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467 posts from March 2011

March 29, 2011

Marco Rubio national spree continues w/ WSJ editorial: "I won't vote to raise the debt limit"

The Florida senator in a Wall Street Journal editorial says he won't vote to raise the debt limit when the current ceiling is hit sometime later this year.

"I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," he writes in the piece which will appear in tomorrow's WSJ.

Rubio -- who this week is raising his national profile -- isn't the first conservative to balk at raising the debt. Penn. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said he wouldn't do so without spending caps. And West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, says he'll buck his party and vote against raising the debt ceiling.

Bill could give dogs trained to fight a reprieve

State Rep. Luis Garcia wants to give dogs trained to fight a shot at redemption.

The Miami Beach Democrat is one of a handful of lawmakers trying to change the state’s definition of “dangerous dogs” to make it easier for people to adopt canines that have been involved in dog fighting.

As the law reads now, any dog that has been used or trained for dog fighting is considered a dangerous one. If found or surrendered to animal control authorities, those dogs are often put down or sent to private dog shelters.

Garcia’s measure, House Bill 4075, would allow animal shelters to decide on a case-by-case basis if dogs bred to attack — often pit bulls — or those used as bait to train fighters — think poodles — could be rehabilitated and, eventually, adopted.

“If a dog proves to be trainable, it would be put up for adoption and it would save his life,” said Garcia, who called himself an animal lover. Full story here.

NAACP leaders deliver priority list to Gov. Scott

Two civil rights leaders met Tuesday with Gov. Rick Scott and gave the new Republican chief executive a list of nearly two dozen priorities in areas ranging from education to health care to job creation to voting. Scott's visitors were Adora Nweze of Miami, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, and Dale Landry, the Tallahassee chapter president.

The NAACP's priority list includes smaller class sizes, elimination of racial and ethnic health care disparities, automatic restoration of civil rights for ex-felons (a program recently abolished by Scott and the Cabinet), expanded early voting hours and abortion rights.

The civil rights group opposes the recently-signed bill tying teacher pay to student performance, as well as shortening the period of time the unemployed can collect jobless benefits.

"It went pretty well, as well as could be expected," Landry said. He said Scott made no commitments and the meeting lasted for about 30 minutes.

-- Steve Bousquet 

Broward schools superintendent retires

Broward Schools Superintendent Jim Notter has just announced his retirement, effective this summer.

The move does not come as a surprise. In the past year and a half, the feds arrested former School Board member Beverly Gallagher, who is now serving time in prison, on corruption charges. Former board member Stephanie Kraft faces pending state corruption charges.

And last month, a statewide grand jury issued a scathing report saying jurors would abolish the entire school board if they could (which they can't, under state law). That prompted the school board, bolstered by four new members elected last year, to call for an unusual, interim evaluation of Notter.

After news of Notter's retirement spread Tuesday afternoon, Kraft, who has pleaded not guilty, tweeted: "So sad to hear that Jim Notter is retiring as of June 30th. I wish him well. He is a very caring person."

The Broward Teachers Union was swift to react, too: "By resigning, Superintendent Notter has taken the most important step possible in restoring the public’s trust in our school system," BTU President Pat Santeramo said in a statement. "Notter has been a leader in Broward schools for years as superintendent and deputy superintendent and simply cannot separate himself from the district’s pervasive culture of corruption and resulting public distrust."

Notter, a lifetime educator, has long said the superintendent job would be his last one. He is a grandfather -- one of his daughters is a Broward school principal -- and has served as superintendent since August 2007. Read Notter's school district bio here.

UPDATE: Read our full story on Notter's retirement here.

'Glades advocates ask Gov. Rick Scott not to trim money for projects

The Everglades Foundation and contractors involved in Everglades restoration efforts Tuesday asked Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers to keep spending money on the projects.

Contractors on the call said the projects help create jobs and that cuts -- as suggested by Scott -- could cause layoffs.

"The reductions have already affected our business and we would very much like to see current funding mantained, if not increased," said David Stites, director of environmental services at Taylor Engineering, Inc., in Jacksonville.

The state's highwater mark on restoration efforts was $200 million under former Gov. Jeb Bush. The state has spent just $50 million in each of the last three years, but Scott has proposed trimming spending to $17 million, said Kirk Fordham, director of the Everglades Foundation.

Lawmakers move ahead with proposal to end college tenure

Now that an overhaul of teacher tenure in public schools is a done deal, House Republicans have a new target: Tenure in the state college system.

On a party-line vote, a House education committee today moved forward with its bill ending multi-year contracts for full-time faculty. Existing contracts would not be affected, but all new faculty would have a probationary one-year contract. After that, they could get one-year contracts.

This bill would not affect the state’s universities.

Rep. Erik Fresen, chairman of the K-20 Competitiveness committee, said the bill is a result of conversations he’d had with unnamed college presidents who felt “handcuffed” by requirements of tenure contracts. He described the bill as an attempt to help colleges deal with budget shortfalls.

“We’re trying to figure out ways … of how we can make their job easier with less and allow them to fully respond to the environment they’re finding themselves in,” Fresen, R-Miami, said.

The bill is targeted at a fraction of the people working in community colleges. Of roughly 23,700 faculty, about 5,700 are full-time faculty eligible for tenure. Most of the rest are part-time adjunct professors. About 75 percent of the 5,700 full-timers are tenured, said Ed Mitchell, executive director of the United Faculty of Florida.

Mitchell said tenure is not a “job for life,” as Fresen portrayed it, and argued the bill sends a message to all would-be professors: No stability.

