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166 posts from June 2007

June 27, 2007

School board salary change awaits Crist

Gov. Charlie Crist has just a few days left to act on dozens of bills, including a barely-noticed education bill, SB 2092, that repeals a controversial law that was pushed through by House Republicans in 2002. During a special session dedicated to a new school code, Republicans, including former Rep. Ralph Arza, pushed through a requirement that school board members must set their own salaries in a public meeting. This was a compromise over initial House proposals to do away with school board salaries altogether.

But Rep. Joe Pickens, a Palatka Republican and one-time attorney for the Putnam County School Board, tacked on an amendment in the waning days of the 2007 session to change school board salaries back to a formula that pays board members based on population.

Pickens said it was wrong that school board members are the only constitutional officers required to publicly vote on their own salaries, while others have their automatically adjusted according to a state formula.

"There is absolutely no reason for school board members to be the only constitutional officers to decide what their salaries are,'' said Pickens.

Mel takes friendly fire

Mel Martinez has taken a bashing from from Republicans angry at the Senate immigration plan, but the latest one strikes close to home.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Brooksville Republican joined some of her House colleagues this week in assailing the Senate immigration plan - and she singled out Florida's two senators.

"I was disappointed to see that both Florida senators voted to continue efforts to pass the largest amnesty legislation in American history," Brown-Waite said of Martinez and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, both of whom voted Monday to kickstart debate on the controversial measure. "I would hope that enough senators are willing to show the backbone necessary to stand up on behalf of their constituents and vote down this bad bill."

Back at home, a Central Florida man has launched a website aimed at gathering signatures to "recall" Martinez for supporting the bill that would toughen the nation's borders and legalize millions of illegal immigrants.

The founder of the site says in a press release that he "readily admits that it is going to be an uphill battle as over 514,000 signatures are required, and no national recall has ever succeeded.

Shaq brings weight-loss show to gov's doorstep

Gov. Charlie Crist will pitch-in to help Shaquille O'Neal in his drive against childhood obesity and win some prime time exposure for himself today. The governor has agreed to a two-hour taping for the basketball star's reality TV show on ABC, "Shaq's Big Challenge.''

The six-episode show focuses on O'Neal's quest to help six middle-school kids from Broward County lose weight and change their lifestyles. The show began airing on Tuesday and the governor's appearance is set for the final episode. In the first few minutes of his debut show, O'Neal explains that he is, "going to the Governor's Office butt naked, so that he will talk to me."

By all appearances, the basketball giant didn't have to go that far. By 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, the governor's office already had prepared the governor's large conference room for the cameras. The walls of dark-paneled room had been lined with paintings from Florida's Highwaymen series and television lights were draped in every corner.

By 4 p.m., the gov was out on the plaza with the svelte-looking middle schoolers and Shaq:   

Shaq_and_charlie_2

The show may force Crist to answer some tough questions, though. O'Neal's team of experts questions the quality of food served in the school system; asking, "isn't this the same food that they serve in prison".  The experts also say schools should all offer mandatory physical education classes -- going beyond the governor's push for PE classes in elementary schools.

Feds order Crist to finish gaming negotiations with tribe

Federal officials have given Gov. Charlie Crist an ultimatum: complete negotiations within 60 days with the Seminole Indian tribe to allow Las Vegas-style slot machines in their casinos -- or the federal government will do it for him.

The deadline was ordered by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in a letter dated June 22 but made public today. Crist said Wednesday he has not been briefed on the status of the talks and could not comment. Kempthorne commended the governor's staff for its commitment to talks with the tribe but, after six months of intermittant talks, he said time is running out.

"My goal is for the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe to reach an agreement," Kempthorne wrote, noting that if that fails the federal government will "impose procedures."

"If the parties not not reach an agreement on all or most of the outstanding issues within the next 60 days, I will review my options at that time."

Crist renewed negotiations in January, after they broke down between former Gov. Jeb Bush and the tribe last year. Crist who said he opposes the expansion of gambling said he supports giving the Seminoles Class III slot machines as long as it will result in additional revenue to the state.

"The tribe's preference would be to have a compact with the state," said Seminole attorney Barry Richard. "I think we could reach an agreement in less than 60 days. I think we could do it in one day, if we could just sit down and hammer out an agreement."

But he said the tribe has continued to press forward with other options, including a lawsuit, because the state has failed to reach an agreement with the tribe in the past. The tribe has met with the governor once so far, he said.

"It's easy for this to keep going to the back burner, otherwise," he said. Here's the letter, obtained by the Herald: Download dept. of interior letter.jpg One oddity, Kempthorne's name is spelled wrong!

Crist says there will be a special session on no-fault insurance -- stay tuned

Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday he "would be in favor of a special session before Oct. 1" but he "doesn't know whether he will call one soon or not" because he intends to first consult with House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt "and get their wisdom on what the timing should be." He said a special session is not a certainty but "keep posted."

"I favor the continuation of personal injury protection,'' Crist said. "It's important to hospitals. It's important to me.''

Likely included on the agenda will be the expansion of Kidcare, the governor said.

