"Legislators close in on a budget deal that raises school taxes, reduces workers' pay slightly and spares the Florida Forever environmental land-buying program." "State budget issues nearly settled".
"Lawmakers put most of the finishing touches on the state's proposed budget for next year."
Thousands of state workers will get a small pay cut, school taxes could rise by $380 million statewide and the Florida Forever environmental land-buying program was spared after legislators Sunday cleared up some final roadblocks to balance Florida's budget. ..."Florida lawmakers put most of the finishing touches on next year's proposed state budget". See also "Florida Forever, Moffitt center losers in budget", "Lawmakers cut state worker pay, leave Tri-Rail on table as budget work nears close", "Budget compromise: State workers earning more than $45,000 will get 2 percent cut" and "Florida lawmakers agree on state worker pay cut". Related: "After spat, Rivera, J.D. hug and close out budget".
Lawmakers this week also will start reconciling differences over the expansion of casino gambling, an issue that could net the state $500 million and provide Gov. Charlie Crist with a political win.
Crist, who has struggled with the Legislature over the issue, suggested a veto might be in the offing if lawmakers fail to ink an acceptable deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
''If it doesn't happen, you know, I may have to cut things out of this budget that are put in there. And the members are, I think, acutely cognizant of that,'' Crist said.
Is that a threat?
''Oh no. Not at all,'' Crist told reporters.
"Legislature let Floridians down this session"
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial Board: "This session of the Florida Legislature started with incoming House speaker Ray Sansom being forced from his position after lawmakers learned of his shenanigans in directing tax money to his future employer. And it just went downhill from there."
How far downhill, remains to be seen -- because it will take awhile to figure out exactly what lawmakers did on Friday, the last day of the regular legislative session. Even as the Legislature returns to Tallahassee this week to finish work on the budget, many representatives and senators will be wondering exactly what slipped through in the waning hours of the regular session. And their constituents will be waiting as well.Much more here: "What happened? Little good".
On the whole, lawmakers turned in a sorry performance this year. They did little that was targeted at helping the tens of thousands of Floridians who are out of work. Even worse, they cruelly rejected $444 million from the federal government that would have extended unemployment benefits, and passed a bill that will make it much harder for injured workers to find attorneys when they're denied benefits. ...
But wait -- there's insult to go with that injury. Lawmakers approved a bill that deregulates the phone industry, making it likely that rates will increase and giving the Public Service Commission less authority over consumer complaints. Meanwhile, legislators stymied most efforts to restore fairness to Florida's loophole-ridden, unbalanced tax structure. And they raided several trust funds to balance the budget, including wiping out the popular Florida Forever program meant to preserve environmentally sensitive land.
Here's a rundown on the "Legislation that passed in the 2009 session of the Florida Legislature". "State legislature ends busy session". See also "Session wraps with local victories, failures" ("lawmakers representing parts of Volusia and Flagler counties emerged from the Legislature's spring session claiming several major victories") and "Money or lack of it drives legislative session".
They'd prefer it if employees called in sick ... ?
Allowing employees to cash in on unused sick and vacation leave saves employers money because it avoids overtime costs required to fill vacancies caused by absent employees. Some people can't figure that out - "Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan [right-wing, business backed] government watchdog group based in Tallahassee, called the benefits 'excessively generous.'" "Cashing out: Unused sick time and vacations turning costly in South Florida".
"The U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit challenging the at-large method of electing the town commission of Lake Park, which is 48 percent black but has never elected a black commission member since it was incorporated in 1923, by the count of federal officials." "U.S. suit challenges Lake Park elections".
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "The Florida Senate rejected last ditch efforts to revive a bill that carried South Florida's best chance to financially fortify Tri-Rail. The outcome shouldn't have surprised anyone except those who believe in the Tooth Fairy, e-mails promising easy money from Nigeria and the likelihood that compromises oncomplicated policies can occur on the last day of the legislative session." "The Florida Senate rejected last ditch efforts to revive a bill that carried best chance to financially fortify Tri-Rail".
"In the shadow of a monstrous budget deficit, lawmakers this session proposed big ideas for Florida's schools."
Loosen the class size mandate. Raise high-school graduation standards. Scale back teacher tenure. Pay teachers first."Education bills flunk out in the Florida Legislature". See also "School proposals are axed amid budget blues". Related: "Bright Futures may fade for many".
