"Florida bounded over more than three dozen states Thursday to make its presidential primary one of the earliest in the nation -- provoking a national game of leapfrog over the 2008 election calendar. ... Florida picked Jan. 29 to get ahead of two dozen states slated to vote a week later, on Feb. 5, but as many as 15 of those have indicated that they might reschedule." "Early states: We'll trump Florida bid". See also "House votes to advance primary", "Florida House OKs Jan. 29 presidential primary, ends touch-screen voting", "State picks Jan. 29 as date for primary", "Florida Sets Early Primary", "State picks Jan. 29 as date for primary", "Florida sets early primary, ignoring national party threats" and "State seizes primary position" ("Florida faces threat of irrelevancy by setting a Jan. 29 date against the parties' wishes.").
"Legislature". See also "Tallahassee ticker".
STAR and FCAT Follies
"It's possible, although not likely, that one county's entire class of third graders one year is significantly smarter than that county's entire class of third graders the next year. It's possible, although even less likely, that an entire state's class of third graders one year is significantly smarter than that state's entire class of third graders the next. Yet that's what the latest Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores would have you believe."
What the numbers do show is the silliness -- no, the injurious deception -- of using FCAT scores as comparative tools in any way, whether across annual classes, between schools or between counties. Any such comparison would be a discredit to the teachers and the students on the receiving end of the resulting analyses, good or bad."It's all in the test, and bogus". And it isn't just the FCAT:
Students in a German class received a test written in French. English students had to wade through multiple misspellings and repeated material. Questions in a physics exam referred to an illustration that was missing. ...And so it goes.
More than $10 million in bonus cash [in Orange County] hinges on how well students perform on these tests, a situation many teachers find appalling. ...
Insulted teachers are protesting by refusing to give the exams, and outraged students are complaining. ...
Although juniors study American literature and seniors study British lit, the English test for both classes is the same. The test is misnumbered and rife with misspellings, including the first reference to former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins.
The same test was given to four distinctly different classes in two grade levels: Advanced Placement Language, Advanced Placement Literature, English III Honors and English IV Honors. The test repeats a series of questions about a Romeo and Juliet passage. Eight of the 25 questions refer to a missing article.
The Advanced Placement Physics C test, given to seniors, includes an 11th-grade FCAT science formula sheet, as well as a periodic table -- useless outside of chemistry classes. Riddled with spelling mistakes, the 25-question test contains material not covered in many physics classes. Four of its questions refer to a missing graph.
"The old days of relatively cheap insurance may be gone forever, and any real solution to Florida's property insurance is still far away, top officials and experts say." "Timely Insurance Fix 'Not Doable'".
The St Pete Times editors observe that "it gets harder each year for the Florida Legislature to do something so foolish that it deserves special censure. This qualifies:"
Lawmakers will allow only two companies to bid on a $15-million to $20-million prison construction project."A prison plan fit for lockup".
Odd if the state is trying to keeps bids low through competition. But what makes this action remarkably foolish is that the two companies named are under criminal investigation for overcharging the state $4.5-million for prison operations. It's like a bank asking famed bank robber Willie Sutton to bid on the security contract.
"Florida lawmakers approved a $72 billion budget Thursday stuffed with incentives for biofuels and the film industry but barren of cash for emergency vaccines or expanding health insurance for the working poor." "Budget shuns poor for biofuels". See also "Legislature approves $71.9 billion budget".
"With the final hours of the legislative session draining away, more lawmakers on Thursday called for fixing what ails the state's health insurance program for poor children during next month's special session. But dour responses from House and Senate leadership suggested it will be a hard case to make." "Lawmakers Plead For KidCare Fix". See also "Weary House, Senate send $72B budget to governor", "Legislature OKs $71.9B state budget", "$71.9 billion budget passes Senate, House", "State budget aids schools, cuts health and human services" and "Despite pleas, KidCare is low priority".
"With the legislative clock winding down, lawmakers and children advocates pleaded with Senate leaders Thursday to reconsider a bill expanding the state's health-insurance program for low-income children, KidCare." "Proponents say KidCare bill is ready for Senate approval".
