On Monday, "students and activists lined up outside a Capitol hearing room with their mouths symbolically taped shut, state lawmakers took up the first of several Republican-sponsored bills aimed at neutering Florida public employee unions."
The three dozen demonstrators outside the meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee said the tape represented the potential silencing of workers in the political system under Senate Bill 830. But both opponents and supporters of the measure were silenced on Monday when the committee briefly introduced the bill and abruptly adjourned without testimony or a vote, citing time constraints."Lawmakers look to eliminate unions' power, ability to raise money".
Senate Bill 830 would prohibit the common practice of deducting union dues from public employee's paychecks. The bill would also prohibit the use of those dues for political activity.
Union members "will lose their voice to the legislative process if this bill passes," said Jayne Walker, a supervisor with the Lynx bus system in Orlando and an official of the Amalgamated Transit Workers there.
"As an ordinary citizen, I cannot compete with Tallahassee, with big business and their lobbyists," she said outside the hearing room. "I can't contribute thousands of dollars to a candidate. My union gives me a voice. A Tallahassee politician shouldn't tell me how to spend my money. It is my paycheck, my choice."
"Pro-union demonstrations swamp tea partiers in rallies across Florida"
"Pro-union demonstrations swamp tea partiers in rallies across Florida ... An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 "Awake the State" demonstrators turned out in 30 cities across Florida on Tuesday to protest Gov. Rick Scott's budget plans. In Fort Lauderdale, more than 1,000 protesters virtually encircled the federal courthouse downtown -- swamping a smaller gathering of tea party activists who were rallying in support of Scott." "Organizers Say Budget Protests Draw 10,000+ Statewide".
Scott Maxwell writes, more than 600 attended "a rally in downtown Orlando. And that group was joined by thousands more in about 30 cities around the state."People of all stripes unite, oppose cuts to kids, the vulnerable". More: "Rallies spread across Florida as session begins (Video)" and "As lawmaking session opens, Tallahassee protesters test voices".
Meanwhile, Ricky teabags the night away: "Emotions ran high in Tallahassee on Tuesday on the first day of the Florida legislative session as tea party supporters rallied to demand less government and more tax cuts, while state workers, teachers and advocates for the disadvantaged rallied to protect government programs."
Speaking to 500 tea party activists, Gov. Rick Scott urged them to pressure the Republican-led Legislature into passing his budget proposals, which call for $1.7 billion in tax cuts and the elimination of as many as 8,600 state jobs. Republican legislative leaders are not sold on Scott’s budget."Dueling protests drive debate over budget in Tallahassee". See also "Scott's budget priorities spur rallies for, against" "Local teachers rally against proposed cuts".
“Here’s the key. All of us are better if we’re held accountable,’’ Scott told the tea party crowd with Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll at his side. “If we’re not going down the path, call us. Show up and complain.’’
Across the street, more than 300 protestors demonstrated against the governor’s plan. They berated his proposed elimination of corporate income tax cuts, his $3.3 billion ax to education and his proposal to use $1.4 billion in cuts to state worker retirement benefits to help cover the budget gap.
"SB 736 is set to go on the Senate floor at 9 a.m. Like a similar proposal in the House, the Senate bill would end tenure, the controversial practice that offers job protections to teachers in good standing with at least three years' experience." "Bill to end tenure faces vote today in state Senate".
Not surprisingly, the Orlando Sentinel editors think it is great that House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos would, as the editors so kindly put it, "mercifully shelve the current tenurelike armor that shields ineffective teachers."
Sounds like the editors have been spending too much time with their Chamber buddies down at the club watching reruns of Waiting for "Superman".
Expect "contentious session"
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board writes that, "as the legislative session kicks off today, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott are showing they're as interested in using the [budget shortfall] issues for political gain as they are in finding practical ways to solve them." "Legislative session: The run of the place". See also "Lawmakers open 2011 session" and "Scott, legislators ready to begin contentious 60-day session".
The Teabagger State
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Scott, in his first State of the State address Tuesday night, finally focused on Florida issues, for once downplaying complaints about the federal government. Scott predictably pledged to create private-sector jobs by cutting taxes and government, appeasing his core constituency of tea party backers and business lobbyists. But for a governor who won with the smallest margin in modern history after a self-financed campaign, there was little sign of acquiescence to anyone else. " "Scott offers tea party rhetoric".
