This "innovative idea" would make Jebbie proud: "Florida drivers, already paying higher tolls on most pay-roads in the state, may be hit with new hikes, and not just by the government:"
The Legislature is considering letting private companies build roads and charge drivers tolls to recoup their investment."Private takeover might drive up road tolls".
The measure, which could be approved by the state House as soon as today, would also require automatic hikes at all existing toll roads in the state, including Florida's Turnpike, the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County and the five highways maintained by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, including the Don Shula Expressway and the Dolphin Expressway.
House leaders call the measure an innovative way to help Florida pay for future roads, citing estimates that the state lacks the billions it needs to build new highways and expand existing roads over the next two decades.
"The Florida House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to make the state's presidential primary one of the earliest in the nation." However, "don't mark the 2008 calendar just yet. The Florida Senate has yet to act on a similar measure and may not act until right before the Legislature ends its annual session in early May." "Plan for earlier primary gets big boost in House". See also "Primary Debate Continues", "Earlier presidential primary gets OK from Florida House", "Florida House votes for earlier presidential primary", "Florida moves to wipe out clout of smaller states with Jan. 29 presidential primary" and "Florida's primary rush hits a bump".
"Some of the state's most powerful lobbyists pounced today on a legislative proposal to enshrine an oil-drilling ban in the Florida Constitution." "Lobbyists attack ban on drilling". See also "Lawmakers want Fla. vote on drill ban".
"Strongly Consider Granting"
"The Florida bill says the state Clemency Board should 'strongly consider granting' an automatic pardon to those convicted of civil disobedience crimes against segregation laws or ordinances once an application is made to the Parole Commission. The legislation cannot require the pardon because the Clemency Board, headed by the governor, has the final say. State attorneys can object, within 60 days of an application's filing, that the conviction did not come from violating a discriminatory law, leading to a hearing." "Fla. lawmakers want quicker pardons for segregation protesters". See also "Quicker pardons for protesters sought".
Charter School Flops
"State officials had called Explorer Elementary and Middle School one of Florida's most successful charter schools, but Brevard County's school district stepped in and took over Wednesday amid a financial and management meltdown at the campus."
Explorer's finance manager, a felon convicted of forgery and stealing in Massachusetts, also resigned -- after directors of the school refused to fire him.And get this:
The unfolding drama at the school, which serves about 275 students, shows how a charter can earn a string of A grades from the state yet be so mismanaged that armed officers are needed to evict angry parents and teachers from school meetings, and officials question whether the institution can stay in business.
Explorer is in such financial disarray that the school's auditor had warned that a lender could foreclose on the unfinished building that was supposed to be the school's million-dollar dream campus. Funds have been misappropriated, and the principal lent public dollars to employees, the auditor said.
In December, the state Department of Education lauded Explorer as a model school in a publication touting 10 years of charter-school operations. The school opened in 1998, two years after Florida launched charters as an option for parents dissatisfied with local public schools. Charters are funded by taxpayers but operate independently and are free of many regulations that affect traditional schools."Charter school's spiraling woes spur Brevard's takeover".
Today in Tally
"Today in Tallahassee".
"House Republican leaders have sweetened their pitch to replace property taxes with an increase in sales taxes:"
Give homeowners the choice of higher sales taxes in their county in exchange for having their property tax bills disappear."GOP: Let counties choose how to be taxed". See also "'Let voters pick how to be taxed,' say state GOP leaders", "New House GOP tax relief plan would allow more local control", "Revised GOP Tax Plan Gives Voters More Input", "House tells voters: You pick" and "Lawmakers scale back plan to cut property taxes", "House tells voters: You pick", "Voters could decide on tax changes".
The proposal is part of a new version of the tax overhaul being pushed by House leaders. Along with the choice comes this bottom line: If voters agree to swap local sales taxes for property taxes, they'll pay no more property taxes. If they don't agree, they'll pay an average of 45 percent less in property taxes beginning in the 2008 tax year.
The new plan would still raise sales taxes statewide, but only by a penny, not the previously proposed 2 ½ cents. But the plan would let counties raise local sales taxes by as much as 1 ½ cents more -- if local voters approve -- to make up for major cutbacks on property taxes. The measure would force local governments to cut $5.5 billion statewide by 2008.
"Bill takes on future problem: involuntary microchip implants".
"Rep. Alan Hays feels like a voice in the wilderness, but he's trying anyway to undo a big part of Gov. Charlie Crist's insurance reform." "Legislators again pick up on hurricane insurance".
"AARP plans to mobilize millions of volunteer retirees to hammer presidential hopefuls at campaign stops with tough questions about health care, Social Security and other issues important to American seniors." "AARP: Seniors to hold presidential hopefuls to promises".
"Convinced that Sen. Nancy Argenziano has a valuable appointment sewn up, a powerful House leader today jumped into the race to replace her." "Baxley eyes Senate seat".
Scott Maxwell reminds us that, with respect to Orlando, and "for all the talk we hear from local leaders about wanting to make this a big-time city, this is still a town where tourism bosses pull the strings."
"State university students could end up paying much more for their education if a unique charge is approved by the Legislature." "Proposed fee could escalate college costs".
"Crist sought Wednesday to reassure Floridians that they would get larger reductions in their insurance premiums than the single-digit price cuts the industry proposed last week." "Crist: Insurance rates will drop". See also "Crist: Premiums will drop more".
"Republican presidential candidate John McCain stumped among Miami's Cuban Americans as the immigration debate lurched forward in Washington." "McCain joins Cuban 'comrades' in arms".
"Reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic may be well and good for students, but a pair of Florida elder statesmen warned lawmakers on Wednesday that state schools need to teach good old-fashioned civics before an entire generation is lost to their responsibilities in a democracy." "Ex-Lawmakers Sound Alarm: Florida Has Civics Deficiency".
