"Insiders are toasting Scott in the halls of the Capitol"
"Rick Scott, the tea-party government-cutting conservative, stormed into office as an outsider and once boasted the 'deal-makers are crying in their cocktails.'"
Now the insiders are toasting Scott in the halls of the state Capitol at the close of the second lawmaking session of his first term."Gov. Rick Scott: the outsider turns insider".
Scott racked up a string of wins with a modest poll-tested agenda and an approach that meshed with the Capitol culture instead of antagonizing it. He glad-handed lawmakers more. He gave lobbyists more access. And he chose a consummate insider to be his staff chief.
Florida GOP punish state workers, college students
"The 60-day legislative session that ended Friday was largely dominated by small reforms on a few pocketbook proposals."
Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature honored their pledge not to raise taxes, an article of faith for them in an election year. But to fill a $2 billion budget gap, they cut about $300 million from universities and colleges, $1 billion from state worker pensions, and made another round of deep spending cuts in prisons, health care and social services."Legislators hit hardest the pocketbooks of state workers, college students". See also "Scott's legislative agenda fared better than in 2011".
While lawmakers scaled back higher education and social programs, they also delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to private businesses.
Session winners and losers
"Winners and losers: Some bills that passed, failed in the 2012 legislative session". See also "2012 Florida legislative session winners and losers".
Feds investigating three Florida GOPers, Stearns the latest
"It looks like Florida now has three members of Congress under investigation by federal authorities. The latest strange and unseemly tale involves U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, accused of trying to bribe a political rival to keep him from running against him in a newly drawn North Florida district."
Other members of the Florida delegation with investigations hanging over them are Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who is under Justice Department investigation for potential campaign finance violations, and David Rivera, R-Miami, who is under federal investigation for his role in an undisclosed $500,000 payment by a dog track."Rep. Cliff Stearns accused of trying to bribe rival".
"Legislators acting like out-of-control grade-schoolers"
Scott Maxwell writes that in the session, "legislators are acting like out-of-control grade-schoolers without adult supervision. Hypocrisy, greed and unethical behavior are the new norm. They are thwarting your vote, wasting your money and undermining ethical government. Here's how."
We start with legislators' decision to provide generous, taxpayer-subsidized health-care plans … to themselves."Scott Maxwell: In this legislative session, adults weren't in evidence".
Yes, legislators have cut funding for everything from schools to the disabled in recent years — all under the guise that these are tough times, and you people need to make sacrifices.
Yet the politicians continued enjoying full-fledged health-care plans with measly $8 monthly premiums. Taxpayers covered the rest. ...
Legislators also made it clear that they will retaliate against anyone who stands up for ethics. ...
And finally, we have one of the Legislature's longest-running insults to voters: its fight against Fair Districts.
"Modest" energy legislation
"A Florida energy policy bill that would restore expired tax credits and other incentives for renewables is on its way to Gov. Rick Scott. The bill (HB 7117) cleared the House 116-2. It's a scaled down version of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's original proposal for what he termed 'modest' energy legislation. " "Modest Florida energy policy bill goes to Scott".
FPL's solar energy flop
"The mirror-covered behemoth that constitutes Florida's largest, and one of the nation's most ambitious, ventures into solar energy has been producing a small fraction of the power promised by its owner."
An Orlando Sentinel review of production data on file with state regulators reveals that, during its first year of operation, the Florida Power & Light Co. solar plant in Martin County has not come close to producing enough electricity to meet the demand of 11,000 homes — the output that FPL continues to claim for its one-of-a-kind facility."Florida's biggest solar-energy plant far from realizing its potential".
Instead, it generated enough power last year for only 2,056 homes, according to the Sentinel's analysis of monthly reports filed by FPL with the Florida Public Service Commission.
"Focus shifts to redistricting"
"While lawmakers wrapped up some of their business on Friday's last scheduled day of the regular session, they must return to Tallahassee on Wednesday to begin work on a new Senate redistricting map. " "Session ends; focus shifts to redistricting".
From the "values" crowd: Publix stands strong against starving farmworkers
"Hundreds of marchers, including Robert F. Kennedy's widow, joined with fasting Florida tomato pickers Saturday in asking Publix supermarket chain to help boost their wages. Carrying signs that read 'Publix: Recognize farmworkers' humanity,' the marchers walked three miles from a Publix supermarket to the company's headquarters. There they met up with about 60 people, many of them farmworkers, who had gone six days without food in protest."
