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6 posts from February 20, 2014

February 20, 2014

Lawmakers look to ban e-cigarettes sales to minors

As electronic cigarettes become increasingly trendy, state lawmakers are taking steps to keep the devices out of teenagers’ hands.

On Thursday, a Senate panel approved a proposal that would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

“We don’t allow minors to buy cigarettes,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers. “We should certainly not allow minors to buy these products, as well.”

Senate Bill 224 had already won the unanimous support of two other committees. It could likely be among the first proposals heard on the Senate floor when the legislative session begins March 4.

The House version, sponsored by Republican Reps. Frank Artiles, of Miami, and Doc Renuart, of Ponte Vedra Beach, won the support of its first committee earlier this week. It, too, is on a fast track.

Read more here.

College sales tax proposal gains support

A bill that would allow Miami-Dade County to levy a half-penny sales tax to support two of South Florida’s biggest schools — Miami Dade College and Florida International University — is getting strong traction in the Florida Legislature, thanks to the lobbying of local lawmakers.

On Wednesday, the bill (HB 113) got the nod of another House committee. Three different committees have now approved the measure.

The bill’s next stop: the House floor for a vote.

“The state does not have the ability to keep up with the needs of students coming into Miami Dade College and Florida International University,” said state Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who is sponsoring the bill. “This is a way to help them with construction, retrofitting and deferred maintenance.”

The sales tax would have to be approved by voters, and would last for only five years. It has the potential to raise as much as $224 million in annual revenue, according to a state policy analysis.

Read more here.

Greyhound industry responds to dog death record, blames track owners

The Florida Greyhound Association and its affiliate, the National Greyhound Association, are defending the treatment of the racing dogs in response to an article in the Sunday Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times that reported that 74 dogs have died on race track property since the state started keeping records in May. 

For the first time in the 80 years dogs have been raced for profit in Florida, the state began requiring that track operators notify the state within 18 hours of a greyhound’s death at a track or racing kennel in Florida. The law was approved by lawmakers in 2010 only after some track owners had concluded that they wanted to reduce the amount of racing because it was no longer profitable. The rule didn’t take effect until May 31.

Jack Cory, lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association, acknowledged in a press release that there have been racing-related deaths but blamed track owners for the track conditions as the cause.

Cory also sent an email to greyhound breeders that called the Herald/Times report "hysterical" and noted that since the article appeared "Tracks have been inundated by TV Cameras."

"1 early death of a Greyhound is to many, BUT unfortunately accidents and illness happen with death resulting everywhere in Day Care Centers,'' Cory wrote. "Nursing Homes, Hospitals even at DCF where 432 Children died from Abuse and Neglect in 2012. I am not comparing a Greyhound to a Child but accidents and illness do happen with death resulting! They are unfortunate and many could be stopped with our 3 point safety plan!"

Below is the text of the press release issued today:

Continue reading "Greyhound industry responds to dog death record, blames track owners " »

Challenger Carlos Curbelo, Rep. Joe Garcia trade jabs on ties to Venezuela, gambling

@PatriciaMazzei

Republican congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo this week called on Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia to return political campaign contributions from a longtime supporter who has had personal relationships in the Venezuelan government.

With violent street clashes taking place in the South American country since last week, Curbelo condemned Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s actions and offered his support to student protesters.

Garcia has said much of the same, as have other local members of Congress.

But Curbelo tried to characterize Garcia as hypocritical for accepting contributions from Bill Delahunt, a former Massachusetts Democratic congressman.

“Regrettably, there are congressmen like Joe Garcia who advocate for freedom in Miami while accepting campaign cash from the apologists and defenders of the Maduro regime in Washington,” Curbelo said in a statement.

Garcia and Curbelo are both Cuban American, but Florida’s 26th congressional district, which extends from Kendall to Key West, has a robust population of non-Cuban Hispanic voters — many of them South Americans more interested in Venezuela than in Cuba.

More here.

Scott's office releases Lopez-Cantera's schedule

Who was it who said "Results matter"?

Oh, yes, that would be Florida Gov. Rick Scott. A day after the Times/Herald noted that the governor's office was not releasing Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera's daily schedule, and the newspapers insisted it be released, Scott's office on Thursday published it for the first time.

It appears here:

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR CARLOS LOPEZ-CANTERA’S SCHEDULE FOR THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2014

12:30pm SYMPHONY OF THE AMERICAS STYLE & SUBSTANCE LUNCHEON

Location: Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six

Address: 2301 Southeast 17th Street Ft. Lauderdale, FL

'News is grim' in report by Collins Institute and UF

A new report released by the LeRoy Collins Institute Thursday concludes that Florida is falling behind not only the rest of the country but also the South in key areas, from teacher salaries to high-wage jobs to adequate roads. "The news is grim," it says at the outset.

The report, "Tougher Choices: Shaping Florida's Future," was written by two academics at the University of Florida, Drs. David Denslow and James Dewey, along with UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research."In a lot of ways," Dewey said, "the state of Florida is really near the bottom of the barrel." Among their findings:

* The Florida Retirement System, the pension fund for hundreds of thousands of public employees, is a "model" for other states. Sound and strong, it is threatened by the Legislature's contemplation of requiring new entrants to join a defined contribution plan.

* Teacher salaries in Florida declined at the fourth fastest rate among states between 2000 and 2012, and it will be difficult to make significant progress "without increasing tax rates, however unlikely that might be."

* Gas taxes, the principal funding source for transportation, continue to erode because they are not indexed for inflation and the popularity of energy-efficient cars means people are buying less gasoline.

* Florida's lack of a personal income tax results in a heavy reliance on the 6 percent statewide sales tax and property taxes, and property taxes fall heaviest on businesses.

The researchers said one way to change the direction of the state would be to increase the sales tax to 7 percent. "It would be better if we had a broader tax base, but we don't," Dewey said.

As the paper notes at the outset, the Collins Institute seeks to honor the legacy of Collins, a "courageous and visionary governor" and a Democrat who served from 1955 to 1961. The new report, which can be found here, is an updated version of the institute's "Tough Choices" report published in 2005.