"Backers of constitutional amendments designed to prevent political gerrymandering in the redistricting process called upcoming public hearings a "charade" on Tuesday because lawmakers won't release a map of proposed new legislative and congressional districts until next year. Representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Florida League of Women Voters and Democracia say it's worthless for legislators to take public testimony without giving citizens maps to react to, and objected that lawmakers are barred from publicly discussing their concerns." "FairDistricts groups call upcoming redistricting hearings a 'charade'".
"Chaos and voter confusion loom for the 2012 Florida elections if the state Legislature doesn't speed up drawing new maps for legislative and congressional districts, advocates of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments said Tuesday. Under the current schedule, they said, final approval of the district lines could be pushed beyond the dates for candidates to qualify for the election, June 4-8, or even near the Aug. 14 state primary. Candidates wouldn't know which districts they could run in, and voters wouldn't know which candidates they could vote on."
They accused GOP legislative leaders of stalling the process to protect Republican incumbents threatened by the amendments, which will limit their ability to draw districts for partisan advantage."Slow redistricting process could hamper elections, critics say". See also "The Florida Independent" and "Groups call for Florida lawmakers to speed up redistricting".
"If people don't know what district they're in, how can they gather funds to run for office? How can they educate voters on what they stand for?" said Deirdre McNab of the League of Women Voters. "There is only one group that wins when this kind of situation occurs, and that is the incumbents."
But legislative redistricting leaders denied there's a problem.
"A risky game of chicken"
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Public health, tourism and the environment in Florida suffered a major loss this week when the federal government put the protection of state waters back into the hands of the very people who have polluted them — big business and its enablers in Tallahassee."
In a letter to the state, the Environmental Protection Agency dropped its effort to adopt clean water standards for Florida following 13 years of foot-dragging by state officials."This is either Washington's way to force the state's hand or a decision by the Obama administration not to alienate Florida in the run-up to the 2012 election."
Either way, it's a risky game of chicken with a governor and a state Legislature that have shown no regard for the environment and clean water."Polluters get control of water".
Firefighter pay cuts just weeks away
"Central Florida fire officials continue to battle a 1,200-acre wildfire that has already destroyed dozens of structures." "Wildfire continues to burn in central Florida". See also "As drought continues, firefighters battle fires".
Meanwhile, "A new report suggests government union benefits won't be bankrupting states, after all". "Public sector pension funds: Not dead yet".
And then there's this: "The pay gap between public-sector and private-sector jobs is not only true in Iowa and Wisconsin but also seems to be true nationwide." "Underworked and overpaid? NOT TRUE".
Bogdanoff wins Chamber lapdog award
"Lauderdale's Bogdanoff named Chamber's MVP".
"Hawkes a 'stooge' appointed by Jeb Bush"
"F. Wallace Pope Jr., the Clearwater lawyer who is prosecuting 1st District Court Judge Paul M. Hawkes for misconduct, viewed Hawkes as a 'stooge' appointed by Jeb Bush because he thought the governor hated judges, lawyers and the courts."
That's the accusation filed Tuesday with the Florida Supreme Court in an effort to get Pope removed from the case. Hawkes bolstered his accusation with exerpts of transcripts made in November as Pope questioned potential witnesses in the Judicial Qualifications Commission case."Judge Hawkes tries to get prosecutor removed from Taj Mahal case".
Ken Sukhia, the Tallahassee lawyer who represents Hawkes, filed a 65-page motion accusing Pope of having a political and personal bias against Hawkes and the governor who appointed him.
That bias "has tainted this entire proceeding and destroyed his ability to perform his duty as the prosecutor and legal representative of the commission without valid suspicion and skepticism as to his fairness and the propriety of his actions,'' Sukhia contends.
Ricky guts unemployment benefits
"Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed a bill that will cut unemployment benefits to as few as 12 weeks for Florida residents ... HR 7005 was supported by business groups and Republicans in the state Legislature. The bill also would treat worker misbehavior -- even outside the workplace -- as grounds for denying unemployment benefits." "Scott reduces jobless benefits".
"Extremism in Florida: The Dark Side of the Sunshine State"
"Central Florida — home of family-friendly theme parks, cultural diversity and, of course, sunshine — has an uglier side, too. The Anti-Defamation Leaguehttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif on Tuesday released a report called 'Extremism in Florida: The Dark Side of the Sunshine State [.pdf],' that singles out several Orlando-area communities. ... The report, the defense league's third since 2006, singled out several Central Florida groups and individuals.They are:"
•Florida Kavallerie Brigade, which the report says has ties to the state chapter of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. The founder lives in St. Cloud and describes himself as a coordinator for Aryan Nations, according to the report."Report warns of hate groups in Central Florida".