The farmworkers want Publix to pay growers a penny more per pound of tomatoes, which would be passed on to pickers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers' penny campaign has won support in recent years from companies like Taco Bell, McDonald's and Burger King."RFK widow joins Fla. farmworkers on day 6 of fast".
Those companies and even the growers initially balked, but eventually signed a deal paying more. Publix says it doesn't set prices and growers should add the increase to what they charge for their tomatoes.
Some growers fear Publix will buy elsewhere if they do.
"We will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor," Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said. "That is the responsibility of their employers."
Laura Safer Espinoza, a former New York State judge and director of the Fair Food Standards Council, said none of the corporate buyers participating in the program pay a farmworker directly.
"It's folded into the price and eventually passed down to the grower, who then pays the workers," she said. "The fact of the matter is they are not willing to voluntarily pay that penny as other corporate buyers have done to rectify this historic injustice to the people who put the food on our tables."
Ethel Kennedy and Mexican singer Jose Jose were among the high-profile figures and religious leaders supporting the farmworkers Saturday. Kennedy joined the march from a wheelchair and Jose greeted those who were fasting.
Bushco laff riot
"As much of the political world ponders whether Jeb Bush will run for president in 2016 (he'll be just 63), one consideration could be the ambitions of his sons, George P. Bush, 35, of Texas and Jeb Bush Jr., 28, of Miami." "Jeb's progeny".
Oh really? Last we heard of Jeb Bush Jr., he was fighting a public intoxication charge, or was it resisting arrest, or was it pulling strings with Daddy and in turn the FDLE to avoid being arresed for allegedly ..., well you can read it yourself.
"Scott remains a potent punch line for Democrats"
"After a rocky first session as Florida's chief executive in 2011, Scott had steadied himself with a more modest wish list and a pledge to find harmony with legislative leaders for his second one."
In the Capitol chaos Saturday, he had a "mission accomplished" moment."Florida Dems find campaign fodder in Gov. Scott's successful [sic] legislative session".
"What a session," Scott said, beaming.
But with this fall's elections bearing down and Florida the biggest of the nation's toss-up states, Scott and his policies will remain a potent punch line for Democrats if the opposition party's rhetoric of the session's closing days is any indication.
the 2012 session also supplied plenty of material for already familiar Democratic campaign themes, easily transported from the halls of Congress to election fights across Florida.
The $1 billion increase for schools included in the $70 billion budget passed by lawmakers follows last year's $1.3 billion cut in classroom spending, which brought per-pupil dollars to their lowest level in six years.
President Obama talks about lowering high education costs to students, whereas Florida lawmakers cut state support of public universities by $300 million as the state's 11 universities are expected to seek 15 percent tuition increases, which would pull $244 million back into the system. Lawmakers also sent a bill to the governor giving the University of Florida and Florida State University the power to raise their tuitions more than 15 percent annually.
Scott opposes tuition hikes and could veto the UF/FSU tuition bill, but he can't stop the State University System's Board of Governors from approving the 15 percent tuition increases for the fifth straight year of double-digit increases for students and their families.
State workers were denied an across-the-board pay raise for the sixth straight year. And the budget still includes $1 billion drawn from 3 percent payroll contributions required by lawmakers last year from the 655,000 government workers who belong to the Florida Retirement System, even though a judge last week declared the mandatory deductions unconstitutional.
Scott and legislative leaders plan to appeal the decision, but the possibility remains that the state may have to cover a combined, two-year loss of $2 billion with reserves.
Meanwhile, the state budget cuts 4,400 state jobs, most within the Corrections Department, where six prisons are slated to close. Scott-backed legislation also requires new, random drug tests for state workers.
Senate Democrats take credit for blocking a number of issues from reaching Scott's desk. A massive prison privatization effort, a controversial plan to allow parents to convert failing public schools into charter schools, and a sweeping anti-abortion law all failed.
"Senate under President Haridopolos was a blundering mess"
The Tampa Tribune editorial board writes that "it is not too early to make some initial conclusions about the 2012 session. Foremost among them:"
The Senate under President Mike Haridopolos was a blundering mess."Haridopolos did not just fumble the redistricting task. Under his leadership, lawmaking became a farce."
