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322 posts from May 2009

May 06, 2009

Budget turkey giblets: Leadership legacies, nicotine, machine guns, etc.

There wasn’t enough cash this year for rank-and-file legislators to submit hometown spending requests (aka “member projects” aka “turkeys” in some Tallahassee talk aka “pork” in D.C.). But legislative leaders are still writing a few priority issues into the budget:

$600,000 for a UF student dental clinic.  A priority of House Speaker Larry Cretul, it became a flashpoint when Miami Republican Rep. Juan Zapata tried to strike it from the budget, only to be over-ruled. Zapata said it was a priority of House Speaker Larry Cretul, which Cretul's office denies.

$1.7 million to help Marissa Amora who was horridly abused. This is a priority of Senate President Jeff Atwater, who successfully carried her claims bill last year.

$760,000 to help Kimberly Godwin, who was also horridly abused. This is a priority of former Senate President Ken Pruitt.

$6.7 million for the Prodigy program for troubled kids. The chairman of the Senate's criminal justice budget committee, Victor Crist, sits on the the board of one of the 13 nonprofits that form Prodigy. He says the decade-old program got cut this year.

$500,000 for charter schools in Lake Wales, home of Republican Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander.

$5 million extra for the University of South Florida’s expansion in Lakeland in Alexander’s home county of Polk.

$1,298 to help move the Department of Citrus from Lakeland to Bartow.

$250,000 for the FIU Democracy Conference at the behest of Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera, a House budget chief. Rivera, however, backed off special budget language limiting Cuba travel and stem-cell research.

$11 million more for FIU to complete a medical school, another issue championed by Rivera and (likely) Miami Republican Rep. Anitere Flores. They’ll face each other in a Senate race that also features the other House budget chief Marcelo Llorente, who helped back Jackson Memorial’s call to bank surplus hospital cash.

Continue reading "Budget turkey giblets: Leadership legacies, nicotine, machine guns, etc." »

May 05, 2009

As gamble talks stall, Crist and Kottkamp show up at meeting

For the second time Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp arrived at the conference committee meeting on gambling to let them know “obviously this is important to the governor and we want them to continue moving it along.’’ Just as the meeting began, Gov. Charlie Crist arrived as well, after speaking with the key negotiators, Sen. J.D. Alexander and Rep. Bill Galvano, earlier in the day.

"I'm encouraged that they continued to work hard,'' Crist said.

Despite the hard work, the rift was still wide between the House and Senate approaches to authorizing slot machines and card games at the Seminole Tribe casinos and expanding gambling for parimutuels around the state. .

Negotiators met in three conference committee meetings Tuesday, making minimal progress on proposals.  But they remained firmly divided on the big tickets items -- whether to allow the tribe to operate black jack and banked card games exclusively at its facilities.

The Senate had offered earlier in the day by agreeing to limit card games at the tribal casinos to only blackjack at the tribe's Immokalee, Brighton and Coconut Creek reservations. But Rep. Bill Galvano, the lead House negotiator, rejected that approach, saying that it doesn't limit the tribal games enough.

"It wasn't a real move away from banked card games,'' Galvano said. "When we came into this, banked card games were not legally authorized at tribal facilities and...the tribe still went ahead and put them in Tampa. So that creates a lot of angst for the House of Representatives.''

He noted that since it was the House that brought the suit against the governor, challenging the validity of allowing him to authoriize card games that were illegal in Floirda, "we have to be very careful that we don't reward bad behavior.''

Continue reading "As gamble talks stall, Crist and Kottkamp show up at meeting" »

Tobacco changes: no cigars and 70 cents of wholesale price smokeless

Florida lawmakers have settled their differences on the cigarette tax and the bill to limit how much tobacco companies have to post to appeal a smoker's case against them.

They have agreed to impose no state tax on cigars and change the way they previously were imposing the tobacco tax on smokeless tobacco. Instead of $1 per ounce, they will now impose it at a rate of 70 percent of the wholesale price.

Legislators have also agreed to cap the total amount of money tobacco companies must post no more than $200 million to appeal rulings from the 8,000 or more Florida smokers who have cases pending against them.

Under the agreement, if the company has up to 40 appeals pending, it must post a bond of $5 million. If they face 40-90 appeals, the cap is $2.5 million. The amounts decrease depending on the number of appeals they face. If the case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the bond cap would be raised to $600 million.

They have agreed to some protections for plaintiffs. If the final judgment goes unpaid for 30 days, the bond limits are lifted.

Congressmen who visited Fidel to get a visitor of their own

With a push to open Cuba to travel and trade heating up on the Hill, Berta Antunez, sister of Cuban democracy activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez”, plans to deliver a letter from her brother to three members of Congress who recently traveled to Cuba and met with Fidel and Raul Castro
Antunez is also asking to meet with California Democrats Barbara Lee and Laura Richardson and Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush to tell them her brother was "outraged that these members of Congress would not take the time while in Cuba to meet with any of the island’s human rights and pro-democracy activists.

