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311 posts from April 2008

April 29, 2008

Abortion bill ready for Senate vote

After some delays, proposed law to require all Florida women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound -- then have a chance to view the image of the fetus -- is close to a vote in the Florida Senate, after a similar bill passed the House earlier this month.

After almost two hours of debate over two days, the proposal is ready for a final vote later in the week. The bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican, requires doctors to perform an ultrasound any time a woman comes in seeking an abortion and then let the woman see the scan and explain it to her, unless she signs a form waiving the option to view 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.

Supporters have said the scans help women make an informed medical decision. And Webster said most Florida abortion clinics already require ultrasounds as part of their standard clinic procedures, so he argues the bill only adds the requirement that women have the chance to see the scan.

”This has to do with informed consent,” Webster said. “If you’re going to make an informed decision, this is the best information possible.”

But opponents have said the ultrasound provision is really meant to create another hurdle for women seeking abortions and say the decision to perform an ultrasound should be left to doctors.

"This is kind of like Big Brother coming in and saying 'Ok, you're going to have to do this,'" Sen. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat, said last week. "None of us went to medical school that I know of...Why is it we think we can provide women better information than a doctor?"

Critics also said the bill would make the procedure more expensive by requiring women to pay for the scans, which can cost between $100 and $200.

Florida law already 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.

Bill to crack down on "death by pedicure" clears Senate

A proposal to increase the amount of training needed to style hair and perform facials and manicures -- and decrease the number of infections (and in severe cases amputation) -- cleared the Senate Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, passed the Senate 38-0. It would require would-be cosmetologists to take 1,200 hours of training, up from 1,500. The hours of required training for estheticians (those licensed to perform facials) would increase to 600, up from 260. And nail technicians would need at least 350 hours of training, up from 240.

It also would allow hair stylists to take only 1,000 hours of hair training instead of taking the other hours needed to become a full-fledged cosmetologist.

"I do believe there needs to be some protection for those who utilize, particularly those nail and skin places, because one does not know what is being placed on their skin or body until something shows up on their skin," said Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami.

Legislators passed a similar bill last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Happy Days for gov: no budget vetoes

Happy Days are here again. The budget on the desks of state lawmakers today is such a work of legislative dexterity that Gov. Charlie Crist today says he doesn't want to veto a lick of it.

"I am so grateful to the members of the House and the Senate for what they have done with this budget,'' Crist said. "This Legislature is in the Golden Era of the Florida Legislature. They are finding ways to meet the needs in a fiscally prudent way. "

"I have no inclination to want to veto anything that they have done because of the great work that they have done and how truly grateful I am."

Later, he explained, "It's a tough year budgetarily. It's probably never been more difficult. We had to reduce the budget like $5 billion. To be able to continue to fund in a very significant way programs that are very important to the people of Florida.''

Webster apologizes for calling gambling bill "disgusting"

Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, apologized on the Senate floor Tuesday for calling a bill to allow greyhound racing at cetain jai alai frontons "disgusting" and "nauseating," saying he only meant to convey his opposition to gambling.

The proposal by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, died 14-25 Monday.

"Those are not words I would normally choose," Webster said. "If [Aronberg] understood them that way, then I understood them that way too. And I apologize."

Crist major announcement? Another climate change summit

Gov. Charlie Crist this morning announced he is holding another "Serve to Preserve" summit on climate change and global warming. It will be held in late June in Miami and Crist said it will be focused on stimulating investment in environmentally-friendly technology.

Crist also praised the energy bill being worked on this final week by state lawmakers and the fact that they stashed money for energy programs in the back of the $66.2 billion budget that arrived on the desks of legislators on Monday evening. He also emphasized his continued support for nuclear energy and said if the U.S. Navy can do it safely then utility companies should be able to do it.

And when asked a question about how much he veto from the budget, Crist responded by praising state lawmakers for putting together a budget in tough times and said "I have no inclination to veto anything they have done."

Crist puts the move on Morgan Fairchild

The Washington Post's Reliable Source suggests Florida's governor was on the prowl at a pre-White House dinner brunch and "hit on" actress Morgan Fairchild.

"So, do you ever get to Florida," the Post quotes the governor as saying.

"Worst pickup line ever?" the Post asks.

Dems tout national support; GOP leader says they're wasting their money

Miami-area Democrats, who think they've got their best shot in years at knocking off three South Florida Republicans, are touting some high-level assistance: Rep. Chris Van Hollen, head of the committee that helps House Democrats get elected.

"'We are absolutely committed to winning these seats because we think there is a tremendous opportunity in South Florida,'' Van Hollen said as he made the rounds Monday in Miami, stumping for former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia and businesswoman Annettte Taddeo.

His Republican counterpart welcomed the contest, but said he's confident that voters will return Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to office.

"'You're not going to beat Ileana; you're not going to beat Mario; and you're not going to beat Lincoln,'' Rep. Tom Cole said. Read more here.

The six faced off on rising gas costs Monday, with Garcia calling the GOP'ers push for a gas tax break for commuters a "cruel joke." Read more here about the plan Mario Diaz-Balart said would offer commuters "immediate relief."

The challenge is attracting national attention with the Democrats charging that US-Cuba policy is flawed. Bloomberg News is the latest to take a look at the matchup.

A do-nothing Congress? Not when it comes to watermelon

Sure there's a war, a housing crisis and rising gas prices, but today Congress will offer a tip of the hat to a summertime favorite, watermelon.

The House is scheduled today to take up a "sense of the House" resolution that there "should be established a National Watermelon Month." The push for the melon's recognition is led by Florida's own Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, who last year told DC's The Hill newspaper that there's a "huge watermelon-producing area" in his district, and "who doesn’t love watermelon?"

"If you’re going to have an Ice Cream Month, you have to have a Watermelon Month. It’s good for you. It has lycopene," a highly powerful antioxidant, he told the Hill.

Putnam, an influential GOP'er who chairs the House Republican Conference, also acknowledged that National Watermelon Month was unlikely to be the high point of his time in Congress.

"I wouldn’t let it be on my gravestone or anything," he said. "But it’s very healthy, very healthy."

Abortion issue puts Crist in tough spot

A bill mandating ultrasound scans for all women seeking an abortion faces an uncertain vote Tuesday in the Florida Senate, where moderate Republicans are banding with Democrats to defeat it -- thereby sparing Gov. Charlie Crist from tackling an issue on which he has shifted his stance.

Crist has steadily avoided saying what he thinks of this latest proposal, which would require a clinic to provide an ultrasound -- and an explanation of it -- to a woman seeking an abortion in the first trimester.

But in comments last month to the National Review magazine, Crist was asked if he favored any change to abortion laws. He responded: ``No. I'm comfortable with the status quo. So are most Floridians.''

More here

April 28, 2008

Prop tax hike in budget after all? Dems say it's a budget 'sleight of hand'

Despite promises that property taxes would be "held harmless'' in this year's budget, legislators want school districts to spend property tax revenues intended for school construction on classrooms. 

Democrats are calling it a little "sleight of hand'' -- and an attempt to avoid showing deep cuts to the base education formula.

The final budget bill passed out on all 160 legislator's desk tonight shows that they're swapping $374 million in capital outlay money and dropping it into the general school budget. To achieve this, they created a special box on the Education Finance page of the final budget conference report that shows the discretionary money for capital construction -- which usually never shows up on the school budget sheet.

This is "smoke and mirrors,'' said House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber.

Not so fast, says Senate Budget Chief Lisa Carlton. This was the approach the Senate took all along. "It was hard to find money for education this year,'' she said.