"The Florida Senate agreed Wednesday to erase a troubled merit pay plan for teachers and replace it with a new program giving school districts more authority for spreading around the extra cash. The 39-0 Senate vote is likely to be soon followed by the House, and would eliminate the short-lived Special Teachers Are Rewarded (STAR), approved by lawmakers last year but ridiculed by the state's biggest teachers' union and rejected by one-third of Florida's districts." "STAR Dims on Teacher Pay". See also "Senate approves change in merit pay plan for teachers", "Senate OKs new teacher bonus program", "Merit awards eclipse STAR plan", "Bonuses for teachers get a face-lift" and "Lawmakers revamping merit pay for teachers".
Military Tax Break
"Soldier fights for military tax break".
"Still, the statistics regarding violent crime against homeless people send a grim message to this area. For starters, Florida is the most dangerous state for the homeless, according to statistics compiled by the National Coalition for the Homeless, which logged 42 attacks and eight homicides in Florida on its list of 189 deaths and 425 non-fatal assaults for 2006." "Harm to homeless".
"The future of a human papillomavirus vaccinations bill remains in limbo after being pulled from a state Senate committee Wednesday. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, asked a Senate education committee to postpone a hearing on his proposal requiring parents to choose whether to vaccinate their daughters against HPV." "HPV Vaccine Law On Ice For Now".
"New blood is coming on board Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run company the largest property insurer in Florida." "Citizens board gets new members".
Cable TV Competition
"The House refused on Wednesday to weaken a bill designed to make it easier for telephone and other telecommunications companies to compete for cable television business with existing providers." "House refuses to weaken bill to boost cable TV competition".
"At Broward Days, Crist impresses Democrats".
"The chairman of the U.S. House Administration Committee announced Thursday that she formed a task forced to look into the Sarasota area congressional race in light of last week's recent developments." "Task force announced on FL 13".
GOPers Can't Decide
"The National Rifle Association, which almost always has its way with the Florida Legislature, is determined to ram through a measure this year that would strip businesses of their property rights." "Property Rights, Common Sense Should Trump Gun Measure".
"It's not often that citizens plead with lawmakers to increase government fees, but that's exactly what Florida's outdoor enthusiasts are doing. And the Legislature should comply. Fishing and hunting groups are pushing a measure that would increase funding for Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with modest - $3 to $4 - fee increases for most resident licenses." "A Boost For The Great Outdoors".
"Pickens’ bill (HB 427) is similar to a measure the Legislature passed in 2003 only to see former Gov. Jeb Bush side with environmentalists and veto it. Should lawmakers approve the bill again this year, it will pose an interesting test for new Gov. Charlie Crist, who so far has been willing to defer to the Legislature on issues but who has also been sympathetic to environmental causes in the past." "An Old Environmental Fight is Re-Ignited". See also "Bill revives hubbub about dam's future".
"Death rattle at FAMU justifies state's urgency".
The Palm Beach Post's Sally Swartz: "Crist, who so diligently has begun reform in the Department of Children and Families and other agencies, also needs to overhaul DEP. Entrenched employees, who go easy on polluters and would weaken water standards, must go." "To clean state's waters, clean house".
"Four months after Las Vegas-style slot machines started spinning in Broward County, a legislative panel on Thursday agreed to relax state regulations to let the casinos stay open longer and offer more slots, new games and ATMs to serve gamblers short of cash." "Legislative panel approves bill to increase number of Las Vegas-style slot machines".
"Sen. Mel Martinez, the new chairman of the Republican Party, sent out an email to supporters Wednesday, standing behind embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales." "Martinez supports Attorney General".
"The Florida Senate is expected to vote today on a bill that would prevent cities and counties from banning firework sales for about 10 months while a task force studies fireworks use and regulation." "Bill would halt fireworks bans".
"Restaurant owners could be required to have lots of toilet paper and trash cans in their bathrooms and it could become a crime to implant a microchip for tracking or identification purposes under two bills approved by the Senate Health Regulation Committee on Wednesday." "Unusual health bills move through panel".
"The Legislature is finally acknowledging what parents have realized for generations - teens have sex, and while it shouldn't be encouraged, they shouldn't be labeled as criminals. Bills moving through the Florida House and Senate could spare teen lovers the stigma of registering as sex offenders. This is a common-sense change that redirects the weight of the law toward the true threats to society." "Teen sex doesn't merit spot on registry".
"In another sign of the intense Florida presidential campaign jockeying, a top Republican fundraiser is jumping ship from the Mitt Romney campaign to Rudy Giuliani's."
Richard Blankenship, a Jacksonville area investment banker and President Bush's former ambassador to the Bahamas, said he resigned from Romney's Florida finance team after becoming convinced Giuliani had broader appeal and said other Romney fundraisers in Florida could do the same."GOP fundraiser jumps from Romney to Giuliani".
Blankenship, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, has raised and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for Republican efforts and frequently loaned his Cessna airplane to Republicans. He called Romney a wonderful person, but said he had concerns about the former Massachusetts governor's shifts to the right on a number of social issues.
"An expansion of the massive Everglades restoration program designed to clean up Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers came closer Wednesday to being passed by the Senate." "Wider Everglades cleanup flows".
"The Florida Senate introduced a bill Wednesday that would give a $5 million payment to the parents of Martin Lee Anderson, the Bay County teenager who died after being hit and kicked by guards in a juvenile boot camp last year." "Senate introduces bill to pay Anderson's parents $5 million".
"A bill to require gambling ships to take their sewage back to land instead of releasing it in the sea has, for the moment, run aground." "'Clean Oceans' becalmed in Senate". See also "Lawmakers seek to discourage gambling ships from dumping sewage offshore".