"Dramatic defeat for the governor"
"In a dramatic defeat for the governor and the Florida Legislature, a Leon County circuit judge on Tuesday ruled that the decision last year to cut public employee salaries was an unconstitutional breach of the state's contract and ordered the money returned with interest."
"The 2011 Legislature, when faced with a budget shortfall, turned to the employees of the State of Florida and ignored the contractual rights given to them by the Legislature in 1974,'' wrote Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford, who also relied on a 1981 state Supreme Court ruling favoring public employees.And from Harvard Law School, we get this:
She said the Legislature's decision to cut public employee salaries 3 percent, without renegotiating their contracts, was an "unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation" that violated the rights of public employees "to collectively bargain over conditions of employment."
The governor and Republican legislative leaders cut salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, and shifted savings into the general revenue fund to offset the state's contribution to their retirement account. The change saved the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session and saved local governments $600 million.
"As you would expect, I believe this decision is simply wrong,'' Scott said in a statement. He accused Fulford of ignoring "30 years of Supreme Court precedent" and called it "another example of a court substituting its own policy preferences for those of the Legislature." ...Meanwhile, back at the bank,"
Lawyers for the House and Senate refused to comment on the ruling, but Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, was critical of Fulford and vowed to continue the legal battle.
"I think this is an example of judicial activism, and this is why we are immediately going to appeal this decision," Haridopolos said.
The conflict is costing Florida taxpayers.Pension changes unconstitutional". See also "Judge throws out 3% public employee pension contribution", "Florida pension payment law is illegal, judge says", "Gov. Rick Scott Confident Judge Jackie Fulford Will be Overruled on Pensions", "Judge blocks pension contributions", "Judge tosses pension contribution requirement for state's public employees" and "Breaking down judge's ruling against Florida's pension law".
The state's Department of Management Services hired the Atlanta-based law firm of Alston and Bird to defend the state, paying eight lawyers $475 an hour. But the state exhausted the $500,000 retainer set aside for the initial defense, said Kris Purcell, spokesman for the Department of Management Services, so in December the state signed a second contract for $300,000.
Some newspaper companies predictably chose to focus on the economic consequences, as opposed to the myriad public worker rights that had been violated by the state. See, e.g., "Judge strikes down required pension contribution; could cost Florida $2 billion" and ""Judge rules against the state in pension case, creating potential budget gap". Here's a more appropriate headline: "Judge Jackie Fulford Rules State Employee-Pension Contributions Unconstitutional".
Rivera to get another opponent?
"Miami-Dade’s former mayor and one-time Democratic star Alex Penelas is making calls and gauging support for a congressional bid against Republican Rep. David Rivera, who has been under state and federal investigation for his alleged role in a secret $500,000 million dog-track payment, sources said. Allies of Penelas polled the new congressional district drawn by the Legislature, but they are not releasing the results. Neither Penelas nor Rivera could be reached for comment. ... There’s already a Democratic challenger in the race, state Rep. Luis Garcia. He said he was recruited to run by national Democrats." "Alex Penelas may run for Congress against incumbent David Rivera".
About Judge Fulford, that "judicial activist"
"Fulford, a Republican, was appointed to the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in 2009 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. She previously served as chief assistant state attorney for the circuit, which covers Tallahassee and six Panhandle counties." "Who is this judge?"
"Calling it a 'direct attack on public education,' Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, said Monday that 'the centerpiece of this legislation has nothing to do with empowering parents.' Rich added that the bill is tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing outfit funded by 'billionaires such as the Koch Brothers.'" "Opponents say ‘Parent Trigger bill’ driven by the private sector".
"Political gambit should be objectionable to voters"
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "In court filings last week, the U.S. Department of Justice declared its disapproval of Florida's repressive new election rules designed to reduce voter turnout, arguing that they violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Voter rights organizations have made the same argument for months, but Justice Department officials joining the chorus strengthens the outcry against this attempt by Republican legislators to reduce turnout among demographics that tend to vote Democratic."
The intent is clearly political, and it mirrors efforts by Republican-controlled legislatures to tighten voter laws in several other states. This political gambit should be objectionable to voters of all political persuasions, just as if Democratic legislators tried a similar tactic to hinder absentee voters, more of whom tend to vote for Republicans. Ironically, the most serious Florida voter fraud case in recent memory involved absentee ballots in a Miami mayoral election. ..."Latest returns still look bad".
