"Calling the elimination of property taxes in exchange for an increase in the state sales tax "completely unacceptable," Senate Democrats on Tuesday released a plan of their own to realign Florida's local tax structure." "Democrats Blast GOP Plan, Offer Tax Relief Strategy".
"Senate Democrats want to raise the property tax cap in exchange for allowing homeowners to take savings with them when they move." "New volley issued in tax debate". See also "Senate Dems Offer Their Own Prop Tax Plan", "Senate Democrats offer wide-ranging tax reform proposal", "Sales-tax increase left out of plan from Democrats" and "GOP to study tax-cut plan from Senate Democrats". In the meantime, "Lawmakers divided on tax hit to local governments".
"Legislature: Day 22 at a glance". "2007 Legislature roundup" and "Upcoming at the Capitol".
Stem Cell Issue Advances
"Florida lawmakers tackled the issue of stem-cell research Tuesday facing the same question that dominates a national debate: Should taxpayers fund research that involves destroying human embryos?"
That question played the key role as senators considered dueling bills that each call for spending $20 million a year on stem-cell research -- but differ about whether money should go to embryonic research. ..."Committee passes dueling bills on stem cell research". See also "Both Stem Cell Bills Move" ("Crist had supported embryonic stem cell research during his campaign but has since endorsed the other bill that limits research to adult stem cells, because, he says, it's the one that's most likely to get through the House.")
The Senate Health Policy Committee took up the issue in what could be the first step in a politically and morally charged debate. The committee, however, passed both of the competing bills, giving little indication about how lawmakers will eventually resolve the issue.
Fair and Balanced
No, this isn't a GOP talking points memo, but an unbiased newspaper editorial board:
The good thing about legacies is they endure. Perhaps a future UF Faculty Senate will recognize how much Florida benefited from Bush's leadership."University Politics At Its Worst".
More Union Bashing
The union hating Orlando Sentinel editorial board (see "Send in the scabs" and "Oh ... The Hypocrisy") is practically foaming at the mouth this morning:
When everyone in Tallahassee -- including the state's teachers union -- was praising a new merit-pay plan passed by the Legislature, it sounded too good to be true.And you know who is responsible? You guessed it, those big, bad unions; and the editors argue that Charlie needs to stand tall against the union thugs:
Gov. Charlie Crist ought to veto this bill and stand firm against the union and school boards that oppose rewarding the state's best teachers.The tirade continues:
Gov. Jeb Bush championed the Special Teachers Are Rewarded merit-pay plan. STAR tied merit pay directly to student performance on the FCAT and other tests.The editors try to instill some anti-union backbone in Mr. Crist:
STAR replaced a useless plan engineered through a compromise with the state teachers union. Sound familiar?
That earlier plan required districts to develop merit-pay plans or risk losing money from the state lottery. So districts, through union negotiations, came up with merit-pay plans in name only.
Enter Mr. Crist, who seems to be suffering under the misconception that he can support meaningful laws without angering anyone. To win union support, lawmakers wrote a plan with a loophole big enough to drive a big yellow bus through: There's no penalty for districts that don't create merit-pay plans.If that were not enough, the following is completely unacceptable to the Sentinel editors:
Each district would have to work with the union to come up with a plan if it wanted to share in $147.5 million the Legislature set aside for bonuses."Merit-pay sham". Aside from being unable to accept anything having to do with organized workers, the editors are either woefully ignorant - or willfully ignoring - the following:
-- Even though Florida public employees (even teachers) have a state fundamental constitutional right to unionize (ugh! there's that word again), Florida is a right-to-work state, so union membership is entirely voluntary - that means that the teachers union is the chosen representative of Florida's teachers.
-- Even though Florida teachers are exercising a fundamental state constitutional right to bargain, that right is extremely weak: whenever the teachers union and school boards disagree on any issue in negotiations (like, say, a merit pay plan), the school board has the right to unilaterally do whatever they want. The Union cannot stop the imposition of a merit pay plan containing whatever provisions the a school district may want.