"In his first State of the State speech, Gov. Rick Scott reaffirmed his plans to revolutionize government by making Florida a more business-friendly state that will generate hundreds of thousands of jobs."
So it is not surprising that the Tax Foundation ranks Florida's tax climate among the nation's best, meaning least costly, for business. Only South Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming and Nevada score better. Scott acts as if he's governing a state at the other end of the tax scale when he urges lawmakers to "remove obstacles to business success.""Governor needs more than a knife". See also "Scott touts “jobs” budget to lawmakers", "Read Scott's prepared State of the State speech", "Scott Sees Florida as 'Model for Success'", "Gov. Rick Scott gives hard sell, brushes off critics in State of State", "Gov. Scott: 'Don't blink' at tough calls" and "Gov. Scott calls on lawmakers to be bold, 'don't blink' (Video)".
In a recent study of the total state and local tax bill of a family in each state's largest city, a Florida family earning $100,000 pays less than similar families in all other states except one.
But the Florida family earning $25,000 pays more than a similar family in 24 other states.
Scott urged lawmakers to adopt his proposed budget, which would sharply cut spending on education. Yet only 16 states spend less per pupil on K-12 education than Florida, according to a recent report by the Social Science Research Council. Scott's cuts would put Florida in the bottom 10. ...
Florida's median annual income is low — $3,900 above the poorest state and about $13,000 below the richest. ...
Only four states have higher rates of violent crime, which raises questions about Scott's proposal to cut prison spending.
The governor also wants to cut state oversight of construction to stimulate more growth, as if he lived in a state with a shortage of vacant houses and stores. He seems to forget that only two states have a higher percentage of foreclosures.
Related: "A new sheriff vs. Legislature’s ‘old bulls’" and "Scott hopes to sell his agenda to state".
"Haridopolos’ Senate presidency starts inauspiciously"
"Haridopolos’ Senate presidency and his campaign have started inauspiciously – with Haridopolos’ $152,000 book deal at the center of his political troubles."
Political observers and critics question whether the senator deserved to get paid so much money by Brevard Community College, which required him to spend little time teaching to write his manuscript from 2003-2007. In that time, lawmakers cut the budget in a flat-lining economy. Universities — especially community colleges — seldom pay teachers to write books."Mike Haridopolos book deal haunts Senate presidency, campaign".
The book, which provides a rare glimpse into the mind of a top legislator, became an instant target of derision from the left to the right on Wednesday when it was made available online at Amazon.com for $9.99.
Liberal New York Times columnist Gail Collins mocked the common-sense advice the Merritt Island Republican gave — "most importantly, a candidate should avoid wasting money on useless novelty items such as wooden nickels."
Then, a conservative blogger with the highly influential Republican blog, Red State, savaged Haridopolos as a "a creature of the inbred Tallahassee Republican Machine. He represents the ‘The Getting Elected Trumps Principle’ school of politics."
"Scott will finish off Florida's environmental movement"
"Scott wants to gut the DCA. He contends the agency in charge of managing Florida’s growth is a red-tape-crazy job-killer standing in the way of economic recovery." "Scott wants to dismantle DCA". Mike Thomas: "Rick Scott will finish off what's left of Florida's environmental movement".
"The state has clearly veered off track"
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "The roller coaster ride that is Florida's history has never been smooth. But this is an unusually rough stretch, and the state has clearly veered off track. We offer three areas of investment to bring it back: Transportation, education and social programs. " "Finding reasons to believe".
SunRail on chopping block
"Now that Gov. Rick Scott has done away with the high-speed train and $2.4 billion in federal grants that came with it, many suspect he will turn his attention to SunRail and destroy the commuter train slated for Central Florida." "Could SunRail survive Scott's ax?".
They broke it
The Tampa Tribune editorial board reminds us that the "relatively feeble shape of Florida in 2011 can hardly be blamed on overly liberal lawmaking. Conservatives have been in charge in Tallahassee for years." "Governor needs more than a knife".
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune editors: "The Senate president and speaker of the House opened the Florida Legislature's annual session with rhetorical flourishes — invoking the words of Winston Churchill and the Gettysburg Address — and launching broadsides against the federal government."
