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21 posts from May 2, 2013

May 02, 2013

At job fair, Dolphins invite people to apply for stadium jobs. And take a campaign flier.

via @doug_hanks

The Miami Dolphins attracted hundreds of people to a job fair for a tax-funded renovation of Sun Life Stadium that depends on voter support. Along with a chance to sign up for would-be construction jobs, applicants were handed literature urging them to vote for the hotel-tax hike the Dolphins want for the renovation.

The mix of a job fair and quiet campaign event unfolded as the Dolphins have just two days left to win Tallahassee approval for a May 14 referendum, where Miami-Dade voters will decide whether to raise taxes on most hotels outside of Miami Beach to fund a $350 million upgrade of Sun Life. At the heart of the campaign is an argument that a modernized stadium will be a boost to the county’s battered economy, particularly with the addition of hundreds if not thousands of construction jobs.

Gene Eugene, 27, was the first in line for the event Thursday morning, arriving around 8 a.m. for a fair scheduled to start two hours later. Security wouldn’t let him walk past the stadium’s gate, so he stood on a grassy median as more applicants gathered behind him.

“I haven’t worked since 2010,’’ said Eugene, a Haitian immigrant who lives with an uncle in Miami. “I’ll take any job.”

Carmen Brown, 57, stood in the second spot behind him. She has been cleaning houses but a drug problem kept her out of work since 2006. Now she describes herself as recovered and hoping to find her way into a steady job at the Dolphins event. “It’s pretty rough,’’ she said of hiring prospects in Miami-Dade. “Especially for someone like me.”

More here.

Marino: Weatherford thinks Dolphins bill has 'good chance' of clearing House

National Football League hall of famer and former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino made a special appearance Thursday at the Florida House, where lawmakers have stalled on an effort to give the Dolphins taxpayer support for a stadium upgrade. 

Marino is the fourth high-profile figure from the NFL to show up in Tallahassee this week. On Monday, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and team CEO Mike Dee spent hours in the Capitol talking to lawmakers about the Dolphins stadium effort.

Marino met with House Speaker Will Weatherford, other House members and Gov. Rick Scott to talk about his foundation, and the sports stadium bill.

"I'm definitely supporting the whole thing with the stadium," he told the Times/Herald before meeting with Scott. "I'm a Dolphin for life and a South Floridian for life. 

Weatherford told Marino he thought the sports stadium bill had a "good chance" of passing before Friday.

The Dolphins need Tallahassee approval in order to get taxpayer support for its proposed stadium upgrade and the legislative session is nearing an end without a deal.

The bill passed the Senate on Monday, but was in danger of failing in the House, which has faced procedural gridlock this week as Democrats protested a stalemate over healthcare reform. Session ends Friday.

Marino walked into Gov. Rick Scott's office around 3 p.m on Thursday after meeting with other lawmakers. In addition to being a former Dolphins quarterback, Marino has a foundation to support autism research and treatment. He has traveled to Tallahassee in the past to gin up support for his foundation and cause.

An honorary co-chair of of South Florida's Super Bowl bid committee, Marino also used the opportunity to speak to lawmakers about the sports stadium bill. 

"I think it would be great for the community," said Marino. "People have got to understand the economic impact it would have on our community. Not only the jobs, but revenue for businesses, and there's great examples of that throughout the year's Super Bowls have been here, and national championships. From that respect, I'm all for it. Hopefully it'll work out."

If the bill passes and a referendum vote is approved, the Dolphins could receive up to $289 million in taxpayer support from an increase in the Miami-Dade hotel tax, from 6 to 7 percent. It would also offer the team up to $90 million in state sales tax rebates.

If the bill doesn't pass, the referendum vote--scheduled for May 14 and already underway via early voting--would be called off.

The team is looking to spend more than $350 million for its stadium upgrade and has agreed to pay much of the tax money back after 30 years.


Senate sends bill restricting 2006 nuclear cost law to Gov. Scott

The Senate gave the final stamp of approval Wednesday on a scaled-back measure that weakens a 2006 law allowing utilities to charge customers for nuclear projects in advance.

