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108 posts from February 2007

February 28, 2007

Crist's landlord raised rent; will local government's pay the price?

To get handle on why state leaders are ready to crack down on local-government taxing, look no further than Gov. Charlie Crist's landlord.

Lawrence A. Compton was caught wrongfully claiming a homestead exemption on the St. Petersburg condo he rented to Crist, and was then assessed a higher tax bill. He then did what virtually every other landlord does: "He had to pass it on to his tenant, the governor," Crist said.

More here.

Work done, commission parties

Miami-Dade County commissioners wrapped up a day of lobbying Wednesday night with a mojito-fueled reception at the swanky-for-a-federal-government-building "Gold Room" in the Rayburn building.

The digs were a decided step up from last year's reception - held in the Rayburn cafeteria. Miami Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meek couldn't help but note the difference, noting the room boasted a balcony and that commissioners on this trip had met with a number of high-ranking officials, chief among them, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who welcomed the group at a luncheon at the Capitol.

"Something happened in November," Meek said. "Things are different."

At the lunch, Pelosi, the first female House Speaker, autographed a napkin for commissioner Sally Heyman and heaped praise on Meek and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, both Pelosi allies who stood on the House floor night after night railing against the GOP before the C-Span cameras.

"Kendrick Meek says there aren't many delegations who could get the speaker to come by," Pelosi said. "There aren't too many delegations that have a Kendrick Meek."

The reception, co-hosted by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, also attracted a number of administration officials with Miami ties, including FEMA director David Paulison and Emilio Gonzalez, head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Wilson wants phrase 'illegal aliens' banned

Sen. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, filed a bill two days ago that would ban the state's use of the word "alien" when referring to illegal immigrants - and she's already fielding calls from critics. For the full story, click here.

McCollum says meet more often to reduce clemency backlog

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has weighed in today with his answer to the backlog of felons awaiting approval from the Clemency Board for the restoration of their civil rights: meet more often.

In a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist, McCollum acknowledges that the backlog is "unacceptable'' and proposes as a solution to have each member of the Cabinet commit two people from their staff to help work on eliminating the clemency backlog and require the Cabinet to meet at least monthly -- and perhaps more often -- as the Clemency Board until the waiting list is gone.

Here is McCollum's letter to the governor: Download clemency_letter.pdf

Cretul's bill would put hospital searches in the shadows

A bill before the Florida House would keep secret the names of applicants for executive positions at Florida’s 26 public hospitals until the end of the search.

Sponsored by Rep. Larry Cretul, a Republican from Ocala, the proposed legislation came out of a feud between the Ocala-Star Banner and Munroe Regional Medical Center over its CEO search last year. The newspaper was refused a list of applicants for the job, and the Ocala public hospital ended up being indicted.

“This to me began to show a little bit of a flaw in the system,” Cretul said.

Some candidates are hesitant to apply in Florida because their employers could find out they're looking elsewhere, Cretul said. He emphasized the legislation would provide anonymity to applicants only until a short list of recommended candidates is passed on to the final decision-making body.

“That’s all this bill does,” Cretul said, adding he thought the Ocala Star-Banner was exaggerating the its implications. “You’d think I was shooting the sun right out of the sky.”

Adria Harper, director of the First Amendment Foundation, said keeping applicants’ names private even early in the process is a dangerous exemption to government access. She said the bill “stinks.”

“It’s critical that citizens know who’s applying for top positions in our government,” Harper said. “The whole purpose of the law is to provide access and participation in the process.”

U.S. Chamber gives Florida 'D' in education

he U.S. Chamber of Commerce just released its "Leaders and Laggards" report card on the state of education in each state and gives Florida a "D" in academic achievement and workforce readiness. Florida gets an "A" however, in other important categories: "Academic Achievement in Low Income  and Minority Students," "21st Century Teaching Force" and in collecting data on student readiness.

The report also gives Florida low grades for "Truth in Advertising about Student Proficiency" and "Rigor of Standards," ranking it a C in both areas. For the full report, click here. For the Florida data, turn to page 20.

Gov. Crist to host State of State dinner

Gov. Charlie Crist wants to start a new tradition Monday. On the eve of his first State of State address, he will host a State of the State dinner. It will include 100 or so of his closest friends and supporters, and he's invited one member of each news organization.

By contrast, former Gov. Jeb Bush invited the guests that planned to attend his State of the State speeched to a meet and greet in the governor's office for coffee and bagels on the morning of the speech.

February 27, 2007

A new center for the Heat?

Dscn0427_2 Hanging with Shaq: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, and more than a half dozen of her colleagues joined President Bush to fete the Miami Heat at the White House Tuesday. Bush, not pictured in the photo, called standing next to the Heat's center "an awe-inspiring experience."

Photo of Ros-Lehtinen, courtesy of Eddy Acevedo of her DC staff. Those who know their Florida congressional delegation will be able to recognize Panhandle Republican Rep. Jeff Miller in the back. Sorry, no photo-shop for the red eyes.

Taking on deadly driveways

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has joined his fellow senators in pushing legislation to make driveways safer for toddlers.

The bill, filed by Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and John Sununu, R-N.H., would provide drivers with a means of detecting when a child is behind a vehicle. It would also require that a car's service brake engage to prevent roll-aways.

Nelson, who has signed on as a co-sponsor, says the bill has the support of major child-safey and consumer groups. Nelson's office said estimates suggest that 50 children a week are backed over, often in their own driveways.

The Senate Commerce Committee, on which Nelson serves, will hold a hearing Wednesday in hopes of passing legislation to direct federal agencies to create child-safety programs. Among those expected to attend is Arden Rosenfeld, a Boca Raton woman whose 2-year-old, Veronica, was run over by a neighbor who didn't see the girl.

Wilson's "Black Men" panel has inaugural meeting

Sen. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, said today she was outraged at the country's
obsession in saving endangered species such as Manatees -- and not black men and boys.

"What's more important to save? Animals, forests, or people?" Wilson asked fellow
lawmakers and community leaders of the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.

The council, which was Wilson's brainchild, met for the first time today in Tallahassese. The main mission of the 20-member board: study and help cure the social ills affecting black males. It has four years to achieve that goal.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, tasked with guiding the group, told leaders: "While I'm not black, I've had the opportunity to observe the young men who fit that profile."

He suggested the council focus on reducing black-on-black crime and the "disproportionate number'' of black men and boys locked-up in prison.

"We need to have programs to divert those children from the path that they're on,"
McCollum said.

McCollum, who has opposed automatic restoration of civil rights for convicted felons, used the meeting to send an olive branch of sorts to the group on that issue. He proposed a plan to reduce the backlog on restoration of civil rights cases heard by the Clemency Board by expanding the board from the governor and Cabinet to a panel of 10 more people. Members would serve one-year terms.