"Tax reform put off till June". See also "Property Tax Negotiations Halted; Special Session Planned for June", "Property taxes need special session", "Property tax debate deferred until June", "Stymied by disagreements, legislators delay vote on property tax reform until June", "Property tax issue to return in June", "Property tax squabbles push debate to June special session", "Property Tax Reform Shelved" and "Lawmakers put off property tax solution until June".
"With less than three days remaining in the regular session, the decision gave lawmakers breathing room to finish other business. However, it sent shock waves to the counties, whose balanced budgets are due by July 15."
The majority Republicans put a brave face on the postponement, claiming that the House and Senate are closer than ever to reaching agreement. House Speaker Marco Rubio said the chambers needed time to deal with the "mechanics" of writing what the two chambers have conceptually agreed upon. He offered little more than vague generalities of what that means."Property Tax Reform Will Wait". Poor Charlie: "Crist 'Disappointed' in Prop Tax Collapse". However, "Delayed deal on property tax reform is better than a botched job".
Democrats, meanwhile, pronounced the session a failure for having failed to accomplish tax reform, its premier issue. House Minority Leader Dan Gelber said agreement may be apparent on some things, but he left no doubt that the sides remain far apart.
Pamela Hasterok: "If you thought lawmakers would lower your property taxes pronto -- you're in for a wait. Maybe for a month, maybe for a year, maybe for two." "Lower tax will have to wait". More: "Your property taxes blog: Fallout from failure".
"Legislature: Day 35 at a glance". See also "Digest", "2007 Legislature roundup", "Tallahassee ticker" and "Session To Wrap at 6 p.m. Friday".
Running "Government Like a Business"
Bill Cotterell takes on one of our favorite canards: "One time or another, probably every member of the House and Senate must have promised to 'run government like a business.'"
You hear it in campaigns every even-numbered year, from governors and Cabinet candidates as well as legislators. Government is too big and wasteful. It does too much. No business could survive doing what they do in Tallahassee (or Washington). We need some shrewd business-minded folks to shake things up."Is this any way to run a successful business?".
"A Democrat-dominated House task force opened a federal investigation Wednesday into why more than 18,000 ballots cast in Sarasota County recorded no vote for either candidate in last November's District 13 congressional election. Voting 2-1 along party lines, the task force agreed to have the Government Accountability Office -- Congress' nonpartisan investigative arm -- look at whether malfunctioning touch-screen voting machines were at fault, as the Democrat who lost by 369 votes contends." "House probing election". See also "Election dispute sent to independent agency", "Sarasota race to be examined" and "Sarasota election faces new scrutiny".
Feeney Accuses Times of "Outright Lie"
Rep. Tom Feeney, a/k/a "Representative #3" in the feds investigation of him, ain't happy. He contends that "the implication in Sunday's St. Petersburg Times article that I traded legislative favors to benefit a lobbyist is an outright lie. I take my responsibility and oath to this office very seriously and have represented constituents with the integrity they deserve." "I followed the law, didn't trade favors". He's not happy with the Florida Today editors either: "Feeney defends his actions".
"Sixty-nine percent of third-graders scored at or above grade level on the reading section of the 2007 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, compared with 75 percent last year, according to scores released Wednesday."
The percentage who failed the test -- and could be barred from fourth grade -- climbed from 14 percent last year to 19 percent this year."Reading-score drop baffles educators". See also "Reading scores drop", "Fewer third-graders pass FCAT reading; math scores unchanged", "3rd-Grade Reading Slides" and "Nearly one in five third-graders may be held back in Broward".
Believe It Or Not
"Three months after Gov. Charlie Crist ordered an investigation of some $4.5-million in overpayments to two companies that operate private prisons for the state, those same companies will be the only ones permitted to bid on expanding and building another facility." "Past is no barrier to state contracts".
"The Florida Senate agreed unanimously Wednesday to freeze Citizens Property Insurance Corp. rates through 2009 and require certain homeowners to put shutters on their windows if they want to remain covered by the state-run insurer." "Senate passes Citizens rate freeze". See also "Crist still pushing for property-insurance legislation" and "Senate bill freezes rates for Citizens".