•Confederate Hammerskins, led in Florida by an Orlando man. The group has hosted white-power music festivals and Hitler birthday party. Last year, there was a "Fourth Fest" on July 3 in Central Florida. Its 2009 St. Patrick's Day celebration was held in Orlando.
•American Front, whose Florida presence is centered in Orlando and has members in Cocoa, Winter Park, St. Cloud and Satsuma. A St. Cloud member pleaded guilty last year to vandalizing a synagogue in Norfolk., Va.
•American Rights Litigators of Mount Dora, a tax-protest group that the report says sold fraudulent tax-evasion strategies.
•Revolution Muslim, which the report says was founded by a Brevard County native.
•The now-defunct Christian Guard, which hosted a gathering in Polk County two years ago.
•Florida Free Militia, which the report says has trained people in Ocala.
•James Elkins, a Fruitland Park police officer who resigned in 2009 while being investigated on suspicion of being a leader of Klan group.
"Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Tuesday creating a new state agency. SB 2156 was a priority of Scott's and creates the Department of Economic Opportunity." "Gov. Rick Scott signs bill creating new state agency". See also "Scott signs law he says he needs to start bringing jobs to Florida". Related: "Growth Management Agency Prepares to Close".
Mitt in town
"Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is making his first visit to Florida as a declared 2012 presidential candidate. " "Romney's first 2012 campaign visit to Florida makes Boca Raton its first stop".
RPOPer changes "aimed directly at discouraging Florida's black voters"
"The Legislature's recent changes to Florida's elections law were so massive and controversial, it would be ironic if the overhaul came tumbling down because of one slightly obscure overstep. Here's hoping that's the case."
The overstep, pointed out Sunday in a story by the Herald-Tribune's Lloyd Dunkelberger, was the Legislature's decision to disallow early voting on the Sunday before an election that features state or federal races."Voting law's Sunday punch".
That tweak might not seem like much, against the backdrop of the numerous and damaging changes imposed by the new law — such as tougher restrictions on voter registration, a severe reduction of the early-voting period, and limitations aimed at young and absentee voters.
Yet, the final-Sunday voting ban should be a red flag to the U.S. Department of Justice, which, under the federal Voting Rights Act and because of the state's history of racial discrimination, must review any changes to Florida election laws.
The Sunday ban — as well as other changes affecting early voting — appears to be aimed directly at discouraging Florida's black voters.
"Lawmakers acted as if teachers needed a boot in the face"
The Tampa Tribune editors: "The surest way to destroy a state's economic competiveness is to destroy its education system."
Without an educated workforce, a state is never going to attract — or keep — high-paying jobs."Driving off teachers".
But Florida's educators look to be fleeing the field, a trend unlikely to put the state high on the list for corporate relocations, at least for corporations that care anything about smart, reliable workers. ...
[M]any teachers report they are fed up with the political attacks from Tallahassee, where Gov. Rick Scott and leaders of the Florida Legislature have made little secret of their contempt for the public school establishment. ...
Teachers' opinions were scarcely considered as lawmakers did as they pleased. ...
Veteran and young teachers alike are demoralized. Many are ready to give up. ...
Yet rather than affording teachers a modicum of respect, listening to their views and taking the time to address their concerns, lawmakers acted as if teachers needed a boot in the face.
Tallahassee honchos should not be surprised if educators, responsible for building the foundation of our economy, no longer feel much enthusiasm for the critical task.
"FlaDem bench has less depth than a rain puddle"
Scott Maxwell: "Democrats convened in South Florida last weekend, downright giddy about their prospects for next year. With Rick Scott less popular than a hangnail, they're convinced 2012 will be a banner year. But here's the thing: You can't beat someone with no one. And right now, the Democratic bench has less depth than a rain puddle." "Democrats are desperate for political candidates with pizazz".
Citrus Commission blues
"The Florida Citrus Commission is meeting for the first time since being dealt two major losses by Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature. Meeting Wednesday afternoon in Bonita Springs, the commission has to figure out how to compensate for the loss of a $2 million appropriation for citrus greening research that was vetoed by Scott in the 2011-2012 state budget. Most in the industry also are unsettled by legislation pushed through at the end of the spring session that shrinks and restructures the citrus commission." "Fla. citrus industry deals with losses".