"Florida Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, must have little regard for poor Floridians, even as he allows other Floridians to benefit from them." "KidCare: Expand it".
"The Florida Legislature again is fumbling its chance to help deserving youngsters obtain health insurance." "Child Welfare".
"Crist didn't get everything he wanted, but conceded he has three more years to keep asking." "Governor didn't get all that he wanted on nearly $72 billion state budget".
Crist Declares Florida "Cured"
"Fifteen Florida counties will get new voting machines while the entire state gets an early look at presidential candidates under a bill that received final legislative approval Thursday. 'We, as Floridians, since 2000, have been put in an interesting light as it related to elections,' Gov. Charlie Crist said. 'This cures that, in my view.'" "Election law changes await governor's signature".
By the way: do you "want your very own touch-screen voting machine? They might be available: The Legislature voted Thursday to trash the ATM-style devices in favor of paper ballots." "Touch-screen voting on way out, but millions still owed".
A Half-Billion-Dollar Tax Increase
"State lawmakers have spent most of the legislative session debating how to cut property taxes -- yet they passed a state budget Thursday that depends on a half-billion-dollar increase in property taxes levied by schools to make the numbers work."
Legislators justified the move, saying it's really not a property-tax increase. Instead, they said, they are just using money that will come in anyway because of the increase in property values."State relying on local tax growth".
''They'd never let me get away with saying that,'' said John W. Smith, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities.
Question: would a Legislator claiming that this is not a tax increase before a Legislative committee run afoul of Alex Villalobos' "Truth in Government Act", which would require people testifying during legislative committee hearings to tell the truth. "Bill calls for truth in hearings".
Webster Is At It Again""
As if Dan Webster hadn't done enough harm to Florida this week (see "Webster Dithers" and "'An unconscionable, inhumane travesty'" (scroll down)), "under an amendment introduced by Sen. Daniel Webster on Wednesday, several urban areas would be relieved from requirements they submit their growth plan changes to the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency charged with regulating growth ... the measure could perpetuate unregulated growth and damaging sprawl." "Development proposal stalls over pilot plan".
"As legislators meet for the final day of the 60-day legislative session, here are some high-profile bills left undone". "Bills That Could Miss Deadline".
More Webster: Voucher Madness
"The Senate passed a bill Thursday letting children at failing schools get corporate tax credit vouchers, but saw an accompanying proposal to build a "firewall" protecting that program fall by the wayside."
"I don't want to drag the Senate through another long debate when there are others bills that have a better chance of passing," Majority Leader Daniel Webster said."Senate OKs bill to expand vouchers". See also "Senate makes end run on voucher ban".
It was not clear whether the House today will take up and pass the voucher measure (HB 7145) that passed in the Senate without the bill (SB 2382) that would put all corporate income tax money in a new "trust fund" that proponents believe would protect it from constitutional challenge. Voucher opponents say the trust fund shouldn't make a difference in determining whether the corporate tax credit vouchers are unconstitutional.
Webster's voucher bill passed 26-13 on a largely party-line vote the day after he weakened it so it no longer would create a new program, but instead would let children at failing schools into the existing corporate income tax credit voucher program for poorer children.
Tax Cut Tossed
"Among the casualties as the legislative session reaches its last day today was an effort to cut taxes on communications services ranging from telephones, pagers, beepers and fax machines to satellite and cable television services. Proponents of cutting the taxes said the state's rates are among the nation's highest. Detractors said it was unlikely that the savings would be passed on to consumers." "Senate says no tax cut on phone and cable".
Children in Cars
"Adults who leave a child unattended in a car could face up to five years in prison under a bill that received final legislative approval on Thursday. The bill (SB 2) had a rough ride on Thursday in the House, where Republican leaders opposed the measure." "Prison could await those who leave children in cars".
"Crist is expected to sign the bill, which outlines a plan many other states already follow. Two consumer-oriented facets - a sales-tax break for the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles and a tax holiday for energy-efficient appliances - didn't make the final product because of budget pressures in a tight fiscal year." "Legislature passes plan to help wean Florida off fossil fuels".
