Aaron Deslatte: "In a legal showdown that could reverberate for decades, a conflicted Florida Supreme Court grilled the authors and critics of new legislative-district maps Wednesday over whether lawmakers have followed new voter-adopted anti-gerrymandering reforms."
Critics — including the Florida Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, National Council of La Raza and Common Cause — have argued the new districts violate the Fair Districts amendments passed in 2010 because they were drawn with the intent of preserving huge Republican majorities in the Legislature for the next decade."And that prompted a clearly divided court to question Wednesday how far it should go to delve into factual disputes over whether the new maps comply."
Several justices questioned whether the high court had an obligation to provide some parameters for following Amendments 5 and 6, which created sometimes-conflicting and often-ambiguous new standards for drawing the maps. For instance, when does reducing the number of minorities in a minority-held House district go too far and unconstitutionally abridge their rights?Much more here: "Redistricting maps divide Florida Supreme Court". See also "Justices seek input on how to handle new redistricting rules" and "".
"On what basis do we substitute our judgment for the judgment that has been made by the Legislature?" Chief Justice Charles Canady asked.
Legislative lawyers said the justices should accept that lawmakers gave it their best effort.
"This is an incredibly difficult balancing of standards that takes thousands of hours to do," said George Meros, a GrayRobinson lawyer arguing for the Florida House.
"If the Legislature is showing a good-faith effort [to follow the amendments] … that is the deference the court should show."
But Justice Barbara Pariente suggested the court had a duty to do more than just rubber-stamp the maps because that would effectively say the court agreed with the Legislature's legal interpretation of how to implement the amendments.
"Latchkey kid creation act"
The Tampa Bay Times editors: "In Tallahassee, they are calling it early learning reform."
But it's really a latchkey kid creation act. With little notice, the Legislature appears ready to end subsidized after-school care for up to 15,000 children between 5 and 12 years old who come from homes of poor working parents. Lawmakers say they are just reorganizing the state's School Readiness Program to reduce the 75,000-person waiting list for subsidized care for infants to 5-year-olds. But pitting the needs of the youngest against those of school-aged children is a false choice, forced by the Republican leadership's continued refusal to consider new revenue."Retreat on child care".
Jebbie teases knuckle-draggers
The man one Florida editorial board described as possessing "dangerous arrogance and a nasty vindictive streak" continues to tease the extreme elements of his "Ghastly Outdated Party".
"Republicans are still pining for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush despite his repeated and vehement refusal to be sucked into the 2012 Republican vortex."
The Bush murmurs persist, even as a resilient Romney marches toward Super Tuesday with a commanding lead in cash, delegates and momentum over a sagging Rick Santorum."Despite Mitt wins, both sides eye Jeb". See also "Coulter predicts Jeb Bush to enter race".
“I have the perfect candidate — Jeb Bush. But he’s not running,” former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card told Charlie Rose on CBS on Wednesday, echoing the sentiments of many in his party. ...
Bush — who has refused to endorse Romney in 2012 as he did in 2008 and whose son endorsed Jon Huntsman — has fanned the flames himself, possibly to whet his party’s appetite for a 2016 run. After keeping a low profile during the hotly contested Florida primary in January, he popped up last week at the height of the Romney-Santorum duel in Michigan to declare his problems with the GOP presidential field.
Assisted living facility reform going down
"After years of people dying of abuse in Florida's assisted living facilities, lawmakers this year unveiled some of the toughest legislation in the nation to protect residents and punish the worst abusers. But with just about a week left in the legislative session, major proposals to shut down dangerous homes, investigate deaths and dramatically raise credentials of caregivers will now require the Senate's most powerful leaders to save it. The 60-day session ends next Friday." "ALF reform may be in jeopardy".
Absentee ballot request kerfuffle in Orlando
"Orlando candidates spar over absentee votes".
State saves dollars at expense of public safety
"Buckling under the weight of a $79 million deficit, Florida's prison system is cutting back on the visits that probation officers have with offenders — a move sure to raise public safety concerns." "Florida prison system to cut back visits probation officers make to offenders".
"Florida’s radically downsized scholarly aspirations"
Fred Grimm: "Who needs higher education? We’ve got the Redneck Yacht Club."
Thousands made the pilgrimage to the bemired retreat in rural Charlotte County this past weekend and turned the occasion — known as the world’s largest mud festival — into a sodden demonstration of Florida’s radically downsized scholarly aspirations.Read it all here: "Florida’s higher education mired in the mud".
The epic moment came as the driver of a camouflage-painted van with five-foot-tall tires roared up out of the muck and, just for the hell of it, crushed a parked 1994 Toyota belonging to an unsuspecting 16-year-old girl. The driver was charged with criminal mischief. He should have been awarded an honorary diploma by the state Legislature.
