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373 posts from March 2009

March 27, 2009

Meek coming back to fight class size change

The brainchild of Florida's class size amendment, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, is back in the game, ready to protect his legacy.

As the Legislature considers joint resolutions to loosen classroom limits mandated by the 2002 amendment, Meek sent letters this week to Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate urging them to protect "the will of the electorate" and also asking if he can meet with the Democratic caucus on April 13.

In nearly identical letters to Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, and Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, Meek said, "Turning back on the class size amendment now is a slippery slope. Already, county administrators have said that they would use the modified amendment as an allowance to raise class sizes in order to 'save' money. But, we cannot go backwards. There is no doubt that Florida faces a heavy lift economically. But years from now we will all be known by today's investments in and commitment to our youngest citizens."

Meek is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.

Dude, where's my money?

The Washington Post reports today that the national political parties are seeing a sharp dropoff in donations from a similar time period two years ago.

The Herald wrote last month -- story here -- that the tough economy seemed to be putting a damper on fundraising in Florida. The numbers are coming soon: state officeholders and political parties file April 10; federal officeholders and candidates file April 15.

The collision of tough times and technology results in some unconventional fundraising methods. U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami sent out a video. State Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach is making use of an on-line Democratic fundraising site called ActBlue. And Former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami is distributing personal testimonials from donors, titled, "Why I'm standing with Marco Rubio.''

RudyMayorMy name is Rudy Mayor, and Im standing with Marco Rubio. I'm 20 years old, was born and raised in Hialeah, Florida and am currently studying political science at George Washington University. I'm just a college student, but yesterday I contributed $20 to help jump-start Marcos campaign. Will you join me in standing with Marco by making a $20 contribution today?

Cretul holds line on new taxes

It's fitting that House Speaker Larry Cretul has a cool demeanor -- "I'm just wired to be calm," he told reporters this morning -- because it captures his chamber's response to the fast-flying plans coming from the Senate.

On a cigarette tax: "We are not close to anything yet. And when I say yet, that's a careful word I use. We're not there. But should the discussion begin to happen ... we've got a tax and finance committee that will take that particular proposal should it become necessary to look at it or unnecessary to look at it and do thorough vetting."

On the Senate gambling proposal: "What's being proposed by the Senate is certainly beyond what the House has been talking about. My reaction is I want to hear the discussion and debate. ... You've got to be careful on this. It's hard to pull back if you get too far out."

Continue reading "Cretul holds line on new taxes" »

Wasserman Schultz, pulling in the big bucks

CQ Politics reports that House Dems are "privately circulating a tally showing members of that caucus where they stack up in fundraising for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee."

In good standing, Florida's Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The story notes the Broward Dem is one of two "up and coming Democrats with leadership aspirations" who have "pitched in large bundles of cash." Wasserman Schultz, who is heading up incumbent retention for the House group, has raised a total of $637,000 for the committee, including $450,000 for vulnerable Democrats, dubbed "Frontline" members.

Rubio raises 'moral issue' about gambling's 'fool's gold'

Marco Rubio, former House speaker and U.S Senate candidate, joined leaders of the Christian Coalition and the Florida Baptist Convention Friday to condemn legislators for contemplating expanded gambling both on Indian lands in around the state as a way to close Florida's $3 billion budget  gap.

"The Seminole compact is an agreement where the state must create millions of losers to give the state the dollars they seek,'' said Dennis Baxley, former state representative from Ocala and now director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.

He said the economic promises coming from the tribe and others are likely exaggerated. He said that to get to the $1 billion in projected revenues from a Senate bill that gives the tribe full casinos and the horse and dog tracks lower-level slot machines, gamblers would have to lose $7 billion.

"Some things you just don't do, no matter how broke you are,'' he said. "The broad expansion of predatory gambling would be, metaphorically, the largest tax increase in Florida history.''

Continue reading "Rubio raises 'moral issue' about gambling's 'fool's gold'" »

Vets hospital missed problem on first review; Meek tours today

The Miami Veterans Affairs hospital, which may have exposed thousands of veterans to HIV and hepatitis by using improperly sterilized colonoscopy equipment, gave itself a clean bill of health in January, only to discover problems two months later after a more intensive review, VA officials told U.S. House members in a closed-door briefing Thursday.

