The Orlando Sentinel writes today that "Crist was unable to get as much as he wanted out of lawmakers in a weeklong session that signaled rising tension between him and fellow Republicans in the Florida House -- including an eleventh-hour standoff with House Speaker Marco Rubio that briefly threatened to derail the entire package."
"I think the strain comes in when you have strong conservatives like me in the House . . . versus this [Crist's] more populist tone. I kind of get nervous -- how long can we all be warm and friendly?" said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of Rubio's top deputies. "I think we will have a balancing responsibility with some of the populist themes.""For Crist, the results this week were mixed."
By repeatedly and publicly pressuring lawmakers to cut rates, the governor helped persuade many reluctant legislators to embrace a plan that will move the state much deeper into the insurance business. And Crist said throughout the session that his overarching goal was "meaningful" rate cuts."Perhaps the most significant test of Crist's muscle came in the face-off with Rubio, R-West Miami." Read about that in "Insurance plan marks first test for governor".
But Crist also avoided saying what he considered "meaningful." And while lawmakers predicted that the insurance plan will lower rates across the state by an average of more than 20 percent, they conceded that the savings will vary wildly from household to household.
In fact, the 2.3 million homeowners covered by the state's two largest insurance companies -- government-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and industry giant State Farm -- will see far smaller rate cuts.
As for Crist's claims of success; well, actually,
most of his ideas were shunned."Crist praised by Legislature".
Insurers can still set up Florida-only subsidiaries. His proposal to block insurers from dropping policies for four years went nowhere.
But by framing the debate simply around rate relief, Crist was still able to claim some measure of success.
Fixing Jebbie's Mess
Let's not forget that the special session was all about fixing one of several messes left behind by an "arrogant, power-hungry ruler who acted as if he had been elected king".
Recall that "Bush, who left office at the beginning of the month, was known for not including Democrats as part of the discussion of major issues and taking the side of big business over consumers. He also had a reputation for pushing through policy and dictating how legislation should look. ... While last year's measure tried to fix insurance problems by making the market more attractive to insurance companies - including allowing for some rate increases - this year's solution was aimed squarely at reducing rates." "New leaders took new, bipartisan approach on Fla. insurance fix". See also "Session Special For Goodwill" ("the Florida Legislature bucked its traditionally conservative, pro-business convictions Monday and greatly expanded the state's role in the homeowners insurance market.")
More bluntly, "the Legislature believes expanding the state's role in the insurance business is worth the risk, a stunning reversal from last May." "Crist Scores Political Points On Lawmakers' Big Gamble".
"Democrats signaled that they're still interested in the disputed congressional race in Sarasota by giving Christine Jennings a seat in the House gallery for the State of the Union address." "Candidate who thinks she won gets gallery seat". Vern's response: "'Christine is a constituent, so I’ll look for her in the stands and give her a wave.'" "Making political waves".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Make state universities better, not just bigger".
"The bill (HB 555), filed by Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, would require the state spend at least $20 million a year for 10 years on grants to researchers doing studies using several different types of stem cells, including adult stem cells, amniotic stem cells and embryonic stem cells, the most controversial type." "State funding for stem cell research may have new life".
Will Charlie walk the walk?
Florida GOPer Split
"Iraq looms large among Florida lawmakers".
Insurance Bill: Only the Beginning
A Miami Herald editorial today is headlined "Special session delivers the goods", yet the editorial notes that "few Citizens customers will see the upper end of the estimated 8 percent to 19 percent savings." On top of that, "the rate savings won't come without added risks, either. For example:"
• Enticing insurers to cut rates will greatly increase the risk for Florida's reinsurance fund and for all insurance consumers. ...Read it here.
• Consumer-friendly measures that allow Citizens to expand their more-profitable lines may discourage private insurers from doing business in the state.
What is in the bill? "The 167-page insurance bill passed Monday has got regulators scrambling to figure out all the details contained in it. Consumers, too, have lots of questions. Here are some answers." "Insurance agreement Q&A".
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune editors: "Florida lawmakers have taken a high-risk gamble by agreeing to steps intended to temporarily lower windstorm insurance rates across the state." "A gamble either way".
Consumer groups have come around, hoping that more can be done in the regular session: "A coalition of consumer groups Tuesday encouraged Gov. Charlie Crist to sign the voluminous bill, despite its members complaining loudly the day before that its promises of 5 percent to 30 percent rate cuts don't go far enough and the bill should be vetoed.". "Bill's opponents seem to soften criticism". In that regard, the Sun-Sentinel editors note that when legislators "re-convene in March, they must take up unfinished business, such as evaluating if more relief is needed for policyholders in the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp." "Legislature".
Meanwhile, "As politicians declare insurance victory, homeowners fret".
What's Wrong In St. Pete?
Even the Trib is offended: "St. Petersburg police stepped over the line in slashing and destroying tents used by homeless people in a makeshift camp under a highway overpass. The city's behavior has only worsened tensions and raised serious questions about its decision-making processes." "Tent Slashing Was Out Of Bounds". See also "Police operation leaves city stained" and "Council member calls St. Petersburg homeless raid 'embarrassment'".