The unanimous vote came just hours after the Florida Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit challenging the state's nuclear cost recovery law.

Tampa Bay senators who sponsored SB 1472 said they regretted that the House deleted a provision allowing consumers to get rebates for failed projects. Still, they said, the bill is a big step forward for consumers.

"We have probably saved consumers hundreds of millions of dollars," said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, referring to a new tiered structure for deciding when to allow for advanced cost recovery.

The senators, including Sen. Jack Latvala and Sen. John Legg, said they would work next year to address more issues with the law. 

Supreme Court rejects clean energy advocate's challenge to nuke fees

On the same day the Florida Supreme Court upheld a nuclear fee on utility customers, Florida legislators sent to the governor new tools regulators can use to hold electric companies more accountable when collecting the money.

In a unanimous opinion, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the South Alliance for Clean Energy which had claimed that the Public Service Commission exceeded its authority when it allowed the Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy (previously known as Progress Energy of Florida) to collect the nuclear fees for nuclear plants that may or may not be constructed.

The clean-energy coalition argued that the PSC decision was "arbitrary and unsupported by competent, substantial evidence.''  Download SCOFLA SACE ruling

The court ruled that the legislation provided sufficient guidelines that neither the agency nor the courts can determine whether the agency is carrying out the intent of the legislature. Citing a previous decision regarding AT&T, the court said there is “no indication that the legislative policy-making function has been usurped by or improperly transferred to the PSC.” 

Continue reading "Supreme Court rejects clean energy advocate's challenge to nuke fees" »

Counties still not happy with Medicaid billing compromise

One of the final decisions made during budget deliberations between House and Senate leaders was agreeing on a new system for billing counties for Medicaid costs. The formula, contained in SB 1520, will require counties to pay according to the percentage of Medicaid enrollees that live in their boundaries starting in 2015.

The formula also increases the amount collected  each year proportionate to the state's Medicaid costs increases. The changes would be phased in from 2015 through 2020.

Counties say the compromise struck by by Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House budget chief Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, addressed some of the concerns. But many are still unhappy with the new formula, for various reasons.

Smaller counties prefer the status quo, where they are billed according to the actual services received by their residents. Some small and rural counties' Medicaid costs could rise dramatically under the new formula.

Larger counties have concerns, too. They don't like that they will pay more each as the state's Medicaid costs rise. After all, they argue, their share of Medicaid costs has remained unchanged for nearly a decade even as Medicaid continues to eat a larger portion of the state budget.

Counties also say the change removes the accountability that comes with receiving a bill each month that can be reviewed and challenged.

There is not much that can be done now, since the new formula is part of a budget conforming bill that can't be amended. But counties are still griping and weighing their options.

Parent trigger language has new life in Florida House

Two days after the Florida Senate killed the parent trigger bill, one of the proposal's more controverisal provisions won the approval of the Florida House. 

The language, which would prevent children from being assigned to unsatisfactory teachers for two consecutive school years, was tacked onto the session's big charter school bill. It met resistance from House Democrats, who argued that the state's teacher evaluation model is too flawed to distinguish unsatisfactory teachers.

"We need to wait until we have an evaluation system that evaluates teachers properly," said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, who is a teacher. "We’re not supposed to be working out problems with the plane while in mid-flight."

But Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, who carried the parent trigger bill last year, said the provision would pressure school districts to pair struggling students with top teachers.

"If you vote against this bill, you are voting against having our students who need [help] the most having the best teachers possible," Bileca said.

The House approved the amendement, and then the bill, in a pair of party-lines votes. 

The charter school bill that will land on Gov. Rick Scott's desk will require the state Education Department to draft a standard charter school contract for all 67 school districts to use. The Legislature will consider the proposed contract next year.

The bill also requires charter schools to adhere to tougher financial standards, puts new restrictions on the length of employee contracts, and allow school districts to open "district innovation schools" that will function like charter schools.

