"In case closing a $5 billion budget gap isn't a big enough task for the upcoming Florida legislative session, House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Boca Raton, has joined a national effort to combat Big Labor's top initiative for 2009." "Hasner touts anti-union secret ballots".
"Florida lawmakers rake in cash before session starts".
The The St. Petersburg Times's "quick guide to the session".
More from the The South Florida Sun Sentinel: "Tough decisions".
"Dire ... financial times in Florida"
"Federal stimulus money poses a dilemma for the GOP as lawmakers prepare to make tough economic choices for Florida." "Legislature faces hard budget choices".
"Adding sin taxes, or closing sales-tax exemptions are possibilities in mind when Florida's Legislature session opens Tuesday." "Florida lawmakers look to fill $5 billion money pit". See also "Sin taxes, closed exemptions: Florida lawmakers look for money", "With $6 billion hole, nothing seen sacred", "Sin taxes, closed exemptions: Florida lawmakers look for money" and "Fat? Cuts go right into bone"
"Gender equity in insurance premiums"
"A state consumer advocate contemplates legislation to ban health insurers from charging women more than men for their coverage." "Bill seeks gender equity in insurance premiums".
"Credit scores and credit reports should not be used to set car and home insurance rates, some Florida lawmakers say. State Rep. Priscilla Taylor, a West Palm Beach Democrat, said especially now, credit history shouldn't affect the price of Floridians' insurance premiums." "Ban urged on insurers' use of credit scores".
"Having the state cover the hurricane portion of homeowner policies will get a more serious review during the upcoming legislative session." "Florida plan would shift hurricane insurance coverage to state".
"Desperate to get the lost dollars back"
"Even before the fall financial crisis, Florida had slashed its film subsidies from $25 million to $5 million. Desperate to get the lost dollars back, industry backers have a proposal to subsidize productions now while letting Florida pay for the giveaways later. " "Filmmakers push Florida for tax credits".
$8 and hour? Shameless
"A debate over workers' compensation insurance will pit attorneys and workers' rights advocates against business and insurers. The argument is the result of a Florida Supreme Court decision in October relating to the amount of fees lawyers can earn on workers' comp cases. The ruling found that a lawyer representing an injured employee has a right to earn a 'reasonable' rate for his work."
In the case that went to the state's highest court, lawyer Brian Sutter was paid about $8 an hour for the 80 hours he spent working on the case of an injured nurse under the 2003 law's formula. The attorney for her employer was paid $150 an hour."Businesses want to re-establish limits on attorney fees".
Sutter argued the fee disparity left workers with an unconstitutional disadvantage. The Supreme Court ruled that the law was unclear since it referred to ''reasonable'' fees while also laying out a fee structure.
A bill introduced by Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami-Dade, would strike the word ''reasonable'' from the law while retaining the same fee schedule for attorneys. A companion bill has been filed by Sen. Garrett S. Richter, a Republican from Naples who chairs the Senate Banking and Insurance committee.
Caps for contract lawyers
"Attorney General Bill McCollum adopted the contingency-fee cap after taking office in 2006, though he noted he has yet to hire outside counsel." "Attorney general wants to cap what state pays lawyers".
"The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has a simple idea for how the Florida Legislature could bring more jobs to the state: Stop cutting funding for schools." "Business groups seek job creation".
"Amid a budget crisis, the hotel lobby will spend this session fending off lawmakers' attempts to plug fiscal holes with tourist taxes. That's no surprise: every session brings an attempt to allow local governments to lift restrictions on hotel taxes that mostly reserve the dollars for tourism promotion and entertainment venues." "Hotel groups oppose raiding bed tax".
"As the recession goes on, Florida's healthcare industry's primary focus for the upcoming legislative session is to block cuts to Medicaid funding while proposing some tax increases to make up for the growing number of uninsured patients." "Hospitals present their prescription to Legislature".
"In an almost annual battle that once again is likely to be heated and protracted, the state's doctors seek faster, more consistent pay from health insurers -- and the insurers say the proposals are absurd, will hurt patients, or both." "Doctors want new rules for insurers to play by".
"South Florida's ports and the Florida Ports Council are all keeping an eye on key legislative issues this session, including funding for infrastructure and language that would rescind the requirement for a separate state security identification card." "Infrastructure, ID cards are concerns for ports".
Broward plays defense
"As an overwhelmingly Democratic delegation in a GOP-controlled state capitol, Broward legislators generally spend most of their time in Tallahassee playing odd-man out. But this year, as the Legislature tackles an ever-widening budget gap, Broward lawmakers will be playing the same game as everyone else: defense." "Broward legislative delegation faces budget battle".
"Dade lawmakers say the times demand that they look beyond rivalries and focus on protecting county schools, colleges and hospitals." "Dade lawmakers aim at unity".
"Lawmakers look for ways to aid condo associations".
"Woe be it for Florida to take any bold steps ..."
David Colburn, director of the Reubin Askew Institute at the University of Florida: "Just when it looked like the sky was falling, President Barack Obama and the federal government came to Florida's rescue with a $12.2 billion stimulus gift. No state needed it more."
With mortgage foreclosure rates among the highest in the nation, a $7 billion debt and 7.3 percent of the population out of work (up from 4.4 percent as recently as November), Florida has become Paradise Lost in the eyes of many. A recent essay in the New Yorker magazine portrayed Florida as "the Ponzi State." But The New York Times may have summarized it best with the headline, Tending the Boulevards of Broken Dreams."Florida Clings To Cheap Solutions".
