"The bipartisan spirit that took hold of the Florida Legislature earlier this year in the effort to lower homeowner insurance rates is showing signs of cracking in the House over property tax relief."
A divide has developed over a proposal by House GOP leaders to swap less property tax for more sales tax. Democrats are unified in opposition, questioning the wisdom of asking Floridians, in the words of one Democratic leader, to "swallow the largest sales tax hike in our state's history.""Bipartisan spirit may be cracking over property taxes in House".
The House majority leader, Marty Bowen, R-Haines City, responded by accusing Democratic leaders of "backhanded partisan sniping" in a written statement last week.
"Legislature: Day 21 at a glance". See also "Upcoming at the Capitol", "The day in Tallahassee, Monday, March 26, 2007" and "2007 Legislature roundup".
"A decade after Florida launched charter schools to give students more choice in where they attend public school, nearly half of the 300-plus charters have operating deficits."
At the same time, more than $200 million of the $492 million Florida spent on these privately operated schools in 2004-05 went to charters that had business relationships with school officials: renting buildings to the charters, selling services to them, hiring relatives as employees."Audits show high administrative costs, deficits at many of state's charter schools".
Florida U.S. Attorney's Departure
"A U.S. attorney in Florida is set to step down Friday, and Sen. Bill Nelson wants Congress to examine whether his departure is tied to prosecutor firings at the Justice Department."
Paul Perez, attorney for the Middle District of Florida, has previously denied any connection to the controversial dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys. He did not return calls for comment."Nelson seeks investigation of Florida attorney's resignation".
But Nelson said Monday that he is concerned Perez's exit is not coincidental and promised to raise the issue with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is probing the flap.
"It is another thing that will be looked at in the overall investigation," Nelson said. The Florida Democrat is one of several lawmakers who have called for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
And "The Truth" Is?
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board is hot about their boy being snubbed by the UF faculty. The editors claim that the "UF snub of Jeb Bush appears disingenuous", and if "a credible case can be made to deny Mr. Bush [a UF honorary degree], why not just make it directly?" "Just tell the truth". Scott Maxwell has more on UF Honorary degrees.
In the meantime, the student GOPers are making a move: "Student Senate to vote on resolution urging faculty group to grant Bush honorary degree".
"Sen. Nancy Argenziano was among the six names Florida lawmakers sent to Gov. Charlie Crist Monday as nominees for the Public Service Commission, the state agency charged with regulating utilities." "Senator among 6 PSC nominees". See also "Sen. Argenziano makes short list for PSC".
"Democrat Barack Obama made his Florida debut as a presidential candidate with a call on Sunday for people to 'stand up' for affordable healthcare, better public schools and an end to the war in Iraq."
The $100-a-person appearance in West Palm Beach, attended by roughly 700 people, was sandwiched between four pricier private fundraisers around South Florida."Obama woos voters in Florida". See also "Presidential hopeful Obama hits South Fla. for fundraisers 12:05 a.m.".
A New Deal
"Faced with a nearly $1 billion decline in anticipated tax collections this year and next, the Florida Senate is looking to stave-off a cooling economy by launching an ambitious building program in its proposed budget, leading senators said Monday. Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, said $500 million in one-time tax money would be spent on Florida construction projects with roads, bridges and public health buildings all in line for state cash aimed at sparking the economy." "The Senate's Blue-Collar Spending Tour".
"Lawmakers may take another shot at asking voters to revise their 2002 decision to limit class sizes in the state's public schools. A House committee is scheduled to vote on a bill this morning that would give voters a chance in 2008 to change the strict limits on class sizes set to go into final effect in 2010." "Bill would soften class-size rules".
All Hat, No Cattle?
"Crist's popularity with Floridians is not translating to clout with the Legislature when it comes to money: Into the fourth week of the session, lawmakers from his own party are sharply scaling back the governor's budget requests -- or ignoring them altogether. So far, for example, the GOP-led Legislature has refused to set aside the $30 million Crist wants for new voting machines. His request to spend nearly $37 million to acquire a stockpile of flu vaccine has gone nowhere. And his bid to double the amount of money for teacher merit raises appears unlikely: At most, lawmakers may increase the $147.5 million program by $50 million -- about $100 million less than Crist has said he wants." "Crist's pet projects struggling for funds". See also "Governor's pricey priorities".
