The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The narrow defeat Tuesday of a rushed and reckless plan to privatize 27 South Florida state prisons was responsible government."
Nine Republican state senators — in a welcome break from their bullying leaders — teamed with the Senate's 12 Democrats to deliver a bipartisan defeat of an idea that was driven more by special interest politics than thoughtful policy. Such a sweeping change of questionable benefit that affects a core government mission and so many state workers never should have been so rashly considered.After the corrections officers' union backed Gov. Rick Scott's Democratic opponent in the 2010 election,
private prison companies' overtures to run more prisons have been embraced by Senate leadership, which claimed the deal would save the state at least 7 percent, the contractual obligation at seven existing private prisons. Never mind that the Legislature's own analysts cast doubt on those savings, saying private prisons housed healthier and less violent inmates than the general prison population, making comparisons impossible."Stepping up to stop a bad idea". See also "Prison privatization plan dies in Florida Senate", "Prison privatization fails in Florida Senate", "Prison privatization plan fails in Senate", "Prison privatization bill shot down in Florida Senate" and "Senate Republicans Break Ranks, Defeat Prison Privatization Proposal".
Alexander worked with other leaders to game the system. First, they snuck the language into the 2011-12 state budget. A judge threw out the provision because it did not follow laws written under former Gov. Jeb Bush on vetting whether privatization made sense.
This year, Senate President Mike Haridopolos circumvented standard procedures and rammed the issue through two friendly committees. He stripped Fasano from his subcommittee chairmanship overseeing the state prison budget for opposing the plan.
Never did supporters adequately address the moral hazard of a scheme where a major portion of Florida's public safety obligation was entrusted to an entity whose financial interest was in full prison beds, not rehabilitating inmates.
Ultimately, even strong-arm tactics could not sell this bad idea.
Corporation looking to buy
"[T]he Huffington Post reported that a private prison company had approached 48 states — of which Florida is one — to trade cash in exchange for contracts to run state prisons." "Corrections Corporation of America looking to buy Florida prisons".
"Environmental law firm Earthjustice yesterday announced that it has filed suit against the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, alleging that the agency 'illegally held closed-door meetings to craft a plan which would cut off the public’s boating access to part of Fisheating Creek in Glades County' and therefore violated state open meeting requirements." "Earthjustice says Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission violated open meeting laws".
Never mind the ethics
"Complaining about the media and ban on gifts from lobbyists, a Senate panel Tuesday shot down a bill that would have prohibited future lawmakers from also holding jobs or contracts with state colleges and universities. The legislation, SB 1560, made a range of changes to Florida's ethics laws prompted by a scathing 2010 grand jury report on public corruption. But the most contentious change was a ban on university or college employment." "Florida lawmakers' ethics bill fails amid complaints it was media-driven".
Tax breaks only if company has no union employees
"Majority Republicans have added an anti-union provision to a bill giving Florida businesses tax breaks totaling $121.1 million a year."
In each case, Republicans substituted a provision allowing companies to get the tax break only if they have no union employees."GOP adds anti-union rider to Fla. tax break bill". See also "Corporate Tax Exemptions Spark Partisan Spat on House Floor".
"Winners and losers, so far"
"2012 Legislature: Winners and losers, so far".
"A bill that would allow K-12 students to pray during all school events is currently being opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Liberty Counsel. Both groups warn that such legislation would cost the state money in litigation." "ACLU, Christian group both oppose school prayer bill".
Did campaign cash pave the way?
"The National Institute for Money in State Politics takes a look at the numbers. Prison firms and firms focused on prison health care gave nearly $1 million to Florida politicians in 2010—the most the industry has given over the last decade. Some four fifths of that came from the GEO Group and its health care subsidiary." "Did campaign cash help pave the way for prison privatization?".
Jax signs contract, but refuses to ratify
"Jacksonville’s City Council rejected union contracts Tuesday that would have given most JEA employees pay raises of 1.5 percent to 3 percent."
JEA’s chief executive said he would go back to the unions to renegotiate."Jacksonville City Council blocks JEA pay raises".
“I’m very disappointed” said CEO Jim Dickenson. “We cut [payroll costs] ... and they seemed to just not recognize that.” ...
He said JEA had eliminated performance incentives starting in 2008, effectively lowering typical workers pay 5 percent well before police and fire unions accepted concessions. He said other utilities have raised pay, and he is losing employees who can get better wages elsewhere.
But council members were in no mood for Dickenson’s arguments, with only five out of 18 supporting the contracts.
That's a relief
"You can now carry your gun at Florida State Fair".
"Nuclear plant errors reported at Turkey Point".
Corporate tax cut
"Lawmakers moved closer to approving a tax plan that would double the corporate income tax exemption, from $25,000 to $50,000, meaning 3,770 companies would be exempt from paying any income taxes."
