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108 posts from February 2007

February 22, 2007

Voting machine show and tell

Secretary of State Kurt Browning on Thursday morning set up several voting machines on the first floor of the Capitol to show lawmakers what type of machines would be used if legislators agree to Gov. Charlie Crist's $32.5 million request to junk touchscreen machines in the 15 counties that now use them. Crist is advocating replacing the ATM-styled machines with optical scan machines that accept a paper ballot.

But in order to cut down on the number of paper ballots used, the governor's proposal would allow large counties such as Miami-Dade to still use touchscreen machines for early voting, as long as they had a voter-verified paper trail. One of the machines that Browning's office set up was an ES&S Ivotronic machine similar to the ones used in South Florida _ but attached to the machine was a printer which kept track of all the selections made by the voter. The voter could check to make sure the vote on the screen matches the printed tape, which would remain with the machine and could be used for a recount.

"We want legislators to be able to touch, feel and see what we are talking about,'' said Browning.

Also on display Thursday was the Automark machine _ which was certified for use a day earlier. It's a machine that would allow the visually impaired to vote by optical scan ballot. The state last year forced counties to purchase touchscreen machines in order to comply with federal laws that require handicapped voters to be able to cast a secret ballot.

Among those checking out the machines was Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola, who said that using optical scan ballots during early voting would be a logistical challenge because Miami-Dade can have hundreds of different ballot styles. Sola also wants to figure a way to have the optical scan machines inform those speaking Spanish or Creole when they have overvoted in a race.

February 21, 2007

Giuliani leads Clinton in national poll

Republican Rudy Giuliani topped Democrat Hillary Clinton 48-43 percent in a national poll released today by Quinnpiac University. That's within the margin of error of plus or minus seven points.

Here's another number: Clinton collected about $500,000 yesterday at private fundraisers in Coconut Grove, Hollywood and Tampa, organizers said.

She chose the historically black neighborhood of Liberty City for her only public appearance, the first in Florida as a Democratic presidential candidate. It was a smart choice, considering that black voters will make up roughly one in three Democrats casting ballots in Florida's presidential primary. Read the story here.

But some Broward Democrats are complaining that she scheduled her fundraiser at the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood at the same time as the monthly meeting of the local party's executive committee.

"It was the ultimate snub,'' Ann Zucker, president of the Weston Democratic Club and of the council of presidents, wrote in an e-mail.

Harrumph.

Contractors beware: Privatization under review

Gov. Charlie Crist just announced his four appointments to the new seven-member Council on Efficient Government, saying that three of the most controversial outsourcing contracts should be examined – Project Aspire, My Florida Marketplace and People First.

All the contracts, which seek to overhaul state technology and personnel services, have had numerous start-up and financial troubles, most notably with People First, a human-resources contract that Crist investigated when he was attorney general. Crist said privatization needs to be reviewed with one standard: Does it work?

“If it does, we should use it. If it doesn’t, we should not,’’ Crist said.

Said Alex Sink, the state Chief Financial Officer who will sit on the new council: “We’ve all seen the news reports about thousands or even not millions, of dollars lost to flawed privatization efforts, government waste or bad contracting procedures.”

Also on the council: Business and professional regulation chief Holly Benson, the department of management services boss Linda South, and Jim Zingale, head of the state’s revenue department.

Senate kills attempt to undo Bush legacy

After a lengthy and passionate debate, the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday morning killed a bill sponsored by Sen. Frederica Wilson that would have ended the A-F school grading system that was a key part of the A+ education reforms championed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The split was along party lines.

Wilson argued that only black schools received F grades and she pointed out how a magnet school in Miami-Dade County was attracting students yet because of juvenile delinquents told to show up to school, as well as an influx of Haitians and Cuban students, the school fared poorly on the FCAT, thus leading to a failing grade.

"Who gave us the right to be God and grade schools where children have to go every day?" questioned Wilson.

Her arguments, however, did not sway the Republicans on the panel, including Sen. Don Gaetz, a former school superintendent. Gaetz said getting rid of the grading system would just hide what was really happening at a school. "Taking down the scoreboard won't change the score,'' said Gaetz, who added "I believe getting rid of the accountability reforms Jeb Bush put in place is not the step to make our schools better."

Return of an elected education commissioner?

With no debate and hardly any discussion, the Senate Education Committee this morning voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that would return Florida's education commissioner to an elected position and a member of the Cabinet.

Sen. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat who has been sharply critical of education reforms enacted under former Gov. Jeb Bush, is the sponsor of the measure and says that voters should be able to decide who is directly responsible for the state's education programs.

"There should be an elected official specifically advocating for K-12,'' said Wilson.

Committee chairman Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former school superintendent, praised Wilson's bill and said he was in favor of it even though he is a strong supporter of the FCAT and education reforms pushed by Bush.

GOP drops debate fee but leaves fee to attend forum

In a magnanimous move to underscore the openness of the Florida Republican Party's pre-primary presidential debate, Party Chairman Jim Greer announced Tuesday there will be no $100,000 fee for candidates to attend the debate, despite early reports.

The $100,000 fee is still on, however, party insiders say. It's going to be charged for candidates who want to take part in the two-day event, including the candidates' forum scheduled for Saturday in which delegates will get a chance to ask questions of the presidential hopefuls.

House: Swap prop tax for 2.2 cents more in sales tax

House Republican leaders will unveil what they consider a "starting point" in the debate on property tax increases today with a plan to replace all property taxes paid by homeowners with a 2.2 cent increase in the state sales tax. Story here.

February 20, 2007

King's what-ifs include sex games

By Stephanie Garry

Sen. Jim King, a Republican from Jacksonville, brightened up a nearly three-hour meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committeetoday with questions about hypothetical situations.

After Sen. Paula Dockery presented her bill to make strangulation a felony battery to help curb domestic violence, King wondered if the law applied when the “victim” was a consenting adult.

Sen. Nancy Argenziano, the chairman of the committee, was perplexed, so he explained: “There are couples who engage in that kind of sexual game.” Chuckles then sounded in the crowded committee room. “Sorry I brought it up,” King said.

Later, King threw out a scenario regarding a glitch bill to clean up parts of the Jessica Lunsford Act. He wondered if the bill, which prohibits with certain criminal histories prohibited from working near schoolchildren, would apply to him if he’d gone to a football game, had a few drinks, "wee-weed" on a tire and was arrested for indecent exposure? The answer was yes, but Argenziano agreed that indecent exposure should be stricken from the list of prohibited histories.

Rubio tells members no bringing home bacon

House Speaker Marco Rubio delivered some solemn news to his members yesterday, saying that because of a tighter than expected budget, there will be no room for "program expansions, new iniatitives or member projects." That translates to bad news for the 120-member House, who often judge their effectiveness by how much they can bring home in local budget projects.

Rubio explained in a letter to members that while there is not room for new projects, there will be "adequate revenues" to fund traditional levels of service and pay for expected growth in schools, Medicare, Kidcare and safety and security. He didn't rule out members projects completely, just noted that to pay for them something else in the "continuation" budget must be cut.

Here's the member's project list. Here's Rubio's letter to members: Download funding_for_member_projects.pdf  Here's the story.

A Bush for Romney

News that the President's sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, is co-hosting a fundraiser for Republican candidate Mitt Romney is reviving speculation about former Gov. Jeb Bush's preference in the race. Read The New York Times item here.

Romney himself addressed the question Friday night in a visit to The Villages retirement community in central Florida. "Gov. Bush has told me that he is not endorsing a candidate, and I take him at his word,'' Romney said, as tears ran down his cheek.

Just kidding about the tears.