"The House voted 73-42 on Thursday for a major rewrite of election laws, a move that would allow millions of new special-interest dollars to pour into campaigns, but one that would also give the public a better way to track the spending. An attempt to shoot the bill immediately to the Senate, where it could have been passed and sent to Gov. Charlie Crist on the same day, failed by three votes." "House votes for a major rewrite of election laws".
The Tallahassee Democrat's "2010 Legislature summary".
"After raising $2.2 billion in new taxes and fees last year, Florida legislators want to erase that memory this election year with proposals to roll back auto registration fees and steer up to $100 million to businesses in tax incentives."
The problem: how to pay for it. The House plans to budget about $88 million in tax incentives, the Senate plan includes $135 million in tax cuts, and both chambers plan to push a $44 million sales tax holiday for back-to-school supplies. All of it must come out of a budget that already has a shortfall of $3.2 billion.
"Florida lawmakers seek tax breaks and fee cuts despite a budget shortfall". See also "THE STATE REPORT" and "Crist's, Legislature's Budgets Still at Odds".
Critics of the tax and fee cuts say competition already is fierce among programs that have been slashed in recent years. Republican legislators argue that tax breaks will spur economic development, and that many of the tax incentives would not take effect until future budget years.
DMS going down
"A plan to break up the Department of Management Services cleared a key Senate committee Wednesday with its sponsor saying he's not punishing employees for saving the state money." "DMS break-up plan clears hurdle".
"A bill (HB 335) to clarify that online rooms should result in the same amount of taxes going to state coffers as rooms booked directly stalled in a House committee Wednesday, while a competing bill (HB 1241) that would do just the opposite — clarifying the law to say that the higher tax isn't due — moved forward. Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole sponsored HB 335 and Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, sponsored HB 1241." "Bill to boost Fla., local tax haul for rooms booked online stalls".
The school prayer "battle has come to the Florida Legislature, where the House PreK-12 Policy Committee approved a measure Wednesday that would allow teachers to pray with public school students.The s" "School prayer restrictions provoke new legislation in Florida". See also "Fla. House panel passes school prayer bill; opponents call it unconstitutional".
Crist opposes HCR
"The pitched wrangling over health care legislation broke into the U.S. Senate campaign Wednesday as Gov. Charlie Crist pressed his potential Democratic rival Rep. Kendrick Meek to oppose the bill. Meek, who said he believes the bill could help hospitals avoid the pinch of uncompensated care, dismissed Crist's letter, noting that the 'crisis of the uninsured is acute in Florida.'" "Meek supports health care bill, dismisses criticism from Crist".
"Property insurers would be able to raise premiums without regulatory approval, but only by up to 15 percent a year, under a wide-ranging insurance approved in a House committee Wednesday." "Bill would let property insurers raise premiums up to 15% without state approval". See also "Committee OKs bill that would allow unapproved property-insurance hikes".
Sunshine News: "Medicaid is sick, and it's giving Florida a case of budget consumption. Gobbling up nearly a third of the state's revenues, the medical program for the indigent and disabled is projected to cost Floridians $19 billion this year -- a billion more than last year." "Sick Call".
Entrepreneurs in action
"Florida's drug problem: 49 of top 50 oxycodone prescribers are from state".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Thank goodness the Florida Constitution requires that lawmakers pass a balanced budget every year. It has undoubtedly restrained them from being as fiscally irresponsible as Congress, whose members don't have to worry about making sure spending lines up with revenues."
But a change in how the budgetary impact of tax breaks is estimated could erode the discipline imposed by the state's balanced-budget mandate. Some leaders in the Legislature, including several from Central Florida, want to switch to a speculative approach known as dynamic modeling. It purports to account for the effect of tax breaks on the broader economy in figuring their cost or benefit to the treasury.
"Tax breaks could further erode fiscal discipline".
The political appeal of this approach is obvious, especially when state government is so cash-strapped. A tax cut has a better shot at passing if it is forecast to stimulate the economy and generate more tax revenue.
But it might not be possible to do the costly and sophisticated analysis needed for this approach in the limited time legislators meet each year. California tried, but it was too expensive and time consuming.
Promoters of tax cuts as the tonic for whatever ails the economy have been pushing this approach in Washington for years, with only limited success. Some dynamic studies by the Congressional Budget Office have projected more economic benefit from government spending than tax cuts. Few government studies have shown tax cuts completely paying for themselves.
Even some advocates of the dynamic approach acknowledge it can be abused.
The New York Times: "The effort to restore Florida’s Everglades has been revived thanks to the efforts of President Obama and Florida’s Republican governor, Charlie Crist. The Obama administration has committed more than $300 million in new money, and construction on important projects — including lifting a section of the Tamiami Trail to bring freshwater to the Everglades — is under way." "A Good Deal for the Everglades".
Mike Thomas thinks "Jeb!" is the cat's meow. "Education reform: Let’s agree to agree".
Burnishing his green bona fides
"Virtually every important aspect of water in Florida, from tap to toilet and from storm runoff to bubbling spring, has a place in sweeping legislation unveiled Wednesday by state Sen. Lee Constantine." "Bill would overhaul Florida water laws".
What's wrong with Hillsborough?