And I Can't Buy a Cuban Cigar?
The Palm Beach Post editors: "While the embargo has remained a failure, it has grown as a fraud. Most Americans probably had no idea, before reading the story in Monday's Post, that the United States is Cuba's No. 1 food supplier. ... Our biggest export to Cuba is hypocrisy." "Cuba embargo: Lean meat".
"Two months after Florida lawmakers passed a plan to offer relief to homeowners, the state's hurricane-battered property insurance system remains in flux. The plan spurred insurance companies this month to propose cutting rates for customers. But, in many cases, the proposed cuts have fallen short of what state officials had projected." "State's emergency insurance 'fix' falling short".
"Butterworth's openness can restore confidence to the beleaguered children's agency." "A new day at DCF".
"The state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. can enter the private market for some homeowner policies after a legislative panel gave final approval to the changes on Monday." "Panel gives Citizens OK to sell private insurance". See also "Citizens gets final approval to compete with private insurers".
"Yet time and again, for years on end, Florida's public-records and open-meetings laws have proven their value in the marketplace of public opinion. They are all about credibility - and, for officials, avoiding even the appearance of impropriety." "Credibility".
"The maker of the voting machines used in the disputed Sarasota area congressional race sent a letter to state officials dictating the terms of a state-funded audit of its machines. State election officials initially said Monday that they agreed to abide by the parameters set by the manufacturer, Electronic Systems & Software, but hours later called back to say that was not correct." "Terms of vote review disputed".
"How much is a year of your liberty worth? What is fair compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned for 24 years? In Alan Crotzer's case, so far, it's nothing. Crotzer, who lives in St. Petersburg, was convicted of a brutal double rape and robbery that occurred in 1981. He was sentenced to 130 years in prison. DNA evidence later proved that he was innocent, as he and alibi witnesses had asserted all along." "A moral debt to the exonerated".
Politics or Promises?
The Dems are starting to push Charlie a bit on his stem cell flip-flop:
Democratic senators called on Gov. Charlie Crist to push for state spending on embryonic stem-cell research, which Crist has said he supports, but can't get through the Legislature. During his campaign for governor, Crist, a Republican, said he supported embryonic stem cell research. But shortly after taking office, Crist proposed spending state money only on stem-cell research that doesn't destroy embryos. He said a Republican-sponsored bill to do that essentially offered a compromise, getting research going in Florida without the political fight he believed would be mounted by opponents.Charlie is still riding the political fence:
Crist reiterated his position Monday.See also "Dueling Stem-Cell Bills Heard".
''I understand our current political realities and I would rather fight for something we can achieve today,'' Crist said. "I look forward to taking this first step together with the Legislature.''
Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller urged Crist to push for state money to be spent on embryonic stem-cell research rather than taking the politically easier path.
Geller said it wasn't clear that it wouldn't pass. ''You won't know until you try,'' said Geller, D-Cooper City.
A Senate committee will hear competing bills on Tuesday. One would call for $20 million in state spending on embryonic stem-cell research, the other would put the same amount into nonembryonic stem-cell research.
"Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller said Monday that a Republican plan set aside $20 million annually for adult stem cell research would actually criminalize current scientific research in Florida. Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Health Policy Committee is set to hear dueling bills to provide the stem cell research money Gov. Charlie Crist asked for in his budget." "A Senate stem-cell showdown".
"On the day before the start of the two-month legislative session in which lawmakers are considering ways to cut property taxes, a $25,000 check from the Florida Association of Realtors was deposited into a campaign account controlled by state Sen. Jeff Atwater. " "Realtors' cash gift fuels capital debate".
The Other Gators
"Florida may reduce protection for the species -- but would the increased hunting be wise?" "Alligators in the crosshairs".
