"Lawmakers to spend week polishing up proposed budgets"
"Florida lawmakers will spend the week polishing up their proposed budgets as the Senate releases its draft spending plan on Monday and lawmakers start comparing it to the $66.5 billion proposal released by the House last week." "Today in Tallahassee: Budget cuts, abortion, the courts, school vouchers". See also "" and "".
With a "watchdog" like that ...
"The South Florida Water Management District has hired its executive director’s boyfriend for a $120,000-a-year job with her administration’s watchdog." "South Florida water district chief's boyfriend hired for 6-figure job".
Nancy Smith: "If ever there was a time and a place for a housecleaning, the time is now and the place is the South Florida Water Management District." "Trouble at SFWMD: Appoint Those Five Board Members Now".
"As the Florida Legislature's annual session was about to begin, the big public hospital system Broward Health saw a problem: proposed laws to make it difficult — perhaps even impossible — for its plan to transfer its hospitals to a new, nongovernment entity."
Broward Health deployed Ron Book, one of Florida's most influential lobbyists. In February, Book became the newest, most expensive person on the agency's roster of hired lobbyists. He was given a $114,000 contract in February, joining four other contract lobbyists earning $55,000 each. Broward Health also has a vice president of government affairs. ..."Hospital district fights bills that would add oversight of privatization". See also "At the piggyback trough".
The North Broward Hospital District collects taxes and operates four public hospitals, including Broward General Medical Center, and dozens of clinics and health facilities in the northern two-thirds of the county. Property taxes account for about $154 million of the district's $1.1 billion annual budget.
The seven commissioners appointed by the governor last year unveiled and quickly voted in support of a plan to turn over the district's operations to a new nonprofit group, effectively privatizing the system. After a fierce public reaction, including angry public officials, commissioners softened their stance and said they were only studying the idea.
Supporters said it could reduce the tax money the district needs and allow new business ventures the public district can't engage in. Critics said privatizing the state's biggest public hospital system could mean less care for the uninsured.
The privatization effort, if successful, could reshape the medical landscape in Broward County. The public board would give up much of its regular oversight abilities, and most of the district's operations could be conducted outside the scope of laws that require public meetings and access to documents.
Mentally ill ending up in handcuffs instead of treatment
"South Florida jails aren't used only to house suspected criminals. They're also de facto mental institutions. With legislators in Tallahassee proposing dramatic cuts to mental health services, law enforcement is expecting to bear the brunt, with more mentally ill people ending up in handcuffs instead of treatment." "S. Fla. jails brace for more mentally ill".
"The lack of intellectual honesty here is remarkable"
The Saint Pete Times editors write that Scott's "lack of intellectual honesty here is remarkable."
Scott's intrusion into the private lives of dedicated state employees with no evidence they are illegally using drugs is wrong, ill conceived and likely unconstitutional. But that didn't stop the governor from issuing an executive order last week requiring all new hires in agencies he controls to be drug tested — and for current employees to be tested at least four times a year. State agencies already can require employees to be tested when they are suspected of using illegal drugs, so there is no safety issue here."Drug screen plan needless, wasteful". See also "Gov. Rick Scott’s drug-testing order may face legal challenges" ("Rich Templin, political director for the Florida AFL-CIO, said the governor’s drug-testing order is part of a broader campaign to vilify public employees.")
The governor's fuzzy reasoning is inexplicable.
The Sun Sentinel editors argue that "the new governor is following up one bad policy move with another." "Gov. Scott's drug testing order makes little fiscal or policy sense".
"Scott's plan for drug testing of state employees is fraught with obstacles — personal, personnel, administrative, practical and constitutional — plus one potential ethics conflict."
But let's start with the conflict of interests. Scott is the founder of the Solantic "urgent care" clinics. I asked his communication office last week if his family would profit from the testing, or if he'd tell Solantic not to do business with the state."Drug testing isn't a simple solution". See also "Has governor overreached on drug-testing public employees?". But see "Public-Employee Drug Tests Pass Legal Muster, [right wing] Experts [sic] Say".