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "'All talk and no backbone' is how Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham summarized Wednesday's rambling board meeting, which ended with no action on a proposal to fire the county administrator, county attorney and the independent performance auditor." "County chaos remains unresolved". The Saint Petersburg Times editors: "Hillsborough County's comedy of errors".
Never mind the 50 cal.
"A bill backed by the National Rifle Association that would prohibit adoption agencies from asking prospective parents if they have guns or ammunition in the home appears to be sailing through the Legislature. The House and Senate are scheduled to vote Thursday on the bill (SB 530, HB 315). Though sponsored primarily by Republicans, it earned Democratic support in committee tests, an unusual circumstance for an NRA-backed proposal. A spokesman said Gov. Charlie Crist strongly endorses the measure." "NRA backs adoption bill scheduled for final vote". See also "NRA-backed bill yanks gun questions from adoption process".
"Florida leads the nation in sending children to prison"
The Daytona Beach News Journal editors: "In a national study of children 14 or younger sent to adult prison for nonhomicidal crimes, three-quarters of the cases were in Florida."
In the 2007-08 fiscal year, nearly 3,600 juvenile cases were transferred to adult court, and 443 people under the age of 17 were sent to adult prisons. And the U.S. Supreme Court is using two Florida cases to determine whether sentencing children to spend the rest of their lives in prison is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.
"Wise to offer juveniles in prison a second chance".
Florida's practice of trying young teens as adults is being brandished as a national (shameful) example of overzealous, pointless prosecution. The trend has continued, despite a 10-year-old study by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice that unequivocally concluded "transferring youth to the adult criminal system is more likely to aggravate recidivism than to stop it."
"Taking money from special interests"
Bill Cotterell: "Members of the Florida Legislature are, once again, discussing ways to make us feel better about their taking money from special interests that have business pending before the House and Senate." "Money and reform keep flowing".
Good luck with that
"Is the shift in focus to biotech jobs right for Tampa?".
GOPers in a dither over Kosmas
The The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board writes:
To the Honorable U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach:
"Counting on Kosmas".
Understanding that you are one of the few Democratic members of the U.S. House yet undecided about whether to vote for the pending health care reform bill, we have thought much about what could be said to persuade you to support this historic legislation -- critical to the future well being of Americans and American business. We have long known and admired you for your integrity and principled service on the public's behalf, evident during your time in the Florida Legislature and now representing our community in Congress. It is why this newspaper recommended your most recent election. Here are our thoughts about this deeply debated legislation. ...
The question is: "Will she or won't she? And what can she get by playing coy?"
As one of a few dozen U.S. House Democrats still undecided on the upcoming health care reform vote, Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, is being wooed and scorned.
"Kosmas faces pressure over NASA, health care". See also "How will she vote?".
She was wooed by President Barack Obama in a one-on-one meeting last week.
The scorn started after reports surfaced that she objected to Obama's plan to cut funding for NASA programs that employ 9,000 Central Florida residents.
Republicans accused Kosmas of trading support for health care reform for an Obama commitment to rescind planned NASA cuts.
Andy Sere, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Kosmas was engineering a "Sunshine Sellout" similar to deals brokered last fall that bought support from Louisiana and Nebraska senators.
The Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "Census could help Florida gain more congressional seats and more federal dollarsGov. Crist pleads for Floridians to fill out the census form".
"How to do it fairly"?
According to critics, the "proposed merit-pay plan for teachers and school administrators would keep educators from sharing effective practices, and a built-in penalty for school boards that refuse to go along with that plan undercuts local control."
School boards that fail to adopt the merit-pay plan would forfeit state funding equal to 5 percent of what they pay teachers and school-based administrators. They would have to make up the difference by hiking property taxes.
"Teachers balk at merit pay bill".
"I think that's probably one of the worst pieces of legislation for education I've ever seen," Volusia School Board Chairwoman Candace Lankford said. "At the end of the day, they say they want to do what's best for students, so they're going to take more money out of our funding for students... What kind of collaborative tone does that set for our communities?"
"That's a terrible bill," said Margie Patchett, executive director of Volusia Tax Reform. "To raise property taxes if they opt out of it; that's the last thing we need."
Thrasher said the penalty is needed to make sure merit pay -- strongly opposed by teachers' unions for many years -- gets accomplished this time around. Only eight of Florida's 67 school districts participate in the state's current merit-pay program.
"Personally, I'm not totally against merit pay, but the problem we have in education is how to do it fairly," said Flagler School Board Chairwoman Evie Shellenberger, who's a former teacher and principal. "How do you fairly evaluate what this teacher is doing compared to the other one?"
Stat of limitations
"Florida House poised to end wrongful death statute of limitations".
"Days from now, a stately black schooner will sail through a narrow channel into Havana's protected harbor, its two masts bearing the rarest of sights - the U.S. Stars and Stripes, with the Cuban flag fluttering nearby. The ship is the Amistad, a U.S.-flagged vessel headed for largely forbidden Cuban waters as a symbol of both a dark 19th century past and modern public diplomacy." "A symbol of the slave trade joins US and Cuba".
Raw political courage
"Legislation that would tighten screening and criminal background checks for people who work with children, seniors and disable people has cleared the Florida House." "Fla. House acting on background check bill". See also "State lawmakers seeking criminal background checks for caregivers of most vulnerable".