News on Bushco buddy Luis Posada Carriles: "The document provides additional proof of Posada's involvement in violent efforts to undermine Castro's communist government, said Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive's Cuba Documentation Project. The Archive is an independent research organization located at George Washington University. 'These documents provide the true historical backdrop for the legal proceedings against Luis Posada Carriles,' Kornbluh said." "Documents link Cuban militant with 1976 airplane bombing". Will "Jeb!" comment?
Though the terrorist’s presence [was] been an open secret in Miami, neither President George W. Bush nor Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ... ordered a manhunt. The U.S. press corps has been largely silent as well."The Bush Family's Favorite Terrorist".
The reason is that this terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, was a CIA-trained Cuban whose long personal war against Fidel Castro’s government is viewed sympathetically by the two Bush brothers and their father. When it comes to the Bush family, Posada is the epitome of the old saying that "one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter."
The Bush administration – which has imprisoned Jose Padilla and other alleged Muslim "enemy combatants" without trial – has taken a far more lenient approach toward the 77-year-old Posada, who is still wanted in Venezuela for the bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane in 1976 that killed 73 people. Posada also has admitted involvement in a deadly hotel bombing campaign in Cuba in 1997.
"Under the pretext of patient safety, the state House of Representatives has delayed hope of relief for patients who face inordinate delays in hospital emergency rooms." "Shameful Move By House Ensures Longer Waits In E.R.s".
"Senate President Ken Pruitt promised 14 claims bills this year, and no more. So when the Florida House tried to add compensation for a man who spent nearly half his life in jail for a crime he didn't commit, the president balked. Because of Pruitt's arbitrary and capricious rule, the state won't compensate Alan Crotzer, who spent a quarter century in Florida's prison system because of the state's mistake." "And Now, The Senate's Shame".
Back to Paper
"The next time Floridians go to the polls to help elect a president, they'll be able to use paper ballots. The state's next presidential primary will happen earlier, too." "Bill requiring paper ballots, Jan. 29 primary goes to governor". See also "Florida to abandon paperless touch screen voting".
Lowest Only Bidder
"A youth-work bill heading to Gov. Charlie Crist includes a last-minute amendment that would require all auto dealers in Florida to print temporary license tags under a system that only a single company provides." "No-bid vendor may get lock on temporary tags".
"Maimed by a state doctor 19 years ago and stiffed by state lawmakers for seven years, Minouche Noel was finally awarded $8.5 million by the Legislature for the botched surgery that has required her to use a wheelchair." "Disabled teen finally receives $8M from state". See also "Legislature okays $8.5M for paralyzed girl".
"Property tax debate deferred until June". However, "Florida legislators won't have to start from scratch when they return to the Capitol in mid-June. They have already set the framework for a deal when they resume the quest for property tax relief." It seems "Legislative leaders had agreed in recent private discussions to slash between $20 billion to $25 billion in property taxes over the next five years, lawmakers and aides said. That's about twice as much as the Senate originally offered, and half as much as the House had sought." "Legislators agree on $20-25 billion in property tax cuts, but details still unsettled".
Here's a question: "If the 60-day regular session wasn't enough to produce consensus on a good plan, how can Floridians expect one from a 10-day extra session?" "Taxes: How can 10 days be better than 60 days?".
The delay is causing problems: "The Legislature's failure to reform the state's controversial property tax system by the end of its regular session today means tax cuts probably will not be decided until late June. That's normally the time that city and county governments unveil detailed, proposed budgets." "Tax decision delay affects local plans".
Meanwhile, "residents across the state are furious, especially property owners and the suffering real-estate industry whose expectations of relief were raised sky high by all the pre-session rhetoric." "Going to overtime for property-tax relief". But, "if you think residents are screaming now over their tax bills, imagine the revolt if they can't get their garbage picked up or their kid's soccer league gets the axe because of staffing shortages." "Legislature 2007".
"Steroid-testing bill has better shot at survival".
"The governor's most personal legislative priority, a daily half-hour physical education requirement for elementary school students, passed both chambers and is headed to his desk for final approval." "Go to gym class; it's the law".
