"State and federal lawmakers said Tuesday that they want to extend federal safety standards to all public employees in an effort to prevent accidents like last year's deadly wastewater explosion in Daytona Beach."
Unlike private agencies, public employees in Florida are not subject to the regulations of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency to prevent work-related illnesses and deaths. It's up to each state to set safety standards and training procedures for its city and state workers. ...And who is directly responsible for this tragic mess; two guesses:
Instead, cities, counties and other public agencies are supposed to "voluntarily comply" with the federal standards. The board found that in addition to the Daytona Beach accident, there have been 33 chemical incidents at public facilities in Florida in the past five years, all of which might have been prevented if the federal standards were in place.
Florida used to comply with the OSHA standards for public workers, but the state safety program was eliminated in 2000."Blast elicits call for safety".
That's right, Jebbie "Bush And His Amen Chorus Of Goose-Stepping Legislators" made OSHA requirements "voluntary" and "eliminated the safety program". Will Jebbie acknowledge his responsibility and apologize?Today in Tally
"Legislature: Day 8 at a glance". See also "2007 Legislature roundup".
Another of Jebbie's legacies:
The states with the highest percentage of uninsured children were Texas, 20.3 percent; Florida, 16.9 percent; and New Mexico, 16.6 percent."More kids in lower-income families lack health insurance".
"Rubio's plan is brilliant"
Mike Thomas asks: "Do you want to quit paying property taxes?"
If so, meet Marco Rubio.Thomas continues:
He is your hero.
He is bright, passionate, articulate, charming and a family man.
As speaker of the Florida House, he already is among the three most powerful people in the state. And he is only 35 years old.
His reputation is growing nationally among Republicans. He is a confidant of Jeb Bush and, like Jeb, embraces big-splash initiatives.
That is the beauty of Rubio's plan: He would dump homeowner property taxes altogether and replace the money with an increase of 2.5 cents in the sales tax. It is audacious. It is simple. You can explain it in one sentence. It saves homeowners more money.Read the whole column here: "Rubio's tax idea could turn him into GOP star".
I question whether it is good public policy. It shifts the tax burden to lower-income residents while mansion owners get huge cuts. It makes us dependent on a single, potentially volatile tax source.
But this column is about strategy. And Rubio's plan is brilliant politics.
The Dem Alternative
"While state House Republicans leaders have put local government budgets in the cross hairs of the property tax debate, their Democratic colleagues hope to shift the aim of the debate to a target closer to home." "Democrats forge plan on property taxes".
"Florida's two senators expressed alarm Tuesday over a proposal they said would put oil rigs just 45 miles from the Florida coast -- and skirt the embargo against Cuba by allowing U.S. firms to explore for oil and gas in Cuban waters." "Oil bill could put rigs near Florida". See also "Senate bill seeks oil drilling 45 miles off Florida". See also "No drilling, bill says loud and toothlessly".
Property Tax Cuts
"Florida lawmakers remain far apart about how best to lower property taxes, but at least one change already appears certain: Cities and counties will be forced to slash the amount of money they're collecting from taxpayers. Leading senators said Tuesday that a state-imposed rollback on property taxes is probably inevitable for local governments this spring, even though cities and counties warn such a move could lead to wholesale cuts in everything from public safety to garbage pickup." "Forecast on tax cuts is cloudy". See also "Let court sort out Florida's tax mess" and "Senate taking slow approach to property tax reform".
"The state's grim budget picture claimed its first victim Tuesday."
Lawmakers on the House K-12 Committee scaled back plans for another back-to-school sales-tax holiday this summer by deciding to include only items worth $50 or less, rather than $100 or less as backers initially hoped."Budget crunches tax-free holiday".
"Florida Capital Bureau Chief The chairman of a House panel had some tough questions Tuesday for advocates who want to create a 'Children's Cabinet.'" "Children's cabinet faces tough committee".
"Citizens' business plan has been approved by the Florida Cabinet; the company's chairman said customer service satisfaction measures are in place." "Officials approve stronger Citizens plan". See also "Cabinet OKs plan to expand Citizens' offerings".