That's not the only place where these laws are getting much-needed scrutiny. Last week in Tallahassee, a federal judge expressed skepticism during a court hearing about the new law that shortens the time that groups have to turn in voter registration forms - from 10 days to an unrealistic two. Under questioning, an attorney defending the law for the state admitted that some aspects of how the law was put into place need to be "fixed."
From the "values" crowd
"According to a survey released last month by the Food Research and Action Center, Florida is among the top ten states with the highest rates of 'food hardship,' or the lack of money to buy food." "Florida among states with highest rates of food hardship".
"Latino voters more likely to favor Obama"
"Latino voters are more likely to favor President Obama than any of the GOP presidential candidates. According to a Fox News Latino poll released Monday, “likely Latino voters indicated that 73 percent of them approved of Obama’s performance in office, with over half those questioned looking favorably upon his handling of the healthcare debate and the economy, at 66 percent and 58 percent respectively.”" "Fox News poll shows Latino voters favor Obama over GOP presidential candidates".
Anthony Man: "Hispanic voters favor Obama, but also like Rubio, poll finds".
"A study in pork-barrel spending"
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "The proposed 2012-13 state budget set for a final vote on Friday is a study in pork-barrel spending, reckless policy and a shortchanged future." "A reckless Florida budget".
Citizens bill dies
"A bill allowing out-of-state insurance companies to take policyholders from Citizens, the state’s biggest insurer, died when a controversial amendment was added." "Amendment kills effort to reduce Citizens Insurance policy holders". See also "Storm Continues to Brew over Reforming Citizens", "Surplus lines bill all but dead after House fails to beat opt-in amendment" and "Citizens Reform Dies in the House, with Republican help". Related: "Tom Grady Quits OFR, Will Take Over as Interim President of Citizens".
Fraud bill bogs down
"Auto-accident fraud bill bogs down Senate". See also "Tempers flare as Senate tackles PIP bill".
"Florida House Passes Energy Bill".
More from the "values" crowd
"Florida universities face $300 million budget cut".
Spewing the party line
Fabiola Santiago spews the party line in advance of the Pope’s visit to Cuba:
Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the highest Catholic authority on the island, and the Apostolic Nuncio to Cuba, Bruno Musaro, offered a Mass in the Cathedral of Havana to pray for the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had a cancerous tumor removed from his pelvis on Feb. 24 in the Cuban capital."Cuban cardinal’s prayers ignore real victims".
The cathedral was packed with the faithful, and in a country where the government all but prohibited religious worship until the 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II, the attendees included the foreign ministers of Cuba and Venezuela and other well-known Cuban government supporters. ...
Are the prayers of Ortega and Musaro indeed prayers or politics, a calculated move of religious chess aimed at facilitating the highly anticipated trip of the Pope to Cuba later this month? ...
But for now all we hear are the Sunday prayers of a cardinal and a nuncio, and as benevolent as they may appear to charitable Catholic ears, they have already spoken volumes in a church where many of “the faithful” were dressed in the colors of the Venezuelan flag as if they were attending a political rally.
In Miami — where some are preparing for a pilgrimage to Cuba to participate in the Pope’s visit, where the Catholic Church is involved in apostolate work on the island, and from where thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to the island flows — the faithful await answers to their prayers.
Summer camps licensing
"A million dollars. That’s about what it would cost every year, according to a 2009 estimate by Florida’s child-care regulator, to license summer camps across the state." "State needs $1 million per year to license camps, estimates show". Background: "DCF oversight would make camps safer, audit finds".
"Hijacking local water for political purposes"
The Saint Petersburg Times editors: "Only with this governor and Legislature does a watered-down assault on local control and the environment count as a victory. A Senate bill approved last month and now part of this week's endgame with the House would restore some of last year's budget cuts to the state's five water management districts. The districts need the money, but the trade-off is unacceptable. The bill gives more authority over water policy to the same governor who caused the districts' financial free fall in the first place, and it enables Tallahassee to continue to hijack local water for political purposes." "Bill lets Tallahassee hijack water control".
The Miami Herald editorial board: "Hands off our water".