« April 30, 2013 | Main | May 2, 2013 »

25 posts from May 1, 2013

May 01, 2013

Five GOP senators say Scott had no role in 'trigger' defeat

Five Republican senators who voted to defeat the so-called parent trigger bill said Gov. Rick Scott did not lobby them to oppose the controversial legislation. There has been speculation in the Capitol and an unsourced story on one news website that said Scott was instrumental in the bill's failure on a dramatic 20-20 vote Tuesday.

Not true, Republican senators said.

"I  wouldn't say there was any direct contact from his office on his opinion on this," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, leader of the anti-trigger forces in the Senate. "There were rumors that he'd just as soon not have it on his desk (but) it really doesn't make any difference, because this was going to be the outcome whether he wanted it or not."

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he discussed the bill with the governor, but that Scott "wasn't putting any pressure on me." He said his main reason for opposing the bill (SB 862) was that Detert was "persuasive."
Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, cited as a factor in his no vote his frustration that the budget did not include a line-item appropriation that he considered a priority: $250,000 for a public awareness campaign for a ABATE, a
statewide motorcycle organization. He said he had no contact with Scott's office on the issue.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said he spoke to no one from the governor's office on the parent trigger bill and said he opposed it bcause he "had more time to think about it and more information." Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said he hadn't spoken to the governor or any of his staff on the issue and had been promised nothing for his vote against the bill.

Scott was widely assumed to be opposed to the bill because it would undercut his efforts to be viewed as a champion of public schools. Scott repeated Wednesday he "had  concerns" about the bill, which he did not specify, but he never declared his opposition to it.
A day after the bill's defeat, Detert said she was getting a lot of congratulatory calls and emails. "I think it's probably one of the worst bills I've ever seen, and I hope I never see it again," Detert said.
-- Steve Bousquet, Kathleen McGrory

In House, comments about women and weight don't end well

The fire safety legislation seems benign on its face. But debate Monday on proposed language turned into a bit of a dustup between a veteran, female Republican and a freshman -- emphasis on "man" -- Democrat.

It all started when Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, attempted to tack on language to HB 1410 that set new fitness standards for firefighters. Several House members stepped up to argue against her amendment, which would have required firefighters to keep their body mass index below 25 to remain certified. (BMI is calculated by comparing height to weight.) Some said it would penalize people with muscular builds and others who had higher BMIs but were still perfectly capable of doing the job.

It got awkward when retired firefighter Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, stood up to make his argument. Adkins' amendment penalized women, he said, who "notoriously" had higher BMIs. Some House members chuckled, but Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who was in the speaker's chair at the moment, encouraged Clelland to clean up his statement.

But it wasn't enough for Adkins, who fired off a letter to Clelland, which she copied to House Speaker Will Weatherford, asking for a public apology. Biz Pac Review first reported on the letter, penned Tuesday.

"His remarks were made publicly on the floor and that's why I think it's appropriate that he apologize for what I consider disparaging remarks to the women of Florida in a public way," Adkins told the Times/Herald today.

Clelland responded with a letter of his own today, and he's not backing down. He said women having higher BMI than men, generally speaking, is "not a fact that is really up for debate." His comments were not disparaging, he wrote, and he was simply pointing out the flaws in an amendment he felt would harm firefighters.

Continue reading "In House, comments about women and weight don't end well" »

As robo-reader drones on, Democrats say 'We're not holding up any bills'

As a robotic-voice droned through hundreds of pages of legislative text, Democrats in the Florida House insisted Wednesday that their stalling tactics would not blow up the legislative process.

House Minority Leader Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, said the Democrats’ stalling was not aimed at preventing bills from being heard on the floor. Since Tuesday, Democrats have used procedural tactics—including forcing all bills to be read in full—to protest the Legislature’s inaction on healthcare reform.

“We’re not holding up any bills,” said Thurston. “We’re not denying anything that requires a two-thirds vote. We are requiring the reading of the bills because we want to bring attention to the 1.2 million people who don’t have insurance.”

