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413 posts from April 2009

April 30, 2009

Space Florida is safe, but DCA budget may lose

Having used his power as budget chairman to cut an agency's money as an effective two-by-four, Sen. Mike Fasano relented Thursday and agreed to restore all of Space Florida's $3.9-million state grant in next year's budget. Fasano had slashed it by $2-million a day earlier in response to the agency spending $300,000 for two no-bid lobbying contracts. "They got our message," Fasano said at a conference committee meeting. "We certainly hope that will never happen again."

The House also wants to slash $1-million from the state planning agency, the Department of Community Affairs, whose boss, Tom Pelham, has clashed repeatedly with House members over proposed changes to growth management laws. But Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, a proponent of eliminating DCA and shifting its growth management powers to regional planning councils, said the proposed raid was not intended to punish Pelham. "We had to find $1-million, and that's where we found it, basically," Glorioso said.   

The Senate-House conference committee on transportation and economic development also agreed to slash film and motion picture incentives -- a governor's priority -- from $10-million to $3-million.    

-- Steve Bousquet

Bill to curb "doctor shopping" heads to gov

An attempt to curb prescription drug abuse and stop Florida's burgeoning pain clinic industry by creating a statewide drug-monitoring database is on the verge of becoming reality after passing the Florida House on Thursday.

The measure by Representatives Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami; Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton; and Kurt Kelly, R-Ocala; will create a statewide database will track the prescriptions written and filled for addictive medications, including narcotic painkillers, such as oxycodone.

Doctors, pharmacists -- and, in some cases, law enforcement -- can then use that information to identify people who are "doctor shopping," a term that refers to the practice of going doctor to doctor looking for prescriptions.

It cleared the House 103-10, after nearly 90 minutes of debate. A similar proposal passed the Senate last week, and it now heads to the governor.

"Let's end the practice of doctor shopping," Llorente said. "Let's do what we can to put the pain mills out of business."

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Lawmakers move closer on preK-12 budget

The preK-12 budget conference committee just met, with the Senate providing its counteroffer to last night’s House bid. The sides appear to be moving quickly to agreement, though the talk today was about provisions in the budget, not the funding numbers themselves. That comes later today. New in the Senate offer:

  • A pitch to preserve bonuses for all of Florida’s National Board certified teachers. The House plan was to limit the bonuses, which have been $5,000 a year, to classroom teachers in low-performing schools. “We don’t want to disenfranchise people who work hard,” said Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville.
  • A proposal to waive green building requirements for school districts during the 2009-10 school year, which would let districts meet building standards but not have to spend more money on environmentally friendly materials.
  • A plan to create a pilot study for English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, teacher training. The study would look at whether teachers with fewer hours of training could provide the same quality instruction as teachers receiving more training.

One of the biggest sticking points may end up being a plan to shift some property-tax money normally designated for school districts' capital budgets into its day-to-day operating budgets. That provision is still in the budget proposal, but lawmakers from Miami-Dade and Broward -- including Rep. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, Sen. Larcenia Bullard, a Miami Democrat, and Rep. Martin Kiar, a Davie Democrat -- said they hope to change that. Urban school districts with big-ticket construction, maintenance and technology have said the change might leave them without enough money for school upkeep.

A possible compromise: allowing school districts, at their discretion, so raise more property taxes to go to their capital budgets. Of course, that would pass the politically unpopular buck of raising taxes to school board members.

-- Amy Hollyfield and Patricia Mazzei

Hospital privatization bid dropped; tears of joy for Adkins?

The latest House health care budget proposal doesn't look good for the Boca-based GEO group, which sought to privatize Northeast Florida State Hospital -- and hired powerful lobbyists to get it done.

The House proposal ditches the proposed privatization, and word is the fight's over.

That just might bring tears of joy to Rep. Janet Adkins, who has literally cried this session while voicing objections to privatization of the hospital, which sits in her district.

New homebuyer tax break gets sudden life

Proving the truism that nothing is dead until Sine die, legislation providing a large exemption for new homebuyers has been given sudden life in the Senate. The bill, SJR 532, was yanked from several committees and put on today's special order calendar.

The Senate plan would provide an additional homestead exemption worth 25 percent of just value, up to $100,000 of value. The proposal would also reduce a nonhomestead assessment cap to 5 percent from 10 percent -- a carrot to get the needed 60 percent voter approval in November 2010.