For the first time since the Great Depression, it appears that more people left Florida in 2008 than moved into the state, taking their families and dreams elsewhere. This in a state that grew by an average of 300,000 people a year for 35 straight years, from 1970 to 2005.
The political leadership of Florida appears as paralyzed as its residents about how to cope with this crisis. Gov. Charlie Crist hitched his wagon to Obama's stimulus package, even accompanying the president on his recent visit to Fort Myers. But the governor also opposes new state taxes to offset Florida's budget woes, and when lawmakers attempted to balance a difficult budget in special session, Crist reversed more than $360 million of the budget cuts that lawmakers approved. Political observers have rightly muttered that the right hand does not seem to know what the left hand is doing. ...
Our leaders seem to have this fantasy view of the world that we can compete in a global economy on the cheap.
Rather than raise revenue from these sources, lawmakers have seriously debated shortening the public school year to balance the budget in a state that ranks near the bottom nationally. Experts generally agree that lengthening the school year is a critical component if we ever hope to correct the educational problems facing Florida. By comparison, Japanese and German children, who far surpass Florida students on standardized tests, attend school for 240 days and 220 days respectively, while our children attend for 180 days. Guess how globally competitive Florida's kids are?
Associated Industries President Barney Bishop was recently quoted as saying, "Policymakers must look at reductions in regulatory red tape as a way to stimulate business activity." The regulatory red tape is the least of Florida's problems. ...
The developments of the past year suggest Florida better get serious about the developments that led to this economic debacle or we are doomed to repeat them as we have throughout the 20th century. And we better get serious about the state's economic future or Florida won't have one.
Letter to the editor
A citizen shares his wisdom on the pages of the The Palm Beach Post: "Limbaugh better-versed in our laws than Obama".
"Legislators driven by special interests and jealousy"
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "When Gov. Crist found a way to buy U.S. Sugar without approval from the Legislature, many legislators didn't like it. Rival landowners didn't like it, either. The result is a braying of objections from legislators driven by special interests and jealousy." "Wrong U.S. Sugar response".
"Leaders of a conservative legal foundation asked the state Supreme Court Friday to stop the Florida Bar from arguing in favor of gay adoption."
A Miami judge threw out the state law forbidding homosexual couples to adopt children late last year and the case is on appeal in the Third District Court. Whichever side loses is sure to appeal to the Supreme Court."Bar filing on gay adoption opposed".
The Bar board of governors recently approved filing a "friend of the court" brief in support of the circuit court ruling, striking down the ban.
"Florida seeks per-gallon water fee from bottlers".
On the cheap
"With nearly 175,000 people on the job, state government is Florida's largest employer."
But, in terms of per-capita size and cost, the state work force is both smallest and cheapest in the nation. And it's likely to shrink in the next two months."State workers face crisis".
Never mind the mandate
"Florida's class-size amendment is sure to be a budget-cutting target this session for legislators attempting to lessen costs. The voter-approved mandate is scheduled for full implementation in the 2010-11 school year, which will cost the state another $1 billion, by some estimates." "Senator's bill loosens ceiling on class size".
"A claims bill for the family of Devaughn Darling will again be before the Florida Legislature this session, eight years after the Florida State University linebacker died during off-season drills." "Devaughn Darling's parents again seek claim".
"For want of a cheap bicycle, a reputation and perhaps a career have been lost." "Wheels come off high-paid career".
Gerrymandering, Florida style
A nice front page story at dKos observing how, in the wake of the 2000 census, no state "saw a more partisan, less democratic gerrymander, both at the Congressional level and the state legislative level, than the state of Florida."
Florida has become famous for being a toss-up at the presidential level (most famously in 2000), and generally competitive in statewide races as well. Democrats actually outnumber Republicans in terms of registration within the state." Much more here: A New Hope For Redistricting in Florida".
Yet the Republican legislature created a Congressional map after the 2000 census which included 18 Republicans against only seven Democrats.
The situation is even worse at the legislative level, where Democrats are in a virtually hopeless minority in both houses. Republicans control the state House with a 76-44 majority, and control the Senate with 26 seats to the Democrats' 14.
In a state essentially split down the middle between Republicans and Democrats, this kind of single-party dominance is as absurd as it seems on its face.
The Tallahassee Democrat: "Keeping our democracy strong is everyone's responsibility, but two corrupting factors are posing a serious threat in Florida:"
The huge infusions of special-interest cash used to buy access and favor, drowning out the voices of ordinary people like you."Sign these petitions" ("originally published in Florida TODAY").
And the ability of the party in power to use U.S. Census data every 10 years to redraw legislative and congressional districts in ways that make no geographic sense to keep them safe and lock out voters like you from having a real choice in candidates.
The process is known as gerrymandering, and most recently occurred in 2002, when Republican leaders drew the lines using sophisticated computer models to further entrench their power.
Now there's a chance to end this disparity and help ensure a healthy two-party system.
This month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled ballot initiatives to amend the state Constitution and end the practice could go before voters in 2010 if the amendment's sponsor, FairDistrictsFlorida.org, can collect the 676,811 signatures needed to get them on the ballot.
We strongly urge everyone to sign the petitions by going to the group's Web site at www.fairdistrictsflorida.org.
"The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is asking Collier County jail officials to turn over information about its policies for pregnant inmates. ... The request follows the death of one inmate's baby and the release of two pregnant inmates due to complications." "ACLU probes jail policies on pregnant inmates".