As the procedural tactics slogged on, there was increasing fear that the clock would run out and several bills would be left pending when the Legislature ended its session on Friday.

Proposals to give tax support to the Miami Dolphins and other sports teams and election reform were at risk of being sidelined by the process.

Thurston said the House Democrats would not act to block those and other bills from a vote.

“The elections (reform) bill is extremely important to us,” he said. “We’re prepared to hear that bill, hear the stadium bill, to hear every bill that’s out there.”

At the same time, he requested House leadership to hear a health insurance bill that passed the Senate earlier this week.

“Bring up the bill that would allow 1.2 million low-income, working Floridians to get some health coverage,” he said.

Thurston said there have been “a lot” Republican lawmakers who have approached him telling them they were “interested” in the healthcare plan passed on a 38-1, bipartisan vote in the Senate.

That plan would draw down billions of federal dollars to expand healthcare coverage for more than 1 million low-income Floridian. The House pitched a different plan, which rejects the federal money and covers fewer people.

House Speaker Will Weatherford has said the Senate plan — and the federal money it relies on—were “unsustainable.”

Bill to limit punitive damages in nursing home suits looks doomed

A controversial bill that would raise the standards for suing a nursing home for punitive damages appears to be finished for this session.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the bill (SB 1384) “hasn’t moved at all in the House, so unless some movement in the House” it looks like time has run out. Galvano also said the bill is off the Special Order calendar in the Senate.

 The bill had the backing of the nursing home industry but had angered groups like the AARP and the Florida Justice Association as well as relatives of nursing home patients.

Continue reading "Bill to limit punitive damages in nursing home suits looks doomed " »

Waiting for Scott, legislators put a hold on his priorities

Legislative eyes are on Gov. Rick Scott on today as he decides whether to sign or veto three high profile bills – on alimony, ethics reform and campaign finance reform.

The House and Senate have noticed. On hold have been several of the govenor’s less-spoken about priorities: a bill to ratify a settlement with the insurance industry on Everglades, Senate confirmations of nearly 200 of his appointments, including several of his top agency heads, and a bill to expand tax exemptions for manufacturers.

The Senate is prepared to take up a version of the governor’s priority this afternoon – attaching an amendment to HB 7007 -- relating to economic incentives. Because the provision needs a two-thirds vote of the chamber, both sides will need Democrats’ help to pass it. Will the House Dems cooperate? 

Once that happens, expect to see the governor's tell us how he's decided on the bills, and the ice could melt on the progress of the other priorities -- or they may just die.  

Speaking of melting, as the House plows forward with its partisan protest and reads every bill in its entirety, the Senate took a break -- for an ice cream social.



Clock ticking for Gov. Rick Scott on three major bills

The clock is ticking as Gov. Rick Scott must act by midnight tonight on three major bills passed by the Legislature.

The measures would ban permanent alimony in Florida, expand the powers of the Commission on Ethics and make changes to campaign finance laws, including increasing the maximum contribution limits, which Scott opposes.

Scott must sign the bills, veto them or let them become law without his signature. The ethics and campaign finance bills are priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz.

Developing story here.

UPDATED: Flores makes last-minute move to save subsidized tutoring

Just when it looked like Florida schools would be freed from state requirements to hire private tutoring companies, a state senator is making a late push to mandate funding through a fast-tracked virtual learning bill.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, this morning proposed an amendment to an amendment of HB 7029 that would require districts to pay 8 percent of roughly $1 billion in federal education money to private tutoring contractors. That would amount to roughly $80 million for a for-profit tutoring industry that has lobbied feverishly to keep funding requirements in state law.

The move comes the morning after an effort to preserve tutoring requirements through the budget process failed. If Flores' amendment doesn't pass, the existing mandate for funding "supplemental educational services" will expire and school districts will have power over about $100 million in federal funding for the first time in a decade.

Continue reading "UPDATED: Flores makes last-minute move to save subsidized tutoring" »

Lawmakers tweak teacher pay raises

The House and Senate tweaked the language on the teacher pay raises Wednesday, meaning educators won't have to wait until June 2014 for their payouts.