"If you're looking for bigger, more concrete job numbers"
Frank Cerabino: "Big news on the jobs creation front. Gov. Rick Scott has taken his charm offensive to Canada this month for a whirlwind tour that has netted amazing results for Florida. At least according to him."
If you're looking for some bigger, and more concrete numbers, consider this list:"Governor takes credit for creating jobs -- that were in the works".
Angstrom Graphics, in Hollywood (161 jobs); Hometown America, in various state locations (182 jobs); Brandon Honda in Tampa (94 jobs); Emeril's restaurant in Miami Beach (62 jobs); Kaplan University in Fort Lauderdale (137 jobs).
These were the layoffs announced by Florida companies during the week that Scott was on his Canadian victory tour.
"How much did Florida lose in sales tax and other revenue due to last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill?State economists will try to answer that question Wednesday." "Economists looking at Fla. oil spill tax losses".
Same old song and dance
The Sun Sentinel editorial board: "Florida needs Congress to approve trade pacts".
Never mind the race thing
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The state's how-to guide lists multiple legitimate reasons for creating charter schools. Among them are specialized curriculum, dropout prevention and innovative teaching. Today, however, possible racial motivation is the elephant in the room as the Palm Beach County School Board discusses the wish by parents in the Canyon area neighborhoods west of Boynton Beach to start a charter school as an alternative to sending their children to Odyssey Middle School. Parents whom Post reporters interviewed deny that they don't want their children to attend a school with lots of minority students." "First, sort out the race issue".
"Jeb!" takes failed education hackery to Michigan
"Jeb Bush to testify on education changes Wednesday".
Florida's "granny dumping bonus"
"A little-known incentive buried in Florida's new Medicaid reform law will reward health plans for cutting numbers of seniors in nursing homes, several speakers said during a highly charged hearing on the law Tuesday. Calling it the 'granny dumping bonus,' elder law attorney Ellen Morris warned that the law could result in eviction of seniors from nursing home care after 2012." "Lawyers warn of 'Granny dumping' at Medicaid hearing". Related: "Medicaid town hall in Jacksonville reveals lingering concerns with Reform Pilot program".
Editorial "balance" convulsion
Ignoring the GOP's sitting on the sidelines about Senators Vitter and Ensign, The Palm Beach Post editorial board, in an editorial "balance" convulsion, writes that "U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, is the newest member of the Washington Hypocrisy Club. ... for five long days last week after Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., admitted to similar behavior with women and perhaps girls, Rep. Wasserman Schultz bobbed and weaved. She called it a 'personal matter.' Not until late Saturday afternoon did she make a big show of calling for Rep. Weiner to resign." "Top Dem's double standard". Related: "Palm Beach County Democratic Chairman Mark Siegel says Weiner should quit".
The Brothers Diaz de la Portilla
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Earlier this month, the IG’s office criticized one of the School Board’s own: Renier Diaz de la Portilla. Investigators said that Mr. Diaz de la Portilla violated School Board rules and procurement procedures in sending out a mailer to Republican voters in 2009. The mailer, which contained a letter, a survey on educational issues and a return envelope, went mostly to Republican voters in state Senate District 36, where his brother Miguel was looking to run for the seat. Precious few of the mailers, the IG says, went to constituents who lived in Renier Diaz de la Portilla’s district."
Though not an obvious Senate-campaign mailer, the IG was right to investigate whether it was sent with political intent. That’s his job. In addition, the probe found that Mr. Diaz de la Portilla did not use an approved school district vendor in producing the mailer; by divvying up the cost — about $23,000 — into four payments, the IG says, he skirted the rule that three bids must be solicited for purchases over $6,000."Contract dispute".
Fred Grimm points out that "Skeptics might suspect that Renier concocted his mysterious survey, billing the $23,400 cost to his school district discretionary fund, to provide brother Miguel a name-recognition boost. The brothers deny such a thing. Though Renier’s most urgent survey hardly reads like an exercise in scientific polling: When he finally gets around to asking questions of his non-constituent constituents, after four pages of extolling his own heroics, the survey included this probing query: 'Do you agree that we should refocus our schools on getting our children better prepared for today’s job market so they can be more successful at finding a job?'"
Maybe the real question lurked in the subtext: "Don’t you think I’m great, even though you’ll have to settle for my brother Miguel?""There’s nothing urgent about this survey".
What's wrong with Hillsborough?
