"Straight out of the GOP playbook"
"The just-finished legislative session will be remembered for more than the $3.8 billion deficit or the political meltdown that marred its finish. It will also be known for packing the November 2012 election ballot with seven constitutional amendments — from abortion to religion to property taxes."
The amendments are straight out of the Republican Party playbook: overturn abortion rulings, cap state revenue, lower property taxes, restrict court power, loosen the separation between church and state, and prevent President Barack Obama's health care law from taking hold in Florida. "GOP wish list on 2012 ballot".
Democrats say the amendments are politically motivated and designed to attract conservatives to the polls in November 2012, when Obama faces re-election. Republicans say they are pursuing what they have been attempting for years and what voters elected them to do.
"If we bring people to the polls who oppose abortion, want smarter government, want less taxes and don't want government to tell them what health insurance to buy, then yes, those are the people we want voting,'' said Rep. Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican in line to become House speaker in 2012.
"Legislature writing law based on stereotype and caricature"
Howard Troxler: "This year, more than any of the past 30, I often got the impression that the Legislature was writing law based on stereotype and caricature."
Like the cardboard cutouts that pop up on police training ranges, straw men were always popping up in the Legislature's debates."The Legislature: a straw man here, a straw man there".
These included public school teachers (incompetent union hacks), government employees (dead weight), political activists (all engaged in voter fraud), women seeking abortions (baby killers), poor people on Medicaid (leeches), people on unemployment benefits (bums) and even voters who moved more often than Decent People ought to, and therefore who should not be allowed to cast a regular ballot on Election Day.
Each group got whacked. Teacher tenure, repealed. Those state employees not fired will have their paychecks docked for pensions. Suspicious groups (you know, like the League of Women Voters) face tough new laws and penalties when registering voters. Women who seek abortions must get ultrasounds and either hear a little talk from their doctor, or else be put on the spot to refuse it. Unemployment benefits, cut. Medicaid, turned over to private corporations, with the poor blocked from suing for malpractice (only people with money should be able to sue for malpractice). And so forth.
Decent People, meanwhile, do not care about the physical Florida or the environment. Decent People wanted the Legislature to throw out 30 years of laws that regulated growth. Decent People want to cut the public schools while expanding charter and voucher schools.
"'Awake the State,' Again"
"It's all over but the shouting and the honking. Three days after the 2011 Legislature adjourned, union members and liberal groups plan to rally Tuesday outside selected legislators' district offices and on streets across Florida." "Budget Protesters Try to 'Awake the State,' Again" ("See list here for times and locations of all "Awake the State Again" rallies.")
Please Mr. President, save us from ourselves
"Florida environmentalists are launching a national ad campaign urging President Barack Obama to rescue the lagging multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration effort, with some activists arguing it could give him an edge in the swing state in 2012." "Greens to Obama: Save Everglades".
We don' want no stinkin' health care
"Health-care reform challenge takes next legal step".
"Do it the governor's way or get lost"
"U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who tried to get Scott to change his mind, said the reallocation of the money was 'a somber reminder that Florida lost a major new transportation system and 24,000 good-paying jobs simply because of political extremism, a mindset that we had to do it the governor's way or get lost.'" "High speed rail: 15 states split up Florida grant".
More: "Northeast, Midwest get $2B in rail money that Florida turned down". See also "Florida's high-speed rail money goes to 15 states". The Saint Petersburg Times editors: "Other states get Florida rail money".
Koch krap at FSU
"A conservative billionaire who opposes government meddling in business has bought a rare commodity: the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university."
A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting "political economy and free enterprise." "Billionaire's role in hiring decisions at Florida State University raises questions". More about the FSU-Koch deal here: "Universities deal with political economics".
Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they've funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.
Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it's not happy with the faculty's choice or if the hires don't meet "objectives" set by Koch during annual evaluations.
"Florida's GOP rams through a not-so furtive ploy"
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "As expected, Florida's GOP-controlled Legislature rammed through a not-so furtive ploy last week to tighten the party's hold on power."
Just in time for the 2012 elections, House Bill 1355 erects new roadblocks to registering and voting, at least for — surprise, surprise — Democratic-tilting groups such as collegians, minorities, and the poor."The democratic process suffers if groups end voter registration drives". More: "League of Women Voters to stop registering voters?" ("After 72 years of registering Floridians to vote, the League of Women Voters has vowed that it will stop doing so if Gov. Rick Scott enacts new limits on voter registration.")
The measure would cut early voting in half. It would ban the longtime practice of updating addresses at Election Day polls for the one in six Floridians who move each year. And it would bludgeon voter registration groups with burdensome prerequisites and late fines.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law rightly said the Legislature has "declared war on voter registration."
On Monday, the first casualty fell.
Long a stalwart in voter registration drives, the League of Women Voters of Florida announced that if the bill becomes law, the nonpartisan group will abandon those efforts.