Maybe Next Year
"Florida has the third-highest rate of uninsured children in the nation, with some 750,000 eligible kids living without this basic safety net. What is the disconnect here? And why, by the way, is our state willing to leave $400 million in federal matching funds untouched when that money is meant to help states keep children healthy and attending to their No. 1 jobs - being in school, learning. The Florida Legislature, in particularly the Senate, gets no free pass on its inexplicable inertia in handling legislation (SB 930) designed to streamline and consolidate access to these programs." "No kidding".
"An ambitious plan to overhaul a complex program that provides cheap or free health insurance to low-income children may not survive the chamber where it was born."
Children's advocates and lawmakers have been working all session to streamline KidCare, a program rife with bureaucratic barriers that have left about half a million children eligible but uninsured in Florida."KidCare plan may die in Senate". See also "Health insurance for children on hold" and "Senate leader drops KidCare changes".
But in the waning days of the session, Senate President Ken Pruitt has said the bill won't be heard this session, leaving supporters perplexed.
''It's a very curious situation,'' said Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer who has been an ardent proponent of overhauling the system. "As a newcomer to Tallahassee, it's astounding to me that something that seems so easy and an issue that seems so popular has not been embraced with open arms.''
The St Pete Times editorial board reminds us that this is yet another of Jebbie's legacies
The Florida Legislature has run out of time on property tax relief, but lawmakers do have time in the last two days of the session to help kids and avoid national embarrassment. They should cut through bureaucratic fights and competing special interests to make it easier for uninsured low-income children to get and keep health coverage. It would be a travesty if this doesn't get done, because thousands of kids would lose the opportunity to get health care and Florida would stand to lose millions in federal matching dollars."Care for kids cannot wait". See also "Pruitt declares KidCare bill 'dead'", "Pruitt stops KidCare revamp" and "Chidren's health insurance coverage measure fizzles".
Florida KidCare is aimed at providing health coverage for uninsured kids in families with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $40, 000 a year for a family of four. Medicaid covers some of those children, but the controversy is centered on those covered by the public-private partnership, Florida Healthy Kids. That program was a national model when it was created more than 15 years ago, and just three years ago it covered more than 337,000 children.
In fact, it proved to be too popular for former Gov. Jeb Bush and state lawmakers. They eliminated a long waiting list in 2004 and tightened the rules instead of finding the money to meet demand. While some of those restrictions were later reversed, the program never fully recovered and covers just under 215,000 kids now. Thousands of kids lose health care coverage every month just because their families lose Medicaid eligibility but can't figure out how to sign up for Healthy Kids.
"There's Still Time"
"Lawmakers didn't solve Florida's property-insurance woes when they met in January in a special session. To their credit, they have acknowledged as much. But with the regular session ticking down to a close, House and Senate leaders still lack agreement on provisions that would better protect Florida consumers. There's still time to get it done." "Down to the wire". See also "Crist still pushing for property-insurance legislation".
"Some more openly than others, Tampa Bay area members of Congress are responding in different ways to new rules designed to make the workings of government more open and transparent." "Open And Shut".
"Florida's new budget is tough on the disabled, teachers and state workers, but it leaves $1.6 billion in the bank for a rainy day." "Many of needy left out; Dade fares better than Broward". See also "Miami-Dade gets results from strong bloc" and "Lawmakers: Broward got good share". More: "Budget showers goodies on region", "Budget highlights: Dade County" and "Budget highlights: Broward County".
"Republican maverick leaves state Senate". See also "Tearing herself away" and "Argenziano says goodbye".
Love those Landlords
"The bill lets landlords charge a termination fee of two months' rent if a tenant breaks a lease early. The charges would occur even if a landlord has found another tenant for the unit." "Lawmakers OK Double Of Renters' Penalty".
