"'Diplomas Count 2011,' a report released this week, indicates that despite improvements Florida’s high school graduation rate is still almost 10 percentage points below the national average. ... That adds up to 464 students lost each school day." "Report: Florida high school graduation rate below the national average".
Dems, lobbyists plan "Project Turnaround"
"The Florida Democratic Party, badly beaten at the state level but showing signs of life in some big-city elections, brought its leaders together with some well-heeled lobbyists at an oceanside resort Friday to start a 'project turnaround' effort for 2012."
"It's always good to gin up the base," U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fort Lauderdale, said as he greeted party members and financial backers arriving for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. "These are the real activists, the people who organize phone banks and raise the money and recruit the candidates.""Besides caucuses of labor, black, women and other stalwart segments of the party, the Democrats have a state committee meeting scheduled on Saturday. Smith said the committee will get a briefing on 'project turnaround.'"
The party peddled four levels of corporate sponsorship for the dinner, ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, and individual tickets went for $180 each. Party Chairman Rod Smith said he doesn't know how much the Democrats will reap from the gala, which is a bit smaller in a non-election year.
The party's future depends heavily on survival of two constitutional amendments adopted by Florida voters last November, which set legal criteria for redrawing congressional and legislative district lines next year. The new amendments forbid any plans to favor or disadvantage any incumbent lawmaker or party. The Republican legislative leadership opposes Amendments 5 and 6, claiming they are unworkable."Florida Democrats start 'project turnaround' to gear up for 2012 election".
"There is no other Florida in the world"
Howard Troxler's last column: ""There is no other Florida in the world." "Florida will be fun to watch".
"Obama has problems in Florida"
"President Barack Obama has problems in Florida that he didn't have when he won this pivotal swing state in 2008."
The economy here is worse than elsewhere. Foreclosures are high. Property values are low. And, now that he's the president, Obama could be blamed."Obama has challenges in Florida".
Voters' shifting attitudes underscore the degree to which the atmosphere has changed since his first campaign; Florida Democrats made gains in the 2008 elections with Obama on the top of the ticket, but the GOP won big across the state just two years later.
All that explains why Florida Democrats are redoubling their efforts to re-energize the rank and file — including Saturday at the state party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner — and why Obama's campaign team has been on the ground training volunteers a full 17 months before the election.
The challenges also explain why Obama, himself, has been such a frequent visitor to the Sunshine State.
SunRail gettin' hot
The Orlando Sentinel editors: "Lobbying for and against the SunRail commuter train is growing louder and more frenetic as Gov. Rick Scott gets closer to his self-appointed deadline of July 1 to decide the fate of the $1.2 billion project." "SunRail lobbying hits fevered pitch".
Week in Review
"The Week in Review for June 6 - June 10". See also "Weekly Roundup: State Fights Universal Health Care, Governor Goes to Canada".
Resign to run upheld
"A state appeals court has rejected Tampa's request to rehear the case of former city police Capt. Marion Lewis who was forced to resign his job to run for mayor. In a one-page opinion Friday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal denied the city's motion asking for the full 14-judge panel to rehear its previous decision to overturn a lower court ruling in the city's favor. When Lewis challenged incumbent Pam Iorio in the 2007 mayor's race, the city forced him to resign his $100,000-a-year job. Lewis sued, claiming it was unconstitutional." "State appeals court declines to revisit Lewis case".
"Floridians should be offended by Rick Scott ..."
The Miami Herald editorial board today: "Floridians should be offended by the refusal of Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to accept millions of dollars in federal spending related to the healthcare-reform law passed by Congress last year. Tallahassee has told Washington to stuff it — at the expense of retirees, children and adults with disabilities who are the big losers in this politically inspired move."
Rarely has the disconnect between the political agenda of the state’s leadership and the needs of state’s most vulnerable citizens seemed greater — or more disheartening.Much more here: "Tallahassee’s political agenda".
Batista crowd wants its cash
"An Obama administration effort to spend another $20 million on Cuba democracy programs has been blocked for two months amid bitter clashes over policy and personalities."
Words like “backstabber” and “communist dupe” have been thrown about and the issue is littered with leaks and counter-leaks about alleged wrongdoings."Funding for Cuba programs stalled in Congress".
Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is offering to lift the “hold” he put on the money April 1 if the amount is cut to $15 million, according to a note sent by his committee staff to the State Department Friday. El Nuevo Herald obtained a copy. ...
At the root of the fight are sharply different visions of the Cuba programs, which have cost $150 million since they were created in the 1990s to assist nongovernment groups on the island.
From the "values" crowd
"Daytona State College considers tuition hike, end to PBS programming".
Florida's workers of color hit the hardest
"Cuts to unemployment benefit weeks would have disparate impact on workers of color, given the large difference in unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic workers. Average annual unemployment for all groups continued to go up from 2009 to 2010, but Black and Hispanic workers had much larger increases than White non-Hispanic workers." "Unemployment for Blacks, Hispanics in Florida saw sharp increase again in 2010".
Ricky's response to drought crisis? Budget cuts
"Without a big rainy season, the water shortage could continue into next year, adding to the challenges for an agency facing major budget cuts".
