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311 posts from April 2008

April 30, 2008

Will the House "liar's lobby" kill Truth in Government?

Miami Republican Sen. Alex Villalobos' measure to make it tougher to lie to legislators while giving testimony just unanimously passed the Senate. Last year, the same thing happened and it died in the House, promptiong Villalobos to wonder if the "liar's lobby" killed his legislation. This year, the measure is stuck in a House committee.

The "Schiavo Nine" become the Ultrasound Seven

The Republican state senators who banded together in 2005 to help defeat legislation in the Terri Schiavo affair largely stuck together Wednesday in voting down an ultrasound abortion measure on a 20-20 vote that they said was too much government.

Of the Schiavo Nine, only Sen. J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales voted for the legislation. Sen. Nancy Argenziano is gone. The rest of the Schiavo Nine: Lisa Carlton of Osprey; Mike Bennett of Bradenton; Paula Dockery of Lakeland; Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach; Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole; Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville; and Burt Saunders, R-Naples.

The reward for the Schiavo vote: An Old-West style flier activists circulated that said "Wanted the Republican 9." As then, the de facto leader was former Senate President King as we told you about here.

Other votes of note: Sen. Gary Siplin or Orlando was the only D in favor. Sen. Mandy Dawson actually made it for a vote. And Sen. Jeff Atwater of North Palm Beach voted yes, despite much chatter that he couldn't afford a hardline conservative vote while running for re-election in his D-leaning district.

Pre-abortion ultrasound bill fails in tie

A proposed law requiring all Florida women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound -- then have a chance to view the image and have it explained to her -– failed in a tie vote Wednesday, after almost 90 minutes of impassioned debate about privacy, pregnancy and women’s rights that crossed party lines.

Key to the defeat were most of the Republican senators known as the "Schiavo Nine" for their role in joining Democrats in 2005 to block a measure to insert the Legislature into the Terri Schiavo euthanasia case. Only one of them, J.D. Alexander, of Lake Wales, voted for the measure. Another is no longer in the Senate.

Those lawmakers again chastised supporters for interfering with private choices, saying the decision to perform an ultrasound should be left to doctors and the decision to have an abortion should be left to the woman.

”My feeling is unless you ovulate or have ovulated, you have no business regulating female decisions on reproduction,” said Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican. “That decision should be honored. She should not have to go through more hoops imposed by government to give her a constitutionally granted right.

“I would hope that when a woman presents herself at that facility, she has already made up her mind…And I think if you change her mind, I’m not so sure you’d be doing the right thing for her or for the child that she would bear.”

The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican, requires doctors to perform an ultrasound whenever a woman comes in for an abortion. The doctor then is required to show the scan to the woman and explain it to her, unless she signs a form saying she does not want to see it

A woman would be automatically exempt from having to see the scan if she can prove she is a victim of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking. A woman would also be exempt from viewing it if delaying the abortion would cause bodily harm.

But no woman would be exempt for having the ultrasound performed.

House lawmakers approved a similar bill in a largely party line earlier this year. And Senators have spent the past few weeks counting (and recounting) every vote. Supporters have said the scans are necessary so doctors know how old the fetus is and so women can make an informed medical decision. Webster also said most Florida abortion clinics already require ultrasounds as part of their clinic procedures.

“If good medical practice dictates screening, what does no screening mean?” Webster asked. “Fill in the blank. It’s bad medical practice.”

But opponents have said the ultrasound provision is a veiled strategy meant to create another hurdle for abortions

Critics also said the bill would make the procedure more expensive by requiring women to pay for the scans, which can cost several hundred dollars, and that could leave poor women unable to afford the abortion.

“This bill places a financial burden on them and it places an undo burden on them,” said Sen. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat. “This is an anguishing, heart-wrenching decision for women. And I would suggest that they do not take it lightly. And I would suggest that they do not need the state to tell them what information they need.”

But supporters admonished opponents for arguing it would be bad for a woman to decide against having the abortion after seeing the ultrasound.

“God forbid a woman might change her mind,” said Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican. “God forbid.”

Current Florida law requires ultrasounds for abortions during the second and third trimesters. The proposed law would extend that requirement to the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, when most abortions are performed.

In 2006, roughly 96,000 abortions were done in Florida. About 90 percent of those abortions were performed during the first trimester. If approved, Florida would join 12 other states that require ultrasounds for abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The Florida House approved a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, in a largely party-line vote earlier this session.

Obama in Florida, sort of

Democrat Barack Obama hasn't campaigned in Florida since August and has only two or three staffers here to raise money. But the nation's largest swing state will be included in the campaign's "50-state registration and mobilization drive'' starting May 10.

The campaign -- which has recruited hundreds of thousands of new voters around the country - will be registering people in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach County, Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola. For times and locations, go to  http://my.barackobama.com/voteforchange.

Pray for evolution and abortion bill urges group

Saying the two pieces of legislation are their "top two priority bills," Florida Family Policy Council is urging people to "pray for the Evolution Academic Freedom Bill and the Abortion Ultrasound Bills during the final week" of the session.

The group said that "both of these historic bills face unique and sensative challenges." "At this point in the session, most of the grassroots lobbying efforts have been completed and we continue to work with individual legislators as necessary. Both these important measure hang in the balance over the next three days. We call upon you to join us in praying for the passage of these two critical bills...You have done great work contacting legislators when we ask you to do that. Now the remainder is out of our hands."

