Editor's Note: Florida's newspapers are in economic trouble, which is bad news for all of us. Please subscribe to your local Florida newspapers; also think about giving newspaper subscriptions as gifts, and buying one or more for delivery to your workplace. Here's how.
"A House council hurriedly passed a sweeping rewrite of Florida election laws Friday after shutting down debate and public comment, prompting an uproar and cries of 'travesty' from opponents."
Like a similar Senate version, the House bill would ban two forms of voter ID at the polls now used mainly by older voters and require paid initiative-petition circulators to register with the state. It also would require people whose address changed in the month before an election to cast provisional ballots, prohibit anyone from interacting with voters in a floating 100-foot zone outside polling places and make it more difficult for third-party groups to register new voters."Changes at voting polls rile up critics". See also "With little discussion, Florida House council passes sweeping changes to voting rules" and "Last-minute push would create obstacles for voters".
The bill allows political committees registered in other states to be active in Florida without complying with the Sunshine State's campaign reporting requirements, which are stricter than other states. Legislators would be allowed to create leadership funds to solicit large donations from special interests and lobbyists, and it repeals a 2008 law that allows senators and others who hold a four-year term to run for a federal office without resigning.
Absent from the bill is an expansion of early voting hours or locations. That was a major concern of election supervisors in the 2008 election. Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order expanding early voting hours, a factor that was cited as helpful to Barack Obama's Florida victory.
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Republican legislative leaders have "
lost all sense of shame with their 11th-hour bill to roll back voting rights in Florida. The legislation is so disgraceful it is no wonder a Republican-led House committee debated the bill for all of 6 minutes Friday before silencing public comment and approving the bill along party lines. This fast-moving train needs to be stopped cold."GOP power grab is an affront to voters".
The RPOFer economy
"There were 893,000 Floridians out of work in March, up a tenth of a percentage point from February, but more than double the rate a year ago." "Florida jobless rate soars to 9.7 percent".
Charlie ready to jump
Crist is leaning toward moving to Washington. His closest advisers admit it. Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer is planning for it."GOP not ready to let Crist leave Tallahassee".
Even potential primary opponents such as former House Speaker Marco Rubio sound resigned to the likelihood that Crist is going to give up the Governor's Mansion to join the world's most exclusive club in 2010.
Adam Smith writes that "Crist is poised to deliver Florida a gigantic political stimulus package."
If the governor decides next month to run for the U.S. Senate rather than re-election, as is widely expected, get ready for the wildest election cycle Florida has seen in modern history: five races for open statewide offices. That, in turn, leads to a dizzying number of other offices opening up as politicians jump for newly opened opportunities for promotion. "If Crist runs for the Senate".
"Somewhat more sensible, ... more humane, ... more intelligent"
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "Florida budget compromising resumes on Monday in the Legislature, and may the Senate's somewhat more sensible, somewhat more humane, somewhat more intelligent state budget win the day. Its cobbled-together $65.6 billion budget accepts federal stimulus dollars, but it also raises taxes on tobacco, garnering $1 billion, and it expands gambling at seven Seminole Indian tribe casinos in the Sunshine State, raising at least $400 million a year." "No contest: Senate budget is reasonable one".
Background: "Lawmaker: Budgets 'get the job done' in hard times", "Divided House passes $65.1 billion budget" and "The House and Senate, with their positions on taxes and gambling staked out, are heading for a showdown next week." More: "Florida House approves fee-laden budget plan" and "Divided Florida House OK's budget plan". Related: "Grand jury calls on Florida Legislature to make budget process transparent".
"Ray Sansom, the ousted Speaker of the Florida House, was indicted Friday on a felony charge that he falsified the state budget to get $6 million for an aircraft hangar sought by a developer friend and major GOP donor."
A scathing grand jury report concluded that Sansom ``because of his friendship and political contributions violated the trust that the citizens of Florida should expect from its elected representatives.''"Jury indicts ousted speaker". See also "In Sansom indictment, grand jury reports current system a recipe for cronyism" and "Ex-House speaker Sansom indicted in misconduct case".
The 46-year-old Destin Republican was booked into Leon County jail at 3:35 p.m. Friday and was released on his own recognizance. He said he would be vindicated at trial.
Myriam Marquez on the
old Florida bait and switch -- come, buy cheap land! -- turned out to be overpriced swampland barely good enough to pitch a tent."Land deal an old story in Florida".
Except this latest $6 million deal wasn't socking it to naive Northerners: It stuck it to Florida taxpayers in another old game of wheeling and dealing in conference committees in Tallahassee.
That's where House and Senate leaders work out their differences in bills and -- gobble, gobble! -- turkeys begin to fly off the budget books.
The deal in question was greased by almost $125,000 in campaign contributions from airport developer Jay Odom to the then-upcoming House Speaker Ray Sansom and a GOP fund that Sansom partly controlled.
