"The state Senate has readied a sweeping election reform bill for a final vote this week, tweaking it to potentially restore early voting hours while maintaining other provisions that had been harshly criticized by voter-rights activists." "Bill shortening early voting period moves ahead".
"GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate, citing cases of voter fraud, proposed the legislation that they say will crack down on election violations and protect the integrity of the vote."
"The whole idea is to organize it, protect people from being taken advantage of and have some measure of accountability," said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, the Senate sponsor."Florida lawmakers poised to pass rewrite of elections laws". See also "Senate vote expected on election laws " and "Contentious Elections Bill Ready for Final Vote in Senate". Meanwhile, "Senate blocks Democratic-sponsored amendments to election overhaul".
But according to the Florida Department of State, there's been little election fraud in recent years — just 31 cases of alleged voter fraud referred to the Department of Law Enforcement for investigation between January 2008 and March 2011. Two cases resulted in arrests. In a third case, an arrest warrant was issued, but the suspect fled the country.
"Scott ... now looks like a poser"
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "For all the talk about doing things differently in Tallahassee, state leaders finalized next year’s state budget the way it almost always has been done: in secret, with leaders getting what they want, regardless of what’s in Florida’s best interest."
Gov. Rick Scott, who claimed during his campaign that he would be different and not succumb to the Tallahassee machine, now looks like a poser. To strike a face-saving deal on corporate income tax breaks, Scott tacitly approved decisions by House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos to steer millions to hometown projects that could have been spent on education, health care and other priorities. This isn't reform; it's business as usual."A budget of pain, turkeys".
More: "Teachers protest proposed budget cuts" ("Public school teachers protested around Hillsborough County on Wednesday as state lawmakers neared a Friday vote on a proposed budget that would cut education funding, including teacher salaries.")
Today in Tally
"Today in Tallahassee: abortion, Medicaid". More: "Florida Senate Preps Pro-Life, Welfare Drug-Testing Bills" and "Senate poised to approve abortion bills today". Related: "End in Sight, House Tackles TABOR, School Choice and Concealed Weapon Bills".
Legislature stockpiling millions to fight FairDistricts
"While bemoaning deep cuts to health-care, education and public employee benefits, Florida lawmakers have stockpiled millions of dollars in funds that they control and are packing away even more to pay legal bills as Florida begins the partisan process of redistricting this year."
Buried within the $69.67 billion budget agreed to this week, the Senate is giving itself a 26 percent spending boost -- more than $9 million above last year -- to finance the coming legal fight."Florida lawmakers quietly stockpile millions to defend redistricting ".
The House, meanwhile, is sitting on $30 million in “discretionary” reserves -- cash that the chamber hasn’t spent over the years but that doesn’t revert back to the treasury, as do unspent dollars in state agencies’ budgets.
That little-known pot of cash is roughly the same size as the corporate income tax cut lawmakers gave to Gov. Rick Scott this week. And it’s more than what the Legislature authorized for a three-day sales-tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers in August.
Republican leaders in both chambers say they need the cash because they’re planning to spend up to $20 million litigating over the re-drawing of political maps that will began in earnest this summer. And they’re pointing the finger at the FairDistricts amendments voters passed last year to make it more difficult to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts.
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"As Florida legislators prepared to pass bills to let greyhound tracks stop racing dogs and start installing slot-machine look-alikes, they also slashed $1 million from compulsive gambling prevention in their budget." "Florida lawmakers poised to expand gambling, cut compulsive gambling aid".
Waiting for stoopidman ... he's here
"Huge expansion of charter schools and virtual schools approved by Legislature".
The Sun Sentinel editorial board: "At a time when lawmakers propose deep cuts to public schools and higher education, the Republican-controlled Legislature wants to pass measures that will impose additional costs to K-12 education in the name of school choice. In an ideal world, a thorough vetting would have altered, if not killed, these more extreme measures. Unfortunately, that's not happening. ... the reality is the legislation would divert even more taxpayer funds from public schools to private ones without necessarily improving the state's schools." "School choice comes with a cost".
"'Thank God for the Senate'"
Howard Troxler: "Some people say Florida should switch to a one-chamber Legislature, like Nebraska. The theory seems to be the fewer politicians, the better. Not me, Jack."
This year the House speaker, Dean Cannon, was dead set on splitting the Florida Supreme Court in half, mostly because he didn't like some of its rulings."The House proposes, the Senate disposes".
Two state Supreme Courts! The Senate killed this goofy scheme. (Cannon did get some other court stuff that still might be bad ideas — a topic for another day.)
The House tried to deregulate 30 professions altogether. This was ideological and wacky. Do we really want to legalize fake charities and unscrupulous car mechanics in Florida? The Senate cut that list down to 10 professions, and a couple of those left are obsolete, anyway.
Gov. Rick Scott wanted a big tax cut for Florida corporations, on top of the deep budget cuts that have to be made this year. The Senate instead gave him a small cut in terms of dollars, but a savvy one — it eliminated taxes on thousands of small businesses. The governor had no choice but to take it and declare victory.
The House voted to cut the length of unemployment benefits in Florida. At the Senate's insistence, that length will stay the same, as long as unemployment is above a certain level.
The Senate killed one of the most heavily lobbied bills of the session, the push for electric companies to be able to raise rates to pay for renewable and alternative energy. ("Renewable energy" might sound like good-guy stuff, but it was really of a big cash grab by Florida Power & Light.)
