The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "The legislative session that started last week already has been defined by one overwhelming force: The state's $3 billion-plus budget shortfall. During the next eight weeks, lawmakers may cut medical assistance for low-income seniors, allow public-school class sizes to increase, lay off state workers and release thousands of inmates from state prison. "
So naturally, the Legislature will want to devote tens of millions of dollars to family-friendly film production, scale back environmental protection and create tax breaks for people who buy expensive yachts and airplanes."Giveaways without return".
It seems too ridiculous to be true. Yet Florida lawmakers are already promoting these business giveaways -- and more -- under the banner of job growth.
Rubio spent "big money"
Adam C Smith, Beth Reinhard and Scott Hiaasen: "Marco Rubio was barely solvent as a young lawmaker climbing his way to the top post in the Florida House, but special interest donations and political perks allowed him to spend big money with little scrutiny. About $600,000 in contributions was stowed in two inconspicuous political committees controlled by Rubio, now the Republican front-runner for the U.S. Senate, and his wife. A Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times analysis of the expenses found:"
• Rubio failed to disclose $34,000 in expenses -- including $7,000 he paid himself -- for one of the committees in 2003 and 2004, as required by state law.Much more here: "Marco Rubio's lavish rise to the top".
• One committee paid relatives nearly $14,000 for what was incorrectly described to the IRS as "courier fees'' and listed a nonexistent address for one of them. Another committee paid $5,700 to his wife, who was listed as the treasurer, much of it for "gas and meals.''
• Rubio billed more than $51,000 in unidentified "travel expenses'' to three different credit cards -- nearly one-quarter of the committee's entire haul. Charges are not required to be itemized, but other lawmakers detailed almost all of their committee expenses.
Teaching "is ultimately an art"
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "There isn't a stand-alone metric to measure the effectiveness of teachers who inspire us to pursue our careers. Every adult has a story of a teacher who touched his or her life and inspired outstanding academic performance while helping to shape good citizens. These attributes cannot be measured by scientific tests. Teaching — with all of the science it involves — is ultimately an art." "A tricky subject".
"Grayson fully endorses earmarks — he brags that his totaled $12 million this year, a more than 500 percent increase from the $1.9 million logged by his predecessor, U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando — and said his GOP foes are ignorant of how the process works. Grayson said the process puts more power in the hands of communities and keeps 'nameless, faceless bureaucrats' in Washington from holding sway over crucial local funding issues. ... Grayson did join other House Democrats this week in backing a ban on earmarks for for-profit companies. " "GOP makes 'earmarks' an issue in Central Florida races".
Florida fights for the right to pollute
"A political battle is heating up between Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how best to clean up the state's polluted waters."
A lawsuit filed by environmentalists has forced the EPA to begin setting hard numeric limits on nutrient pollution in Florida waters. Those waters exceeding the limits would be considered "impaired," triggering forced reductions on polluters."State, EPA battle over cleaning up polluted waters".
The environmental groups say they were forced to file the suit in July 2008 because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had done little to halt the degradation of rivers, lakes, springs and bays. Nutrients, mostly from fertilizers and minimally treated sewage, can trigger algae blooms that are deadly to fish and unhealthy for humans.
Legislative black caucus divided on redistricting
"A ballot issue to change the standards used for redrawing the state's political districts is dividing the members of the Democrat-dominated legislative black caucus." "Blacks split on redistrict proposal".
Florida's "closed, party-member-only, winner-take-all primaries"
Mark Lane: "In Florida, we have the same problem of sorting among big fields of primary candidates. We have a system of closed, party-member-only, winner-take-all primaries and uncontested general elections that all but guarantee candidates can take office without winning a majority." "When Florida picked a governor with Oscar-style voting".
"Senate's health-care budget ... a bloodbath"
Aaron Deslatte: "The biggest budget battle likely to play out in Tallahassee this spring turns on Republican lawmakers' deep resentment of President Barack Obama's stimulus bailout and their drive to reform Florida's beleaguered Medicaid program."
Congress is on the verge of sending Florida more than $1 billion in additional stimulus funding to help pay for the state's exploding health-care entitlement program, projected to cover 2.9 million poor people, children and seniors next year at a cost of $19.2 billion. Gov. Charlie Crist assumed the money would come when he sent his $69.2 billion budget proposal to lawmakers last month."Billion-dollar battle shaping up over Medicaid".
But Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, and Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, have assumed this money isn't on the table.
As a result, the first draft of the Senate's health-care budget released last week is a bloodbath. It would cut nursing home reimbursement rates by $122 million, hospital reimbursements by $280 million and Medicaid HMOs by $85 million -- and slash the state's Medicare Part D contribution toward prescription drugs for seniors by $66-million. House budget-writers will roll out their proposals this week, and they should look just as bleak.