President Mike Haridopolos and Speaker Dean Cannon used their opening addresses yesterday to condemn the political culture spawned in Washington, D.C. They blamed the federal government and its elected leaders for bowing to special interests, borrowing against the future and imposing unfunded mandates on states."State politics -- nationalized".
Such arguments reflect the growing trend toward the nationalization of politics in states such as Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio. Gov. Rick Scott spent much of his winning campaign railing against "Obamacare" and has touted his refusal to accept federal funds for a high-speed rail project.
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "So here we go again. Two state senators, Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, and Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, are proposing to allow five "destination resorts," defined as casinos with hotels and convention centers, in locations spread out around the state. Under their bill, a casino would go in each of five districts, with South Florida getting two. The senators are promoting the casinos as a form of economic development that will bring in out-of-state dollars and keep Florida gambling dollars at home."
There's a little something in this deal for the Legislature and state government: The casinos would pay a $50 million refundable license fee, a $1 million non-refundable application fee and share their revenues by paying a gross receipts tax. The tax, of course, is a tax on the gamblers; basically, it's a "loser pays" tax. But gambling advocates take a philosophical view, noting that it's voluntary, and people are going to gamble anyway, so why not let the state get in on the action."Lawmakers should stop promoting gambling".
State Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, takes a somewhat different approach to getting more money out of gamblers. He favors allowing online poker games at dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons. The state would get 10 percent of the money from Internet gambling.
Florida already has gambling -- a lot of it, in fact. The state has pari-mutuel betting at 23 sites, including the Daytona Beach Kennel Club & Poker Room; the Florida Lottery and poker rooms. Broward County and Miami-Dade have slots. The state's eight Indian casinos raked in $2 billion in 2009.
Still, the pressure for more gambling -- from industry lobbyists and elected officials hoping for just one more revenue source -- never seems to let up.
Florida's flourishing hillbilly heroin industry
"Sun-Sentinel : More than 500 million doses of oxycodone distributed in Florida in 2009".
"Slow boat to Cuba"
"Florida ports, ferry operators want to run a slow boat to Cuba".
"Wave of abortion restrictions"
"With a more conservative Legislature and abortion opponent Rick Scott replacing moderate Charlie Crist as governor, abortion foes in the Florida Legislature are proposing a new wave of abortion restrictions." "Anti-abortion lawmakers proposing wave of bills".
Cannon's court packing scheme
"House Speaker Dean Cannon on Monday proposed creating a second Florida Supreme Court so that one set of justices could specialize on criminal appeals and the other on civil cases."
The Winter Park Republican said a House committee will draft a proposed state constitutional amendment for the 2012 ballot that also would increase the number of justices from seven to 10 with five on each court."House speaker wants 2 Florida Supreme Courts". See also "Top lawmaker wants court overhaul".
Cannon has been critical of the Supreme Court for removing three amendments proposed by lawmakers from the ballot last year for having defective ballot summaries, but he denied he's trying to pack the high court with justices friendlier to the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Right wing crazies run wild in Tally
"With a new CEO — whoops, governor — and unstoppable Republican majorities in the House and Senate, the Legislature is going to reshape the government of Florida, and its philosophy. In short, conservatives have won."
But it's the long-term changes that come out of this session that will be the stuff of future history books:"The most significant (and probusiness) session in 25 years".
• The governor and Legislature are likely to reduce Florida's growth management and environmental protection, consolidating and eliminating those government functions.
This will be an epic turning point. Florida allowed itself to be paved over at will from World War II until the early 1980s, when the Legislature passed the landmark Growth Management Act of 1985.
But the modern view is we can't have that. The Legislature already has repealed the requirement that Florida roads should be able to handle new growth. This year it's possible it will simply abolish the entire state agency that enforces the growth law.
• The session also will see the triumph of Republican philosophy concerning public education.
This includes abolishing teacher tenure (or multiyear contracts, or automatic rehiring, or whatever you want to call it). It includes basing teacher evaluations in part on standardizing testing.
It also probably includes expansion of vouchers, "opportunity scholarships" or whatever else you want to call the transfer of public dollars into private schools.