Thompson rising in Florida

Former actor and Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson -- still playing footsie with running for president -- has leapfrogged over John McCain for second place in Florida and Ohio and tied him in Pennsylvania, according to Quinnipiac University polls in the three battleground states.

"The Fred Thompson express continues to roll," said pollster Peter Brown. "Now the question is whether his candidacy, once he begins active campaigning, will be as strong in the flesh as it appears on paper."

One potential problem for Thompson in Florida, home to many Haitian-Americans: he was a lobbyist in Washington for deposed Haitian President Jean Bertrand-Aristide. Read that story here.

The Quinnipiac University poll shows other non-candidates such as Democrat Al Gore and Republican Newt Gingrich also surpassed hard-charging contenders. In a Democratic primary matchup in Florida, Hillary Clinton gets 38 percent, followed by 15 percent for Barack Obama, 13 percent for Gore and 8 percent for John Edwards. Among Republicans, Giuliani gets 27 percent, with 21 percent for Thompson, 13 percent for McCain, 7 percent for Gingrich and 6 percent for Mitt Romney.

In a potential general election contest, Giuliani beats Clinton 48-42 percent.

Crist allows university tuition hike for research schools to take effect -- in 2008

In a major reversal from his previous position, Gov. Charlie Crist told university presidents at a meeting in his office Wednesday he will allow the tuition differential sought by the University of Florida, Florida State University, and the University of South Florida to take effect. But he asked them to hold off its implementation until the fall of 2008 so that legislators can find the money to offset the student increase.

"I expressed to them that I wanted to hear what the other eight universities felt about it that weren't included and they represented to me that unianimously they support the legislation,'' the governor said after the meeting. "That was something I had not been apprised of yet."

Crist vetoed the 5 percent tuition hike approved by legislators last session and had threatened to veto the so-called tuition differential that would allow the research universities to incrementally increase their tuition 40 percent over few years with a yearly cap of 15 percent.

Crist said he is also pleased that the universities will first try to find the money for any shortfall in their budgets through the state's general revenue fund before turning to students. He asked them to "give us a shot to work it out through the budget process, rather than the tuition process and they agreed to do that.''

The agreement is a victory for the top universities who have announced they would have to take major budget cuts if they don't get the money they need to continue their programs. Florida universities have one of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. FSU has announced an enrollment freeze for next fall and predicts a $120 million shortfall and UF has threatened a similar freeze.

June 26, 2007

Dean overpowers Franks in Senate Dist. 3

Former Citrus County Sheriff and State Rep. Charlie Dean overpowered Democratic newcomer Suzan Franks in the District 3 race on Tuesday and claimed the seat held by former Sen. Nancy Argenziano.

GOP chairman Jim Greer said the victory “in a district in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans—clearly debunks Democrats’ recent claims that they are mobilizing support among Florida voters.” 

Dean said: “I am humbled that the voters in District Three trust me to serve as their voice in the Senate, and I will continue to fight for lower taxes, safer communities, and stronger families. I plan to hit the ground running and I look forward to representing the families and businesses of Senate District Three in Tallahassee.” 

Republican Ron Schultz, a former property appraiser in Citrus and Pineallas counites, was elected to replace Dean.

Crist gets out veto pen for petition bill and Babcock

Take that, Florida Chamber.

So sorry Babcock buddies.

Gov. Charlie Crist has took out his veto pen Tuesday and slam dunked the priority bill of the Florida Chamber of Commerce last session -- a bill to limit petition gathering. The governor's reason: the new requirements on signature gathering "signficantly burdens the right of Florida citizens to propose amendments.'' Here's the veto letter: Download sb_900_veto.pdf

Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group, which lobbied heavily against the bill, offered this assessment:

"The governor lived up to his “people’s governor” moniker today by vetoing this legislation that would have undermined direct democracy in Florida. We need more democracy in this state, not less.  It’s heartening to see that the Governor agrees.

Florida's Constitution is already the most difficult to amend among states with a ballot initiative process.  This bill was a pure power grab by the Chamber of Commerce.  These special interests already dominate the legislative process and they just can’t stomach the thought that citizen groups can bypass that forum and go directly to the ballot."

Crist also canned a bill that would have circumvented the management agreement the state has entered into with the owners of Babcock Ranch, the 75,000-acre preserve in Southwest Florida, regarding hunting and tenant farming. Down with the veto went the main goal of the bill: to give National Guard members and their families half-off admission to state parks. Here's the veto: Download hb_981_veto.pdf

Finally, the governor rejected a bill that he believes would "substantially rewrite the Administrative Procedures Act" by interfering with agency oversight ability. Download hb7183_veto.pdf

Kelly to replace Baxley in Ocala state House seat

Republican Kurt Kelly of Ocala will replace Rep. Dennis Baxley in House District 24 seat, GOP officials announced tonight.

GOP chairman Jim Greer released this statement:

“Once again, voters in House District 24 elected a leader with staunch conservative values and solid community involvement, leading Kurt Kelly to victory. The Florida Democrat Party did not even field a candidate in this race, demonstrating that that they are out of touch with Florida voters and unable to connect with mainstream Floridians, who embrace the Republican principles of lower taxes, less government, and more freedom.”