"The law allows Palm Beach County Commissioner Warren Newell to dabble in real estate. The law doesn't condone his misleading the public to cast votes that benefit those land deals." "Two strikes, and he's out; time for Newell to resign".
"South Florida Summers"
"So, you think South Florida summers are toasty now? Imagine temperatures five to seven degrees higher -- and a climate unlike any that now exists on Earth."
If global warming continues at the current pace, according to an alarming study released Monday, it could boil away South Florida's climate by the end of this century and replace it with conditions that are warmer, drier and unknown in today's world."Are 100-degree days in our future?".
''We see the disappearance of certain climates and the emergence of novel climates,'' said Jack Williams, the study's lead author and a geographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "And in South Florida, you see yourself highlighted with a bull's-eye.''
Along with blistering temperatures, likely consequences include: less rain, rising sea levels and ecological changes in the Everglades and elsewhere that are difficult to predict but could be profound.
The study, peer-reviewed and published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of the first to predict local effects of global warming.
While we're talking heat: "A massive air-conditioning failure at a state office complex in Tallahassee is threatening to disrupt government computer traffic statewide." "AC failure threatens government computers".
"Crist appointed Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks chairman of his new Governor's Council on Physical Fitness on Monday." "Crist To Florida: Get Fit". See also "DOC chief preaches fitness to agency employees".
Stupid Is ...
as stupid does: "Two years after Florida lawmakers turned school offices into criminal checkpoints, the Jessica Lunsford Act is still casting too broad a net. Just ask telephone repairman Fred Gray, who was denied access to Orange County schools because he was cited in 1971 for hunting wild hogs out of season." "Making school safety sensible".
Speaking of Stupid
"The House plan to lease the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to a private company may not go anywhere this year. But House leaders embraced the privatization scheme as an innovative way to deal with a big problem facing a fast-growing state: Florida simply doesn't have enough money to meet its increasing transportation needs." "State races to catch up with roadway demands".
"DCF leaders vow a new day".
Florida's "Pistol-Whipped" Legislature
"Sometimes it seems that National Rifle Association honchos have targeted Florida as the site of a bizarre dare, testing how pistol-whipped the state Legislature really is."
It's almost ridiculously easy to obtain a concealed-weapon permit in Florida. State rangers can't keep campers from toting guns into state parks. Gun ranges don't have to clean up the lead and other toxins they've been pouring into the air, water and soil for years."Gun happy". See also "NRA, Chamber Square Off On Guns In Cars".
The NRA's crowning glory was the so-called "stand your ground" legislation that made shootings legal so long as a person felt threatened and was in a place they had a legal right to be. That law could help defend three Jacksonville men charged with shooting 36-year-old Eric Houk of Pasco County, who died on Interstate 4 after the Daytona 500. Police say the confrontation between Houk and his assailants was sparked by road rage -- one scenario opponents of the "stand your ground" legislation suggested was likely.
The pro-gun lobby has made little effort to prove that loose gun laws make Florida safer. Their tactics rely more on brute force, targeting lawmakers who stand in the way of proposed legislation and amply rewarding their allies. Apparently, it works.
"Lawmakers are expected to tackle Florida's no-fault auto insurance system today, taking up a pair of bills that would spell out how much insurers should pay for medical procedures and stiffening licensing requirements for clinics." "Capitol Takes On No-Fault Insurance".
"Two years ago, lawmakers rewrote a 1992 pledge that set aside money from a tax increase on home sales for affordable housing, and instead diverted much of that money to the state's general fund."
Now, with the governor who disliked such "trust fund" pledges gone and the effective date of that diversion looming, lawmakers say they would like to repeal the 2005 law but cannot because they need the housing money for other purposes more than ever.Charlie's having none of it; he
"I think we all support removing the cap," said House Speaker Marco Rubio, referring to the $243 million limit the 2005 law imposes as of July 1. "The problem is that it unbalances our budget, and it unbalances the governor's budget in the long term as well. That's the consideration."
disagrees - both with Rubio and with former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose philosophical opposition to trust funds led him and his allies to take money from the affordable housing fund and use it for general operating expenses, even before the 2005 law was passed."House speaker resists calls to lift cap on housing money".