"The Republican presidential primary campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has a key Tampa connection — the campaign treasurer is Tampa accountant Nancy Watkins. Watkins, along with her husband Robert Watkins, operates the Robert Watkins & Co. accounting firm in South Tampa. She has a nationwide reputation as an expert in campaign finance law. Both are longtime, high-level fundraisers for Republican Party organizations and candidates, including the Bush brothers. Nancy Watkins has served as treasurer for dozens of Republican campaigns and political organizations in Florida and nationwide." "Tampa resident is treasurer for Rep. Bachmann".
"Obama courting Puerto Ricans"
"Obama courting Puerto Ricans at home and abroad". See also "Central Florida Puerto Ricans have front-row seat for Obama's visit to island" and "Florida's Puerto Ricans ponder Obama's rare presidential trip to their home island".
While we're at it ...
"Welfare applicants who fail a new mandatory drug test might not only lose their claim to government assistance — they may also be investigated for child abuse. That's according to a draft of a state agency's rules for implementing the new drug screening law, which takes effect July 1." "Welfare test's effects feared". Related: "Drugs, Costs for Welfare Screenings: DCF Releases List".
"I was defrauded"
"On an elegant street in the capital city, an ugly legal dispute is playing out between a powerhouse lobbyist and a well-known author who are also next-door neighbors. Brian Ballard, the lobbyist, fundraiser and confidante to governors, is being sued by the buyer of his former home. Novelist Jeffrey Shaara claims Ballard never told him the house had extensive wood rot."
Shaara is the author of a series of historical novels based around the American Revolution, Civil War, World War I and World War II. His website notes he is the only author to be twice honored by the American Library Association for excellence in military fiction."Powerhouse lobbyist in legal fight with novelist over home sale".
Ballard has been a major fundraiser or close advisor to the past four Republican governors, including Rick Scott. He and Kathryn also served as co-chairs of Scott's inaugural celebration.
Ballard has more powerhouse clients than any lobbyist in the state Capitol. His 91 current clients include Blue Cross Blue Shield, Florida Power & Light, the New York Yankees, U.S. Sugar Corp. and Verizon.
Last week, Ballard announced that he and his father-in-law and lobbying partner, Jim Smith, will soon be parting ways after 16 years, with the new firm to be called Ballard Partners.
Smith, a former state attorney general and secretary of state, is the father of Kathryn Ballard.
Robaina corruption probe
"After ex-rapper and former candidate Luther Campbell endorsed Julio Robaina for Miami-Dade mayor last week, Campbell suggested in an interview that Robaina had promised to offer one of Campbell’s friends a job at County Hall — a no-no under state law."
Robaina’s campaign dismissed the notion that a deal had been cut, and Campbell himself said Monday that he does not think Robaina made any commitments to hire Pierre Rutledge, the operations director of the Miami-Dade school district."Luther Campbell comments after endorsement prompt complaint against Robaina".
But Campbell’s comments to the Miami New Times, where he writes a column, raised eyebrows in political circles — and led to a complaint against Robaina being filed with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office.
State law stipulates that candidates be disqualified to hold office if they promise to appoint anyone to a position if elected.
Campbell told New Times that he asked Robaina and his opponent, Carlos Gimenez, if they would put someone Campbell trusts — such as Rutledge — in a position to handle economic development and other issues affecting African-American neighborhoods.
"Robaina was on board," the New Times quoted Campbell as saying. "Gimenez wavered."
Federal dollars roll into Jax ... Ricky mum
"Led by Ander Crenshaw, House sends money for new planes at NAS Jax and readies Mayport for nuclear carrier". "U.S. House to Ship $51 Million to First Coast Naval Bases".
Do boys only need apply
"The Florida Public Service Commission may be without an official executive director until the fall, but the search to find a replacement for Tim Devlin is taking shape. An advertisement for the job has yielded more than 80 applicants." "PSC Looking, Looking for New Director".
A real yawner from Rubio
"U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered his first speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, tying the nation's immigrant past with his own and calling for a 'new American century.'" "Rubio gives first Senate speech".
Well ... now that the cat's outa the bag
"After years of failing to crack down on abuse and neglect in homes for the elderly and disabled, the state agency that regulates assisted living facilities quietly imposed sanctions and $125,000 in fines on 46 of the worst abusers in May in response to an investigation by The Miami Herald." "After years of lax regulation, state finally cracks down on ALFs".
The Daytona Beach News Journal editorial board: "The Great Recession may long be remembered not because of its severity or its length but because of the dreary recovery that followed." "Home prices show recovery staggering on".