The Senate killed a 25 percent increase in the premiums of Citizens Property Insurance Co. — a popular idea in the short run, although it only puts off some hard decisions.
The House got its way on at least one high-profile issue: The Senate tried to give Florida insurance companies a huge break by saying they no longer have to cover sinkholes. The House has decided they'll still have to, and the House will probably prevail.
Make no mistake: The Legislature overwhelmingly agrees on the big picture of big budget cuts and no new taxes of any kind. The two sides agreed on a repeal of teacher tenure, expanding charter schools and the odious "leadership funds" they legalized for fundraising.
But in general, the independent senators serve as a check and balance on the House, on the governor — and even on the Senate itself.
Decisions ... decisions
"Former Ruth's Chris CEO may enter GOP primary to take on Bill Nelson but also could make second bid for Congress". "Craig Miller, Thinking About Running for U.S. Senate, Leaves 2012 Door Open".
Renewed opposition to SunRail
"Opposition to Orlando's SunRail commuter project has emerged anew, with organizers asking Gov. Rick Scott to be as tough on the project as he was on high-speed rail."
They started a website, VETOSunRail.org, focusing on the $1.2 billion cost of the project, which gives about $600 million in state tax money to private freight rail giant CSX."SunRail project is under the gun".
Since the deal became public in 2007, opponents have complained CSX was gouging the state for use of its tracks. They oppose a CSX requirement that the state take liability for commuter accidents on the 61.5-mile line, even those in which CSX is at fault.
"The project has been fraught with problems since conception resulting in rejection by the state legislature twice," says the opposition site.
Unemployment benefit cut to Senate
"Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, amended a controversial bill Wednesday night to cut unemployment insurance and give state businesses a tax cut. The move bounces HB 7005 back to the Senate, where Republican Sen. Nancy Detert of Venice has said any changes could kill the entire proposal." "Unemployment benefit cuts head back to Florida Senate".
Secret Medicaid negotiations
"The Legislature is expected on Thursday to finally unveil and debate a measure to overhaul the safety net health care program. The House and Senate had drawn up rival plans but top lawmakers have been negotiating in private a compromise measure that won't be released to the public until the waning hours of the session." "Lawmakers expected to unveil Medicaid compromise after secret negotiations".
Haridopolos gets GOTV gift
"The Florida Legislature handed Senate President Mike Haridopolos an elections gift Wednesday when it approved two proposed constitutional amendments concerning health care and taxes that could join him on the 2012 ballot."
Haridopolos, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, said he proposed the amendments to give voters a choice over how their government is run."Florida Legislature sends health care, tax amendments to voters". See also "Republicans put four questions -- two tax related, two health-care related -- on 2012 ballot", "House aims to nullify 'Obamacare'", "Lawmakers ask voters to repudiate health-care act" and "Tax Cap Expansion Goes to Voters".
One amendment would cap future state spending, while the other aims to block the requirement that people purchase health insurance, as outlined in President Obama's health care law. ...
Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, said Republicans were just trying to gin up their base in a presidential election year, when Democrats tend to vote in larger numbers than Republicans.
"Florida lawmakers are poised to make the state's parental notification of abortion laws stricter, making it more difficult for a minor to get a judges' approval for the procedure." "Tougher abortion restrictions advance in Florida Senate".
Campbell-Randolph saga continues
"The Daphne Campbell-Scott Randolph saga continued Wednesday, with Rep. Campbell holding a press conference demanding that House Minority Leader Ron Saunders and Rep. Randolph publicly apologize for what she called bullying and sexist attacks." "Democrats say video shows tiff wasn't that bad".
Sweeping property insurance bill
"Plans to increase the rates of state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. by up to 25 percent are dead in the Legislature this year. But proposals are still moving forward in the private insurance market, most notably for sinkhole insurance." "House passes sweeping property insurance bill".
Something — anything on Immigration bill
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "Florida lawmakers have been more restrained than most in the fray over illegal immigration, a problem best solved at the federal level. Yet legislators feel pressure from constituents to do something — anything — to express their displeasure with Washington's inability to craft comprehensive reform." "Path to immigration reform". See also "Florida immigration bill moves through Senate, but House approval seen unlikely" and "Protesters take some credit for weakened immigration bill".
Another RPOFer flip flop
"Sen. Mike Bennett said Wednesday that his view has changed since the beginning of the week -- he now wants to place the burden of proof on challengers to local development decisions."
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the HB 993, the House version of Bennett's rulemaking bill, while it passed over his SB 1122 sweeping growth management bill on the special order calendar. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and Rules Committee chairman, said the growth bill could be taken up Thursday."Bennett does a turnabout on legal challenges, saying "a lot of things have happened" since Monday".
Senate and House budget negotiators agreed last week to include the growth measure in a budget conforming bill. The conforming bill would place the burden of proof on legal challengers to growth decisions -- a measure opposed by environmentalists.
Destroy wetlands? ... where do I sign?
"Bill that critics say would pave the way for farmers to destroy wetlands heads to governor".
How the mighty have fallen
"Video: Charlie Crist in TV ad for Morgan & Morgan".
With Hasner out, bestiality ban passes
"After three years, the Florida House has dropped its opposition to banning sex with animals. For years, the bill was blocked from coming up, with former Republican leader Adam Hasner repeatedly saying a bestiality ban would become a mockery and would lead to unwelcome publicity". "House sends bestiality ban to governor".