The Tampa Tribune editors: "It appears that state lawmakers achieved exactly what they wanted with their controversial election legislation."
The League of Women Voters of Florida announced Monday it will cease its voter registration drives, which have registered thousands of voters. The question now is: How many other similar groups will be next to write off Florida?"Chilling democracy".
Proponents clearly wanted to discourage voter registration, particularly the registration of citizens who may not vote their way. ...
The Republican leadership claimed the election changes, which will also make it more difficult for college students to register, were necessary to curtail voter fraud.
It's an imaginary threat. Sometimes forms with obviously fake names, such as Mickey Mouse, have been turned in to election supervisors, but they are immediately rejected. This has not been a serious problem.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning's office reports that in the last three years 31 cases of alleged voter fraud were referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for investigation. Only three resulted in arrests.
The League of Women Voters is urging Republican Gov. Rick Scott to veto the measure.
That is unlikely. But if Scott wants to do what is right, and not what is politically advantageous, he would consider how he would feel if the Democrats enacted laws specifically to chill tea party voters.
Educated need not apply
"With a national reputation as a leader in education reform, and more aggressive changes on the way, Florida should be an easy sell for those seeking a new education commissioner. But with less than three weeks until the deadline, the position hasn’t generated much attention. In fact, no one has yet applied." "No applicants for state’s top education post".
"Meltdown laid bare the immaturity of legislative leaders"
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "The Friday night meltdown of the Florida Legislature laid bare the immaturity of legislative leaders and their lack of respect for openness, fairness and their own colleagues."
Two years after former House Speaker Ray Sansom was indicted for sneaking a project into the state budget on behalf of a campaign contributor, transparency should be embraced in Tallahassee. But for all their pledges of openness, Cannon, R-Winter Park, and Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, allowed the state's 2011-12 budget to become a catchall for stashing special interest legislation that wouldn't stand the light of day."Fighting abuse of power".
"All the Legislature had to do Friday was pass the budget, drop the hanky, and smile for the camera. Instead we got an embarrassing episode of The Little Rascals, with Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon starring as Spanky and Alfalfa." "Haridopolos and Cannon: Spanky and Alfalfa Meet Shakespeare".
"The new audit raises an alarm about a $63 million cleaning contract the county has with Sunshine Cleaning Systems Inc." "Broward overpaid almost $1 million to clean airport, audit says".
"For the average Floridian, not much to celebrate
The Miami Herald editorial board: "For the average, hardworking Floridian, there’s not much to celebrate. Attacks on immigrants, on women’s reproductive rights, and children in public schools continued, though an Arizona-style immigration law wisely failed as did a gun law that would have allowed weapons in schools.
The promise of jobs in the state budget remains just that, a promise that bets on gutted regulations and lower taxes to court more businesses to the Sunshine State." "Florida’s bargain-basement budget".
"With Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, facing term limits, two Republicans have already filed to run for his seat and another candidate, who has filed for another seat, could also be in the running. Proctor currently represents parts of Clay, Flagler and St. Johns counties -- but the district could change with the Legislature tackling redistricting in early 2012." "Conservative Field Starting to Line up for First Coast House Race".
Cotterell's "session notebook"
Bill Cotterell: "Emptying the session notebook".
"Comrade in cluelessness"
Daniel Ruth: "For a minute there I had a flashback to my time teaching college students in a beginning reporting class. There, on the floor of the Florida Senate, were John Thrasher, R-What, Me Worry? and his comrade in cluelessness, Mike Bennett, R-Which Way Did He Go?, demonstrating for all the world to see a level of civic illiteracy that would have made Glenn Beck weep with envy." "Trying to get through
to Generation Huh?"
"First Session for Gov. Scott Ends With Mix of Victories and Defeats". The - pensions are bad - Chamber hacks on The Sun Sentinel editorial board are happy: "Fallout from the Florida Legislature".
"Overview of health issues during the session"
"In any other year, a historic overhaul of the Medicaid system would have overshadowed every health issue in the Legislature. But when lawmakers went home early Saturday morning, Medicaid might not have even been the noisiest health-related debate of the 2011 legislative session. Lawmakers passed a nearly $70 billion budget that included deep cuts to hospitals, nursing homes and dozens of other health programs." "In Huge Year in Health, Winners and Losers".
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The federal government will have the final word on the state's Medicaid reform since Florida will need a waiver from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to implement the changes. Hopefully, the feds will force Florida to make this mediocre plan better." "Legislature gets a C-minus on Medicaid".
"Lawmakers exhibit an astounding disregard for the truth"
The Tampa Tribune editors: "Lawmakers throughout the legislative session exhibited an astounding disregard for the truth. They blamed, for instance, the economic downtown on growth controls that had not stopped an orgy of development that has left the state with hundreds of thousands of empty homes and foreclosures, and depressed property values for everyone."
Yet there were occasional moments of raw candor. "Straight-talking Storms".
