"Federal authorities are closing in on their investigation of former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, requiring the House to provide by Thursday records related to his travel and that of several aides."
A former Sansom staffer has also been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in Pensacola on June 21."Federal investigators circling Ray Sansom".
The FBI and IRS have long been looking at aspects of Sansom's political life, which crashed just as he was taking the reins as speaker in 2008. Sansom had taken an unadvertised $110,000 job at a Panhandle college, exposing questions about millions of dollars he inserted into the budget for the school. He faced state charges for a $6 million appropriation that a developer friend wanted to use for his private jet business. The case was dropped midtrial in March, with the prosecutor saying he could not proceed due to a judge limiting key witness testimony. Sansom insisted he did nothing wrong.
"'Pathetic attempt' by West's allies to smear Frankel"
"A conservative group wants the Federal Election Commission to look into how former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel's Democratic congressional campaign raised $254,605 in March while reporting only $706 in start-up expenditures."
Frankel, one of two Democrats hoping to unseat freshman U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, signed her campaign statement of organization on March 21. The complaint says the FEC should determine why her report covering activity through March 31 didn't list expenditures for her consultant and items such as a campaign phone, registering as a corporation, registering a domain name and renting a post office box."Conservative group wants probe of Lois Frankel's congressional campaign spending".
Frankel consultant Brian Smoot said he didn't submit a bill for his services during his first two weeks on the job. He called the complaint a "pathetic attempt" by West's allies to smear Frankel.
"Allen West and his campaign funders are already attacking Lois Frankel. That's a good indication they are scared and desperate," Smoot said. "Lois' campaign was only a couple weeks old during that reporting period and the campaign pays all its bills and reports them."
"Hispanic voting muscle and TV viewership"
"Spanish-language television news is meeting a surge in Hispanic voting muscle and viewership with greatly expanded domestic coverage this year, just in time for the 2012 election season. Industry experts say the growth could affect next year's election by increasing awareness of political issues among U.S. Spanish speakers and by encouraging more to vote in a population whose participation has lagged others." "Spanish TV news expands as 2012 election nears".
Perhaps it wasn't the fault of employees wages after all
"City Manager Cameron Benson resigned on Wednesday night after Mayor Peter Bober accused him earlier in the day of bungling the city's finances and called for his ouster." "Hollywood city manager quits after Mayor Bober seeks his ouster". See also "Hollywood city manager quits amid budget woes".
Mica's 'Dirty Water Bill'
"Rep. Jon Mica, R-Tampa, has introduced the 'Clean Water for Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011' (.pdf), a bill that aims to 'amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of each State to make determinations relating to the State’s water quality standards, and for other purposes.' In other words, Mica’s bill would rewrite the Clean Water Act — removing the EPA’s authority to object to state-approved permits and revise state water quality standards." "Mica introduces act dubbed a 'Dirty Water Bill' by conservation advocate".
Floridians "Aging in Place, Stuck without Options"
Via Florida Public Interest Group (PIRG): "The first baby boomers turn 65 years old this year and are in danger of being unable to get around. The largest generation in history, Boomers, are also the most dependent on automobile travel. Yet, by 2015, many seniors in Florida, ages 65 and older, will live in communities with poor options for people who do not drive, according to a new report. Aging in Place, Stuck without Options outlines a number of policy recommendations:"
- Increase funding for improved service such as buses, trains, vanpools, paratransit and ridesharing; "The report is produced by Transportation for America, a coalition of more than 500 groups working on transportation reform today." "Aging in Place, Stuck Without Options". Here's the full report.
- Provide funding and incentives for innovative practices among transit operators, nonprofit organizations, and local communities to serve seniors;
- Encourage state departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit operators to involve seniors and the community stakeholders in developing plans for meeting the mobility needs of older adults;
- Ensure that state departments of transportation retain their authority to “flex” a portion of highway funds for transit projects and programs;
- Include a “complete streets” policy to ensure that streets and intersections around transit stops are safe and inviting for seniors.
Associated Industries of Florida poodle
"State Rep. Pat Rooney Jr., R-Palm Beach Gardens, was the only Palm Beach County legislator among 33 state House members who got a 100 percent rating on business votes as scored by Associated Industries of Florida in new rankings for 2011" "State Rep. Pat Rooney gets perfect score from business group".
U.S. Senate candidate financial disclosures
"As required by law, Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio each disclosed a summary of their assets and liabilities. ... Republican U.S. Senate candidates Adam Hasner, Mike Haridopolos and George LeMieux all asked for — and were granted — filing extensions." "Rubio, Nelson disclose personal finances".