"Tuition at some Florida universities could increase up to 40 percent over time under a bill passed by the House." "Tuition increase may be blocked by Crist". See also "University fee increase wins approval", "House approves tuition boost for FSU, UF", "3 state universities may raise tuition", "House pushes tuition increase" and "House OKs tuition hike".
"An unconscionable, inhumane travesty"
"What an unconscionable, inhumane travesty. The state of Florida erases 24 years from Alan Crotzer's life for a crime he didn't commit -- and Senate President Ken Pruitt blocks compensating Mr. Crotzer because he fears a last-minute ''rush'' to judgment. Hogwash. Shame on you, Sen. Pruitt, for misusing your power and trampling the public trust." "Delay worsens miscarriage of justice". See also "Senate turns its back on man's broken life".
Pruitt is not alone in this. "Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster is blocking the effort. Mr. Webster is holding up relief for Mr. Crotzer until the Legislature passes a law to address payments to all those who have been jailed and then proved innocent." "A matter of fairness".
Florida's Booming Economy
"Nearly 1,300 personal-bankruptcy cases were filed in Orlando during the first three months of 2007, nearly twice as many as during the first quarter of last year, figures from U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida show. And that may be just a hint of what is to come, bankruptcy lawyers say." "'Perfect storm' of debt puts Floridians in bankruptcy".
Yak, Yak, Yak
A good question: "Did you come here to yak or pass legislation?"
"A proposal compensating the family of Martin Lee Anderson for the teenager's death at a boot camp is on its way to the governor." "Settlement in boot camp death a 'done deal'". See also "Senate OKs payment in boot-camp case".
"Amending the Florida Constitution could be getting harder. ... Republicans who supported the bill said it would prevent petition fraud and abuse. Democrats said it stomps on freedom of expression and usurps the democratic process." "Tougher curbs on amendments?".
State Decides to Follow the Law
"Former Gov. Jeb Bush and legislators responded in December by giving $16.6 million to the Department of Children & Families to eliminate the wait. ... Florida law requires inmates be moved to a psychiatric hospital within 15 days after a judge declares them incompetent to stand trial. Some inmates were waiting months before moving to a hospital." "DCF slashes wait for mentally ill to leave jail for psychiatric help".
Reading that, you'd think Jebbie came up with the cash out of the goodness of his heart when in fact he scraped the cash together only after being threatened with contempt of court. "Judge Looking To Cite "Jeb!" With Contempt".
"A proposal to resurrect an unconstitutional failing school voucher program was watered down Wednesday to make children from such schools eligible for the existing corporate tax credit vouchers. Senate Majority Leader Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, made the changes to eliminate objections to the bill (SB 2380), which now primarily creates a new state account separate from the general fund to hold corporate income proceeds." "Corporate vouchers bill made palatable".
Jebbie Cashes In
"Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare is awarding its new director-to-be. The company on Monday filed papers with the Securities Exchange Commission announcing it has granted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush shares worth about $257,000." "Shares for Bush". For more on this delightful arrangement see "'Jeb!' and the Fraudsters".
"Legislators approve ban on expiration dates, maintenance fees for gift cards".
From the "Values" Crowd
"A last-minute change in funding rules for HMOs could have long-term negative consequences for poor, mentally ill Floridians and their communities. The change would lift a state mandate on how much health maintenance organizations must spend on care for Medicaid patients with severe mental illnesses. As a result, communities could pay more for jails, shelters and hospital beds." "Less care for Medicaid recipients".
"Saying Florida needs to lead the battle against genocide and terrorism, state legislators are mandating that the state drop any investment it has in companies that do business with the country of Sudan and Iran's energy sector. Florida's $140 billion pension fund is the fourth largest in the country. The divestiture would affect about $1 billion worth of investments." "Legislature votes to divest state investments from Sudan".
"In a professional victory for the woman Steve Stanton hopes to become, the Sarasota City Commission on Wednesday unanimously selected "Susan Stanton" as one of 11 job finalists for city manager." "Stanton picked as finalist for Sarasota job".