The Senate is historically the more deliberative governing body, one that encourages debate and considers the long-term consequences of legislation.
Not under Haridopolos. Politics or specials interests seem to drive most actions.
Elected officials were expected to carry out the marching orders of a few select leaders without regard for constituents or conscience.Much more here: "A session of petty power games".
Haridopolos' team trampled on Senate rules, and those who objected were punished.
Pasco Sen. Mike Fasano was removed from a chairmanship when he questioned a dubious leadership plan to privatize prisons based on questionable numbers.
Despite Haridopolos' efforts to stack the deck for the bill, experienced lawmakers such as Lakeland Sen. Paula Dockery, Pinellas Sen. Jack Latvala and Fasano were able to lead a revolt against the scheme.
Haridopolos also allowed Polk Sen. JD Alexander to turn his position as budget chair into a virtual kingdom, pursuing his personal goals without restraint.
Not nearly enough
"Florida school districts could face more painful budget cuts this spring, despite a spending increase approved by the 2012 Legislature. That's because the infusion of money won't dig them out of the hole created by last year's deep cuts to public education, nor make up for other budget hits they'll take this year." "More money for schools won't make up for past cuts".
"This is not a conservative Florida Legislature"
Randy Schultz writes that, "despite its claims to the contrary, this is not a conservative Florida Legislature. It is an ideological Florida Legislature that doesn't believe in separation of powers." "Conservatives in Tallahassee aren't true conservatives".
"A rare defeat for the Florida Chamber of Commerce"
"As the clock ticked toward the end of the 2012 lawmaking session, Florida's most influential business lobby was desperate for a win."
Its lobbyists thought they had a package deal. If the Senate could pass a bill cutting worker's compensation payments to doctors who dispense medication, a controversial education-reform measure known as "parent trigger" would pass with it."It was a rare defeat for the Florida Chamber of Commerce in an election-year session that saw the Republican-dominated Legislature provide almost everything the business lobby sought."
The linchpin: Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican sponsoring the worker's comp bill, which would have banned doctors who dispense repackaged medication to worker's comp patients from charging more than pharmacies.
Earlier Friday, the Senate had deadlocked 20-20 on the California-inspired parent-trigger bill, which would allow parents to decide whether to convert failing public schools into charters or privatize them.
Although Hays was a co-sponsor of the parent-trigger bill, he voted against it — and then, according to multiple sources, offered to trade his vote if Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, would allow a floor vote on the workers' comp bill.
Haridopolos didn't allow the vote. In the end, both bills died.
But the GOP supermajorities in both the House and Senate found time to pass another deluge of business-backed measures — giving $120 million in tax breaks and other incentives to corporations, rolling back regulations that would impact company bottom lines and reducing unemployment compensation taxes by $830 million over the next several years."Session's outcome shows chamber's clout — and limits".
Associated Industries of Florida President Tom Feeney touted bills passed that undercut federal nutrient limits for Florida water bodies; streamline environmental-permitting for companies destroying wetlands; and delay when employers will have to re-pay money borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to laid-off workers.
"Lots of big wins," Feeney said.
"Senselessness of America's immigration policy"
The Tampa Bay Times editors:
He contributed to civic life as an Eagle Scout, high school valedictorian and graduate of New College and Florida State University's College of Law. But to the credentialing arm of Florida's legal profession, Jose Godinez-Samperio is little more than the grown-up version of a 9-year-old whose Mexican parents overstayed their visas after entering the United States. His fight for admission to the Florida Bar captures the senselessness of America's immigration policy, and he should not be punished for the choices made by his parents."Florida Bar denial a senseless waste".
The Board of Bar Examiners blocked Godinez-Samperio's bid to become a lawyer in Florida, ruling the 25-year-old was not qualified because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. The board's executive director maintains that non-U.S. citizens must be legal residents to qualify for Bar admission. The board has asked the Florida Supreme Court to resolve the dispute, which Godinez-Samperio's lawyer aptly characterizes as an abuse of the law and a lack of common sense.
"Holding government accountable"
The Tampa Bay Times editorial board: "This is the start of Sunshine Week, an annual reminder that holding government accountable can only happen when the people have a front-row seat." "Citizen power starts with knowledge". See also "Open-government advocates celebrate 'Sunshine Week'".