Think of him as our intellectual future.
Think of that flattened Toyota Corolla as a metaphor for higher education. Three days later, perhaps inspired by the Charlotte County mud fest (or by Rick Santorum’s derisive comments about college education), our state legislators took another mighty chunk out of that snobby state university system. The Senate and House, working toward a budget compromise, agreed to subtract another $289.3 million from higher education.
One bad budget year, of course, might be an aberration. But this was the fifth year in a row that Tallahassee pummeled the education budget. Even without this year’s $289.3 million cut, funding is down 24 percent from 2007, back when Florida still considered college education worthy of public investment.
“The effect of the budget cut is even more severe when enrollment growth and inflation are considered,” warned the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. “With additional enrollment factored in, state dollars provided per full-time-equivalent student declined 30 percent during that period.” Calculate inflation, and the cuts amount to 35 percent.
Thomas Breslin, professor of politics and international relations and chair of the faculty senate at Florida International University, has an even longer memory. “Veteran faculty are aware that in the years 1989 through 1992 the State University System took a 26.2% cut in General Revenue and Lottery funding, without tuition increases. The results were devastating and never made up by the legislature,” he told me by e-mail Wednesday. “The threatened cuts would be much deeper.”
Breslin added, “In the past 18 months, the state’s public universities have seen enrollments grow by 18,000 students while their budgets were being slashed by $164 million. Community colleges took similarly Draconian cuts. This portends disaster.”
"Florida counties stand to lose nearly $300 million in state revenue over the next few years, a punishment of sorts for what the state says are unpaid Medicaid bills."
But counties say much of what the state categorizes as delinquent bills are actually erroneous charges created by a faulty state billing system, and that the state's decision to collect is masking a ploy to shift additional costs to local governments."Medicaid billing fight could cost Florida counties".
Led by the Florida Association of Counties, local officials are begging legislators for a fix as House-Senate budget negotiations commence.
Under the controversial proposal, the state would withhold revenue sharing dollars from counties equal to a portion of the delinquent bills as well as any future payments counties owe under the Medicaid program. Currently, counties are allowed to dispute the amounts they owe and pay what they think is fair.
Miami-Dade could lose an estimated $31 million in revenue sharing in the upcoming fiscal year with the new system and Pinellas could see an $8.6 million decrease, according to the Association of Counties.
"Preserving their entitlement-reform virginity"
Frank Cerabino: "Florida's 160 lawmakers get state-provided health insurance by paying a premium of only $30 a month for family coverage, or $8.34 a month for individual coverage. ... And to make it worse, the legislators are also hosing their fellow state workers, the 27,000 state employees who earn less money than legislators get paid, yet have to pay much higher premiums to be in the same state health insurance plan."
"This week, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, had the bad manners to suggest this ought to be addressed. ... He suggested that Florida lawmakers ought to get the same insurance deal that the state's corrections officers, child abuse investigators and janitors get."
But the bipartisan entitlement-preservation express was a runaway train. And no excuse would be spared."Democrats, GOP can agree - when their perks at stake".
"We are in a different class than janitors," Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said.
"We have to run for office. We get attacked by our opponents. We get falsely accused of a crime by opponents. We get charged with ethics violations and election law violations," he said. "They don't."
And so in the end, the legislators overcame their bipartisan differences to vote down Negron's attempt to reform their own entitlement.
And it was done in the best way possible. A voice vote. This way nobody's vote would be recorded, thereby preserving their entitlement-reform virginity when it comes to trimming a benefit they aren't actually receiving.
From the "values" crowd
Local government "would be unable to create an out-of-court system to help workers who accuse employers of cheating them out of their pay under a measure approved along party lines by the Florida House on Wednesday." "Florida House passes bill that would prevent county anti-wage-theft laws".
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board: "Bills would hinder workers from recovering stolen wages". See also "GOP bill that would eliminate Miami-Dade wage theft ordinance passes in the House".
"Gotta Be a Better Way"
Nancy Smith: "Farewell Speeches: Gotta Be a Better Way to Kiss Goodbye".
"Though the legislative session isn't scheduled to end for more than a week, state senators took time Wednesday to pay tribute to Evelyn Lynn, the Ormond Beach Republican who will be leaving because of term limits after a combined 18 years in the Legislature." "State legislators pay tribute to departing Sen. Lynn".
Wingnuts in a dither
"The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba will begin a U.S. tour in October, hitting 10 states." "Cultural exchange with Cuba has beautiful strings attached".