"Mired in a rivalry between two Miami lawmakers, a bill that would have given tens of millions to the Tampa Bay Lightning is headed toward defeat for the second straight year." "Lightning won't get tax break".
"Just months after they opened their doors, Broward's new casinos are about to get longer hours and more slot machines under a proposal the Legislature passed Thursday. The Senate approved the loosened slots rules in a 30-9 vote, sending the bill along to Gov. Charlie Crist, who has said he does not oppose the changes." "Lawmakers ease limits on slots". See also "More slot machines could soon be dinging at tracks in Broward".
"Inaction Could Save Drivers On Auto Insurance".
"Less than 24 hours after she resigned from the Florida Senate, her former colleagues unanimously approved Nancy Argenziano's appointment to the Public Service Commission on Thursday." "Senate approves PSC appointments". See also "Two new regulators fill out utilities panel".
Even though "the system was plagued by errors, service delays and complaints of long waits on help lines in the past few years", "DMS poll: Six in 10 happy with 'People First' service". Strange.
"Billions in Florida's pension fund would be divested from companies that support the economies of Iran and Sudan, under a bill on its way to Gov. Charlie Crist." "Pension fund may divest from firms backing Iran, Sudan".
"A state Senate proposal that would have created an additional high school sports organization in Florida was quashed Thursday. But the battle among private schools, public schools and the Florida High School Athletic Association might just be getting started." "FHSAA won't split, but critics say changes necessary".
The Tallahassee Democrat editors think "Crist, the people's governor, should trust the people appointed to guide our public universities.
The governor has said he may veto legislation allowing Florida State University and the University of Florida to increase tuition by as much as 40 percent over the next four years, and the University of South Florida to raise tuition by 30 percent."College costs".
He should keep his hand from instinctively reaching for that veto pen.
"Paul Rancatore, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves and a captain with American Airlines, announced Thursday he'll challenge Republican Rep. Dave Weldon." "Florida GOP'er draws a challenger".
"A widening investigation into student lending practices is reaching Florida universities for the first time." "College loan inquiry extends to Florida schools".
"Franklin Sands tapped as next House Democratic leader" (he will be the Dem leader after the 2008 elections). More: "Weston legislator to lead Florida House Democrats". See also "Lawson ready to take Democrats to next level" (as Dem leader in 2009-2010) and "Lawson chosen as next Senate Democratic leader".
Naked Politics reports on a "bill would have stripped farmers, contractors, restaurant and hotel owners of their licenses if caught employing illegal workers. It caused quite a stir at a committee meeting - but died there."
"Measure provides tax relief for tornado victims".
Heaven Help Us
"Florida senators think you should do more to prepare for hurricane season than stockpile tarps and batteries. They want you to pray." "Dateline Florida".
"In charges filed with the Florida Supreme Court, the [state Judicial Qualifications] commission said that by criticizing Judge Charles J. Kahn Jr. in a written court opinion, [1st District Court of Appeal Judge Michael E.] Allen could 'impair the confidence of the citizens of this state in the integrity of the judicial system.'"
At the time, Kahn was chief judge, but the uproar over the Childers case and questions raised about extramarital affairs Kahn had with two court employees led his fellow judges to replace him and file a complaint against him with the JQC."For stating opinion, judge is charged". See also "Childers court scandal out in open", "Appeals court judge faces ethics inquiry" and "Judge facing ethics charges over comments in Childers case".
The JQC rejected the complaint involving Kahn but accepted one filed against Allen by Martin Levin, son of Pensacola lawyer Fred Levin, a former law partner of Kahn's and a longtime friend of Childers'.
For more on this see "Judge: Rubio isn’t my tool in inquiry" and our post "Hawkes in Hot Water?" (scroll down).
"Homeowners whose dwellings are insured for $750, 000 or more in Pinellas County and other coastal areas will need hurricane shutters to get insured by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. beginning July 1, 2008." "Citizens to require shutters on vulnerable, pricey homes". See also "Measure would limit hurricane grants" and "Mitigation bill heads to Gov. Crist's desk".