-- Finally, if the editors bothered to listen to what the teachers union has been saying - something the editors apparently are constitutionally incapable of doing - they would know that the union does not "oppose rewarding the state's best teachers", as the editors falsely assert, but rather would prefer increasing all Florida teachers' pay to a decent level before doling out merit pay to individual teachers perceived to have merit. After all, it is no secret that Florida's teachers' wages are inadequate.
"U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking a Senate committee to investigate whether the recent resignation of a Florida U.S. attorney is connected to the recent controversial dismissals at the Justice Department." "Nelson questions attorney's resignation".
"Before it can even begin, a congressional task force reviewing Sarasota's disputed election is already bogging down. In a move that seems to portend the bitter partisanship that awaits, GOP leaders are refusing to even appoint a member to the task force, preventing the newly created group's chairman from setting a schedule or even basic ground rules for how the investigation will start." "GOP, seeking 'clarity,' holds up task force".
Guns Before Butter
"The National Rifle Association won the first round Tuesday in a two-year fight with Florida's business lobby over whether employees should be allowed to keep guns in their cars when they go to work."
The early victory has many business lobbyists, who managed to block the controversial idea just one year ago, worried that the NRA will be much tougher to stop this time around."NRA, gun bill take step toward target". See also "Workers' guns bill looks to have chance to pass".
"I would think that right now the bill stands a good chance of passing," said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, moments after the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 7-1 to approve the measure that would make it illegal for businesses to prevent people from keeping guns locked in their cars when they park on company property.
It was a surprisingly one-sided vote on an issue that split the Republican-controlled Legislature last year, pitting two typically GOP-friendly interest groups against each other.
This is interesting: "AFL-CIO Sides With NRA In Backing Employee Gun Rights".
Federal Insurance Reforms
"Lawmakers from Florida and Mississippi presented competing plans for insurance reforms Tuesday to a House subcommittee, which embarked on a tangled debate about federal intervention in a state regulated industry." "House panel hears debate on disaster insurance plans". See also "Insurance industry to lawmakers: Don't cap premiums".
"For weeks, they've been talking about capping annual property tax increases and requiring more than a majority vote by local officials to go above the cap. But, saying property taxes are only part of the picture, a few want to apply the same higher standard to other types of taxes and fees, including impact fees." "Lawmakers look at supermajority vote to raise taxes, fees".
"Plan for slots tax credit falters". See also "Supreme Court to hear slot-machine case".
"It must not have shocked Floridians to read that another segment of the insurance industry treats payment of claims as a side business."
Americans have filed thousands of complaints. Among them: After a request from a policyholder, a company sent the wrong form, then denied the claim because of a paperwork problem."A new insurance worry".
Because of new incentives, many large companies are getting into the business of long-term care coverage, which is supposed to pay bills associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's. According to the Times, three companies drew an unusually high number of complaints: Conseco; Bankers Life, a Conseco subsidiary; and Penn Treaty. Conseco, which paid $2 million for naming rights to the home of the Indiana Pacers basketball team, refused comment for the story.
Some lawyers in Florida are making a living just going after property insurers for slow-pay or no-pay on hurricane claims. The long-term care issue also matters in Florida, where 18 percent of the population is over age 65. By 2030, according to population projections, slightly more than one-fourth of the state's residents will be over 65 - and roughly 2 million residents will be over 80.
Charlie Keeps His Options Open
"McCain draws praise, but no endorsement, from Florida governor". See also "McCain's visit reflects shifting primary schedule" and "Crist for McCain? "Keep Hope Alive," Senator Says".
"'I think we've got great candidates, and the fact that they take time to come to Florida is significant,' Crist said. "I think as the governor of our state, it's only right and courteous to welcome them here.'" But Aaron Deslatte notes that there is "No word on whether he'll also roll out the carpet for Sen. Barack Obama's Tally stop Friday."
"Unlike his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist has made a point of saying he wanted to give a wide berth to the Legislature. And lawmakers are using the extra air to bypass some of his education and environmental budget requests." "Lawmakers bypass Crist's requests". See also "House budget omits voting machines, teacher bonuses" and "Budget Battle Brewing".