"Light rail snub was a mistake, says St. Petersburg official".
Senator's aide has records subpoenaed
"A federal grand jury in Tampa last month issued a subpoena for employment records of the legislative aide to state Sen. Jim Norman." "Grand jury subpoenas employment records of state Sen. Jim Norman's aide". See also "Report: Federal grand jury asks for employment records of legislative aide".
SBA considering investment policy changes
"The State Board of Administration is considering changes in Florida's investment policy in light of a new public employee pension law that includes benefit reductions. The panel chaired by Gov. Rick Scott meets Thursday." "Panel considers Florida investment policy update".
DEP second thoughts
"The Department of Environmental Protection is holding workshops this week on developing numeric nutrient criteria, which are limits for nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways. But the state says it is reconsidering moving forward after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined to act on DEP's request to withdraw federal standards that would take effect in March 2012." "DEP says it's reconsidering action on water standards".
Sen. Joe Negron Teabaggin'
"To balance the testimony that is being given at a series of public meetings around the state on an aggressive Medicaid overhaul Sen. Joe Negron is encouraging the Tea Party to show up at the meetings."
In a conference call with the James Madison Institute on Wednesday Negron said there hadn’t been a lot of testimony from “our side” and that the public meetings have been dominated by people who oppose the overhaul of Medicaid passed this year by legislators."State senator encourages Tea Party participation at Medicaid overhaul hearings".
Negron, R-Stuart and one of the architects of the Medicaid overhaul passed by legislators, said the hearings aren't including people who pay for their own health care and who are interested in what their tax dollars are being used for.
"It tends to be the groups that oppose what we are doing and who have the time, the energy and organization to show up during the day while a lot of people are working and doing other things,'' Negron said.
Negron made the comments in response to a question from "John" who said he wasn’t formally affiliated with any group but supports a Tea Party group in the Tampa area. The caller asked Negron what could be done to combat any misinformation about the Medicaid overhaul that is being circulated.
"Have some people show up and say, "Look, we appreciate what the Legislature’s doing. We want to take care of people but we want to do it in a fair way,'" Negron said. "If people like you don’t show up then you get headlines for scare tactics and that does occur."
Negron took issue with a Palm Beach Post story with a "granny dumping" headline, an expression that has been used by elder care attorneys at a variety of meetings across the state.
A related piece from The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Hyperbolic comments such as 'granny dumping' aside, the state's Medicaid reform plan could be better, but at least reform has begun." "Dump all the hyperbole".
Scott defends his actions
"Scott defends actions to state's citrus growers".
"The Department of Education has asked 14 school districts to look into a high level of erasures on the state's high-stakes test. This past spring Florida hired a company to help analyze FCAT results." "Fourteen school districts asked to investigate possible FCAT cheating".
Florida tax revenues increased by 6% in 4Q
The Daytona Beach News Journal editors: "Ideology seemed to be the driving force in the recent debate over the Florida budget, as those who favor a more active government (mostly Democrats and their allies) squared off against those who think government should play a more limited role in the lives of Floridians (mostly Republicans and their supporters)."
Here's a number that highlights the state's predicament: 18 percent. According to an analysis by the Associated Press, Florida's tax revenue is 18 percent below 2007 levels. Only one other state, Nevada, is in worse shape, but not by much -- Nevada's tax take is 19 percent below the 2007 numbers."A Census Bureau summary shows that general sales tax and corporate tax revenues in the fourth quarter of 2010 increased by about 6 percent over the same period in 2009. But the state has a long way to go to make up the ground it lost in the depths of the recession."
So expect more fierce battles over the budget next year in Tallahassee. Perhaps the squabbling won't be quite as intense as this year's face-off over cuts in pension benefits for state employees. But in politics, a rising tide -- of tax revenue -- does lift all boats. Lawmakers from both parties would much rather distribute money to various interests than take it away."Economic growth solves many state problems".
Meanwhile, poor kids pick oranges
"Tuition to Increase at Florida Universities".
Rivera laff riot
"Republicans turned to Florida freshman Congressman David Rivera on Tuesday to respond to a jobs speech that President Barack Obama made the day before in North Carolina." "David Rivera Calls Out Obama on Jobs Plan". And what a fine spokesman Mr. Rivera is; recall: "David Rivera discloses $137,000 in loans for slots campaign" ("Rivera said he received the loans from his mother's marketing company -- the same company under investigation for money it received from Flagler Dog Track owners for its pro-slots campaign.")