"A slew of activists, citizens and an election official told a Senate committee Tuesday that optical-scan ballots are the only way to ensure voter confidence in the state's elections." "Optical-scan ballots best, activists say". See also "Crist announces paper-trail voting plan".
Gay Adoption Ban
"Critics say the ban is unfair and hypocritical because the state allows gays and lesbians to be foster parents." "Gay adoption ban draws heat".
"To lower property taxes, state lawmakers are adding to their arsenal plans that would create the most significant changes seen in decades to the way properties are appraised throughout Florida. Legislators are now looking to require all Florida properties to be assessed based on their current rather than their potential uses." "Legislators consider new proposals for appraising properties in Florida".
Pump Salesman's Blues
Curious story today. "The Army Corps of Engineers, rushing to meet President Bush's promise to protect New Orleans by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, installed defective flood-control pumps last year despite warnings from its own expert that the equipment would fail during a storm, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press."
MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps. And Eller has donated about $128,000 to politicians, the vast majority of it to the Republican Party, since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics."Memo: Corps knew pumps installed after Katrina were faulty".
MWI has run into trouble before. The U.S. Justice Department sued the company in 2002, accusing it of fraudulently helping Nigeria obtain $74 million in taxpayer-backed loans for overpriced and unnecessary water-pump equipment. The case is unresolved. Because of the trouble with the New Orleans pumps, the Corps has withheld 20 percent of the MWI contract, including an incentive of up to $4 million that the company could have collected if it delivered the equipment in time for the 2006 hurricane season.
Misgivings about the pumps were chronicled in a May 2006 memo provided to the AP by Matt McBride, a mechanical engineer and flooded-out Katrina victim who, like many in New Orleans, has been closely watching the rebuilding of the city's flood defenses.
The memo was written by Maria Garzino, a Corps mechanical engineer overseeing quality assurance at an MWI test site in Florida. The Corps confirmed the authenticity of the 72-page memo, which details many of the mechanical problems and criticizes the testing procedures used.
You remember MWI; recall this 2002 Salon article by Anthony York:
The focus of the renewed scrutiny is Jeb's partnership with David Eller, president and CEO of MWI Corp., a Florida-based water pump company. The Department of Justice is now accusing MWI of using millions in U.S. government loans, obtained from the Export-Import Bank, to bribe Nigerian officials to buy MWI pumps. The suit was originally filed by a former MWI employee in 1998. The government decided to intervene on the employee's behalf earlier this year."Jeb Bush's summer bummer". See also "Some say probe tests ties to GOP backer".
Eller, a major Republican donor and activist, formed a partnership with Bush in 1989 called Bush-El. The business was established to sell MWI pumps and other equipment in other countries. During his father's presidency, Bush visited Nigeria twice as an MWI advocate. The visits from the first son were major events in Nigeria, according to media reports. There was even a parade, complete with 1,300 horses, in Bush's honor. The St. Petersburg Times reported that "tens of thousands of people lined the road to welcome the American president's son."
Bush was in Nigeria to help sell millions of dollars worth of MWI products to the Nigerian government. According to a 1992 Wall Street Journal article, Bush was simultaneously working to arrange a visit to the White House by Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida. "Jeb Bush's experiences in the pump business provide a case study in how to profit from a Presidential name -- perfectly legally, by all appearances," the Journal wrote.
But the financing of the deal that came out of those visits was less than perfectly legal, the Department of Justice now claims. A government complaint seeking millions in damages against MWI suggests political influence played a large role in MWI obtaining the multimillion dollar Export-Import loans in the first place. In fact, the government suggests that Eller's political connections were the primary reason MWI was able to secure government loans at all. Although the suit suggests the company cashed in on its political connections to help secure the government loans, it seems to go out of its way not to mention Jeb Bush by name. The suit notes that Eller did business with "a member of a prominent national political family in an attempt to bolster MWI's sales abroad" -- an obvious reference to Jeb Bush.
"MWI's overt political activism and influence created both sales opportunities in Nigeria and ready access to [Export-Import] Bank loan support for those sales back in the United States," the complaint says. "The fact that MWI was able to obtain Exim Bank Financing at all is surprising given the Nigerian Federal Government's traditionally poor credit history."