Dolphins stadium renovation splits Miami-Dade Democrats


The Miami Dolphins’ push for a subsidized renovation to Sun Life Stadium appears to have divided the local Democratic Party, whose leadership has opposed the plan for weeks.

The divisions were evident Wednesday night at a forum the party organized featuring Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, a renovation proponent, and former Commissioner Katy Sorenson, a critic. Both are Democrats.

Jordan accused the party of “bias” for taking a public stance against the Dolphins’ proposal.

“If the party has taken a position on this, there’s bias,” she said. “The party should stay out of this race.”

Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo-Goldstein issued a statement last month opposing the stadium deal, which will go to voters in a May 14 referendum unless Florida lawmakers block Dolphins-backed legislation by Friday.

At the forum, party members said that while the party’s steering committee took a vote against the stadium renovation, the full Democratic Executive Committee will not weigh in until Monday.

Continue reading "Dolphins stadium renovation splits Miami-Dade Democrats" »

After bizarre, chaotic Wednesday, Florida House returns to normalcy

After spiraling into near-chaos late Wednesday, the Florida House returned to normalcy Thursday, with no robot-voices, threats of lawsuits, procedural brinksmanship or petty bickering on the floor. 

“Today is a new day,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. He said he planned to close out the session in a way that is “befitting” to the Florida House. 

Weatherford also hailed the House’s auto-reader, nicknamed “Mary,” as the session’s MVP, and relieved her of her duties. 

Wednesday was the last day that House Democrats could stall the legislative process and protest a stalemate over healthcare reform by requiring all bills be read in full. In a 12-hour marathon session, lawmakers sat and listened to a robotic-reading of hundreds of pages of legislative text. 

The stall-tactics mostly ended on Thursday, as Democrats no longer had the option of requesting that all bills be read in full. However, several bills remained at risk of being sidelined by the slowdown, including a sports stadium tax package that could benefit the Miami Dolphins. 

The House planned to take up the state’s $74.4 billion budget, which is the only law legislators must pass, on Friday.

Trauma train on life support in Senate, prognosis not good

Sen. Aaron Bean's 135-page bill has been saddled with 250 pages of proposed amendments and so, the sponsor said, it may be time to pull the plug.

"We had a record 57 (amendments),'' said Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. Among them, inserted by some of the busiest lobbyists occupying the Fourth Floor rotunda: provisions to change policy not only on certificate of need for trauma care centers, but dozens of other health care programs from HIV programs to carving out dental care for medicaid reform to tightening regulation on assisted living facilities. 

Bean said early Thursday the bill "may just not come up." In Tallahassee parlance, that's another way of saying it may be loved to death. 

One provision of the bill, that remains a major interest of Senate President Don Gaetz -- which would allow his local county to build a trauma center -- is likely to be added to another bill relating to certificate of need for a nursing home for The Villages.

Bob Graham visits Tally, urges rejection of efforts to weaken environmental rules

Former senator and governor Bob Graham is back in Tallahassee today, this time urging legislators to reject a handful of environmental bills that he believes will have a damaging impact on the environment. 

He spoke Senate Democrats urging them to reject HB 999, a bill relating to environmental permitting that prohibits local governments from regulating fertilizer sales and application between now and 2016 as well as local government efforts to regulate wetlands. 

"There seems to be a number of bills that have the effect of removing local control,'' he said. "The irony is this is a time when there has been a substantial reduction in the financial and human capabilities of the water management districts or the state to provide the oversight that currently."

He also urged them to reject SB 1684 which ratifies a no-bid Everglades lease agreement between the state and sugar and vegetable farmers. It as approved by the governor and Cabinet in January and is now being challenged in court by the Florida Wildlife Federation. The bill will "have the practical effect to terminate that litigation,'' he said. "We would encourage a no-vote on the bill on final passage because we don't feel the bill will be in the public interest." 

Graham, a member of the Florida Conservation Coalition, noted that the special interest push to weaken environmental laws is occurring because the window is open. "For some interests, they see this as the best train to get on for the foreseeable future."