The revised language also gives school boards the flexibility to develop their own merit-based systems for awarding salary increases, rather than adhering to a plan developed by the Legislature.

"We all knew that the original language wouldn't work," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association. "It took teachers, superintendents and the governor weighing in for us to make that point."

Lawmakers first released the language on Sunday, drawing immediate criticism from the teachers' union. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie turned up the pressure Tuesday by holding a joint press conference to express their concerns. 

Senate President Don Gaetz was sympathetic.

“Teachers who earn their increases in pay ought to be able to get them as soon as school districts develop a plan to do so, collectively bargain the plan with their unions, and submit their plan to the commissioner of education,” the former schools superintendent said late Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott got involved, too, urging legislators to get the money out as soon as possible.

Lawmakers hashed out a solution Wednesday.

Carvalho said he was pleased with the new language. "What was unacceptable to me was that something was promised, but folks would have to wait 14 months to get it," he said. "This has moved dramatically in a positive direction."

Carvalho hopes to see the pay raises awarded as soon as possible, he said. The Miami-Dade school district is already contract negotiations with the United Teachers of Dade.

Legislation approved by Florida Senate could deny Miami Dolphins some funding for stadium redo

via @doug_hanks

A rewrite of a state bill could deny the Miami Dolphins as much as $90 million in Florida funds if the team starts the renovation of Sun Life Stadium as planned this summer, people close to the franchise said Wednesday.

The revised bill that passed the Senate Monday dropped a provision that would have allowed the Dolphins to apply for state stadium funds in the coming months, when the team hopes to begin a $350 million upgrade of the 1987 stadium in time for the 50th Super Bowl in 2016. Dolphins executives and lawyers believe the passed bill effectively bars Sun Life from receiving state dollars if construction work starts in 2013, according to two sources close to the team.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, the Miami Gardens Democrat who wrote the Dolphins-backed bill, confirmed that the new language does prevent the team from receiving new state dollars if the project starts this year. He said he does not know what the Dolphins plan to do, but suggested a delay in the start of construction was possible.

“It may move their timeline,’’ Braynon said. “It may force them to move their timeline to fit in with what the bill says.”

Team executives would not comment on the potential loss of state dollars, but the two sources close to the team said a delay of the renovation is not an option and that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross owner would start the renovation without state money as long as the county funds are approved. Eric Jotkoff, a team spokesman, issued a statement that said: “Our priority continues to be making sure that the voters of Miami-Dade have the final say on modernizing Sun Life Stadium, which will create thousands of local jobs and provide a substantial boost to Miami-Dade’s economy.”

More here.

Dolphins to hold job fair for stadium renovation still up in the air

via @doug_hanks

The Miami Dolphins will hold a job fair on Thursday for a project that may not happen.

As the team touts a proposed $350 million renovation of Sun Life Stadium as a job creator worthy of tax dollars, the Dolphins will open up Sun Life Stadium on Thursday to aspiring construction workers, laborers and others who would want to work on the project.

Florida lawmakers have until Friday to approve a bill authorizing the referendum, and then voters must approve a hotel-tax hike to fund part of it. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said last week that owner Stephen Ross would not fund the renovation if the tax dollars fall through, so the conditional nature of the project prompted organizers to call Thursday’s event an “Opportunity Fair” rather than a jobs fair.

The expo runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those who can’t attend may register their qualifications on a website set up by a local employment agency at southfloridaworkforce.com.

The event will be open to all would-be applicants, regardless of where they live, said Rick Beasley, head of the South Florida Workforce employment agency.

Beasley, who attended a Tuesday press conference at Sun Life, praised the Dolphins for getting a head start in lining up local workers for what would be one of the largest construction profits underway in Miami-Dade.

“Some people can be skeptical and say this is just a ploy to get people out to vote,” he said. “For me, I want to make sure we have people in the system ready” to take a job.