Not "inspired" by the first amendment
"A measure allowing public school students to offer 'inspirational messages' at assemblies is set for final passage tomorrow, despite objections from Democrats and civil rights groups that the proposal is unconstitutional and could prompt bullying." "Student 'inspirational messages' poised for final passage in Tallahassee". See also "Dems introduce amendments to school prayer bill aimed at protecting against ‘messages of hate’".
Joe Redner looks to make a mint
"From vodka bars to art museums, GOP has convention party sites lined up".
Good luck with that
"Florida lawmaker introduces amendment mandating random drug-testing of state legislators".
"The GOP-sponsored Parent Empowerment in Education bill, also known as the 'Parent Trigger bill' for K-12 education, passed a state Senate subcommittee Tuesday. The bill was filed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers."
The bill, also introduced in the Florida House by Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, would authorize “parents of students who are assigned to certain underperforming public schools to submit a petition to the school district requesting implementation of a school turnaround option.”"K-12 education ‘parent trigger bill’ passes state Senate subcommittee".
The U.S. Department of Education‘s “turnaround” models include replacing the principal, rehiring no more than 50 percent of the staff and reopening a school as a charter school (i.e. one that is publicly-funded, but privately-managed).
All it takes is money
"Despite the hotly-contested primary race in Michigan yesterday, Florida remains the state in which the most amount of money has been spent by Super PACs in a primary." "Florida still leading the pack in primary Super PAC spending".
"A bill designed to reduce the hefty backlog of foreclosure cases in Florida courts passed through the House on Wednesday with a bipartisan 94-17 vote." "Foreclosure speed-up bill passes House".
Never mind the sewage
"The Legislature in 2010 OK'd a statewide requirement for septic tank inspections, but it prompted a backlash among rural residents who viewed it as a government intrusion. HB 999 by Rep. Chris Dorworth attempted to strike a compromise with the Senate by requiring such inspections in the 19 counties with the largest first-magnitude springs. " "House passes bill repealing septic tank inspection requirement".
Florida Forever remains without money
"The two sides also got closer on spending for petroleum contamination sites and beach restoration projects. But Florida Forever remained without money, though Sen. JD Alexander reiterated his support for the conservation land-buying program." "House and Senate negotiators agree on Everglades restoration, invasive plants spending".
Wingers take to the media to complain about Judge
"Jackie Fulford, the judge who ruled unconstitutional the prison privatization measure approved by the Legislature last year and is now deciding whether state employees can be forced to contribute to their retirement, stirs strong feelings in Florida legal and political circles."
To some she's a hard-working judge who keeps politics out of her opinions."Judge Jackie Fulford Stirs Mixed Opinions in Florida Politics, Legal Circles".
To others, though, -- such as Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Gov. Rick Scott [not exactly legal giants] -- her privatization ruling was an example of overreach by Florida's judiciary.
"Florida lawmakers, racing against the clock to reach a deal on a roughly $70 billion state budget, have signed off on a deal to raise tuition for college students. House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to the tuition hike even though Gov. Rick Scott has continued to oppose raising the cost of college right now. The deal reached today calls for tuition to go up by 5 percent for students who attend one of Florida's 28 state colleges. " "Fla. lawmakers reach deal on college tuition".
Florida's Club for Growth shills
"Sen. Marco Rubio and six Florida congressmen -- all Republicans -- earned top scores from the conservative Club for Growth for their votes on key issues last year."
Rubio's 97 percent score ranked him 10th in the Senate and garnered a [so-called] "Defender of Economic Freedom Award." ..."Marco Rubio, Six Florida Congressmen Top Club for Growth Vote Chart".
In the House, six Florida congressmen posted scores of 80 percent or higher. Their scores (and their House rank):
- Rep. Connie Mack, R-Naples: 98 percent (14th).
- Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland: 96 percent (21st).
- Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Tallahassee: 96 percent (26th).
- Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala; 87 percent (48th).
- Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola: 86 percent (49th).
- Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge: 80 percent (74th).
"Possibility of an openly gay lawmaker"
"The resignation of state Rep. Richard Steinberg and redrawn state House maps through redistricting has created the possibility of an openly gay lawmaker winning the Miami Beach seat." "Steinberg’s resignation may open door for election of first openly gay lawmaker in Tallahassee". Related: "Gay, transgender candidates wade into Central Florida politics".
Mica locks down campaign contributions
"'The cruise industry … is one of the most incredible entrepreneurial achievements by the private sector that I have seen in my lifetime,' said Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, who heads the House transportation committee." "Lawmakers declare Italian cruise ship disaster an exception".
Entrepreneurs in action
"Indicted Fort Lauderdale brothers arrested again on fraud charges".