"There are brave men and women within Cuba that need to be heard," she said in a press release. "I hope that these members that traveled to Cuba to meet for hours with Castro, will take a few minutes to listen to the pleas of the victims of Castro’s repression."

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Mario salutes the women of the House, in a bipartisan manner

Marking Women’s History Month, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart saluted women on the House floor, among them: Broward Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Here's proof: DWS IRL Cong Rec 4-30-09 002

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Former Herald publisher to testify before Congress on "the future of journalism"

Alberto Ibargüen, the Knight Foundation's president and former Miami Herald publisher, will testify Wednesday before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology on the "future of journalism."

The Knight folks say his testimony will include input from external sources, including the Knight Commission public input project at www.pbs.org/publicinput. Ibarguen also invited input via a tweet @knightfdn Pres Alberto @ibarguen : "I've been asked to testify before a Senate committee on #futureofnews. What would you say?"

Other invitees: Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington and the publisher of the Dallas Morning News.

Word for word: Sen. Larcenia Bullard

As lawmakers wrapped up non-budget legislation last week, one of the biggest issues of debate was a doomed deal between the state and CSX to create SunRail near Orlando, and a Senate amendment to create a dedicated funding source for Tri-Rail, the 20-year-old South Florida commuter rail. During debate on the amendment, Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, commanded the Senate floor for nearly seven minutes. (At right, Times file photo by Scott Keeler.) Here is what she said:

President Jeff Atwater: We are on debate, Sen. Bullard, you are recognized in debate.

Bullard Sen. Larcenia Bullard: Thank you, Mr. President and members. We have taken on an issue that for two years, or two years now, had driven both houses in the Legislature. I believe that when that happens, you must understand that there’s a process and in this process, there are times when things happen that we may not understand on the front end, but sometimes down the road, you’ll sit back and say, “Well, why didn’t I?”

The Wright Brothers. I remember my grandmother telling me that they did not know, they had no CLUE that those airplanes were going to fly. But they did. Today we’re living in an economically, I would say, very rich society because at that time we were not economically stable, because people were doing things differently.

Continue reading "Word for word: Sen. Larcenia Bullard " »

Gambling negotiators make some concessions: help Hialeah

At mid-afternoon gambling meeting, the Senate made the following offer in the negotiations over gambling expansion in Florida:

* Hialeah Race Course would get bingo-style slot machines

* Jacksonville Kennel Club would get historic racing.

* Cardrooms at parimutuels would get no limit poker

* Gambling at the Seminole casinos in Big Cypress, Immokalee and Brighton, would get only Class III slot machines, no limit poker and blackjack. The Hard Rock casinos would get all those games plus the other banked card games of baccarat and chemin de fer.

* The tribe pay an additional 3 percent of its revenue share to offset the impact on local government.

The House offered the following:

* Requires the governor to negotiate agreements for sales taxes, especially requiring the tribe to collect and remit sales taxes for sales to non-tribal members and keep records of sales taxes for five years.

* Agrees with the Senate that the tribe attempt to spend its revenue in the state and acquire goods and services form Florida-based vendors.

* Agrees to prohibit quarter horse permits from operating within 35-miles of any parimutuel facility, except for Hialeah

Sink wants reform for agency overseeing pensions

CFO Alex Sink has sent a letter to State Board of Administration Executive Director Ash Williams today asking that he discuss the status of 10 recommendations she proposed in 2008 to improve accountability and oversight of the SBA’s investments at the next Cabinet meeting.

The letter comes just a few days after the St. Petersburg Times reported on deceptive and misleading practices by the SBA, which invests money for the state's retirees. Sink did not comment for the story.

Sink also cited in the letter her intention to propose reforms to the SBA Board structure and SBA reporting requirements at the upcoming Cabinet meeting.

Here's a copy of the letter and CFO Sink’s 2008 recommendations: Download Sink SBA letter

State Department: Iran still not forthcoming with info about missing Floridian

Sec of State Hillary Clinton met today with the wife of missing Floridian Bob Levinson to "express her concerns about the lack of information coming out of Iran," state department spokesman Robert Wood said.

"This case is obviously a very heart-wrenching humanitarian one," Wood said. "We continue to call on Iran to provide information about Mr. Levinson. It has not been forthcoming, and we're going to continue
to press this issue."

Wood said Clinton also wanted to tell Levinson's wife about the department's efforts to try to
gain information from Iran on her husband, though he offered reporters no details. He said Iran had not responded to a letter Clinton had delivered to Tehran, asking it to help return three Americans believed to be in Iran.

"We haven't gotten a response at this point," Wood said. "We're still pressing and will continue to press.