"The claims of a conflict of interest are baseless," was the official response.
Oh. Good to clear that up.
Even if Solantic got all the business, it would have to test all 19 million Floridians a few times a year for Scott to recoup the $70 million he spent on winning the governor's office. But there's other game afoot, and he's got a long time left in office.
As a lawyer, Scott is familiar with the Fourth Amendment, which says the government may not unreasonably search or seize our "persons, houses, papers, and effects." You can almost hear the ACLU popping the latches on its briefcases and booting up its PCs to prepare lawsuits over whether drug testing is an "unreasonable" search.
Government shouldn't shy away from something for fear of lawsuits. But this puts the state in the position of arguing, "You want to work for us? You must be on something." ...
Scott probably wouldn't mind taking a test, as Martinez did, but are we going to require university presidents, Supreme Court justices and legislators? If not, is that equal protection of the laws, as required by yet another constitutional amendment? ...
Come to think of it, what about the CEOs and directors of the companies getting expansion incentives and tax breaks from state government? They're not state employees, but they're surely receiving what is now tax money. When the state cuts the corporate income tax from 5.5 to 3 percent, how do we know the blissful smiles on all those executive faces aren't caused by something other than the prospect of getting even richer?
"Bills aim to increase number of students eligible for vouchers".
Pollster has close ties to RPOF
"National Republicans are circulating a blog item about a poll that suggests Broward Republican Allen West has a wide lead over his Democratic challenger, West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel. That could be — but the item doesn’t note that the polling firm that did the poll, ViewPoint Florida, has close ties to the Florida GOP." "Republicans tout GOP-leaning West Poll".
The poor thing
"Sentinel reporter Scott Powers was made to wait in a storage closet last week during a private fundraiser attended by VP Joe Biden." "'Good Morning America' interviews Sentinel reporter". Background: "How my wait in a closet almost brought down the White House".
West and Rooney will be hurt by "Fair Districts"
"Does Democrat-dominated Palm Beach County still have enough red precincts to help two Republican congressmen?"
Although Democrats hold a 45.3-to-28.9 percent registration advantage countywide, GOP-leaning areas in the county's north end and along the coast help form the backbone of Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West's District 22, which also extends into Broward County. And northern Palm Beach County Republican strongholds are a smaller but important piece of Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney's eight-county District 16."GOP could struggle in redistricting to save Palm Beach County precincts for Allen West, Tom Rooney".
When the Republican-controlled Florida legislature draws new political boundaries next year, lawmakers' traditional reflex will be to try to protect rising GOP stars West and Rooney. But a new law and old-fashioned math could bring headaches for Republicans.
The voter-approved "Fair Districts" law forbids drawing districts to favor incumbents or political parties. Even if opponents succeed in getting the law tossed, or if lawmakers figure a creative way around it, it'll be tough to find enough Republicans in Palm Beach County to help both West and Rooney.
In West's District 22, Republicans enjoyed an 8-point registration cushion when the GOP-led legislature drew its boundaries in 2002. By last November, Democrats held a 37.5-to-37.4 percent edge. West still handily defeated Democratic incumbent Ron Klein during the national GOP wave. But the past decade of registration trends and the district's tendency to tilt more Democratic in presidential years suggest District 22 will be a battleground in 2012 and beyond if it retains its current configuration.
RPOFers "gut environmental protections"
When the wingers lose the Tampa Trib editors, you know they've sailed off the deep end: "Florida lawmakers once again are seeking to gut environmental protections and strip local governments of their authority to respond to community needs. ... This deceptive measure threatens natural resources and local authority. It should be rejected." "Another attack on local rule".
"Conservative wing splinters" on union busting bills
"Republican lawmakers pushing a series of anti-union bills aren't getting the unanimous tea party support they expected."