Lawmakers plugged $1.8 billion in stimulus dollars into the state-federal Medicaid program in this year's budget, but that cash runs out in December, in the middle of next fiscal year. Democrats want the extra $1 billion to be used to offset that loss – and prevent wholesale cuts.
"Foul practices marring Florida's elections"
The Orlando Sentinel editors: "Just two weeks into their legislative session, Republican lawmakers are speeding reforms through the Capitol intended to clean up some of the foul practices marring Florida's elections."
Great, right? Profligate fundraising and spending by pols and often shadowy political groups need fixing, don't they?"A better way to run elections".
But slowing down and getting their legislation right's a better course of action than signing off so quickly on changes to campaign practices that would likely serve entrenched political interests more than the public.
Normally slow's-how-we-go legislators already have fast-tracked their reform packages through committees in the House and Senate. Why the rush?
From the "values" crowd
"With Florida's economy in the tank and unemployment at a record high, more Floridians are turning to public libraries to search for jobs, apply for services and get free entertainment. But the state's help for local libraries — $21.2 million — is on the chopping block as lawmakers look to pare up to $3 billion from the state's 2010-2011 budget." "Lawmakers propose eliminating all state funding for libraries".
Free market folly
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Some legislators would 'fix' the problem by letting all companies charge what they want. Bills have been filed in the House and Senate to deregulate property insurance." "Balance insurance reform: No free-market solution for a broken market".
"A state contract for U.S. Census publicity triggered a lawsuit by minority-owned public relations firms, who say they were discriminated against." "State is sued for discrimination over Census publicity contract". See also "Lawsuit alleges Fla. not giving black-owned firms fair chance".
Crist's pants on fire
"Crist is one of the nicest guys in Florida politics. He is polite, soft-spoken and never forgets to say thank you, and he has an ability to remain calm at times others would lose their cool."
But threaten to beat him in the Senate Republican primary, and he will attack, as former state House Speaker Marco Rubio is learning. Crist, who calls himself a "happy warrior," still smiles, but he is proving he will throw anything and everything at Rubio to try to win what is becoming one of the closest watched races in the country. Many of Crist's attacks are exaggerated, take words out of context, are not true or are over the top. Rubio has also exaggerated or taken out of context some of Crist's statement or actions, but not to the same extent."Analysis: Crist's attacks stretch the truth".
"The grand jury that indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom expressed itself clearly on the matter of openness and transparency in the legislative sausage-making known as the final budget process." "Joint bill would open Florida budget process to the public".
"The South Florida Water Management District extended the deadline to seal the $536 million U.S. Sugar land deal." "U.S. Sugar-Everglades deal kept alive".
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "South Florida water managers made the sensible decision this week to keep alive for now a major land purchase for Everglades restoration. While the deal to buy farmland is too sweet for U.S. Sugar, the move is a historic opportunity to return the natural water flow to South Florida." "Everglades deal worth keeping".
What's wrong with Hillsborough?
"Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators subpoenaed members of Hillsborough County Attorney Renee Lee's staff on Friday and seized e-mail messages related to an ongoing inquiry of pay raises, officials confirm." "FDLE subpoenas county attorney staff, seizes e-mail records".
"'You don't get any faster track than that'"
"In a lean budget year, a $24.8 million medical negligence claim against the University of South Florida Tampa is progressing through the legislative process early in the session, raising eyebrows over the Senate leadership's interest in the case."
The bill, the costliest claim to be heard in the Senate so far, passed through the Health Regulation Committee in a 5-2 vote this week. If it becomes law, the university's insurance providers would be on the hook for the amount awarded to Amara and Daniel Estrada in a 2007 wrongful birth case."Speed of medical-claim bill raising questions".
"You don't get any faster track than that,'' said J.M. "Mac'' Stipanovich, a USF lobbyist Thursday.
At least four of the partners in Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley of West Palm Beach, the law firm that represented the family in the case, contributed the maximum allowed donation of $500 each to the campaign of Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, last year.
Jayrn Emhof, Atwater's spokeswoman, dismissed the notion that campaign contributions were a factor, noting other claims bills have also been heard in committee this month.
"The toughest test of his inauguration pledge"
Mary Ellen Klas writes that, "as legislators embark on the last session of Crist's term, the governor faces the toughest test of his inauguration pledge: Does he reject the growing list of exemptions and expend some political capital to push the recommendations from his Commission on Open Government Reform? Or does he allow the Legislature to use the state's dark budget forecast as its reason for not making improvements to the state's Sunshine Laws?" "The Sunshine governor's open government agenda is being eclipsed".
Florida for sale
"The legislation that could allow some companies to stamp their corporate logo on Florida license plates as a way to bring in some cash for the state -- and save drivers some money -- is likely to get a vote in a Senate committee next week. ... There's an obvious question that arises immediately: What type of companies would be able to advertise on tags? Would the state be able to discriminate against certain companies in accepting the logos?" "Florida Legislature to vote on letting corporations buy space on license plates".