At the north end of the sprawling Everglades system, endangered snail kites are abandoning nests from the Kissimmee River basin down to Lake Okeechobee. Marshes in the heart of the Everglades are burning or shriveling into cracked mud."Drought’s environmental toll is broad, deep". See also "Southwest Florida suffering through worst drought in 80 years".
On the east coast, oysters are dying as sea water pushes deeper into the brackish St. Lucie River estuary. On the west, explosions of toxic algae are killing fish and triggering public health warnings in the Caloosahatchee River. At the south end of the Glades, stretches of coastal Florida Bay mangroves have dipped into unhealthy hyper-salinity. ...
The drought is just one challenge confronting the district, which also began the process Thursday of meeting demands from the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to reduce property tax rates and slash $128 million from the budget of an agency that oversees the water supply and flood control for 16 counties.
More Scott Water Wingnuttery
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "It was devastating enough that Gov. Rick Scott, with the help of easily led lawmakers in his first legislative session, gutted Florida's growth management act and eliminated funding for the state's model land preservation program, Florida Forever."
Now the governor has begun torpedoing land preservation efforts on the local level. The Scott administration reversed course on a proposed deal by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in Pasco County, shooting it down days after approving it. Negotiations for the purchase had begun one year before Scott took office."Scott's water grab".
For some misguided reason, the district seems to be on Scott's radar.
"Words with the force of a water cannon"
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: ""
Melissa Meeker's words hit us with the force of a water cannon: The South Florida Water Management District's new chief told those attending a forum last week that the regulating district shouldn't confront utilities, but rather "build success" through "partnerships.""Water officials mustn't be utilities' http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifwater boys".
"We have to figure out how to strengthen" the partnerships, Meeker said.
Sound familiar? Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to run the state's largest water management district, Meeker sounded a lot like Scott and his advisers when they justified turning the state's growth management agency into a "growth leadership agency."
That happened in the spring, largely ending meaningful state oversight of changes to local growth plans, and leaving residents to the whims of traditionally developer-friendly locally elected officials.
Now it's time to officially turn the state's water managers into water boys for the utilities? Something, alas, they've too often done by letting utilities harm wetlands with their excessive withdrawals?
"Scott blasted thousands of jobs into oblivion"
Despite a budget that cuts the state workforce by 4,500 jobs, and thousands of public school teachers facing layoffs, and construction jobs lost due to cancelled projects (see "Florida Bleeding Jobs"), Aaron Deslatte, while acknowledging that "Scott blasted thousands of jobs into oblivion by scuttling $168 million in college and university construction projects, and allowing $150 million more to be diverted out of transportation projects", politely writes that "Scott gets a mixed scorecard for his performance as the jobs governor so far." Much more here: "Florida adding jobs — despite Rick Scott".
Whooppee!!! "100 More Jobs Winging Their Way to the Sunshine State".
Ricky wrong again
"Drug testing of temporary-aid recipients may root out narcotics users, but it won't save Floridians the millions of dollars initially projected by Gov. Rick Scott. During the 2010 election campaign, Scott said the state could save $77 million by imposing "more stringent standards on non-compliance with work requirements and require drug screening for recipients'". "Florida Welfare Drug-Test Savings Go Up in Smoke".
"Simple human dignity"
The Miami Herald editors: "It’s a shame that anyone older than a 5-year-old has to be told to treat others with simple human dignity on threat of punishment. But this, unfortunately, is the world in which we live. Children, teens and adults alike too often play the bully, the basher — the person who sneers and jeers at someone who they think is different, inferior and unworthy. Such treatment says much more — negatively — about the one meting it out. Still, the victim bears the brunt of such unfair treatment."
So we commend the Broward County and Miami-Dade school boards for recently adding transgender students to their nondiscrimination policies. Young people, in general, are looking to blend in or stand out. Are they the brainiac? The geek? The hip and cool? In other words, they are developing their identities, and it’s not always a pleasant experience."Pushing back".
"Back in the day"
Steve Bousquet: "In an ever-evolving media environment, it's fun to reflect on how our systems of communication have changed. Here are three stories from personal experience that illustrate how far we've come." "Back in the day, news didn't always break on Twitter".
"If the health care law doesn't deliver savings ..."
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "The Ryan plan is so politically unpopular that it isn't a viable alternative to current law. But if the health care law doesn't deliver savings - or if Democrats focus so much on bashing the Ryan plan that they don't quickly adjust the law to deliver those savings - a voucher plan that cuts costs, no matter the effect on recipients, might become the only affordable alternative." "Big questions in both plans to save money by changing health care for seniors.".
Companies may have conspired to avoid Florida taxes
"Armed with fresh documents that show online travel companies may have conspired to avoid paying more than $440 million in taxes in Florida, a state legislator is urging Attorney General Pam Bondi to force the travel giants to pay up."
In a May 17 letter to Bondi, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, urged her to prosecute the companies based on newly-discovered company documents. The documents show that lawyers for the companies advised their clients since 2003 to “make it as difficult as possible for any state to require us to collect occupancy tax” until they could change the laws to exempt them from paying it."Legislator wants attorney general to force travel companies to pay tax".
