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340 posts from March 2010

March 31, 2010

Dockery takes a stand; McCollum, Sink don't

The most heated debate in Tallahassee today is expected to concern Sen. J.D. Alexander's plan to close two state-run prisons to populate the private Blackwater prison in the Panhandle.

Where do the three leading gubernatorial candidates stand on the issue?

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum dodged the issue and CFO Alex Sink, a Democrat, wasn't available for comment. Only upstart Republican candidate Paula Dockery, a state senator from Lakeland, took a stand. She called the deal "outrageous" and demanded a more thorough vetting.

McCollum's office issued a non-answer: "The Legislature is in the very early stages of the budget process, and I know they are facing tough decisions. I encourage them to continue to make public safety a top priority as they move forward in budget negotiations." His office didn't respond to follow-up questions.

And Sink's office said they couldn't reach her Tuesday evening.

As the candidates avoid the issue, state lawmakers worked behind closed doors late Tuesday to strike a compromise on Blackwater and the cuts to the Department of Corrections.

Continue reading "Dockery takes a stand; McCollum, Sink don't" »

Blackwater prison deal saves DOC jobs. But labor is 'really uncomfortable.'

Senate Democratic leader Al Lawson just announced in his caucus meeting that about 2,000 Department of Correction prison jobs would be saved under a compromise hammered out last night. Details were scarce.

"The $20 million taken form DOC will be restored. That will protect about 2,000 jobs," Lawson said. "That compromise is going to protect the jobs that we have." Lawson said the deal/amendment would stop the closure of a public prison. He also suggested Senate Democrats wouldn't fifght or debate too long because they want to amend the budget and then vote it out of the chamber today, instead of hosting the final vote tomorrow.

AFL-CIO president Mike Williams sounded alarmed. He said he was unaware of the compromise. And he wasn't warm and fuzzy about what he heard.

"This leads toward continued privatization," Williams said. "I can't stand up for any move toward privatization... I'm really uncomfortable with what's being proposed... I've got questions about the whole Blackwater deal that's being proposed... We're really uncomfortable without having any meaningful review."

As he reviewed the amendment, Williams said the deal was a giveaway that gave GEO Group "$1 million a bed."

Continue reading "Blackwater prison deal saves DOC jobs. But labor is 'really uncomfortable.'" »

Teachers flood Legislature in opposition to tenure bill

TALLAHASSEE — Teachers, parents and even some students are flooding the Legislature with e-mails and phone calls. They're protesting outside lawmakers' offices and organizing a rally today at the Capitol.

Their chief target: legislation that would make it easier to fire teachers and base part of their salaries on test scores.

"We just couldn't sit at home and do nothing while our profession is being attacked," said Carole Robinson, a biology teacher at Dunedin High School who is driving up for today's rally in Tallahassee. "There is just no collaboration going on. We were shut out of the process."

Teachers are focusing their energy on House members and Gov. Charlie Crist, who they see as their last line of defense on SB 6, which has passed the Senate and is pending in the House. Crist's office received 700 calls on the issue last week. House lawmakers have received hundreds of thousands of e-mails and thousands of phone calls, according to Speaker Larry Cretul's office.

Much of the effort is spurred by the Florida Education Association, the state's main teachers union. Spokesman Mark Pudlow said the union is explaining the bill's provisions to teachers and that "needless to say, they're not very happy about it."

Read more here.

Prison nurse to feds, SAO Meggs: Investigate Sansom's 'illegal' prison deal

"It has come to my attention that former Florida House of Representatives Speaker Ray Sansom may have been involved in another illegal, secret series of transactions financing and authorizing the construction of a $120 million private prison in Santa Rosa County..."

So begins a letter sent yesterday from Elva McCaig, a Panhandle prison nurse who hates prison privatization deals, to US Attorney Thomas F. Kirwin and Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs. Meggs is prosecuting former House Speaker Ray Sansom for his budget dealings connected to a contributor and a hometown college that gave him a job.

Kendrick Meek takes time for Haiti; Rivals for his seat take time to debate

The Miami Democrat -- who represents more Haitian Americans than any other member of Congress -- will be at the UN today for today's Haiti donor conference.