The group also asks that people "pray" that the House and Senate resolve differences in the evolution bill and that the Florida Senate will bring the abortion bill to a vote and that it will pass. The Senate is debating the ultrasound bill this morning.

Battle of the leader good-byes

What's a devoted lobbyist to do? Wednesday night the good-bye parties of two of the longest serving senators -- both of them party leaders -- will be happening simultaneously.

Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller's is 7:30-10 p.m. in the SunTrust building. Senate Republican Leader Dan Webster's is 6:30-8:00 in 212 Knott Building. Download gellers_goodbye.htm

Maybe this will help torn attendees make the decision which one to get to first. Geller's will feature what is touted as "the One and Only Senator Bullard singing 'Neither One of Us Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye.''

Teacher union: Crist and legis gave "empty political promises"

The Florida Education Association's Andy Ford took a swipe at Gov. Charlie Crist and state legislators who said schools would be "held harmless" under property-tax cut plans. But their tough-on-schools state budget suggests otherwise.

Likely counter: The economy is bad and everyone (except prison builders) took a hit.

Continue reading "Teacher union: Crist and legis gave "empty political promises"" »

GOP budget: More $ for prison beds than new classes. SoFla schools whacked hardest. The alligator turkey lives

Of the myriad losers in a state budget that cuts a record $4 billion in spending, public education will lose the most -- with Miami-Dade and Broward schools getting hit hardest of all.

The two biggest counties together will shoulder more than a third of the $332 million in cuts to K-12 classroom spending in the proposed budget lawmakers will approve when the legislative session ends Friday.

Those school cuts are a fraction of the total slashed from education: $2.3 billion -- 55 percent of the total cuts -- which will reduce spending on everything from construction to class programs in kindergarten through graduate school.

But classrooms won't be the only ones feeling the pinch of a $66.2 billion budget that represents the largest one-year drop in state spending. In the next few months, Floridians will pay more for boat registration, driver licenses and court fees as well as drunken-driving fines and college tuition.

Meanwhile, reimbursements for hospitals and nursing homes are decreasing, as is money for foster care and financial aid for students at private colleges.

The biggest budget winner: prison builders. They'll get $305 million to build one private and two public lockups. By the end of the budget year on June 30, 2009, the prison population is anticipated to swell to 107,000.

''If you build them, they will come,'' fretted Sunrise Democrat Sen. Nan Rich. She said higher prison spending was tough to justify, even though the social-services budget she helps oversee had the lowest percentage decrease: 1.9 percent, or $451 million.

All in all, Florida's schools, colleges and universities had the biggest cut in dollars as well as share: 9.7 percent. As a result, K-12 construction spending is $10 million lower than prison construction.

Full story here

Insurance politics: Rubio lobbies Dems for Atwater. Why would they help?

It was just after 9 p.m. last night , and House Speaker Marco Rubio needed to do some lobbying to help out fellow Republican and Senate President-designate Jeff Atwater, the insurance industry’s one-time bud turned election-year scourge. It seems other GOPers in the House don't quite like the legislation, which could be heard this morning.

So Rubio sat down next to Democratic Rep. Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale in the back of the chamber and made his pitch for an Atwater provision designed to speed up payments to the insured for undisputed benefits. If the money isn’t paid within 90 days, the insurer could be sued under Florida’s unfair trade and deceptive practices act.

"Ninety days! That's it. That's what he wants," Rubio told Seiler as a debate about Chinese-made products in dental fillings raged on the floor.

Seiler: "Why do you support this?"

Rubio: "Because it's Atwater's bill, and he wants it."

Seiler wasn't sure what this would do to the industry, lawyers or customers. So he went outside the chamber to check with the trial lawyer lobby in the Capitol rotunda. Meantime, Atwater’s fellow House Republicans like Rep. Dennis Ross are even more concerned, saying the provision could lead to a new “cottage industry” of easy-to-file suits against the industry.

Continue reading "Insurance politics: Rubio lobbies Dems for Atwater. Why would they help?" »

Compensation for slain Miami-Dade honors student passes state legislature

Gough Relief came late in the night for Jorge and Maria Gough: four years after the couple's 14-year old son Jaime, an honors student at Southwest Middle School, was brutally stabbed to death in the school's bath room, state lawmakers approved a bill releasing $1 million in settlement money owed to the family.

At 11:46 the House unanimously authorized releasing the funds, which were part of of a $1.7 million settlement reached between the Gough's and the Miami-Dade School District. The district accepted liability for the teen's death, but it was an uphill battle for the Gough's to get the money released by the State.

Earlier in the year a special magistrate ruled unfavorably against the claims bill, contending that the
school had no way of preventing Jaime's death. He was brutally stabbed 40 times by classmate Michael Hernandez, now 19, and awaiting a May trial date.   

Perhaps swaying legislators was the fact that Jorge Gough traveled to Tallahassee to sit through all of the committee hearings on his son's compensation bill which was sponsored by Sen. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, and Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Miami-Dade Republican.

"I made this promise to my son, that no matter what happened, I would do everything I could do to
keep my head up for his memory, " Jorge Gough said in a recent interview with the Miami Herald. "It's the only thing I can do. I want to see every session, be at every court hearing -- everything.''