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21 posts from April 25, 2013

April 25, 2013

Mr. Scott Goes To Washington - sort of - on Friday

As the Florida Legislature prepares to complete the next-to-the-last week of the session Friday, Gov. Rick Scott will be in Washington, conducting a round of interviews with national media outlets.

He'll start the day with CBS correspondent Major Garrett, followed by meetings with The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Politico and the National Review.

Fox and Politico each have secured 90 minutes of Scott's time Friday.

Most D.C. media outlets aren't particularly interested in Scott's priorities of a $2,500 teacher pay raise and a sales tax break for manufacturers, so the governor will have ample opportunity to brag about Florida's economic rebound -- while getting some questions about his low poll numbers and his re-election prospects.

Scott's communications director, Melissa Sellers, said the D.C. trip was arranged some time ago for Scott to tout the state's economic revival and drop in unemployment (now 7.5 %) on the national stage, as well as his new "one-way" campaign where he has contrasted Florida's tax system and economy with that of Illinois'.

-Steve Bousquet

House could spike Dolphins bill: ‘We’ve waited three weeks,’ Speaker says

The clock is ticking and the plot is thickening in the Miami Dolphins’ quest for stadium-renovation-tax-dollars, as the Florida Legislature is struggling to come together on a deal in the waning days of Session. 

The Florida Senate postponed debate on the tax-break package Thursday, and House Speaker Weatherford voiced concern over the delays in the other chamber. 

“We’ve been waiting for three weeks,” said Weatherford, who holds the fate of the Dolphins in his hands. “We’ve been hearing that it’s going to come over (from the Senate) for several weeks and we haven’t seen anything yet.”

Senate President Don Gaetz said bill sponsor Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) was not ready to bring the bill up for debate on Thursday as scheduled.

For the Dolphins’ bill to pass, the Senate would have to approve it and send it to the House. The House would have to approve it, possibly by sending it to a committee first. All of this would have to occur within the next few days, as the legislative session ends next Friday.

Continue reading "House could spike Dolphins bill: ‘We’ve waited three weeks,’ Speaker says" »

Texting while driving bill not stalled in the House, says co-sponsor

The texting while driving bill is expected to come up for a vote in the House early next week, likely Tuesday, according to the bill's co-sponsor Rep. Doug Holder. The bill  (HB 13) has been ready for a vote since April 4, but Holder said "there's no gamesmanship, it's not being held up for any particular reason."

The Venice Republican said the House will vote on the Senate companion bill (SB 52), which cleared that chamber on April 16th. It will be the first time any texting measure will be heard in the House.

Sen. Nancy Detert, also a Venice Republican, has been trying to get a texting bill passed for four years, said she "had been making a few trips to the House" but isn't panicking.

Continue reading "Texting while driving bill not stalled in the House, says co-sponsor" »

Miami-Dade prosecutor to Latvala: I'm 'disappointed' election bill's fraud-fighting was weakened


A letter from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to Sen. Jack Latvala:

I know that you have great concern that our elections be free of any cloud of voter fraud. All of us in Miami-Dade County feel that the integrity of our election process is of paramount importance. The potential of absentee ballot fraud effecting an election has brought together the citizens of this community, as signified by the 23 recommendations of the Miami-Dade Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and our Supervisor of Elections. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed resolution R-118-13 urging the Florida Legislature to enact the recommendations of the Grand Jury report in an effort to combat absentee ballot fraud. Reinstating the previous statutory requirement that a witness signature appear on each absentee ballot will provide a means of ensuring that every absentee ballot cast is an honest vote.

Enacting the statutory changes recommended by the Grand Jury, the Miami-Dade BCC and the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections will allow your community and all of Florida to improve the public’s perception of how our elections are conducted. I am disappointed to note that the current version of the elections reform bill no longer contains a provision requiring a witness for an absentee voter’s signature. I strongly urge you to amend the bill to reinstate this provision to s. 101.65, Florida Statutes. Your vote for the addition of a witness signature to each absentee ballot will throw a chill into the hearts of those manipulators who feel that they, not the people, should decide who will sit in public office.

Please, join me and our entire Board of County Commissioners and our Supervisor of Elections in voting for clean local elections.

A compromise for parent trigger?

Could a compromise be coming for the parent trigger?

It's anybody's guess what will happen with the controversial proposal, which would let parents demand sweeping changes at failing public schools.

More senators have been on board since Sen. David Simmons added a provision that would let school boards override parent petitions. Among them: Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

But earlier this week, Sen. Kelli Stargel, the Lakeland Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said she intended to have Simmons' language stripped. "I want to make sure parent voices are actually heard and not just taken under advisement," she said.

On Thursday, Simmons said he was working on a compromise. The new language would still let school boards reject parent plans. But if the school failed to improve, the school board would have to adopt the parent turnaround proposal the following year.

"We would be keeping local school board control, but also making sure that school boards are accountable to the people they serve," Simmons said.

Simmons believes he can get to 21 votes if the amendment passes.

"A group of senators have made it clear that they will vote for the bill with that amendment," he said, adding that the language may also assuage concerns Gov. Rick Scott and state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett have with the bill.

It won't, however, be enough to win over the teachers' union.

"Nope," said Jeff Wright, the Florida Education Association's director of public policy advocacy. "We would definitely still have issues with the bill."

House Republicans, minus Fasano, hold firm on ‘CorcoranCare’ Medicaid alternative

House Republicans united to defeat an amendment sponsored by one of their own that would have killed their proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, unsuccessfully attempted to gut the bill House plan, crafted by close friend Rep. Richard Corcoran, today.He was the lone Republican who fought against the plan to use only state funds to help the poorest Floridians who are uninsured. But the outcoming was not surprising.