And there's this piece of the story, from the Miami Herald:
It was 1991, dad was in the White House, and Jeb Bush was hopscotching through Nigeria in a corporate jet, on his way to meet government officials he hoped would buy $74 million worth of water pumps from his South Florida business partner. On the jet with Bush was a Nigerian associate in the deal, Al-Haji Mohammed Indimi, who carried several heavy Hartmann suitcases. At least one of the bags, the airplane's pilot says, was packed with cash to bribe the Nigerian officials. Did Jeb Bush know about the cash in the suitcase? Did he understand what the money was for? Bush declined to be interviewed for this story. His campaign emphatically denied that he knew anything about suitcases full of bribe money."Bush and business: Fast success, brushes with mystery" (no longer available online).
"A proposal making Florida's insurance advocate more powerful passed a Senate panel Tuesday." "Panel backs stronger consumer advocate".
"Crist: State should pay $5 million for death of teen at boot camp". See also "Anderson's parents ask for meeting with governor" and "Crist commits $5 million to Anderson settlement".
The Very Best Thing They Can Do
"The very best thing that legislators can do this month is repeal the divisive teacher bonus plan -- nicknamed 'STAR' for Special Teachers are Rewarded -- that they hurriedly passed last year. Without action, the state in April will begin divvying up $147 million for teacher bonuses using an inequitable formula based largely on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test." "Reward plan a burnout for teachers, students".".
From the Law And Order Crowd
"Nearly every state House Republican lawmaker attended a private meeting Monday night held to discuss the controversial topic of stem cell research, state party officials said Tuesday."
The state constitution requires that when three or more lawmakers discuss pending legislation, the meeting be given proper public notice."GOP stem cell meeting draws criticism over sunshine issues".
There was no public notice of the meeting Monday, but attendees and party officials insisted state open meetings law was not broken.
"We didn't talk about any bills," said Rep. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican sponsoring one of two competing bills before the House concerning stem cell research. "I didn't speak. No members spoke on any legislation. We just had a conversation on the science of it. I guarantee you there was no word on any pending legislation."
"Critics say 'bully bill' neglects gay students".
"At the same time they say cities and counties need to cut property taxes, House lawmakers have drawn a school spending budget that would let school boards raise taxes." "School bill encourages tax increase".
"KidCare, Florida's health insurance for low-income children, desperately needs a legislative overhaul. Once a national model, KidCare has been losing enrollment even as the number of uninsured children has skyrocketed. Now Florida has more than 700,000 uninsured children and the second-highest percentage of uninsured children among U.S. states. That is shameful." "Healthier kids for a healthier Florida". See also "Senate panel approves KidCare overhaul, expansion".
On The Cheap
"House Republicans are breaking with Gov. Charlie Crist's classroom spending plans by offering a smaller increase in education spending, less funding for teacher bonuses and a 5-percent tuition hike at universities and community colleges." "House skims education budget".
"Crist: Sunshine is for everyone".
"Maybe it shows how difficult it is to do accurate polls in primaries—a new American Research Group poll differs from last week’s Quinnipiac poll, showing John McCain leading Rudy Giuliani in Florida." "Poll Shows McCain Leading in Florida Primary".
The ARG Florida poll has McCain leading Giuliani 38% to 28% with 14% undecided and the rest in single digits. "Sample Size: 600 completed telephone interviews among a random sample of likely Republican primary voters living in Florida (533 Republicans and 67 independent voters). Sample Dates: February 23-27, 2007 Margin of Error: ± 4 percentage points, 95% of the time, on questions where opinion is evenly split."
"Despite public angst over rising property taxes, Pinellas County voters Tuesday resoundingly approved renewing the 'Penny for Pinellas' 1-cent sales tax for another decade, through 2020." "Penny For Pinellas Approved".
"A virtual handful of voters elected new leaders in 11 cities on Tuesday." "Broward voter turnout is less than 10%". See also "Vote problems leave candidates confused well into evening".
"Consumers would have an insurance advocate with teeth if a proposal now before the Legislature is passed." "Bill could beef up consumers' side".
"Bill would require parental notification of sex ed classes".