Last week, Sen. Evelyn Lynn said the bill was all but dead, after leaders said it was too costly. But Gov. Charlie Crist's office, Realtors and others worked hard to get it moving. The House has already passed the lower cap, but has not taken up the homebuyer exemption.

A "presumption of correctness" bill also got new life today in the Senate. Similar legislation, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, passed the House 110-3 on Monday.

Vulture vs. Eagles

Look out trial lawyers (or Hall of Justice or whatever the lobby group's new name is). The eagle lapel pins they're wearing have caught the eye and ire of the retail/anti-trial lawyer lobby (justice re/de-form). So they're wearing vulture pins, about 100 of which were spread across the Capitol yesterday.

Why vultures?

"Vultures eat eagles," explained one lobbyist who, of course, spoke anonymously just like three others did. Apparently, courage isn't a vulture attribute. Nor is it shared by the eagle, apparently. Said an anonymous trial lawyer lobbyist: "Our pin as been for 20-some years and has more class."

Ha. Translation: Our pin is bigger than yours. So who's rubber and who's glue in this back and forth?

Legislative legend, Mallory Horne dies

Mallory Horne memorial The Florida Senate stood for a moment of silence this morning to recognize former Senate President and House Speaker Mallory Horne, 84, who died this morning in Tallahassee. The Senate s

"We were very fortunate to have Sen. Horne with us,'' Senate President Jeff Atwater said "The state is certainly a better place for that man's services.''

Horne was the only post-Reconstruction person to serve as both speaker of the House and president of the Senate and he is credited with having kept the state capital in Tallahassee when South Florida legislators were pushing to relocated it to Orlando.

Horne  attended the University of Florida and was president of the senior class in 1949. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II,

 Horne was honored in the Senate two weeks ago, on the eve of his birthday, and the Senate renamed a room in his honor. Several former lawmakers, family and friends joined in the recognition on the Senate floor.

"He was a man about town. He loved to party. There wasn't an adult beverage he didn't enjoy,'' said Sen. Jim King, a former president himself and Jacksonville Republican, at the time. "I have done my best to follow in those footsteps. Throughout his political life he never lost sight of the fact he was here to serve."

Wilson's restoration of rights bill making progress

Sen. Frederica Wilson is making progress on passing her bill to no longer make the restoration of civil rights a condition of employment or for obtaining licenses and other certificates of employment for felons who have served their time. The measure, which passed the Senate last year, is now on third reading in the Senate.

"This great legislation. It is long overdue.,'' said Wilson, a Miami Democrat, who noted that the Florida Sheriff's Association and FDLE . "Keep everyone working."

Sen. Jim King, who worked on the bill, said Wilson has been "just absolutely relentless'' and asked him to carry the bill through committees. "I don't believe we got a single negative vote on the whole thing...If you believe people go to prison to be rehabilitiatied Sen Wilson's bill is right on target. We need to give them something more than $5 and a suitcase.

"This will employ people who have already served time,'' he said. "It's a bill that will save us tons of money, probably tons of lives.''

Martinez and Menendez assail Cuba moves

Senators Mel Martinez and Robert Menendez are waving the caution flag over congressional attempts to weaken the trade embargo against Cuba, with Menendez taking to the Senate floor to note "without seeing any progress whatsoever on the part of the regime, it's hard to see why we should be looking for more opportunities to make additional concessions."

President Barack Obama's overtures to Cuba have enlivened the debate in Congress on boosting American travel and trade with the island with a contingent of farm-state senators expected to soon introduce legislation aimed at boosting agricultural trade with the island. But Raul Castro Wednesday discounted the administration's moves, saying the US still needs to lift the embargo.

"We have traded concessions and gotten only rhetoric in return," Menendez said. "We have extended our hand, while the Cuban regime maintains its iron-handed clenched fist. We cannot allow ourselves to start down a slippery slope of relaxing restrictions, that only winds up allowing the Castro regime to strengthen the iron fist by which it rules."

Greer has backbone of Steele

Once again, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer is rising to the defense of National Chairman Michael Steele. This time, Greer is trying to help Steele fend off a resolution that would require him to get approval from the treasurer and executive committee for expenses of more than $100,000.

"It would restrict his ability to manage the organization," said Greer told The Washington Post.

Greer himself faced allegations last year that he was mismanaging party money and using it for personal expenses.