"Democrats offered 15 amendments to the corporate tax cut, attempting to deny the benefit to companies that ship jobs offshore, deny health insurance for domestic partners, deny coverage for contraceptives, work with countries that sponsor terrorism, or discriminate against veterans."
In an attempt to call the Republicans’ bluff on immigration, Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, offered an amendment that would provide the corporate tax cut only to companies that used an E-Verify system to prevent the hiring of undocumented immigrants. Several Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott, campaigned on the issue, but have generally avoided the politically-dangerous topic this year."Corporate income tax cut nears approval".
Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, countered each of the amendments with an amendment of his own, stating that companies that hire unionized labor would not be eligible for a tax cut.
Each time, state Representatives voted to change the Democrat-led amendments into the anti-union amendment, effectively blocking a vote on the Democrat’s issues.
“There’s nothing in the rules that says that I can’t do this,” Lopez-Cantera told protesting Democrats. “I’m just doing what the rules afford me the right to do in this Chamber.”
The tax package faces a full vote in the House on Wednesday. The House also moved forward on other tax measures, including this year’s back-to-school sales tax holiday and a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty.
Nelson saves $43,000 in property taxes
"U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has been many things over the years. State legislator. Congressman. Astronaut. Insurance commissioner. In Brevard County, he is a gentleman farmer. And that saved him $43,000 in property taxes last year." "Greenbelt's giveaway".
Rubio doles out the cash
"In October, supporters of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio invited allies to attend a different type of fundraiser — not to benefit Rubio but to collect cash that the first-term Florida Republican could dole out to his friends and GOP candidates across the country. By every measure, it was a success. Rubio raised tens of thousands of dollars, part of the $563,000 collected by his so-called 'leadership' political-action committee in the final three months of 2011." "Rubio raising big bucks to give other candidates".
"Meeting is sure to be filled with fireworks"
"The meeting is sure to be filled with fireworks, coming a day after USF supporters across the state bombarded lawmakers' voicemail and email with pleas to spare USF from disproportionate cuts. The reductions are making the biggest splash, but on the back burner is another controversy: a bill slipped into the budget that would immediately split USF Polytechnic off into the state's 12th university. It's a move Alexander has crusaded for months." "USF Polytechnic drama heats up as USF students protest budget cuts in Tallahassee".
The best they could do
"Faced with a credibility problem in the eyes of some of the state’s top lawmakers, one of Florida's oldest and most influential business advocacy organizations reached for a big gun -- a top-tier veteran who ran the House when many of those same lawmakers were still learning to navigate the maze of the Capitol hallways." "Feeney Working Capitol Halls to Polish AIF Image".
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Homeowners in Florida and California will reap about half of the $26 billion, reflecting the dire state of the housing market in these two states. But restoring the housing market and the credibility of the mortgage industry will require much more." "Mortgage deal falls short".
"Florida as the Dogpatch of the nation"
Daniel Ruth: "It is axiomatic that not much happens in Tallahassee until toward the end of the legislative session when the final deals are cooked, the last minute conspiracies are hatched and, of course, the annual rite of back-stabbing begins in earnest."
This isn't democracy in action. It's a good old boy junta, taking names, settling scores and extracting revenge. Think of this as the reign of the Borgias, only without the sense of whimsy."Senate lame duck is still squawking".
So it's a fair question: Why even bother with the charade of legislating? Why not dispense with filing bills, holding committee hearings and voting on stuff and put Senate Budget Committee Chairman JD Alexander in charge of everything, since it certainly appears the Big Daddy of Lake Wales is firmly in charge of establishing Florida as the Dogpatch of the nation?
The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "Budget bull for USF".
"Latvala is sticking to Florida's turkey"
Nancy Smith: "Seems odd to me why a Florida senator would want to continue a system that exposes thousands of Floridians to identity theft. But Jack Latvala is sticking to Florida's turkey of a law like a cheap suit in the rain." "Obviously, Jack Latvala Never Had His Identity Stolen".
"Helpless funding vehicles for lawmakers' pet projects"
The Tampa Tribune editorial board: "The Legislature is trying to transform the state's five water management districts into helpless funding vehicles for lawmakers' pet projects. The move will compromise the districts' critical water-protection mission and gut accountability and local control." "Politics flood water districts".
State needs a better plan
The Palm Beach Post editors: "Federal regulators' rejection last week of two provisions in Florida's statewide Medicaid reform proposal is evidence that the state needs a better plan for controlling health care costs." "Do surgery on Medicaid".
Hastings harassment lawsuit dismissed
"Judge releases Hastings from harassment lawsuit". See also "Judge dismisses sex harassment claim against U.S. Rep. Hastings".