Romney in town
"Romney talking economy in Tampa on Thursday".
"Jeb!" gets his usual media pass
Jebbie's PR machine, together with an ever compliant press corps, result in a stream of puff pieces like this: "Jeb Bush: Michigan governor on right education track". Never mentioned in these stories is the Jebbie's legacy of failure on the education front.
"The budget eliminates 4,500 state worker positions, about 2,000 of which are filled. Other hard-hit agencies include the departments of Children and Families and Juvenile Justice. This isn't the first round of cuts at the Corrections Department, which has 28,000 employees, and it won't be the last. " "Department of Corrections cuts 111 Tallahassee jobs".
Rubio embarrasses himself
"His maiden speech in the U.S. Senate behind him, rising Republican [Teabagger] star Marco Rubio took off the gloves Wednesday, tearing into President Barack Obama’s record on the abysmal economy [Bush left President Obama]." "The Gloves Come Off: Marco Rubio Pounds Barack Obama".
"Family planning opt-out in Medicaid overhaul comes up at West Palm Beach public meeting". See also "Medicaid town hall in Jacksonville reveals lingering concerns with Reform Pilot program".
Not dead yet
Travis Pillow writes that "growth management may not be dead, but it could use your help. The policy changes were reinforced yesterday as Scott signed a government reorganization bill that consolidates much of the state’s erstwhile planning agency, the Department of Community Affairs, into a new Department of Economic Opportunity." "We’re all growth managers now".
West gets his gay hate on
"Heard on the Hill: West Intern Fired Over Retweet". See also "West fires intern for 'unauthorized' pro-gay tweet".
Vern talks big
"From New Perch, Vern Buchanan Vows to Help Repeal Obamacare".
"Neglected to Death"
"Florida health administrators are slashing hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to a troubled Tampa Bay assisted living facility chain in a move that could jeopardize the homes' ability to keep their doors open." "Troubled Tampa Bay assisted living facility chain to lose state Medicaid funding".
"To make Boss Tweed wince"
Bill Cotterell: "The former state legislator and ex-Public Service Commission member is back in the news with a long, long commentary published by her hometown paper, the Citrus County Chronicle, which she also sent to other papers around the state".
In it, she recounts the deal-making — always fueled by campaign contributions, and sometimes by no-show outside jobs for legislators — that she saw in more than 16 years around the Capitol. ..."Bill Cotterell: Argenziano tells of despair for the state of government". See also "Argenziano yet again speaks truth to power".
Her Brooklyn-bred pugnacity sometimes got her in trouble. She once sent a bale of cow manure to a lobbyist who offended her, drawing an admonition from the speaker's office. She balked at giving up a legislative pay raise, proclaiming on the House floor, "I don't want to be a bag lady." Unlike almost all her colleagues, she was a full-time legislator, with no law practice or wealthy spouse to fall back on.
Chairing the Senate Governmental Operations Committee, she aggressively investigated some of then-Gov. Jeb Bush's big privatization initiatives. She exposed not only the built-in cost escalators of some contracts, which could make privatized work cost more, but also the campaign contributions flowing from companies getting the contracts.
Although she's a Republican, Argenziano endorsed Democrat Alex Sink for governor last year. It's not that she likes the other party better, or thinks Democrats are honest; it's just that the party in power always has more opportunities for corruption. And corruption is not only what's illegal; to Argenziano, it includes what's legal, and shouldn't be. ...
On the radio Wednesday, she talked about being summoned to Orlando to go over committee assignments with a new House speaker. She thought she was being consulted; instead, the leaders were contacting lobbyists to make sure it was all right to name this chairman or that council chief, to put this member on one committee or that one on another, following the wishes of companies that write checks to the parties' campaign funds.
In her column, Argenziano tells of a legislative milieu that would make Boss Tweed wince.
More from the "values" crowd
"Manatee considers cutting animal adoption programs"
JQC prosecutor responds to alleged Bushco "stooge"
"With a dash of Shakespeare and sharp rebukes on procedure, Wally Pope, the Judicial Qualifications Commission's prosecutor against 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes, responded in kind to motions to dismiss the charges and disqualify him from the case."
Hawkes, charged with judicial misconduct related to the 1st DCA's new $48-million courthouse in southeast Tallahassee, slammed Pope and the JQC in court filings last week and Tuesday. His lawyer called Pope's actions a "disgrace" and said he was politically biased in the motions."Pope fires back: Motion for dismissal is inappropriate". Background: "Hawkes a 'stooge' appointed by Jeb Bush" (scroll down).