Democrats supported Fasano’s “strike-all” amendment that would have replaced the contents of HB 7169 with a Senate plan created by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. The Senate proposal qualifies for $51 billion federal funds to insure 1 million people, has bipartisan support in that chamber and is backed by Gov. Rick Scott and a host of health and consumer groups.

Fasano, who backed Negron's plan all along, essentially forced a House vote on the Senate plan. He asked House Republicans to support the plan drafted by a member of their own party.

“It wasn’t proposed by the Democrats, it was proposed by a conservative Republican who used to be the Appropriations chair of this chamber and is now the Appropriations chair in the Senate and advocates a proposal that will help hundreds of thousands of people” get insurance, he said.

House Republicans stuck with their smaller plan, which uses up to $300 million in state dollars each year to buy basic coverages for about 130,000 low-income Floridians. It also expects another 400,000 people to receive tax breaks and purchase insurance using federal health exchanges.

Republicans described the Senate plan as irresponsible -- because it qualifies for federal funding they believe won’t always be available and could burden an already over-taxed health care system -- and wrong because it builds on a broken program.

Continue reading "House Republicans, minus Fasano, hold firm on ‘CorcoranCare’ Medicaid alternative" »

Jack Latavala's "fairly unprecedented" bad memory


It seems like House Speaker Will Weatherford is acting like many a legislative leader by demanding the opposite chamber vote on his priority bills, in this case a measure changing public pensions.

But fellow Tampa Bay Republican Sen. Jack Latvala appears to think otherwise.

“We pass our bills, they have ours. It would be fairly unprecedented for him to do this. We don’t do things like that around here," Latvala said.

Unprecedented? Like when one-time House Speaker Marco Rubio in 2007 demanded that the state Senate take up his doomed property-tax swap proposal?

Well, Latvala wasn't in the Senate then (it was both after his first stint and before his current one). So perhaps things were different back in the day. So we consulted the Nexis machine to find out what the deal was back then.

Here's a 2001 article quoting some Senator named Jack Latvala about another tax plan, pushed by then-Senate President John McKay, who wanted to force a House vote:

Senate Republicans such as Jack Latvala of Palm Harbor hope to persuade the House to let the voters decide the question. 'All we're saying is, give the public an opportunity to vote. That's a fairly Republican principle in years gone by,' Latvala said.

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or unprecedented. What's the difference?

Senate votes 39-0 to cosponsor foster care bill

In one of those rare moments of enthusiastic bipartisan support, the Senate voted 39-0 on Thursday to join Sen. Nancy Detert as co-sponsors of a bill to allow teens and young adults to stay in foster care until age 21.

The Venice Republican, who has worked on foster care issues for more than 10 years, said the bill (SB 1036) would give teens who currently “age out” of the system at 18 a “safety net.” Many of these kids are still in high school or getting a GED at age 18 because their lives and education have been so disrupted.

In Florida, an average of 1,290 children aged-out of care over the past three years, according to the state.

The bill (SB 1036), presented on second reading,  will now be scheduled for a third reading and a vote. Rep. Keith Perry said he temporarily postponed a vote on House Bill 1315 earlier this week in order to take up the Senate version, which looks certain to pass.

Continue reading "Senate votes 39-0 to cosponsor foster care bill" »

Senate amends nuclear fee bill

The Florida Senate on Thursday made minor changes to its plan to rework the unpopular nuclear fee on customer utility bills to tighten the oversight of the state’s utility regulators and make other changes with an amendment by Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz.

SB 1472 rewrites the nuclear cost recovery act enacted in 2006 that allows electric companies to impose pre-construction costs for nuclear projects. The amendment, added to the bill with no discussion, will give the Public Service Commission more discretion when reviewing the company’s justification for continuing to collect the nuclear fees from customers. It also requires that if Progress Energy of Florida Power & Light fails to show that it has committed enough money to a new plant, or if its intent is unrealistic, it can’t continue to collect the money.

The Senate amendment also prohibits Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light from collecting the nuclear fees after July 1 unless they have shown proof of their intent to develop the plant. The PSC has the power to determine how to interpret intent.

Since 2006, Progress Energy has charged customers more than $1 billion to expand the now-crippled Crystal River nuclear power plant and to start developing a new nuclear power plant in Levy County. The company terminated the Crystal River project but has kept $150 million of the money in profits from all its projects.

Florida Power & Light collected $530 million from the nuclear fee and used the money to finance expansions to its existing power plants at Turkey Point and in St. Lucie County. It has also proposed building two new reactors at Turkey Point but has not obtained a permit to do it.

Voter discontent with St. Petersburg-based Progress Energy’s troubled power plant has prompted four Tampa-area senators to take the more aggressive approach to revamping the law, although they have stopped short of repealing the proposal.

Virtual learning bill is TPed. Again.

For the second day in a row, the virtual education bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes (SB 904) has been postponed in the upper chamber.

Don't take it as a sign that the bill is in trouble, Brandes said Thursday.

"We're working on some amendments," the St. Petersburg Republican said.

Brandes also may be waiting on budget negotiations to come to a close. The House and Senate are still at odds over how to fund virtual education.

The Brandes bill would allow private virtual learning providers from outside of state to qualify for public dollars. It would also allow students to receive credits for some massive open online courses, or MOOCs, among other provisions.

Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., has already passed out of the lower chamber.