"State and federal fisheries management panels meet in Key West and SthAugustine to hash out regulations for several species." "Simultaneous meetings produce new fish rules".
"Nelson and Rubio put interests of banks before consumers"
The Saint Petersburg Times editorial board: "Florida's U.S. senators are putting the financial interests of the nation's biggest banks before small retailers and consumers. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted this week to delay lowering the fees that banks charge retailers every time a debit card is used. There is no justification for such stalling, and fortunately Nelson and Rubio were on the losing side of the Senate vote." "Fla. senators buckle on swipe fee".
We hope these firefighters enjoy their pay cuts
"The fire that has plagued West Miami-Dade for almost a week has consumed about 50,316 acres of brush as state forestry and county fire crews continue to fight the untamable flames."
Crews from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and the state forestry division fought the fire with controlled burnouts and two water-dropping helicopters, said David Crane, a commander with the Division of Forestry. ..."Brush fire consumes more than 50,000 acres in Miami-Dade; Krome Avenue remains closed".
But the flames have continued to rage. Smoke and clouds in the area of the fire have become indistinguishable.
Wednesday evening, the fire was about 25 percent contained, including 3,000 acres east of Krome Avenue and portions of the remaining 25,000 acres west of the avenue.
Scott mobilizing Floridians who read books
"Scott, a novice Republican politician, swept into office with the support of Tea Parties across Florida, who have largely backed some of his major initiatives like drug testing welfare recipients, merit pay for teachers, making public employees contribute to pensions and budget cuts."
But while pleasing supporters, Scott's actions so far appear to have won over few of his ideological foes or Floridians on the fence---and may prove a boon to the largely left-of-center activists and Democratic politicians who oppose him."Gov. Scott's actions could prove to be a boon for political foes".
The statewide teachers' union, a major financial backer of Democratic candidates, saw its rolls swell by about a thousand members this spring, when Scott and the Legislature were cutting school budgets and ramming through controversial teacher merit pay legislation.
The AFL-CIO labor organzation, which also typically supports Democrats, just held a festival in Orlando that drew about 6,000 people who were interested in grassroots organizing.
Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said mobilization against Scott and some of his fellow Republicans isn't that different from the Tea Party movement that brought the governor and many other new lawmakers into office across the nation last November. Everyone believes there is a problem, Templin said. They just disagree on what the root of the problem is and how to fix it.
"Voters and residents and citizens: everyone knows that the system is broken," Templin said.
A recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed Scott's disapproval ratings amongs Florida voters have risen to 57 percent. Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor, said the governor has stuck to his campaign promises---and become a "polarizing figure" in the process.
"Obama will visit Miami Monday to raise money for 2012 campaign".
"Dozens of citizens showed up at a state health care agency in Tallahassee for the first public meeting on Florida's new Medicaid overhaul passed during the 2011 session. Most of those who testified at the Friday meeting -- from caregivers to providers to lobbyists -- expressed concerns with what they considered to be the pitfalls of the legislation: requiring most Medicaid patients to enroll in managed care, mostly Medicaid HMOs." "Medicaid reform gets a rough reception at public hearing". See also "Skepticism, Skepticism: Florida Medicaid Plan Goes on Tour" and "Medicaid reform gets a rough reception at public hearing".
Good luck with that
"Florida’s top financial regulator will step down this summer and South Florida securities lawyers, who say they’re seeing an ugly resurgence of boiler-room stock fraud and bucket-shop commodity swindles, are calling on Gov. Rick Scott to name a replacement who will beef up state regulation."
Lawyers for victims say they’d like the important post to go to an attorney who has represented investors, can define an effective anti-fraud policy and deploy the office’s resources to implement it."Florida's Top Financial Regulator Leaving; Lawyers Call for Stronger Watchdog".
“Instead of an industry insider, we need someone with experience in helping small investors,” said [Scott Silver of Blum & Silver in Coral Springs].
“Until the criminal element realizes that the cost of engaging in securities fraud has gone up significantly, there is no reason to stop,” said Chase.
Given the prevailing political climate, however, attorney [Jeffrey R. Sonn, of Fort Lauderdale’s Sonn & Erez] thinks the chance for real change is slim.
Whew! at least it ain't a "tax increase"
"More than half a million Florida homeowners could see their home insurance rates rise in the coming year following a wave of rate hike requests from insurers. In little over a month, more than a dozen insurers have asked state regulators to approve new rates that will force some customers to pay 70 percent more to insure their homes." "Florida insurance rates to soar".
Bennett takes on Castor
"State Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton developer, is taking his experience in the state Legislature to run for Congress." "State senator eyes congressional seat".
What would Rick Scott and the Teabaggers ...
... say about local governments accepting federal grant money to recover from disasters?
In any event, "unclear federal standards for emergency shelters and the prospect of losing grant money critical to helping local governments prepare for disasters were among the major concerns expressed by emergency managers at a congressional hearing Friday in Florida." "Congressional hearing focuses on disasters".