Paying for Hurricane Damage
"About 2 million Embarq telephone customers in Florida will be charged an additional 50 cents on their monthly phone bills to pay for 2005 hurricane damage, the Public Service Commission decided today." "Embarq to tack on 50-cent surcharge".
Federal Funding at Risk
"Some lawmakers and children's advocates warned Tuesday at a House Healthy Families Committee workshop in Tallahassee that the state could lose millions of dollars from the federal government -- which pays 70 percent of KidCare costs -- if it doesn't boost enrollment."
About 204,000 children statewide participate in the main parts of KidCare, down from 336,000 in 2004, according to a presentation made Tuesday. The drop in enrollment came after lawmakers tightened eligibility requirements. Enrollment fell to 186,000 children in January 2006 before slowly rebounding during the past year."State tries child-health overhaul".
Another Jebacy Going Down?
"STAR, the state's performance pay plan for teachers, may be tweaked or may be overhauled." "House committee questions educator pay plan".
Your Tax Dollars at Work
"Secretary of State Kurt Browning on Tuesday defended using public money to challenge a decision by Sarasota County voters to require paper trailson voting machines." "Recount method a touchy issue".
"Florida's newly appointed secretary of state told lawmakers Tuesday he is looking for ways to implement Gov. Charlie Crist's desire to provide a paper trail for electronic votes in the state." "State looks for methods to verify electronic votes".
The Florida Senate is also taking a look:
touch screen voting came under intense criticism Tuesday from nearly a dozen advocates, who were given a rare chance to submit suggestions to senators.See also "Paper trail dominates elections public hearing" and "All touchy about touch screens" ("The Senate Ethics & Elections Committee got an earful Tuesday from people fed up with those temperamental touch-screen voting machines.")
Speakers questioned the reliability of the machines, and some said the decision by 15 large counties to buy touch screen systems was driven by vendors and lobbyists, not voters.
The Senate is also accepting written comments online. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, "Republican Volusia County Rep. Dorothy Hukill filed a bill Tuesday that would require a paper record of all Florida elections." "Hukill bill calls for vote audit, hard copy".
"Statutory Citizen Initiatives"
"A one-time Florida Supreme Court justice and a former senator came down on opposite sides of a debate Tuesday over whether voters should be allowed to adopt laws by citizen initiative." "Lawmakers debate statutory citizen initiatives".
"Ex-U.S. Rep. Lou Frey, an Orlando Republican, said classroom texts, teacher-preparation, tests and curriculum fail to teach young people the different duties of their city and county commissions, school boards, state legislature, courts and Congress. 'They have little to do with Florida,' he said at a news conference with Graham. 'They teach more about the UN than they do about Florida.'" "Leaders aim to teach civics, promote voting".
Only in Florida
"An eclectic group has come forward to accept some of the 9 million pounds of bagged ice the state has had in storage since last year's hurricane season. Takers plan to use it for everything from snow cones to helping grass grow." "Groups eager to take state ice".
National Council of La Raza in Orlando
"The gathering of the 38 affiliates of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in the country, picked Orlando because of the higher profile gained by Orlando-based Latino Leadership, one of its affiliates and a partner of the coalition that put together Orlando’s immigration march last year. The organization also will hold its national conference in Miami later this year, as it looks to Florida as a key state in a region that has the fastest growing Latino community of the country. " "Hispanic activists to converge on Orlando".
The "chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission" writes that "Full recovery goal for manatees".
"Crist removed former state House Speaker Allan Bense as a member of Florida State University's board of trustees Tuesday, a signal that he may be in store for another position in the new administration." "Crist pulls Bense from FSU board of trustees".
"Kiss My A**"
The scene: A committee room late at night on day 5 (Saturday) of the special session on insurance."'Kiss My A**' snarled in Miami Rep. spat".
The players: South Miami Rep. Julio Robaina and Miami Rep. David Rivera, both Republicans.
The fact they agree on most: They don’t like each other very much.
"The state has reached a $402,000 agreement with one of the two companies that run private prisons in Florida."
After the Correctional Privatization Commission was abolished and oversight of the five private prisons was shifted to DMS in 2004, the DMS inspector general did an audit that cited numerous discrepancies. The GEO Group settlement involved $357,520.94 in overpayments."DMS reaches private-prison deal".
Under the agreement, signed by previous DMS Secretary Tom Lewis, GEO agreed to pay $290,952.43.
The company separately agreed to pay $111,549.27 of the state's legal fees in a court fight over disputed property-tax bills for the prison facilities. The agreement said DMS has paid $446,197.08 defending the sovereign immunity of the state-owned prisons.
And get this:
DMS Secretary Linda H. South, asked about the large disparity in what GEO Group was overpaid and what it will pay back, said if the agency had not done its "due diligence there would be no money to recover.""Prison business to repay $402,501".