"We ought to be able to raise the cap so that all the funds would be dedicated to housing," said Crist, who called the $243 million amount "arbitrary."
In the coming 2007-08 budget year, the state and local government programs that build houses and apartments for low- and moderate-income residents would have access to $414 million, were it not for Bush's cap.
From the Ethics Crowd
"The rules of the Florida House prohibit lawmakers from soliciting or accepting campaign contributions during the regular session that began March 6. But the in-session fund-raising ban does not apply to members running for federal office -- at least according to a formal legal opinion from Jeremiah Hawkes, the House general counsel." "Rep. Harrell's in-session fund-raising".
Yes, the Hawkes family is at it again. You remember "First District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes said he had nothing to do with [Marco Rubio’s] decision to open an inquiry into fellow 1st DCA Judge Charles Kahn. Hawkes’ son [is] House Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes [who] emailed a draft of Rubio’s letter Dec. 4 requesting that the Judicial Qualifications Commission share its investigative files on Kahn, who is the target of an as-yet private complaint."
Regarding Daddy Hawkes, the St Pete Times editorial board had this to say in 2002: "No other governor since Claude R. Kirk Jr., more than 30 years ago, has had or even sought the opportunity that Jeb Bush now possesses to manipulate Florida's courts. The Legislature has allowed him to name all the members of the judicial nominating commissions, a power previously shared with the Florida Bar and with the commissions themselves. Evidence is now in on what a mistake that was. Exhibit A: the appointment this week of Paul Hawkes to the 1st District Court of Appeal." "Backward choice in Hawkes".
"The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is taking up a lengthy elections bill on Tuesday that would among many other things reinstate the second primary election, or runoff election." "Runoff election could return".
Property Tax Proposals
"Dozens of bills have been filed in the legislative session offering property tax relief. Attention has focused on three high-profile proposals, offered by House Republicans, House Democrats and Gov. Charlie Crist."
At the request of The Tampa Tribune, Tim Wilmath, director of valuation in the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office, and Chris Weiss, special projects coordinator in the office, calculated how the three existing proposals would likely affect average homes in the Bay area. They also determined what the plans would mean to the county's and cities' bottom lines."Officials Measure 3 Plans' Potential Property Tax Cut".
"Bowing to pressure from counties that said the cuts would devastate their budgets, the House leadership announced late last week that they had changed their reform proposal."
The rollback to 2001 was estimated to cut $3.2 billion from county budgets statewide. The Florida Association of Counties says the latest changes have reduced that amount 29 percent to $2.3 billion."Property tax change scaled back". See also "Tax relief divides House" and "Webster Sounds Ominous Note on Rubio's Tax Plan".
"U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan said Monday that he will introduce legislation that would impose an additional 10 years in federal prison on illegal immigrants convicted of kidnapping a child." "Buchanan proposes 'Clay Moore' law". See also "Buchanan jumps on immigration status of abductor".
"State Sens. Jim King of Jacksonville and Durell Peaden of Crestview and state Reps. Adam Hasner of Delray Beach, John Legg of Port Richey, David Simmons of Longwood and Bob Allen of Merritt Allen will be involved in McCain’s campaign." "Legislators Back McCain". See also "McCain names supportive lawmakers".
"In case you thought Tallahassee lost some national luster when Jeb Bush left, a parade of presidential hopefuls is set to roll through Florida's capital starting today." "McCain in town for morning fundraiser".
Some of the news and punditry we missed yesterday:
- "In The Roadway, Not In Mountains, Gypsum Would Save State Millions".
- "Educators, legislators urge accountability in alternative schools".
- NYT's puff piece on Putnam: "A Fresh Face Vows to Revive the G.O.P." (via Taking Names).
- "Argenziano grilled for regulator post".
- "State school allowed felons on job crews".