The most honest statement we heard during the session came from Sen. Ronda Storms of Brandon, who while arguing in favor of the ultrasound anti-abortion legislation that passed both chambers, acknowledged the issue is averse to the "less government" mantra usually espoused by Republicans.
"There's no question about the contradictory positions that we all take," she said on the Senate floor last week. "I'm not ashamed of it. I'm not embarrassed by it. … We all (Republicans) say we're for less government except here. Or we're (Democrats) for more government, except here."
In contrast to the self-serving justifications one frequently hears from legislators, Storms had the courage to concede the contradictions and admit her pro-life beliefs transcended her usual emphasis on less government.
Winter Park hires wingnuts to fight union
"Members of AFSCME have criticized the use of tax money to pay a group that they say has a politically right-leaning agenda. Kulture didn't immediately respond to a request seeking comment, but its website includes writings from a member of the Ayn Rand Institute, a group that promotes the author's philosophy of unrestrained capitalism, along with articles with titles such as 'The Moral Justification of 'Outrageous' CEO Salaries.'" "Winter Park pays $2,500 a day to fight union organizing".
"Greatest rightward shift since secession"
Mike Thomas: "Scott entered the Governor's Office as a wildly firing cannon."
It was Cannon who aimed the cannon at the targets he wanted to hit, while sparing those he did not."This Legislature's 'smashing success' story: House Speaker Dean Cannon".
He was instrumental in orchestrating the greatest rightward shift in this state since secession.
Growth management, teacher tenure, government regulation: Gone, gone, gone.
Ultrasounds for abortions, HMOs for Medicaid, tax cuts for homeowners: Pass, pass, pass.
In Cannon's words: "A smashing success.''
He got more of what he wanted than did Scott or Senate President Mike Haridopolos. His only big miss was a plan to split the Florida Supreme Court like an atom at Los Alamos.
How many idiots can you fit into a legislative chamber?
Gary Fineout: "Biggest questions of the session answered".
"Jon Huntsman is heading to Florida on Tuesday to meet with donors and activists — but not with Republican Gov. Rick Scott." "Huntsman set to court Florida GOPers".
"'A last-minute surprise'"
"Legislation backed by the industry would have let online travel companies continue to pay the tax on the lower wholesale cost of a room rather than the retail price they collect from consumers. A state law sanctioning the practice would have spelled doom for the lawsuits. The legislation had strong Republican support in both chambers. But late last week, the Senate was unable to pass a bill." "Online travel providers lose chance to settle tax dispute in Florida Legislature".
Disney the Geppetto to Reedy Creek's Pinocchio
"It's not quite white smoke rising from St. Peter's Basilica, but Florida's most mysterious election process is unfolding this month at, of all places, Walt Disney World."
About two weeks from now, Disney will formally nominate a new candidate for a seat on the board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the obscure government that oversees the giant resort's 25,000 acres in Central Florida."The district's next-largest private landowner? Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts of Toronto, which has less than 300 acres."
The assignment comes with what may very well be the greatest perk of any elected office in the state: a piece of the Magic Kingdom itself. Because board members must also be landowners in Reedy Creek, Disney awards them 5 acres of its property — albeit on inaccessible, undevelopable tracts of land.
Disney has already settled on its chosen candidate, and it is someone the company knows very well: Thomas M. Moses was Reedy Creek's second chief executive and spent three decades as its district administrator — the equivalent of city manager — until his retirement in 2001.
But Reedy Creek is technically a democracy, so an election must be conducted later this month. Just don't expect to stay up late waiting for returns: Reedy Creek board elections are decided by district landowners, who get one vote for each acre they own. And Disney owns two-thirds of the district's property — about 17,000 acres.
"The close ties between Disney and Reedy Creek's board members can make matters difficult for some. Like other firefighters unions, the Reedy Creek Firefighters Association is forbidden by law from striking. But unlike other public unions, it also lacks the ability to appeal to elected leaders who are beholden to the general public."
"They are being well-compensated and well cared for," said Bill Warren, a former Disney executive who is now Reedy Creek's district administrator. ... "Disney government has rare vacancy, but don't bother running". More: "Longtime Disney district leader to retire" ("Board members must also be district landowners and Disney gives five-acre parcels to its chosen candidates.")
Disney, sensitive to criticism that it is the Geppetto to Reedy Creek's Pinocchio, says there is strict separation between the two entities. ...
"Our job is not just to do things to facilitate the company's projects," said DeWolf, the retiring board president. "It is also to protect the public's interest in the municipal services that we provide."
Even Disney is not entirely immune. When company representatives recently appeared before the board seeking an easement to build pedestrian bridges across Reedy Creek-owned canals, they were met with questions about liability, responsibilities for repairs and more. The Disney employees were forced to return again the following month with more-detailed answers.
Still, though questions are common, denials are not. And if there have been votes that weren't unanimous, nobody can remember them.