On a related note, The Buzz wonders about "A Coming Budget Clash in Tallahassee?"
"Calling voter-imposed caps on class sizes an 'insane expenditure,' the GOP-controlled House is once again attempting to undo the constitutional amendment that limits the number of students in each public-school classroom. A House panel voted along party lines Tuesday in favor of asking voters to freeze class-cap levels as they are now and use any savings to give more money to teachers and other school employees." "House GOP seeks end to class-size caps". See also "Republicans Renew Push For Flexible Class-Size Caps" and "House committee proposes loosening Florida class size limits".
Mark Lane asks: "Can we bring back civics?"
"A group of House lawmakers on Tuesday approved an amended bill on teenage abortions that would add a new hurdle to all Florida women seeking abortions -- a 24-hour waiting period." "Abortion waiting period advances". See also "24-hour abortion wait advances".
"A massive air-conditioning failure Tuesday at a state office complex shut down government computer traffic statewide and forced emergency managers to begin backup plans." "Cooling problem downs Web site".
Lobbyists In A Huff
"Lying to the Legislature could land people in jail under a new 'truth in government' measure proposed by Miami state Sen. Alex Villalobos. ... But there are people who would not be covered by the law: minors, legislative staff members and, yes, legislators themselves." "Lawmaker wants nothing but the truth".
Jeremy Wallace: "In the weeks since the deficiencies at Walter Reed Medical Center became widely known, area members of Congress have been beating a path to veterans hospitals and clinics, hoping to demonstrate they are looking into the problems and are working to change conditions." "Politicians beat a path to local VA clinics".
Personal Injury Protection, also "known as Florida's no-fault law, PIP is set to expire in October if lawmakers do nothing — which is exactly what the majority of the powerful insurance lobby wants to happen. The system is wrought with fraud that artificially drives up costs for insurers and consumers, they said, and is broken beyond repair." "Senate committee votes to reform, extend fraud-fraught PIP in car insurance 12:00 a.m.". See also "Senate votes to extend state's no-fault law".
"State bill would stifle local voices"
"Cities have it rough this session in the Florida Legislature. One of the session's hottest topics is a plan to restrict property taxes that fund local cities, counties and school boards. At the same time, lawmakers are considering legislation that would gag local-government officials who want to complain about the Legislature's actions -- or any other issue that might come before voters." "Gag rule".
Notwithstanding the Jebbie Snub ...
"House committee approves upping cost of UF by $500": "A House committee approved the $500 ''academic enhancement'' fee that the University of Florida is seeking Tuesday, but Gov. Charlie Crist indicated he might veto the plan if it reaches his desk."
"Splitting School Districts"
"The proposal to let the state's largest school districts, such as Palm Beach County, divide itself into smaller districts was approved 10-3 by the House School and Learning Council. Under the bill, county voters would decide whether to create multiple districts of at least 25,000 students." "House committees back splitting school districts".
Those Crazy Benedictines Must Hate America
"President Bush's plan to speak to graduates at Miami Dade College next month has seeingly met with little opposition. "
Not so at Saint Vincent College, a Benedictine liberal arts school in Iraq war critic Rep. John Murtha's Pennsylvania congressional district."Bush speech sparks 'uproar'".
"Carbon monoxide bill is presented to panel".
Our busy executives: see "Kottkamp plugs healthier living" and "Crist to meet with ambassador from Cyprus".
"Profile in Discouragement"
"Sen. Bill Posey's attempt to kill a sales-tax exemption for ostrich feed has been a profile in discouragement." "Flightless bill back again".
"For seven years, the family of Minouche Noel has petitioned the state for $8.5-million as a result of her paralysis caused by negligence at a state-run health clinic." "House panel okays $6M for girl".
Does Anyone Care Anymore?
"Didn’t You Used To Be Jeb Bush?"
"Hillary Clinton's fundraiser in Miami Saturday will be the most successful ever by a Democratic candidate in Florida, predicts longtime money man Chris Korge." "High Hopes for Hillary".