"Controversial votes on guns and abortion are combining with Florida's worst budget cuts in decades to sharply raise the political stakes for Gov. Charlie Crist and ruling Republicans in the Legislature's homestretch."
The $1.4billion that lawmakers seek to slash from schools and health and human-services programs is certain to be turned into campaign ads against state Republicans seeking to maintain their 12-year grip on power in this fall's elections."Though he has kept his distance so far, Crist is clearly trying to defuse a potential blow back at the polls by urging Republican leaders to draw more deeply on state reserves to avoid cutting programs serving the poor, elderly and disabled."
Legislation allowing Floridians with concealed-weapons permits to bring their guns to work has already sharply divided the Republican base.
And a looming vote to overhaul Florida's abortion law threatens to splinter GOP senators as the Legislature enters its final scheduled two weeks.
We must appreciate everything Charlie says and does through the usual political prism: "Crist plans to play a central role campaigning for Republican lawmakers this fall and helping the party's presumptive presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. John McCain, carry the nation's biggest battleground state. 'At this point, he is trying to protect Republicans from themselves. There's no question about it ...'".
And doesn't this sound sadly familiar:
Florida's usually Republican-friendly business community fiercely fought it. Democrats think this could soften GOP support by groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Federation."GOP rift widens in Florida legislative session's last lap". Let's hope the Dems aspire to something more than simply returning to the good old days when they were owned by the business lobby?
What do you get when you drag a dollar bill through a whorehouse? ...
... the members of the Florida Building Commission (with apologies to the working girls of the world, who by contrast earn an honest living).
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Florida, once a national leader on pool safety, has jettisoned rules that would help prevent youngsters from being trapped by pool drains. Drowning deaths are a certainty if lawmakers don't intervene."
"Last year, the Florida Building Commission - at the behest of the pool and spa building industry - quietly dropped requirements that residential pools be built with automatic anti-entrapment devices that are triggered when a swimmer becomes trapped on a powerful drain."
These are horrific accidents that occur when broken drain covers allow children to get limbs or their bodies trapped and are held down by suction forces so strong they can't be pulled off, even by adults. In some cases, children have been disemboweled when they sat on malfunctioning drains."Lawmakers, Crist Must Plug Holes In Pool Safety Requirements".
"You'd be wrong"
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "In a year when lawmakers are hacking away at health-care programs for the poor, you'd think they'd jump at the chance to provide help for Florida's 3.8 million uninsured residents without spending a single penny of tax dollars."
You'd be wrong."Crist's plan to make health insurance affordable deserves OK".
Crist has proposed a measured, reasonable plan to offer a basic health-insurance policy for about $150 a month, making coverage affordable to millions of Floridians.
The Senate unanimously approved Mr. Crist's idea, but the House is pushing its own plan that seems more concerned about the health of the insurance industry than Floridians. It's bad enough the House plan is overly complex and woefully lacking in consumer protections, but it would also cost taxpayers $1 million to create a new public-private bureaucracy.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial board: "The Senate bill gives consumers basic protections that, in retrospect, they should have had all along. The House should follow suit, and send this legislation to Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature." "Legislate in spite of insurance industry threats".
"Lawmakers did the right thing Thursday when they canceled the annual state 'sales-tax holiday' for hurricane supplies." "A state sales-tax break for hurricane supplies isn't justified".
"Everything is going according to plan"
It is always a treat to read an (unrestrained) S. V. Date: "With just two weeks of the legislative session left, it seems almost certain that public schools and public health programs will get whacked by billions of dollars."
In other words, everything is going according to plan."Budget is just right for anti-government crowd".
Not the plan of most Floridians, who will be shocked when the new budget year starts this summer and they find that services that they, their elderly relatives or their neighbors rely upon will be reduced or gone.
No, this is the plan of the anti-government wing of the Republican Party, which has held considerable sway in Tallahassee over the past decade.
"Erratic and vindictive"
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Linking the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center to the University of South Florida is so supremely logical it is difficult to see how anyone could be opposed."
But there is no accounting for state Sen. Ronda Storms of Hillsborough."Byrd Institute Belongs Under USF".
Last week the erratic and vindictive Storms tried to sabotage the merger. Fortunately, her antics were ignored. ...
The merger represents a good fit in every way.
But Storms, characteristically, was more interested in political flame-throwing than serving the institute's best interests.
A political ally of Byrd, who wants to retain control of the center, Storms pulled out all stops to kill the proposal sponsored by Hillsborough Sens. Arthenia Joyner and Victor Crist.