The green light came weeks after the Department of Veterans Affairs, in a Dec. 22 alert, warned veterans hospitals nationwide to check for problems associated with colonoscopy equipment. The alert followed similar reported problems at a Tennessee VA clinic that also could have exposed thousands of veterans to hepatitis and HIV.

The findings have prompted calls of outrage and demands for an investigation from members of Congress. Rep. Kendrick Meek tours the facility today.

Continue reading "Vets hospital missed problem on first review; Meek tours today" »

March 26, 2009

The Dream revisited

Lincoln Diaz-Balart and California's Howard Berman have teamed up to reintroduce the Dream Act, which would give a legal path to residency for students and members of the military.

“Our students and brave soldiers should not be punished for a decision which was made by their parents, in which they often played no role," Diaz-Balart said. "The Supreme Court has prohibited states from barring undocumented students from attending primary and secondary schools. Unfortunately, once these students graduate from high school, their educational aspirations are often halted."

The bill could help students like Juan and Alex Gomez, whose parents were deported back to Colombia.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant advocacy organization based in Washington, hailed the bill's introduction and suggested it was "yet another indication Congress is getting ready to tackle reform of our broken immigration system."

That remains to be seen....

Mother Teresa and class size?

Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, he the brainchild of this idea to put the penny tax increase and the class-size modifications together in one fall ballot proposal, said "everybody is kinda excited" about the idea.

"I don’t know whether we can get it out of here if we’re going to put it on the November ballot this year," said Wise, chairman of the Senate preK-12 appropriations committee. "It takes a 75 percent vote. ... We’ll see. We’re going to give it the old college try."

He said the bill would be out as "soon as we get all the language agreed to by all the parties involved, from the teachers union, to the superintendents association, the school boards association, principals association and Mother Teresa or whoever. Everybody is gonna kind of have a chance to look at it and make sure it meets our standards."

Told that Gov. Crist doesn't think the measure has a chance of getting the required 75 percent support of both chambers to be put on a special election ballot, Wise said: "It doesn’t matter. ... Stranger things have happened. It depends on who’s putting pressure on who. The one thing is, it goes from us, straight to the ballot. It bypasses the governor."

Amy Hollyfield, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Of bulletproof vests and per-student funding

Day 2 of 2009-10 budget discussions in the Senate preK-12 appropriations committee brought more specifics on the proposals and a breakdown by county of proposed per-student funding.

First, the breakdown. For most counties, the changes are minor, not surprising given that the Senate budget proposal keeps per-student funding equal to the 08-09 level:

  • Miami-Dade: $6,899.93, an increase of .84% from 08-09
  • Broward: $6855.89, an increase of .02% from 08-09
  • Monroe: $8,384.12, an increase of 4.04% from 08-09

As for proposals, the biggest thing chairman Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, touts is the flexibility for districts as far as spending.

"Out of a $17.9 billion budget, only about $1 billion is not flexible spending," he announced.

There's also a plan to extend the adoption cycle for instructional materials from six years to eight years; to lower school board member salary limits to match legislator salaries; to reduce superintendent salaries by 5 percent and make other revisions to administrator salaries; and a separate bill that would create a school district accountability millage, where districts would be required to levy an additional millage for failure to comply with state fiscal requirements.

Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, expressed concern over the "great task of having the House conform" to the Senate's plan.

Joked Wise: "We voted while you were gone to purchase a bulletproof vest and we’re going to send you over there as our emissary. And if you don’t come back then …"

To which Bullard exclaimed: "You love me because you put me in a bulletproof vest!!"

Amy Hollyfield, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Florida's "41st senator" passes away

Longtime state Senate aide Joan Glickman died Wednesday, according to the Broward legislative delegation office.

Glickman served as a Senate aide for former senators Howard Forman, now Broward Clerk of Courts, and Darryl Jones, of Miami. She also worked as an aide for current Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.

Glickman's tenure and personality prompted some to refer to her the state's "41st senator."

No additional details on her death were available Thursday.