"A Rough Patch"
"Maybe Gerald Kogan, a former Florida chief justice, is right. Maybe Broward County's judicial bench is just going through ''a rough patch.'' Or maybe the serial missteps by Broward judges is part of an endemic problem -- say a lack of diversity in Broward courts, or insularity in a county where judges rarely face reelection challenges." "Intemperate judges tarnish justice system".
"The legislation passed in the Florida Senate on Tuesday could likely be shelved or altered. Under existing law, all state secondary schools that compete for a state championship are under the jurisdiction of the Florida High School Athletic Association. The legislation proposed by Republican Daniel Webster would create a separate Florida Private High School Athletic Association. Each organization would conduct its own state championships." "'Private' bill has few fans".
Dan Webster has time for this junk, yet "Mr. Webster is holding up relief for Mr. Crotzer until the Legislature passes a law to address payments to all those who have been jailed and then proved innocent." "A matter of fairness"
"With little fanfare, and even less public vetting, the House Majority Whip pushed through an unwise bill to replace the state's existing no-fault law or personal injury protection, and instead require accident victims to obtain care in a hospital emergency room within 72 hours of the collision. The Florida House of Representatives approved Bogdanoff's bill along party lines and set up a roadblock to any serious efforts to extend the current law. " "Legislature 2007".
"A lot of politicians are leery these days of saying too much about the war in Iraq, fearful it could alienate a portion of the electorate. But U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney, a Democrat who represents most of Charlotte County, is showing little hesitation in jumping into the hottest political issue of the day. On Tuesday, he was at it again. This time he was the only Democrat from Florida to take to the House floor to call for President Bush to sign the emergency supplemental budget bill, which includes timelines for withdrawal." "Mahoney: Iraq is a "religious civil war"".
"Giant Leap Backward"
"Easy to get the impression that the legislative session's been just one mad, unsuccessful dash to bring homeowners tax relief. But when the session wraps later this week, it also could mark a giant leap backward in the cause of preserving land. Lawmakers so far have stiff-armed Gov. Charlie Crist's proposal to add $100 million next year to Florida Forever, the state's premier land-buying program. And they're considering making it easier to construct region-transforming toll roads that could encourage sprawl while laying waste to environmentally sensitive lands." "Reverse course".
"State oversight of Florida's fastest-growing communities ... could be seriously curtailed if lawmakers agree to a pilot program proposed Wednesday." "Bill cuts state's role in planning".
"Back To Reality"
"State Rep. Scott Randolph proposed a slew of good ideas recently. Unfortunately for Randolph, he proposed them in Tallahassee -- which meant they were quickly killed."
Take a look:"Finding Neverland? Try going up to Tallahassee".
Since many legislators think poorly paid teachers shouldn't get big bonuses unless they're top performers, Randolph thought it made sense to do the same with highly paid athletes. His proposal: No subsidies for NBA teams unless they finish in the top 25 percent of the league (a formula that he said was roughly equivalent to the number of teachers who could get bonuses under certain merit-pay plans). "If it works for someone making $35,000, why not someone who makes $3.5 million?" Randolph asked. ...
The Orlando Democrat also suggested no public subsidies for teams unless they were willing to put up at least 40 percent of the cost of the arenas they demand. ...
Randolph thought the very least teams getting whopping amounts of public cash could do was set aside seats and skyboxes for public school children. This idea received rousing cheers from the House floor. And then legislators killed it.
Randolph said the point of all these ideas -- most of which suffered losses by 2-1 margins -- "was to bring this whole debate back to reality."
Unfortunately, Tallahassee is no place to do such a thing.
"State lawmakers on Wednesday approved what could soon become the most powerful transportation agency in the bay area." "Legislators approve area transit authority".
"A bill meant to track and deter the sale of big snakes also will make it pricier for nonprofit groups and sanctuaries to exhibit big cats." "Cost of showing big cats to rise".
"Legislative couch potatoes"
"Florida senators must decide today whether to promote a healthier lifestyle among Florida schoolchildren or play the role of legislative couch potatoes." "Senate Should Pass P.E. Bill".