"Reason to celebrate"
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board:"Neither lawmakers nor citizens have much to cheer about in the 2008 legislative session. Money is extraordinarily tight, making it difficult to fund visionary popular programs along with the bare essentials. ... That's why there's even more reason to celebrate the news last week that lawmakers now seem intent on adding $300 million to the upcoming state budget and sustaining Florida Forever beyond 2010." "Forever needed: Conservation is right even in tough times".
"Florida's higher-education system hangs in the balance"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "The future of Florida's higher-education system hangs in the balance in the wanning days of the 2008 legislative session. The Senate has passed a bill that could radically restructure the university system and lead to more turmoil instead of more learning. Speaker Marco Rubio should say No to the House version of the bill and avoid a harmful reshuffling of the system." "Universities need stability to improve".
"The Tampa Bay area's five members of Congress already have raised nearly $3 million for their re-election bids, while hopefuls seeking to unseat them this fall have raised less than one-tenth of that." "Political Donations Favor The Winners".
"GOP critics say powerful Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel is helping Joe Garcia in his South Florida congressional race because of Cuba. Rangel says it's because they're Democrats." "Rangel's support a sore subject".
"The measure, as written, is dangerously flawed"
The Palm Beach Post editorial Board: "Today, 300 million gallons of treated wastewater are dumped into the ocean daily from outfall pipes of six utilities in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Last week, the Florida Senate approved legislation (SB 1302) that over time would end the dumping. If the House goes along and Gov. Crist agrees, the utilities will have to cut harmful pollutants in those discharges by 80 to 90 percent in 10 years. In 17 years, utilities will have to end ocean dumping and reuse 60''percent of their wastewater. Starting in July, no new outfall permits will be granted." "End of reef madness finally may be coming".
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board points to the fly in the ointment. "South Florida has treated the ocean like a toilet long enough. That's the welcome signal beaming from a measure racing through the state Legislature that mandates that six outfall pipes dumping 300 million gallons of treated sewage a day into the Atlantic Ocean, about two miles offshore of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, be shut down by 2025."
Unfortunately, "the measure, as written, is dangerously flawed. And it has nothing to do with the high cost the change in philosophy and approach will mean for many South Florida wastewater customers. Preserving and protecting our natural resources are worth the price."
The problem is its implementation, and the lack of forethought taken in mandating what South Florida utilities will have to do with the sewage once the pipes are shut down. In fact, Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs makes a convincing argument that the measure could actually lead to more pollution, not less, at least off her county's shores."Shutting off ocean outfalls good goal, but implementation could make matters worse".
Broward is traversed by 1,800 linear miles of canals, all of which feed into the ocean or the Everglades. So the recycled matter that is no longer allowed to be dumped two miles offshore will seep into the waters from land, much closer to the reefs, or into the already-struggling River of Grass. The county also sits directly over the Biscayne Aquifer, so pouring recycled wastewater into the ground increases the likelihood it will make its way into the drinking supply.
"Frivolous? Not anymore"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Is this the end of Florida's Road Rangers? The House and Senate this week approved cuts that would eliminate the beloved Road Rangers. When the program began in 2000, it looked like a frivolous amenity. Nice, but not necessary. In time, though, the Rangers carved a niche for themselves. They save lives. They arrive quickly, clear traffic, protect people -- ultimately saving you lots of money. ... Frivolous? Not anymore. Rangers are essential now. State lawmakers may not know that. It's your job to tell them." "Straight to the point".
More from the "values" crowd
"Under the spending plans released so far, advocates warn that for thousands of Floridians with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and other crippling conditions are in danger. Many of them depend on Medicaid and the Florida ICF/DD Community Residential Program, and 'intermediate care facilities,' for survival." "Advocate for 'most vulnerable' citizens warns budget cuts could be lethal".
"The man who brought the Florida House to a near standstill, in a standoff that lasted past 2 a.m. Saturday, said today he hopes Democrats and Republicans can patch things up and play nicer in the high-pressure final days of the 2008 legislative session. But House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said he has no regrets about invoking a constitutional provision requiring every bill to be read in full." "Florida House minority leader hopes legislators can get past 'difficulties'".
"Property-insurance companies as the villain"?
"Some Florida lawmakers cast property-insurance companies as the villain. Others portray them as the hope. But as lawmakers get ready to consider changes in the hurricane-addled insurance system during the next two weeks, they face a fundamental choice: Should the state tighten regulations against insurers?" "Senator pushing bill that gets tough on insurers".
Same old song
"Despite 'racist' lyrics, Swanee River remains state song".
"The U.S. Forest Service is adding 45 miles of trails for off-highway vehicles at Ocala National Forest in central Florida. Officials say the trail is expected to be completed by July 1. It has been named 'Centennial Trail' for the forest's 100th anniversary Nov. 24." "Ocala forest to receive 45 more miles of trails".