost about $390 million. The team is also requesting up to $90 million in sales tax rebates from the state of Florida.

Juggling negotiations with Miami-Dade County and the state Legislature, the Dolphins are also up against a tight timeline. The team is hoping to get a referendum on the ballot in May. Owners from the National Football League are scheduled to meet May 22 to choose a site for Super Bowl 50, to be held in 2016.

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Senate refuses to pay for transparency contract, threatened with lawsuit

The lawyer for the company that entered into a $5 million contract with the Florida Senate to build a transparency web site has threatened to sue for breach of contract because Senate President Don Gaetz refuses to pay the remaining $500,000.

Kenneth Oertel, lawyer for the owners of Spider Data Services which signed the contract under the previous Senate president Mike Haridopolos, wrote in an email Tuesday that he has been authorized by his client to file suit and included a draft of the lawsuit.  Download Complaint - DRAFT

"Frankly, I do not see any point to the Senate’s refusal to pay,'' he wrote in an email to George Levesque, the Senate's general counsel. "If I have to file the suit, there is no realistic defense available to the Senate.  All that will happen is that the suit will be a media item and a lot of time will be spent pointing fingers.  This will not appear to be a flattering event for the Senate, and, at best, will create an embarrassing distraction.  I will be available if you wish to discuss this further to find a resolution.  If not, please understand this will be filed very soon."

His email came after Senate general counsel George Levesque told him that the Senate has no intention of paying what remains owed on the contract, which was signed by former Senate chief of staff Steve MacNamara under Haridopolos. MacNamara left Haridopolos' office to work for Gov. Rick Scott and arranged to have management of the transparency program transferred to the governor's office, which was given $2.5 million to pay for it.

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Bi-partisan love for gay marriage in Broward?

Updated with a response from Truex at the end:

Broward Democratic Party chairman Mitch Ceasar has sent a letter to his Republican counterpart Tom Truex to ask him to join in supporting same-sex marriage. 

Ceasar noted the recent polls that have showed increased support for gay marriage and the support by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Please join me in this civil rights/human rights cause," Ceasar wrote.  "RNC chairman Reince Priebus stated that Republicans need to be more inclusive. I agree with your national chairman."

The Broward Republican Executive Committee elected Truex, a social conservative, as their leader earlier this month. But it may not have been his stances against gay marriage and abortion that won him votes from fellow activists -- Truex gave a more passionate speech than his opponents and has more political experience as a former mayor of Davie. Truex also came across as a straight-shooter nothing-to-hide guy: he disagreed with a past policy to close the election to the press.

"The perception of the Republican Party isn’t that great,” he said on the night of the internal party election. “The way to improve the reputation of the Broward Republican Executive Committee isn’t to hide silly things we do, but to stop doing so many silly things.”

Truex was elected at a time when there is growing public support for gay marriage -- including from some Republican politicians nationwide. Truex has talked about the need to grow the Broward GOP -- the question is if it can attract new members including young voters in the state's most liberal county without re-examining gay marriage.

Truex told the Miami Herald before his election that he believes there is room for Republican candidates to disagree but he supports the national party platform which does not support gay marriage.

On Wednesday Truex said "The institution of marriage is something that was not created by polls. It's lasted for thousands of years without polls so I think it would probably be prudent not to attempt to change that institution based on what the polls are this year."

Truex also said that the definition of marriage in Florida "ought to be decided in Florida not by residents of some other state."







Senate and House have dueling plans for housing money

Looks like House Republicans are alone in completely stripping a trust fund set aside for helping homeowners hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.

But Gov. Rick Scott and Senate Republicans have different plans.

So it will have money for pet projects, the House plans to rake the entire $200 million Sadowski Fund, of which about 70 percent is used to pay for rehabilitation and renovation of existing homes and down payment and closing cost assistance for those who qualify. In its place, Republicans will spend $200 million from a mortgage settlement with major banks on a variety of affordable housing concerns.

Housing advocates say the needs of those homeowners who need assistance has never been higher, and have called the House plan a “shell-game” that does little to help.

By comparison, Scott leaves about $50 million in his budget for current homeowners who need assistance so they can avoid foreclosure. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans announced they will leave $70 million for current homeowners with a special aim at helping disabled homeowners. By contrast, the House had a special aim to help those in desired professions, such as teaching.


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Bill Nelson has 'no intention' of running for gov, stays mum on Crist

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said he is not planning to run against Gov. Rick Scott in the 2014 governor's race but stopped short of completely ruling it out.

"I'm not planning to run for governor," he said Wednesday in Tallahassee. "I have no intention of running for governor. I've got plenty to do as serving as the senator of this state, and that's why I'm here today, in my role as senator."

Will you say that you won't run for governor? a reporter asked. "I said what I said," Nelson replied

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IG Report: Many said 'Yes' to ill-fated Digital Domain tax grant

Senate President Don Gaetz has grown fond of saying, about the legislative process, “It takes three ‘Yeses’ to get to ‘Yes’ and only one ‘No’ to get to ‘No’.”

When it comes to the ill-fated $20 million grant to a now-bankrupt Port St. Lucie film studio, several legislative power players said ‘Yes’ to a deal that later cost taxpayers dearly.

The long list of abettors, unveiled in a recently released Chief Inspector General report, includes former Gov. Charlie Crist, former economic development head Dale Brill, current Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, former House Speaker Larry Cretul, former U.S. Representative David Rivera, former Rep. Kevin Ambler and former Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll.  

In a process that Brill said involved taking great energy to “deliberately and intentionally sidestep the process,” Digital Domain was able to corral enough support from Tallahassee power players to get $20 million in taxpayer grants over the objections of the organization responsible for vetting such awards.

According to the report, Enterprise Florida advised against giving Digital Domain such a large grant in 2009, raising questions about its financial stability.

But there were several other power players who said ‘Yes,’ allowing the company to circumvent the vetting process and gain access to a large pot of taxpayer cash.

Last year, Digital Domain went bust in a high-profile bankruptcy.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered his Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate how the deal came together.

According to Miguel’s report, here’s a timeline of how the ill-fated deal came into existence:

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Redistricting wars return, with the question of shielding legislators from discovery

The latest fight over the state’s congressional redistricting map came before a Tallahassee appeals court Tuesday as lawyers for the state argued that legislators and their political consultants should not have to testify about how they made their decisions.

The congressional maps became law last year, but are now under fire from seven residents from Key West to St. Petersburg and from a coalition of voters groups who allege that lawmakers drew the maps “with the intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents” in violation of the state Constitution.

Last month, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the legislature’s leaders must turn over their emails from political consultants and testify under oath as part of the lawsuit.

Before that could happen, however, lawyers for the House and Senate filed an appeal. On Tuesday, they argued that requiring lawmakers to give hours of depositions about their intent would violate their “legislative privilege” under Florida law and subject them to legal intimidation. More here.

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