"2010 Legislative Session daily roundup". From the Sun-Sentinel editorial board: "State lawmakers face a tough legislative session".
More: "In Tallahassee today: class sizes, caps on health care damages, budget workshops" and "Session to examine class size, FCAT".
"A state-financed program that gives tuition vouchers to thousands of low-income Florida students to attend religious schools may get a boost in funding while cash-strapped public schools face more cuts." "As public schools face cuts, vouchers may get big boost".
RPOFer "bare-faced double-talk"
The Daytona Beach News Journal editors ask: "Can there be such a thing as bare-faced double-talk? Florida legislative leaders apparently don't see a problem with it. Legislative leaders kicked off the opening day of the 2010 legislative session with a rant at Congress for fiscal irresponsibility, and House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater are backing a resolution that would scold the nation's leaders for deficit spending."
But with the new legislative session only a few hours old, state lawmakers fast-tracked a bill that extends jobless benefits and puts off an increase in the state's unemployment tax, replacing it with massive loans ... from the federal government. Gov. Charlie Crist -- who correctly pointed out that Floridians benefited significantly in the past years from federal stimulus spending -- signed the bill minutes before he made his final State of the State speech Tuesday night."State of the state?".
The Chamber snaps its fingers ...
"Crist signs bill delaying unemployment tax increase".
Charlie's "swan song speech"
Bill Cotterell notes that "We're all pretty much accustomed to governors slipping a few crowd-pleasing applause lines into the annual State of the State speech, or using an eye-catching prop to make a point."
probably no governor has basked in so many broad smiles, or heard such enthusiastic applause, as Gov. Charlie Crist encountered during his swan song speech at a joint legislative session on Tuesday evening. The trouble is, not everybody who was smiling was also applauding — and the members on their feet were almost all Democrats."As Democrats cheer, Crist might cringe".
The Republican governor made a strong, reasoned defense of his administration's use of federal stimulus money for "problem solving" that he said saved thousands of jobs for teachers and cops, among others. Using stimulus money to balance the current fiscal budget avoided tax increases while maintaining a necessary level of state services.
Crist didn't name former Speaker Marco Rubio, his rival in the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, or specifically mention the Tea Party voters when he spoke about extremists who are unwilling to compromise. But you'd have had to be napping not to guess whom Crist was talking about when he asked legislators to shun "hollow ideological posturing that achieves nothing."
Charlie Crist could beat Marco Rubio in a general election."Could Crist turn risk into reward?".
He could beat Kendrick Meek in a general election.
But could he beat Rubio and Meek in a general election?
Judging by his State of the State speech, it seems Crist either is thinking about it or he has taken up smoking hash.
He certainly wasn't trying to endear himself to the conservatives with his Tuesday address to legislators. Here is a guy getting killed by right flight, and he was throwing out red meat to the Democrats. They gave him a standing ovation as he endorsed the stimulus and derided conservative ideologues.
Republicans sat on their hands. The only thing missing was Joe Wilson shouting, "You lie!''
PolitiFact Florida's "The state of the State of the State".
"Chill the coziness"
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Florida legislators are talking more about job creation and budget shortfalls this session than about reforms of any kind -- except when it comes to the Public Service Commission, the state's utility regulator. The PSC is rightly a reform target in Tallahassee after its chummy relations with Florida Power & Light were exposed in 2009. Specifically, lawmakers want to limit communications by PSC commissioners and their staffs with utility officials to on-the-record, open meetings. This is a much-needed fix that should sail through the Legislature." "Reform PSC now".
"Volusia County officials said in a news release this week that some residents thought the GOP's "Congressional District Census" was the real one. The actual Census will be sent to every U.S. household on March 15. Residents are required to return them by April 1. Democrats are criticizing the GOP for printing the words 'Do Not Destroy Official Document' and 'census document' on the envelope." "GOP 'Census' mail confuses some Volusians".
Crist on the attack
"Crist's campaign is openly asking what former House Speaker Marco Rubio knew about Ray Sansom's dealings with a Panhandle college." "Charlie Crist jumps on Marco Rubio, Ray Sansom similarities".
From the "values" crowd
"A group of blind residents is protesting a proposal in the Legislature to delay voting by paper ballot until 2016 for voters with physical disabilities." "Blind decry bid to stall paper ballot".
"Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink unveiled an initiative Wednesday aimed at ensuring that the state's 1.7 million veterans tap into all the benefits available to them." "Sink announces push to help veterans with benefits".
Here they come
"Florida's population bounces back - just barely". See also "Population decline is over for Florida, UF study shows".
Jeremy Wallace: "Less than 24 hours after imploring the Legislature to approve a gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist met with the lead House negotiator to continue to press the issue." "Bradenton's Rep. Galvano and Crist discuss gambling compact".