• In terms of dollars, the biggest change the Legislature will make is moving more or all of the Medicaid program for the poor into a system of "managed care." This means hiring private companies to decide who gets treated, who gets paid, and how much.
• The Legislature will probably change the relationship between the state and its employees. The governor's budget would eliminate 6,700 jobs; even if the Legislature does less, it's likely to require employees to start making a pension contribution.
This is hardly a complete list.
"Medical Tort Reform Measure Advances".
RPOFers Orlando bound
"The Republican Party of Florida will hold a 2012 presidential straw poll and FOX News-partnered debate in September as part of a three-day event in Orlando." "Republican Party of Florida to host 2012 presidential straw poll, debate in Orlando".
"A return to the 18th century"
Daniel Ruth: "It will probably come as no surprise if by the end of this year's Florida legislative session Gov. Rick Scott, R-Uncle Fester, manages to put the state on a monetary bead standard, replace first responders with bucket brigades, establish the McGuffey Reader as the primary K-12 textbook and provide every newborn with an NRA membership card in their hospital bassinet."
This might be considered progress — in Somalia. But for the Republicans in control of Tallahassee, this year's 60-day grip and grin of lawmaking represents an inexorable ministry of silly walks return to the 18th century."Hop aboard Wayback Machine".
Second amendment silly
"House Panel Passes Gun Bill Barring Doctors From Inquiring About Ownership".
"Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation defeated Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach on a 28-11 vote, winning the post for the 2012-2014 term." "House Dems choose 2012 leader ".
Running with the dinosaurs
"The bill was filed Saturday by Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, who chairs the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee. He has said in the past that both evolution and intelligent design must be taught in order to foster critical thinking." "Creationism vs. science debate reopens".
Ricky's Walmart world
"Scott once again praised the thrifty ways of America’s largest retailer, Walmart" "Rick Scott, USA Today and public sector wages".
Back in business
"Less than three months after being cleared of civil insider stock trading, Fort Lauderdale heart doctor and top Republican fundraiser Zachariah P. Zachariah is back in big-time, big-money politics."
Last Friday, Zachariah was circulating through the crowd at the Broward Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, shaking hands and discussing politics, according to Richard DeNapoli, chairman of the Broward Republican Party."Prominent GOP fundraiser back in presidential politics".
“He is at the highest level of fundraiser,” said William Scherer, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and another key Republican financer.
Catholics for Choice
"Catholics for Choice: Jacksonville mayoral candidate using ‘rhetoric of violence’".
"Haridopolos off to a tepid start"
"The Florida Senate got off to a tepid start Tuesday as the 2011 legislative session began, despite a loaded schedule in the first week. Senators passed several uncontroversial resolutions, did some housekeeping by passing joint rules of the Legislature, and prepared the Health Care Freedom Act for a final vote on the floor. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has been pushing the bill as a way for Floridians to opt out of the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act, the year-old federal health care law backed by President Barack Obama." "Slow-Starting Senate Preps Health Care Opt-Out on Day 1".
"Rumors of a growing rift between the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott are wildly exaggerated, says Senate President Mike Haridopolos. The Merritt Island Republican dismissed as 'pure hogwash' press speculation that leading GOP lawmakers are distancing themselves from Scott." "GOP Split? Haridopolos Calls It 'Pure Hogwash'".
"Sides gird up for Medicaid fight".
Yet another "Republican wunderkind"
"Will Weatherford, the Republican wunderkind from Wesley Chapel, ascended to state House of Representative speaker-designate Monday." "Florida's promise will endure in Weatherford".
Entrepreneurs in action
The Miami Herald editors: "Insurance fraud costs us all".
"Cannon talks feds, pill mills, courts". See also "House, Senate discuss goals for legislative session".
Off topic, but irresistable
"Wisconsin State GOP Senators Took Hundreds Of Thousands In Government Farm Subsidies".
Hastings denies harassment accusation
"Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings said he’s ‘never sexually harassed anyone’ after a former staffer who worked with him on the Helsinki Commission accused him of harassment." "Rep. Hastings accused of sexual harassment".
Heavy voting in Miami
"The March 15 recall election has energized Miami-Dade voters, who are showing up at early voting sites in strong numbers." "Miami-Dade recall election draws strong voter turnout".