"Fanfare over: It's back to work for lawmakers".
"It's spring, which means that someone in Tallahassee is fretting about the sex lives of teenaged girls. We don't mean to take this lightly: Teen pregnancy is a serious issue, and Florida has the sixth-worst rate of teen pregnancy among the 50 states. But the Legislature has become all too predictable. Every year, there's a contest over who can come up with the looniest, most invasive and most-likely-to-be-ruled-unconstitutional proposal, and everyone seems focused on the same target group. Why not pry into the personal affairs of middle-aged men for a change?" "Ganging up".
Lucy Morgan writes that "lawmakers left a loophole when they passed the law banning gifts from lobbyists. They can't accept a free cup of coffee, but they can accept a check for $100,000 to their favorite charity or campaign accounts." "Donations dodge ban on lobbyist gifts".
"Despite Gov. Charlie Crist's talk of the need to 'live within our means,' people who work for him are asking for more money. The state agency chiefs Crist hired have reviewed his recommended budget and are collectively asking for more than $1-billion in new spending next year, on top of Crist's $71-billion proposal." "Gloom hangs over budget requests". See also "Daily News: A tighter budget may mean fewer 'turkeys'".
"America's Greatest Governor"
"On election night in November, Charlie Crist called Jeb Bush not only this state's greatest governor but 'America's greatest governor.' Even before he was inaugurated on Jan. 2, however, Charlie Crist began governing quite differently than Gov. Bush did."
In little more than two months, Gov. Crist has set a tone that is vastly different from the one wielded by the man he called "America's greatest governor." Gov. Crist challenged legislators to not waste "through neglect or partisan divide" the chance to "bring real change now and help our people in profound ways for generations to come." The Legislature's effectiveness this year will be determined largely by whether it follows Gov. Crist's hopeful sense of urgency and inclusion."Crist's choice of promises renews Florida's promise".
Tom Blackburn contends that "One thing alone would make [Charlie's] first year a hit. He cast out Phil Handy."
In the end, Mr. Handy was chairman of the state board of education, but in his first political incarnation, he was the mover behind term limits for state legislators. Mr. Handy has good intentions, but his grasp of public policy is nil, and his contempt for politicians prevents him from learning what he doesn't know. His is the kind of advice a governor should have kept at the far end of an e-mail link, which is where Gov. Crist has put him."How to catch a Crist and pin it down?".
"Broward candidates make last-ditch appeals before Tuesday vote".
"Avarice and Craziness"
"Florida has 7,800 lakes, 320 springs, 300 species of palms, 56 species of roaches and several dozen talking cartoon animals. But Florida has only two renewable resources: avarice and craziness." "A paradise of asphalt and condosdiane roberts col".
"No one would argue with the need to protect the public. More at issue is how much it will cost and who will pay. Enforcing the law to the max will mean more people in county jails, more judges and more people in state prison. A Senate analysis concludes that the cost to local government could be "significant," just as local government faces a possible cut in tax revenue ordered by the Legislature. Finally, under Gov. Bush, the state cut back drastically on the number of probation officers." "Pay 'anti-murder' tab".
"Perhaps the stars have aligned for immigration reform this year. President Bush and Congressional leaders want a bipartisan solution. Americans want real fixes from Congress. A coalition of business, labor, immigration and religious groups are lobbying Washington harder than ever. But some obstacles remain, namely a time crunch and anti-immigrant zealots who could be spoilers." "Give immigration reform another try".
"A $200 million restoration plan that includes Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers that it fouls with polluted runoff has hit troubled waters. " "River-restoration plan hits troubled waters".
Mike Twomey, president of Florida Utility Watch Inc.: "Floridians pay some of the highest electric bills in the nation because our utilities pay the highest price for natural gas of any state besides Hawaii, according to the Energy Information Administration."
To lower and stabilize utility rates and ensure that our electric grid remains reliable during events like hurricane strikes and heat waves, the Legislature and the Public Service Commission should encourage the development of natural-gas storage facilities in Florida. The storage technology is mature and safe and is already in use in states such as California, New York and Illinois to enhance the efficiency of existing energy infrastructure and provide price insurance during weather-related price increases."We can lower electric bills, increase reliability".