Labor organizations call the bills pure union-busting. Dorworth said the legislation “allows union membership more control over how their dollars are spent.”Inasmuch as the teabaggers are largely a front group for the GOP, it is to be expected that
Though not necessarily objecting to the bills' requirement that members annually approve the use of dues for political purposes, a few tea party members and libertarians are lining up with unions in opposing the deduction ban.
In doing so, these conservatives aligned with Democrats who blasted HB 1021 on Friday. The House passed the measure 73-40.
"This is targeting teachers, and that's a crime," says Robin Stublen, a Punta Gorda-based tea party leader. "It's a blatant effort to stop political contributions and bust up [unions]."
Stublen notes that government agencies currently withhold payroll funds for a variety of purposes. Singling out worker-authorized union contributions for prohibition is not fair, he says.
"It's all about choice. As long as we allow automatic deductions for United Way, IRAs, braces, car payments, etc., give them that choice, too," Stublen said. ...
Stublen, who organized a tea party rally in Tallahassee on the opening day of the Legislature, urged fellow members in a recent online forum to ask themselves four questions about the bill: "Does it limit government? Is it fiscally responsible government? Does it promote free markets? Does it save tax dollars?
"The answer to these questions is a resounding no. We are on a very
slippery slope here," he said. ...
Alex Snitker, a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate last year, voiced similar concerns.
"It almost seems like a waste of time," he said of the prohibition on political withholding. "These legislators were elected to fix the economy, not go after unions."
Snitker, who says he is decidedly "not a union guy," said such legislation simply fires up the opposition.
"They're just pissing off the Democratic base and giving them more ammunition for 2012," he observes.
Not all tea partiers see it that way."Tea Partiers Split on 'Union-Busting' Effort".
Tom Gaitens, state director for the national tea group, FreedomWorks, says, "Government should not be a party in a political process, especially when those contributions mainly go to one party."
Gaitens said passage of the Thrasher-Dorworth bills is among his group's "top 15" priorities.
Rumsfeld dead enders
"Rumsfeld commands a crowd at book-signing".
Glimmer of common sense?
Nancy Smith: "Scott – who convinced us after the election he’s the anti-regulation governor – apparently opposes a smart, carefully crafted bill aimed at stopping the costliest, most oppressive regulation of all: the EPA's numeric nutrient criteria, scheduled to go into effect in March 2012." "Why Is Rick Scott Only One Not Sold on Anti-EPA Bill?".
Attack on public education via charter schools
"With teacher merit pay reforms out of the way, the Florida Legislature has turned toward charter school expansion, considering two bills this week that would make it easier for highly-rated charter schools to expand enrollment, add grade levels and grant preferential admittance. And just like the swiftly-approved teacher merit pay reforms, the push to expand charter schools has the strong backing of Gov. Rick Scott." "Education in the Legislature: Charter Schools Are Next".
First the teachers, then the lawyers ...
"Republican lawmakers struggling to contain Florida's $20 billion-and-growing Medicaid program are taking an unconventional approach: They're going after trial lawyers and the rights of injured patients to sue."
Although lawsuits, insurance premiums and the amount of damages paid have all gone down since Gov. Jeb Bush drove through caps on medical-malpractice cases in 2003, GOP lawmakers appear poised to dramatically scale back personal-injury lawsuits."Lawmakers pit lawyers, doctors in bid to rein in Medicaid".
The reason: They hope to entice the influential lobbies for hospitals, doctors and insurers to drop their opposition and swallow Medicaid reform.
"We're hopeful that we can craft a plan that won't make everyone happy but will offer some sweeteners to get them to buy into a reform package," said Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who has put Medicaid reform atop his agenda this session.
"A loan story"
"The feds are investigating whether Hialeah’s mayor evaded taxes on loan repayments, allegedly in cash, from a Ponzi schemer." "The mayor and the Ponzi schemer: a loan story".
Scott the "prince of darkness"
Tim Nickens writes that the "Scott administration views Florida's Sunshine Laws as a nuisance and the release of public records as a personal favor. It treats public records as private corporate documents and grudgingly distributes what it wants, when it wants — and to whom it wants." "The prince of darkness".