Each enjoyed huge support from some group, be it teachers, administrators or former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future.
But not one is going to happen, at least not this year.
"State lawmakers gave school boards the unsavory option of raising taxes if they want to replenish their construction budgets." "Local school boards get permission to raise taxes".
"Lawmakers stepped back from the brink"
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "Florida lawmakers stepped back from the brink Friday and, to their credit, did not scuttle a bill that would make it easier for low-income working families without health insurance to buy KidCare insurance for their youngsters." "KidCare wins".
See you in Havana
"Cuba travel agencies appear to have put their troubled past behind -- and business is booming thanks to the new relaxation of travel restrictions to Cuba. But it all began with a murder 30 years ago." "Selling trips to Cuba once was deadly".
"Cuts target successful subsidy"
Bill Cotterell: "Charlie Reed, when he was chancellor of the university system, used to say 'we're cheap and proud of it' when budgeting for education in Florida." "Adoption under the ax".
"Property tax breaks headed for 2010 ballot in Florida".
"When Hillsborough voters go to the polls, the federal government is watching."
Hillsborough is one of only five counties in Florida monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice. It dates back decades, when elections officials didn't provide Spanish-language ballots despite the county's traditionally large Hispanic population."Hillsborough has stake in Supreme Court case".
As a result, the county must get federal approval before implementing new voting procedures, such as merging polling stations or changing county commission districts. The extra layer of electoral oversight stems from the voting rights law, enacted in 1965, which has opened government elections to millions of blacks and other minorities in the South.
But a case being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court seeks to remove the provision of the act that singles out Southern states and counties with a history of voter discrimination.
"Rampant mortgage fraud"
"To combat rampant mortgage fraud, Florida legislators are imposing tough new laws in an attempt to keep crooked brokers out of the industry. " "Florida's mortgage brokers face tighter regulation".
"This is typical"
The Tampa Tribune editorial board reminds us that unions are bad, very bad ...
This is typical."Bill stacks deck in favor of bad cops".
Lawmakers frequently attack local governments for overspending, but they eagerly approve union-backed requests, such as pension enhancements, that drive up local taxpayers' costs.
The latest measure amends the "Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights," which already grants officers extraordinary rights.
Thanks to past union lobbying efforts, during disciplinary investigations the accused officer must be informed of all the names of accusers. The accused must be provided witness statements before being interviewed by internal affairs, which allows the officer to fashion a response to the accusers.
The new measure requires that officers under investigation be given not just the testimony but also all other evidence, including video and audio recordings, and GPS information prior to the interrogation. ...
As if this change wasn't enough to stack the deck in favor of miscreants, the legislation also gives the accused officer the option of seeking the appointment of a review panel if he thinks investigators have violated his rights.
If criminals were allowed such leniency, few bad guys would go to prison.
I-4 corridor "a 'hotbed' for extremists
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "The Sunshine State lags behind only California (84) and Texas (66) as top sanctuary for hate groups with 56 — up from 39 in 2000."
Central Florida, in particular, plays a shameful part. The Ku Klux Klan, black separatists, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads and neo-confederates hug the Interstate 4 corridor from Tampa/St. Petersburg through Orlando. Andrew Rosenkranz, Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, calls that strip a "hotbed" for extremists."Hate: Alive and festering".
Hate-mongers such as the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, which in February staged an Orlando meet-and-greet, and the Confederate Hammerskins, a neo-Nazi strain that organized a St. Patrick's Day shindig in Orlando, increasingly are infecting Central Florida with the call of racism.
"Is there room in the Republican Party for Charlie Crist?"
"It's a crazy question, considering the GOP these days is only marginally more popular than the flu, while the Republican governor of America's biggest battleground state enjoys astronomical approval ratings." Adam Smith writes, however, that
it's worth pondering now that moderate Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has become a Democrat, and the political world is convinced that the moderate Florida governor is about to run for the U.S. Senate. If Crist runs and wins, he will join Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — a pair reviled by many conservatives — as the only Republican senators who supported President Barack Obama's stimulus package."After Specter's switch, focus turns to Crist's future in GOP". Related: "Foes Prepare for Crist Senate Bid".
"If you agree with Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe on some of these issues, you might as well become a Democrat,'' said former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, a Republican who is likely to run for the Senate, whether or not Crist does.