Today, Pope, a Clearwater lawyer hired by the JQC as special counsel, fired back. His filing with the Florida Supreme Court begins with a paraphrase from "Hamlet": "The (judge) doth protest too much, methinks." ...
"A basic tenet running throughout the common law, something that every law student learns on the first day of civil procedure class, is that factual disputes are not decided on motions to dismiss, or even on motions for summary judgment," Pope wrote. "Such disputes may be resolved only by the presentation of evidence to the JQC Hearing Panel, where Judge Hawkes will have the opportunity to present his own evidence and he will be afforded an opportunity for cross examination of all JQC witnesses by his able counsel."
Scott's jobs charade
"A day after signing a massive bill that creates a new state economic-development agency and shreds an existing growth-management agency, Gov. Rick Scott recounted efforts to attract Canadian companies to expand or relocate in Florida." "Law streamlines economic efforts". See also "Scott Stays Laser-Focused on Economic Development". Related: "Governor takes credit for creating jobs -- that were in the works".
Kevin White arrested
"Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, arrested on federal bribery charges Wednesday, was granted $25,000 bail at a bond hearing. Investigators say he took bribes in exchange for influence in getting tow truck permits." "White indicted on bribery charges".
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Stain left by White spreads".
Florida's wildfire heroes to get another pay cut
"A deep drought and tardy rainy season have extended the wildfire threat". "Smoke, haze signs of still-hot wildfire season".
For 15 years, Scott Dees, 47, a ranger for the state Division of Forestry "has battled the fires that ravage Florida during droughts. Like others in his line of work, he knows that quick-moving fires can kill. And he knows that every time he leaves home, there's a chance he may never see it again."
Despite the risks, the rangers continue to put on their fire-retardant gear and leather boots and go into harm's way. ..."Firefighters keep their cool in face of wildfire risks".
Fighting a wildfire is much different from quenching a structure fire.
"It's a totally different animal," said Timber Weller, a Division of Forestry information officer who educates groups about preventing forest fires. Weller has worked for the division for more than 20 years.
For a structure fire, it's "surround and drown," Weller said, meaning that firefighters surround a building and douse it with water.
The scale of a wildfire makes that nearly impossible. An afternoon sprinkle won't stop a wildfire — and the lightning that often accompanies storms can start new fires. Only several days of rain will have much effect.
To battle wildfires, the Division of Forestry rangers bulldoze paths called fire lines or fire breaks. The idea is to confine the fire to a section of the forest and let it burn. Once all of the vegetation is burned, the fire will cool and eventually go out.
But wind can cause fire to "jump" a line. When that occurs, the rangers have to create a new line.
As Dees puts it, there's only one way to put out a fire: "You have to get in front of it."
Dees, who is from the Panhandle town of Clarksville, is one of the men who drive the bulldozers. He has thick forearms, a graying beard and a bit of a twang. He's a straight-talker. He has been closer to wildfires than he likes.
"If you like adrenaline, it's a pretty good high," Dees said.
He doesn't like the rush, however. Trying to be a hero or taking unnecessary risks isn't what fighting wildfires is about, he said. It's about saving lives, protecting property and keeping the destruction of forests to a minimum.
"Common sense goes a long way," Dees said. "You never want to go in there and try to showboat."
But no matter how careful a ranger is, disaster can strike.
Weller knows the daily dangers of battling wildfires. In 1993, while fighting a blaze in Putnam County, less than two miles from his home, a quick-moving fire surrounded him.
"The woods exploded," he recalled.
The moment he realized the fire would consume him, Weller held his breath. By the time he exhaled, the fire had raced by. Seventy percent of his body was burned, and doctors didn't give him much of a chance to live.
"Heaven didn't want me, and hell didn't want me to put out the fires," Weller said.
Much of his face and arms are still scarred.
Besides the dangerous working conditions, many rangers also must deal with how fires affect their personal lives.
Dees and the others miss birthdays and anniversaries because they're called to duty. Vacations, which are sometimes planned months in advance, are canceled at the last minute. Many are away from home for days, sometimes weeks, while they fight fires.
These are the men and women who, have not received a wage increase in years, are about to receive another pay cut: this time a three percent cut.
Congressional GOPers gut 'Glades cash
"Everglades restoration fell victim to the budget ax on Wednesday when the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would slice $32.7 million from President Barack Obama's spending request for next fiscal year." "Everglades restoration takes big budget hit".