Florida's Crooklyn: "Okaloosa's tarnished image" and "To the powerful, like Sansom, go budget spoils" ("a grand jury said that putting billions of dollars into the hands of politically ambitious people is a recipe for cronyism and back-scratching.")
Blame the teachers
"Fla. lawmakers challenge teacher tenure".
Class size games
"The Florida House approved a measure to send a class-size amendment to voters in a push to loosen requirements to keep classes small." "Florida class-size measure moves closer to ballot". See also "House passes bill giving voters a say in class sizes".
"Choice of bad and really bad"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "They haven't begun to give each other high-fives yet, but state lawmakers are admiring their handiwork in crafting a plan to fund education that 'holds schools harmless.'"
Translation to South Florida: Get ready to be ripped off -- again. The budget proposal, cached in CS/HB 5005 and similar bills, is worse than the Legislature's usual bait-and-switch tactics. This one gives South Florida schools a lose-lose option: Transfer tax-millage money from capital funds to the general fund in order to cover shortfalls in education spending. Or, leave the funds there and find other ways to make up for the shortages. Either option carries dire consequences for South Florida."Only painful options in no-harm budget".
"Greer: Rubio ought not challenge Crist".
"When former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth took over the Department of Children and Families in January 2007, he vowed that the state would stop paying attorneys to fight lawsuits filed by families with valid claims against his agency. Since then, DCF has settled with 104 plaintiffs, paying a total of more than $6.1 million. Butterworth's successor at DCF, former state legislator George Sheldon, has continued that approach. In some cases, Sheldon said, it is better to help children who truly have been harmed by the agency's mistakes than to continue racking up legal fees." "For DCF, results don't match new policy on payouts".
Down payment help
"A plan to turn federal tax credits into down-payment help for fledgling homebuyers is gaining steam at the Capitol. The full Senate approved a state budget proposal Thursday that would allow first-time homebuyers eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $8,000 to sign it over to the state. In exchange, the state would provide an equivalent amount of money upfront to help the homebuyer make a down payment." "State eyes plan to aid homebuyers".
"Gov. Charlie Crist's schedule shows many blank days".
See you in Havana
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "The Obama administration took a larger step toward revising U.S.-Cuba policy this week. Now, though, comes the hard part. What next?" "Obama takes first steps on modernizing U.S.-Cuba policy, but hard work still left to do".
Waiting on a miracle
"Parents have phoned, written and rallied for months to urge Florida lawmakers not to sacrifice public education in the process of plugging the state's $6 billion budget hole."
GOP lawmakers say they have answered that call, shielding kindergarten-through-grade-12 school funding from spending cuts next fiscal year. But those plans depend on receiving federal stimulus money earmarked for education, for which Florida may or may not be eligible - and lawmakers may not know if Florida qualifies until the legislative session is nearly over."Are kids the sacrificial lambs?".
Even if the money comes through, it will not prevent cuts to programs that serve some of Florida's least privileged children. Mentoring programs, legal aid and foster care all face reductions in the spending plans for 2009-10 that lawmakers advanced this week.
It adds up to plenty of fodder for critics, who are accusing GOP leaders of gambling with the future of Florida's children and balancing the budget on the backs of the neediest.
"The insanity of all insanities"
"Miami-Dade Judge Steven Leifman, tapped by the Florida Supreme Court to help reduce the number of mentally ill in Florida's corrections system, calls it 'the insanity of all insanities.'" "State considers overhaul of offenders' mental health system".
From the "values" crowd
" Florida lawmakers propose less money for upkeep of schools".
Dirty little secret
Mike Thomas writes about one of the dirty little secrets about the death penalty:
It goes like this: To get seated for a death-penalty trial, a juror must say during the selection process that he or she is willing to sentence someone to death. This tends to weed out the softies and liberals ... giving prosecutors more of a law-and-order jury — one more likely to convict."Execute Casey? Not a chance — but now she might cut a deal".
Noted Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz claimed prosecutors in Texas used this tactic to get a conviction against Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in 2001.
"The prosecutors ... never really expected, nor even wanted, the jury to return a death sentence," he wrote in an analysis. "They manipulated the death penalty processing order to get a pro-prosecution jury, more likely to reject the insanity defense and return a verdict of guilt. This tactic, well known to those who practice criminal law, is becoming more widespread in states which authorize the death penalty."
"Wave of euphoria"
"Today, a wave of euphoria is sweeping across the Bay area over prospects for improved U.S.-Cuba travel and trade, mostly because of the Obama administration's fresh outlook on relations between the two countries." "Tampa has a thirst for Cuba trade, travel".
Kosmas gets a break: "The Florida Republican Party chairman confirmed to the Buzz that he's thinking of running against Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach in 2010." "Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer considers U.S. House seat, punctures Marco Rubio's Senate hopes".
"Owed child support in Florida? Good luck".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Florida needs SunRail". Related - Jane Healy: "Jane Healy: How legislators and governor can be incredibly dumb".