RPOFers want to "unleash even more special-interest spending"
"Florida legislative leaders are proposing election-law changes that could unleash even more special-interest spending in state elections but require that the millions of dollars pumped into races be fully disclosed to the public." "Election-law change would reopen spending, add full disclosure".
"Allowing them to more quickly raise premiums"
"Florida lawmakers are again seeking to loosen rules on property insurers by allowing them to more quickly raise premiums to recoup the costs of buying reinsurance' and other expenses."
The move is the second act of a push by the Legislature to scale back some of the reforms it rushed to pass in 2007, after property-insurance premiums exploded in the wake of the busy 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons."Bill would allow easier climb for property-insurance rates".
But one piece of the legislation unveiled Wednesday drew quick criticism at its first hearing before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
Among other changes, the bill, SB 2044, would allow an insurer to pass along to its customers any losses it suffered from discounts offered to homeowners who hurricane-harden their homes with improvements like storm shutters or new roofs. Insurers who can prove to the state that they suffered financial losses from the discounts could recoup them by raising rates on all homeowners.
"Big tobacco got its comeuppance in Florida in 1997 when, in an out-of-court settlement, it agreed to pay an estimated $11.3 billion over 25 years to compensate the state for the costs to the public's health from smoking-related illnesses. Tiny Dosal Tobacco, a South Florida company with less than a 1-percent market share at the time, wasn't part of the settlement. Today, Dosal's not so tiny. Its Romy, 305's and other brands make up 20 percent of all cigarettes purchased in Florida. It's the state's third biggest cigarette vendor." "Pay a fair share".
A Republican thing
The Tampa Tribune editorial board neglects to mention which political party was responsible for the delay: "Approve Sanchez promptly for international trade post".
"A House member wants to block release of 911 tapes and exempt them as open records to protect victims from further trauma by public release." "House to hear 911 bill: Measure would exempt tapes from open records laws".
The Senate yesterday passed
a bill that would put a "lock box" on a trust fund paid for by gun owners to process their concealed weapons permit applications, making it one of a select few trust funds off-limits to lawmakers."Senate passes bill to put gun trust fund off limits for other uses".
Over the objections of some Democrats, the Senate approved a measure that would bar lawmakers from dipping into the trust fund to spend on anything other than processing concealed weapons permits. The fund is financed by a $117-per-permit fee collected from permit applications.
Only four of the state's 400-plus trust funds are now off limits.
GOPers want federal cash
"Space Coast lawmakers lobby for economic aid as 9,000 aerospace jobs disappear this year". See also "Florida fighting to keep NASA jobs".
"Maurice Ferre, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, wants to convince voters that he will be a good steward of their tax dollars. He served as Miami's mayor from 1973 until he lost in 1985 and says that he left the city in good financial shape. That's notable because, these days, the city is plagued with budget shortfalls and under a federal investigation about its finances." "Pot of gold that Maurice Ferre left Miami doesn't add up".
RPOFers want to negotiate teacher contracts
"Two key education bills filed recently in the Florida Senate would lead to dramatic changes in teacher-pay plans and high school graduation requirements, if adopted. The first would force Florida school districts to develop merit-pay plans for teachers -- or risk losing state money." "School bills would lead to dramatic changes".
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board thinks "the Republican-led Legislature needs to tread carefully as it looks to overhaul teacher tenure. An approach that focuses on punitive measures for both districts and teachers, more than on incentives and reasonableness, could easily backfire and drive even good teachers away." "Risks of radical tenure plan".
Meantime, "State economist: School funding down $1 billion for next year".
"State court system is being slammed"
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "It's that time of year when the Florida Supreme says "Look, we really need more judges," and the state Legislature says 'Hmm, not this year.'"
But the state court system is being slammed. One obvious culprit: Foreclosure cases more than doubled in the period from July 2006 through June 2007, and have climbed precipitously since then. In 2003, virtually all foreclosure cases were resolved within a year, but as of 2008, that clearance rate was down to 48.2 percent."State courts have seen too many cuts".
Most circuits have made changes to ensure that criminal and family-court cases are heard in a timely fashion, but those courts are suffering from the loss of case managers, clerks and other workers who boosted efficiency. Meanwhile, the sheer bulk of foreclosure cases is clogging other pats of the court system, and taking a serious toll on the state's economy. A 2008 study by a Washington think tank pegged Florida's economic loss due to foreclosure delays at $17 billion a year and growing.
The fiscal impact of the cuts runs through the court system. A few years ago, many counties contracted with local attorneys to serve as magistrates for traffic court, handling cases more quickly and less expensively. Now the magistrates are gone -- and county court judges are picking up those duties. In other parts of the court system, high-paid judges are performing clerical duties.
Meanwhile the Legislature has cut court budgets by 10 percent and failed to approve any new judges in the past three fiscal years. Lawmakers did make one smart move in 2008, setting up a trust fund that should eventually provide stable funding for the court system, but it's not producing enough money yet.