Jac Wilder VerSteeg: "When it comes to public education, the Florida Constitution is a blunt instrument. As such, it is more suited to mayhem than nurturing."
Voters intended to nurture public education when, in 1998, they amended the constitution to declare that providing a "high quality" public education is "a paramount duty" of the state. A current lawsuit that relies on that provision asks the courts to order the Legislature to give public schools more money and quit harassing teachers with FCAT-based school grades and performance reviews. Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford has ruled that courts have that authority, if the plaintiffs were to prevail. The 1st District Court of Appeal sort of agreed, but mostly asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in."Maybe the high court will allow courts to force lawmakers to cough up more money for schools, but I'd be stunned. Most likely, the 'paramount duty' language will remain what it's always been: a noble sentiment with no practical impact."
Of equal note, Judge Fulford's colleague on the Leon County circuit bench, Judge Terry Lewis, has issued a ruling that, if it stands up, would stop the enemies of public education from wielding a new constitutional bludgeon. This spring the Legislature endorsed a constitutional amendment for the November 2012 ballot that, if approved, would kill off the current constitutional prohibition against giving state money to religious institutions. That prohibition is the only thing that has kept Tallahassee from giving vouchers to every parent who wants to send his or her child to a private religious school."Public education a priority in name only for Florida".
The Legislature called its proposed constitutional change the "Religious Freedom" amendment. Nobody would vote against "Religious Freedom," right? But Judge Lewis correctly ruled that the Legislature's language describing the amendment was deceptive. Leave it to our lawmakers to lie in the service of religion.
The lawmakers claim that Florida's prohibition against giving state money directly to religious institutions amounts to discrimination against religion.
RNC considers potential penalties for Florida's early primary
"Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says the delegates to be awarded in Florida's primary might be divided up proportionally among the candidates, rather than awarded en masse to the winner, thereby diluting the state's impact on the nominating process. If that happens, the Florida primary winner could be awarded 15 to 20 delegates instead of 50, cutting the value of a victory."
The potential penalty is in response to the Florida GOP's decision to set the primary for an earlier date, Jan. 31, in violation of party rules."Early primary may draw more GOP penalties".
In a letter to state Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry, Priebus also raised the possibility that the Florida delegation to the 2012 convention in Tampa could get less-than-choice locations for its hotel accommodations and convention floor seating, and reduced guest passes and VIP privileges.
Many members of the Republican National Committee are angry that Florida, in a bid to have a bigger impact on the nomination, moved up its primary date to Jan. 31, a violation of party rules intended to delay the start of the primary season.
Ron Paul's stealth Florida campaign
"U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the grumpy old man of the Republican presidential field, is benefiting from a stealth campaign in Florida that could make him a surprise contender in the Jan. 31 primary, especially if he wins Tuesday's Iowa caucus." "'Stealth' campaign promotes Ron Paul in Florida".
Romney and Gingrich in dead heat in Florida
"As Florida voters begin to focus on the state's pivotal GOP presidential primary at the end of January, the leading contenders are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, according to a poll by TelOpinion Research. Romney and Gingrich are essentially in a statistical dead heat, with Romney leading with 27 percent of the vote to Gingrich's 26, according to the telephone survey of 780 Republican voters, conducted from Dec. 15-19." "Romney, Gingrich Tied in Florida, Poll Finds".
"Though Florida law gives regulators the power to stop giving Medicaid money to homes caught abusing and neglecting residents, The Miami Herald found regulators routinely funnel millions every year to some of the state’s most dangerous facilities."
Since 2007, the Agency for Healthcare Administration has doled out more than $23 million to nearly 90 homes that could have been cut off from public dollars — including facilities where caretakers were caught beating and sexually abusing frail elders. "State keeps funding dangerous ALFs".
The failure of AHCA to turn to one of its toughest enforcement tools more often comes after years of neglect and abuse cases rising in ALFs across the state — with nearly one resident dying a month at the hands of caretakers. Most of the money goes to the ALFs to provide a range of support services like feeding, bathing, medication supervision and health therapies.
"Occupy Tampa has moved its headquarters from downtown to a site in West Tampa owned by strip club king Joe Redner. Redner opened Voice of Freedom Park, 2101 W. Main St., to the protesters earlier this month and the group moved its headquarters roughly two miles west to the new site this week." "Occupy Tampa moves headquarters to Joe Redner's park".
Scott's hospital commission
The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "A state commission that has spent eight months examining hospitals and health care in Florida meets today, three days before its deadline for making recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott. The Commission on Review of Taxpayer Funded Hospitals has expended significant time and energy, and its 10 members may feel compelled to issue wide-ranging recommendations to justify its efforts or, in some cases, pursue their ideology-based goals."
The panel was created by first-year Gov. Scott, who once headed the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain. Scott's order creating the commission and setting its agenda reflected his biases, using assumptions that undervalued public hospitals."Keep hospital proposals simple". Background: "Hospital commission prepared to release final report".
Dirty water delay
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the delay would allow the Legislature to approve replacement rules being developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. But an attorney representing environmental groups is asking whether the delay would violate a court agreement that required EPA to propose the federal rules." "Feds propose delaying controversial water quality rules while Florida works on its own".
Bondi loses, appeals
"Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a motion Friday with the 4th District Court of Appeal, asking it to certify as a matter of great public importance its recent decision in a case against a law firm accused of using fraudulent practices to speed up foreclosure cases."
On Dec. 14, the court stated that Bondi’s office lacked authority under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) to issue a subpoena for extensive records of the David J. Stern law firm, reversing a lower court decision to deny a motion to quash the subpoena."Bondi to seek Supreme Court appeal in foreclosure mill case".
Redistricting map changes
"Reapportionment Committee chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said there is "nothing earth-shattering" in either of the proposed committee substitutes, but that the new measures include input from people, including supervisors of elections, who offered suggestions for making the boundaries smoother." "Redistricting maps get year-end changes". Related: "2012 Session Outlook: Redistricting and Reapportionment".
Week in Review
"The Week in Review for Dec. 27 to Dec. 30".
"As nearly two dozen states, including Florida, work to turn over their Medicaid programs to private plans hoping for cost savings and better health care, Connecticut -- the 'insurance capital of the world' -- and Oklahoma are doing the opposite, Kaiser Health News reports."
On Sunday, Connecticut ends its 15-year history with managed care organizations because, state officials say, they did not fulfill their promises. Instead, the state will take on the financial responsibility. In 2005, Oklahoma moved away from using private plans, and officials there express no regrets. Nationally, managed care plans oversee care for 27 million of the 60 million people enrolled in Medicaid, and control $150 billion of the $400 billion in Medicaid spending."2 states bucking Medicaid privatization trend".
League of Cities says "jump!" - editors say "how high?"
"Address muni pensions".
School food program transfers to DAG
"Florida's school food and nutrition program transfers to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services from the Department of Education, effective Jan. 1." "Florida's school program soon to be under department of agriculture".
Scott's veto of public broadcasting funds creates funding crisis
A funding crisis is "the local legacy among area public broadcasters after Gov. Rick Scott's decision in June to veto nearly $4.8 million in state funding for such outlets across Florida. Each public TV station lost more than $300,000; each radio station more than $60,000. Across the Tampa Bay area, WEDU, WMNF and WUSF radio and TV stations saw total losses of up to $1 million." "Florida public broadcasters search for solutions to their funding crisis". Meanwhile, "State keeps funding dangerous ALFs".