"It is a long shot that a new congressional task force will reverse the results from the Vern Buchanan-Christine Jennings race, but by even reaching this point it shows the place Sarasota County's disputed election is getting on the national stage." "Task force to look at Jennings' challenge".
On the Agenda in Tally
"Legislators to take up property taxes, stem cell research". See also "Legislative Update".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The Legislature is trying to deal with an insurance crisis and a property-tax crisis. In their spare time, lawmakers also are trying to deal with serious education issues that include paying for the class-size amendment, improving teacher pay and rewriting education standards from the ground up."
The last thing the state needs, with all that going on, is for someone to rekindle the battle over school vouchers. Yet Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, is determined to do just that. Sen. Webster has pushed through committee two bills (SB 2380 and SB 2382) that would revive the Jeb Bush voucher program that the Florida Supreme Court struck down in January 2006. ..."Call off voucher fight".
Voucher critics, hoping that Gov. Bush's departure would end the relentless effort to turn education over to private and religious schools that have to meet no meaningful standards, have not gone to court to end corporate vouchers. Sen. Webster's efforts could end the truce.
With so much else that needs to be done - and with so little evidence that vouchers could provide the breakthrough in education that Florida needs - this is the wrong year to pick a fight over vouchers.
Tom Blackburn: "Last time the Legislature 'reformed' workers compensation, it should have satisfied the lobbyists who wanted to keep injured workers in Florida from getting anywhere with their complaints if their claims are denied."
The plan was to starve out the lawyers who represent injured workers by limiting their fees. Division of Workers Compensation statistics show that the plan is working. ..."War on lawyers hits the injured".
There are no limits on the pay of attorneys who defend insurance companies against plaintiffs. ...
For all my hooting and hollering, the system still is a wilderness a sane person can't navigate without a lawyer. Now all the reforms, as anticipated, make it unlikely that most people who need one will be able to get one.
That is an outcome "tort reformers" could only dream about when they started 15 years ago. They ought to be happy now. But just wait. It won't be long before they gin up a new crisis that requires more of their kinds of reforms.
"A Hard Sell"
"Key members of the U.S. Senate listened to Gov. Charlie Crist's tale of woe about the rising cost of hurricane insurance ... and shrugged. It's going to be a hard sell to convince lawmakers from other states that Florida's plight is also theirs." "Risks don't end at state line".
Cable Television Fight
"As cellular cuts into their wired-line phone revenue, telephone titans such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are now hoping to woo customers by adding cable television to their existing telephone and Web-access services." "Cable-TV battle may save you money". Here's the local government perspective: "Consumers lose if state takes cable TV control".
"No Easy Answer"
"The Legislature must find a solution to soaring property taxes: The increase in the tax has far surpassed the growth of personal income." "Many options; no easy answer". See also "Skyrocketing property taxes slam hundreds of South Florida's legal immigrants" and "What's The Ideal Tax System For Florida?"
Editorials: "The property-tax plan presented Thursday by a united Florida Senate is far better than the proposal working its way through the state House -- but it's certainly not the best lawmakers can do for Floridians." "Dueling tax plans".
And then there is the income tax, and some say "Florida is not likely to lift constitutional ban" ("In the past 30 years, only two states have started income taxes, says Ron Alt of the Federation of Tax Administrators. Both were in the liberal Northeast -- New Jersey in 1976 and Connecticut in 1991.")
Meanwhile, "as the legislative debate about property tax woes grab the headlines, a new group is quietly starting to meet that could eventually have a much larger effect on Floridians' checkbooks. The group is the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which comes into existence only once every 20 years. Its recommendations can go directly to voters. The likely timetable: recommendations by next spring, so they can be placed on the November 2008 ballot." "Tax commission could decide Florida's fate".
"In the Tampa kickoff of his presidential campaign, Obama collected about $200,000 in a fundraiser at the home of a supporter in south Tampa. Then he delivered his stump speech to a group organizers said exceeded 2,000, at $25 a head, in Ybor City."
The crowd showed the signs of the movement that has made the Illinois senator a political phenomenon: lots of young people, a broad racial mix, and comparatively little involvement of major Democratic Party figures."Obama's Populist Message Energizes Crowd". See also "Presidential hopeful Obama campaigns in Tampa" and "As storm rolls through Florida, Obama sees winds of change ahead". Adam Smith: "Almost 2,000 flock to hear Obama".
They liked his populist message: that the Bush administration has sold out to special interests, and that America needs another pivotal moment like the civil rights movement to reawaken a sense of community and common purpose.
"Same Old Song"
"The debate over the original lyrics has been a useful reminder of the shameful attitudes of the past. Florida, with so many newcomers, needed the history lesson. But the state song, like Florida itself, has evolved since those unenlightened days." "The Same Old Song For Florida".
Here's An Idea
"There are 246 exemptions to the sales tax, and the state could rake in the revenue with a few changes, or by extending the sales tax to certain services." "Tax is pliable and profitable".
Tar or Feathers?