Energy is a serious concern for Florida. If our leaders do not act soon, Florida could be hit with electric-service disruptions, coupled with sharp rate increases. With population growth continuing to strain Florida's energy infrastructure, it's possible that in five years' time the state's energy demands could exceed fuel supply availability on peak days in the hot summer months, causing a spike in utility rates and perhaps even supply issues forcing blackouts.
Property Tax Reform
Courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "As Gov. Charlie Crist and lawmakers debate reforms in Florida's flawed property-tax system, here are some suggestions to guide their work:" "A fairer system". See also "Rent relief works its way into property tax debate".
"State Department of Natural Resources administrators have wisely dropped a plan to dismantle Everglades icon Marjory Stoneman Douglas' Coconut Grove cottage. The plan was to move the cottage to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. To move the cottage would dishonor Ms. Douglas' memory. She wrote River of Grass -- a clarion call to save the Everglades." "Straight to the point".
"An effort in the state Capitol to protect Floridians against the increasing threat of identify theft could also cut off public access to real estate, criminal and government personnel records, according to a First Amendment advocacy group." "First Amendment-rights group wary of privacy bills". See also "Open records get champion" and "Scores of bills aimed at limiting public access to records".
The Sun-Sentinel editors: "The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering relaxing some of the rules that have protected alligators. Let's hope they don't relax the rules too much." "Wildlife".
Cotterell: "Whatever else Department of Corrections employees might think of Jim McDonough, they have to admit the prisons boss leads by example." "Prison boss betting on getting fit".
"The Florida Marlins' latest hope for a new ballpark focuses on two publicly owned properties: one, the old football stadium in Little Havana; the other, a nine-acre plot in downtown Miami that could prove costly." "New stadium squeeze play".
"As Pinellas County prepares to ask voters to renew a penny sales tax for another decade, it is managing a financial feat that many residents can only dream of: It is spending more while keeping a large reserve."
Thanks to a property tax windfall from the recent real estate boom, Pinellas has accumulated a surplus reserve of $146 million, county budget figures show."Pinellas' Large Fund Reserve Raises Questions". See also "The Risk Of Voting Penny Out Of Pinellas".
The nest egg comes to 21 percent of the county's general operating budget, easily the highest percentage among several urban counties, including Hillsborough, Dade and Broward.
"Voter turnout is notoriously low in city commission elections; less than 15 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2003 races." "Sarasota city candidates fight for votes".
"A woman who sued over the death of her baby, born over a jail cell toilet even though she complained of labor pains for nearly 12 hours, has received a $350,000 settlement." "Woman gets settlement in death of baby in jail".
"State Rep. Aaron Bean is challenging fellow lawmakers to focus as much on trimming the fat off their own bodies as they do trimming taxes." "Fat cats no more".
"Incompetent, partisan, defensive to the point of hostility: Dent was called a lot of things last November, after the District 13 congressional race produced an 18,000-vote undercount that sent Vern Buchanan to Congress under a cloud and consigned $4.7 million worth of brand-new touch-screen voting equipment to the scrap heap. Today, on the eve of her first election since that long month in the national media spotlight, Dent is feeling confident -- even, to borrow a word used frequently to describe her last fall, 'defiant.'" "'Defiant' Dent says she's ready for another election".
The Tampa Trib editors: "Florida was a pioneer in the late 1990s when it created KidCare to help poor families who are not eligible for Medicaid but who cannot afford private insurance."
But since then, the state Legislature has turned this visionary program into a bureaucratic nightmare by creating numerous barriers that keep families from signing up for low-cost children's health insurance."Lawmakers Can Fix KidCare Without Altering The Constitution".
The way KidCare has been handled is shameful and it's understandable some child advocates now are tempted to pursue a state constitutional amendment that would guarantee affordable health care coverage to all children.
But creating an entitlement program and embedding it in the state constitution would be overreacting to a problem that can be solved with much simpler measures.