"The John McCain and Mitt Romney campaigns have become so competitive in forming Florida organizations and announcing endorsements they’re jumping the gun—both have announced endorsements in recent days that they didn’t yet have." "Intense Competition In Presidential Campaign Leads To Foulups".
"When the K-8 virtual school was created in 2003, it was sold as a way of saving money. Because only students who had attended a public school the previous year were eligible and because the per-student amount of $4,800 was $700 less than what the state spent at public schools, proponents said the state would save $700,000 from the 1,000-student program."
Not so fast. "That calculus was undone almost immediately, however, when then-Education Commissioner Jim Horne permitted kindergarten and first-grade students who had never attended school before to enroll. Those two grades in that year accounted for 27 percent of all the students, meaning that instead of saving money, the program in that first year added as much as $653,000, depending on how many of the youngest students would have been home-schooled anyway." "Expanded virtual schools sought".
Tampa Election Glitches?
"Reddick said residents told him they did not learn until election day that their polling site had changed and others said a power outage at one precinct caused votes to go uncounted." "Reddick Alleges Glitches Cost Him District 5 Runoff".
"'Unit training and rehabilitation' employees at Florida State Hospital are seeking the 3-percent special-risk retirement benefit that law-enforcement officers, firefighters and correctional officers in the prisons receive. They now receive only the 1.6-percent pension credit for each year's service. That's what state office workers receive. This is inequitable and shortsighted. If the state's goal is to keep turnover among employees low, failure to extend the same retirement benefits to these employees isn't how to accomplish it. Failure to extend greater protection while they're on the job is even more irresponsible." "How long?".
"Brett Doster, one of the Bush brothers’ top political operatives in Florida, has signed up to manage the constitutional amendment campaign of Citizens for Science and Ethics, an organization opposing embryonic stem cell research." "Doster To Manage Anti-Stem Cell Campaign".
Quid Pro Quo
"Lawmakers are pushing Florida's telephone companies to forgo a scheduled increase in local phone rates as a way to sweeten a bill that would make it easier for them to get into the cable business. Gov. Charlie Crist also wants the cable bill to make it easier for poor people who qualify for subsidized phone service to actually get it." "Phone companies' boost targeted by lawmakers".
"Gratified and slightly astonished"
Michael Putney says "Count me among the gratified and slightly astonished -- as are most members of the Florida Legislature after the new governor's first two months in office. Crist has consistently done right on issues large and small. He has made nary a serious misstep and many in a direction that Tallahassee hasn't seen in decades. Toward civility and collegiality. Toward not just bipartisanship but nonpartisanship." "Crist keeps on giving pleasant surprises".
"The more than 850,000 residents of Broward and Palm Beach counties who rent their homes would benefit by changes key lawmakers say they are now willing to make to the tax cut plans taking shape in the Legislature." "Florida lawmakers want to help renters with cuts in property taxes".
Palm Beach Post: "Abolish Executions"
"Chances are that in the next few weeks, the Legislature will pass a bill to 'fix' Florida's system of capital punishment. Even if that happens, the 'fix' probably won't last."
Florida thought that electrocution worked fine until the Pedro Medina execution in 1997 dispelled that myth. Three years later, the state added lethal injection. When Angel Diaz's attorneys challenged the lethal injection protocols, the state argued that the system worked fine. The only way to guarantee that there are no mistakes in executions would be to abolish executions."Nearly a lethal blow".
"Floridians would be hardest hit"
"Hospitals that serve as safety nets for poor and uninsured Floridians would be hardest hit by a Medicaid rule the Bush administration has proposed - not just for Florida but throughout the country. So, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., correctly are trying to delay the cuts, which would cost Florida's hospitals as much as $932 million each year in federal and state matching money." "Block meatball surgery on state's hospitals, poor".
- "Today [Tuesday, March 13] in Tallahassee".
- "State Reduces Revenue Forecasts".
- "Rubio's chief of staff steps down, may seek office".
- "School Bully Bill Needs More Teeth, Group Says".
- "State Hospital workers fear reprisals".
- "Gov. Crist Signs Anti-Murder Bill Into Law".
- "Housing slump fueling economic slowdown".
- "State rejects complaint in [Winter Garden] District 4 race".
- "Sexual orientation at issue in anti-bullying bill".