"Linda South, the secretary of the Department of Management Services, wants to know. DMS is asking 25,000 randomly selected state employees to rate the People First service center, its Web site, and their level of satisfaction with the online personnel system. ... A year ago, if Gov. Jeb Bush had deigned to ask affected employees what they thought, DMS might have needed just one two-part query:"
"If we put you on a management team to improve People First, would you bring (a) the tar or (b) the feathers?""Not all polls are about presidential politics".
"Tough to Implement"
"Felons aren't the only ones to pay". "Anti-murder law tough to implement".
Pigs at the Trough
"Broward County Republicans, whose party controls the Florida House and Senate and thus have the greatest influence in what becomes law, took in truckloads of campaign cash in the weeks leading up to the 2007 legislative session. Fresh campaign finance reports show that five local Republicans, four of whom have leadership posts in the current Legislature or are in line for top jobs in the next Legislature, collected more than 15 times as much as 11 Broward Democrats." "Broward Republicans loaded up on campaign cash before legislative session".
"The Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Detention Center has been spared privatization - for now. The Legislature should lift that ill-conceived threat permanently." "Go public, not private".
"Anitere Flores faced a political dilemma. A proposal that would give millions of dollars more to Miami-Dade schools was on the table. Voting against it would make the state representative appear indifferent to the needs of kids in her home county. But voting for it would mean bucking the House leaders who helped bring her to power." Her solution?
When it came time to vote, she didn't push the green button for Yes or the red button for No. She just sat there."Lawmaker changed non-vote -- two days late".
''I know that looks bad,'' said Flores, a Miami Republican. "I just didn't press the button in time.''
Two days after Wednesday's non-vote on the House floor, and just hours after The Miami Herald asked her about the non-vote, Flores went to the clerk's office and recorded a vote of ''No'' with an explanation: "Board closed prior to vote submission.''
Flores' short time in office has had its hiccups, but her position as the gateway on key education issues is also proof that she has swiftly risen in power, with help from House Speaker Marco Rubio and his top lieutenant, Rep. David Rivera of Miami.
All but one of Flores' bills are ready to go to the House floor for votes this week, which is more than can be said for any other member of the Miami-Dade delegation.
A good lieutenant, Flores also has pushed through about a dozen of Rubio's priorities -- all of which are in Rubio's 100 Ideas book that are guiding him this session. And she has convinced House members who are divided on the controversial issue of stem-cell research to vote for her bill, which would allow the research on adult -- not embryonic -- stem cells.
''She has a great future,'' Rubio said of Flores.
"Room for improvement in landlord-favoring bill" "Protection for renters?".
"Nationally targeted freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens and three Republicans who want to challenge him in 2008 have already topped $1 million in combined fund-raising for next year’s race. Mahoney is one of the top freshman Dem money-raisers in the U.S., collecting $459,926 during the first quarter of 2007 after snagging $87,141 during the last month of 2006." "Million-Dollar Race".
Last Hurrah (Hopefully)
"Sarasota's city elections may not be the last time the much-maligned touch-screen voting machines are pressed into service. Voter advocacy groups were hoping last Tuesday's City Commission election would be the final hurrah for ES&S-made iVotronic machines. But members of a Sarasota County citizens group looking for a replacement aren't sure they will have one by the November elections." "Electronic voting may be used in November".
"It's a recurring theme, and not a very dramatic one, that state universities go to the Legislature each year begging for money to merely keep up with the number of new students who wish to attend our 11 public universities."
You'd think it's a good problem to have a lot of young people wanting to go to college."Class act?".
Yet year after recent year, our university system has received just a portion of the general revenue funds necessary to keep the universities running - the facilities in shape and, more importantly, a student/teacher ratio that isn't as awful as Florida's has become.
We're No. 1 in the nation when it comes to packing in the most students per teacher.
Because access to your professors and classes small enough to ask questions and get some personal attention is one of the most telling measures of a good education, this ratio is a shame.
Nevertheless, this week lawmakers will go into budget conferences with a couple of sad figures on the table when it comes to paying for enrollment growth.
Dinerstein Disses McCain and Romney
"State Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, a member of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain’s Florida campaign team, says it was “totally inappropriate” for Palm Beach County GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein to call McCain “yesterday’s candidate” in a New York Observer article this week. Dinerstein, officially neutral in the race, dissed McCain and Mitt Romney and gushed over Rudy Giuliani in the article." "Hasner chides county GOP chairman".
"In short, life without Florida's seaports would be inconvenient and much more expensive. It is time to recognize the vital role ports play in the state's economy and plan for a bigger role in the future."
The Legislature can start things off by quickly approving two port items. One (Senate Bill 432) would extend an existing bond issue by 10 years, providing about $60-million for port expansion and improvements. The other is a $50-million appropriation in the Senate's proposed budget for seaport projects. The ports would match both amounts with their own money."Florida economy powered by ports".
This should be one of the easiest decisions lawmakers will make this year. For a relatively modest investment, they will help an industry that is responsible for 350,000 jobs and generates $1.3-billion in state and local tax revenues.
"Florida lawmakers are on the cusp of creating a new transportation authority that could build a network of toll roads, rail lines and express buses to get people around seven counties in the Tampa Bay area." "Plan fuels transit dreams".
The "Values" Crowd
"Thousands of Floridians await help from the state. One mother is desperate." "Wait is all many disabled can do".