“If my choice is Florida with no tenure versus 49 other states, I’m going elsewhere,” he said.

Democrats on the committee also had problems with the bill. Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said the bill would put state colleges at a disadvantage not only to other states but also to private colleges. He cautioned against drawing parallels to so-called tenure in K-12 public school and in colleges, where it’s an accepted part of recruiting professors.

“We can’t pass a bill like this,” he said.

But Republicans on the committee said the bill was the right thing to do. Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said it aimed to “focus on the students” and not instructors.

“To see it as an entitlement, that you have this thing called tenure, it’s just fallen by the way side in my book,” she said.

The bill was a surprising release last Friday. Several college presidents at Tuesday’s meeting said they hadn’t had time to review the language.

Steven Wallace, president of  Florida State College at Jacksonville, told committee members his institution had already implemented many parts of the bill after negotiating with faculty and tied tenure contracts to clear performance measures. While tenure may have once been viewed as an entitlement by faculty, he said, “We reversed that.”

Committee members heaped praise on Wallace for that school's efforts. But Bullard noted that Florida State College had made the decisions at a local level. “So it didn’t require an act of the legislature," he said.

Fresen said adding the universities to the mix would have complicated the bill. Mitchell said he figures universities are next.

Rules Committee kills ethics bill targeting corrupt pols

Senator Mike Fasano's effort to stiffen penalties against corrupt lawmakers and public officials was killed on a 3-8 vote by the Senate Rules Committee, with most of the nay votes coming from fellow Republicans.

"Perception is everything. If you commit a crime, you should pay a penalty -- especially if you're a public servant," Fasano said.

But lawmakers like Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said they didn't like the idea of making more crimes into felonies. Siplin noted the case of former House Speaker Ray Sansom, whom he said was unfairly railroaded in a theft case by state attorney Willie Meggs, who dropped the case against the Republican this week. Siplin, who was convicted of an ethics crime but won on appeal, also took issue with the state's lobbyist gift-ban, saying it was bad for the state's economy.

The consensus of the committee: The laws are fine as they are and, even if a lawmaker isn't convicted of a felony, any charge against him can ruin his life.

Voting yes: Anitere Flores, Gwen Margolis, Dennis Jones.

Voting no: Siplin, Negron, John Thrasher, JD Alexander, Andy Gardiner, Chris Smith, Steve Wise, Garrett Richter


Mike Haridopolos ethics bill surfaces

The same Florida Senate committee that rapped Senate President Mike Haridopolos for filling out sloppy financial disclosure forms heard a bill Tuesday that would give future lawmakers a more guidance on how to file the documents.

The proposal by Haridopolos and the Rules Committee also would make it tougher for legislators to vote if they have a conflict of interest. Under the bill, a lawmaker can’t vote on an issue (the budget and implementing bills excluded) that “inures” to his, his family’s or his company’s special financial gain.

That language was copied word for word from Sen. Paula Dockery’s ethics legislation, though it didn’t go as far as the Lakeland Senator wants. She wants to bar lawmakers from participating behind the scenes in legislation that could exclusively benefit them, their family or their employer.

Haridopolos’ office struck Dockery’s original bill from a committee agenda last week, but made sure to include some of her legislation in his ethics package. The core of his bill would require the state’s ethics commission to review the public disclosure forms of each legislator. If the commission spots a problem, a lawmaker has 30 days to fix his forms or face automatic penalties.

Haridopolos had repeatedly “inadvertently” failed to properly disclose his finances, leading to an ethics complaint that ultimately led Rules Chairman John Thrasher to formally admonish Haridopolos on the Senate floor – a rare occurrence.

If Haridopolos bill passes, a lawmakers would be immune from an investigation and punishment, unless it's shown he intentionally filed false disclosure forms.

Contractors, engineers call on Scott to keep 'Everglades jobs'

A coalition of engineers, contractors and other construction business executives appealed to Gov. Rick Scott today to help keep and create jobs by investing in Everglades restoration.

In a letter to Scott, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, the contractors warned Republican leaders that more budget cuts would mean less work for Floridians.

Under former Gov. Jeb Bush, Everglades restoration reached $200 million annually. Since then, spending has dropped 75 percent. Scott's budget would cut it down to $17 million.

The Everglades Foundation, which organized a conference call with reporters and business executives today, released a poll earlier this month that showed most voters opposed further cuts.

Here's the letter to Scott:


Continue reading "Contractors, engineers call on Scott to keep 'Everglades jobs'" »

Rep. Kriseman to Gov. Scott: Funding beach renourishment is a "no-brainer"

The governor should reconsider not providing any money for beach renourishment in his budget proposal, according to a Tuesday letter sent by Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg.

Beach communities had requested the state Department of Environmental Protection fund $101 million in renourishment projects this year, but Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposes nothing for these projects.

The House appropriated $8.3 million for renourishment, Kriseman wrote, which is a "a terribly low and inadequate figure, but it's at least an acknowledgment of the problem."

"If you're serious about making your campaign slogan a reality, getting Floridians back to work and investing in our tourism-based economy, funding renourishment is a no-brainer," he wrote.

Kriseman references a March 12 St. Petersburg Times story that mentioned a study revealing each state dollar spent protecting Florida's beaches that have public access prevents the loss of $8 in state taxes paid by out-of-state tourists and resident users of those beaches.

The Times reported that DEP has $75 million from prior years that it hasn't spent yet, but that money is already committed to other renourishment projects.

Read Kriseman's letter here: Download Kriseman_beach