"Today’s meeting is nothing short of a concrete pledge that the international community stands with the Haitian people and is committed to helping our neighbor get back on its feet and come back stronger than ever,” Meek said.

The conference will reunite Meek with one of his biggest boosters: former president Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti. Also at the one-day event: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Haiti President René Préval. The goal of the conference is to bring together international donors to help rebuild the earthquake shattered country.

The conference comes as the contenders for Meek's congressional seat meet in Miami for a South Florida AFL-CIO-sponsored debate at the PipeFitters hall in Opa-Locka.

Florida oil drilling said to be on the table

President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will unveil the administration's plans for oil and gas drilling this morning and reports suggests exploration in the Gulf of Mexico 125 miles off Florida's coast are in the mix.

The New York Times says "the eastern Gulf of Mexico tract that would be offered for lease is adjacent to an area that already contains thousands of wells and hundreds of drilling platforms. The eastern Gulf area is believed to contain as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil and 17 trillion cubic feet of gas, the richest single tract that would be open to drilling under the Obama plan.

"Drilling there has been strongly opposed by officials from both political parties in Alabama and Florida who fear damage to coastlines, fisheries, popular beaches and wildlife. Interior Department officials said no wells would be allowed within 125 miles of the Florida and Alabama coasts, making them invisible from shore."

Obama is hoping to get support for a climate change bill but 10 coastal state Democrats -- including Florida's Bill Nelson who has vehemently opposed oil drilling -- say they won't support a big expansion of drilling.

March 30, 2010

First candidate files for Beverly Gallagher's old seat on Broward School Board

Patricia Good has filed to run for the Broward School Board, less than a week after Gov. Charlie Crist's office said it would hold a special election this fall to replace Beverly Gallagher.

Gallagher pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge two weeks ago. Crist suspended Gallagher after her September arrest in a corruption sting and replaced her with former Broward GOP chair Kevin Tynan, who has said he plans to run for the seat in August.

Good, a Democrat from Pembroke Pines, applied to be appointed to Gallagher's seat before Crist picked Tynan. Good, who works as an administrator for the Miami-Dade school system, had challenged Gallagher in 2004 and lost.

School Board races are non-partisan, but Tynan is the only Republican on the board. His district 2 seat represents Southwest Broward -- including Pembroke Pines and Miramar -- and is about 53 percent Democratic and 24 percent Republican.

Sen. Dockery: Stop 'outrageous' Blackwater prison deal

State Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican running for governor, just issued a press statement in opposition to the Blackwater private prison deal:

Senator Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), is strongly opposed to the lengthy proviso language that was quietly inserted into the Senate’s proposed budget during last week’s Ways & Means Committee hearing. “The proposal to close unnamed existing correctional facilities resulting in the layoffs of over 1,000 state corrections officers to move inmates to private facilities is a policy decision that deserves to be vetted through a completely transparent process. As chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, I find it outrageous that major change in how we run our state correctional facilities was not reviewed by committees that were created for this explicit purpose,” said Senator Dockery. “Transparency cannot exist when there has been no opportunity for debate or testimony.”

The newest LeMieux

Welcome baby girl Madeleine Meike LeMieux! At 7 pounds 2 ounces and 20 inches long, she's the first girl for Sen. George LeMieux and his wife, Meike.

Baby! Madeleine was was born at 2:35 p.m. Monday and the senator's office says mother and daughter are doing great and are heading home today. Big brothers, Max, 6, Taylor, 4, and Chase, 2, are excited to have a new sister in the family, his office says.

Get ready for state buget fun this week

The state budget takes center stage in the House and Senate on Wednesday. And based on the amendments already filed, it could be a lively debate.

In the House, Democratic Leader Franklin Sands gets the partisanship started with an amendment to allow state universities to conduct embryonic stem cell research, which is currently prohibited. Another from top Democrat Ron Saunders of Key West would rename the state budget the "Job Killer Act of 2010." Saunders is upset the budget cuts $466 million for road-building fund, which Florida Transportation Commission is also fighting. And Rep. Marcelo Llorente wants to cut the language proposed by House Budget Chairman David Rivera that would require most state agency chiefs to live within 50 miles of Leon County.

Continue reading "Get ready for state buget fun this week" »