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230 posts from July 2011

July 29, 2011

J.D. Alexander wants Polytechnic separate from USF

How powerful is J.D. Alexander? So powerful that lawmakers (well, OK, not Sen. Mike Fasano) fell all over themselves in response to questions about Alexander's proposal to spin off the University of South Florida Polytechnic from USF and become an independent university.

"Sen. Alexander is immensely well-regarded in the Senate," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, slated to become the next Florida Senate president. "So sure, if J.D. Alexander advances an idea, it's going to be considered seriously."


Alexander, who championed a proposal to build Polytechnic a $35 million new campus during the last legislative session, this week publicly floated his preference for the campus to separate. Meanwhile, a letter from 29 Polk County leaders supporting the idea arrived in the office of Ava Parker, chairwoman of the entity that oversee's Florida's 11 public universities.

And Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said this: "If Sen. Alexander is behind it, it’s going to have some legs. I think everybody would recognize that if the Senate  appropriations chairman has something to say about just about any issue, people are going to listen. No question about it." 


Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, said this: "In order for Florida to really compete globally we need to have an excellent university system. That’s paramount. So you couple that with a statesman like Sen. Alexander, whose family dates back many years in Florida, his idea carries, with me, a lot of legitimacy."

Federal judge rules Florida drug law unconstitutional

A federal judge has declared Florida's drug law unconstitutional, potentially throwing thousands of criminal cases into jeopardy. U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven of Orlando issued a ruling Wednesday that struck down the state's Drug Abuse Prevention and Control law, saying it violates due process because it doesn't require that prosecutors prove that a person knew he or she possessed illegal drugs.

Lawmakers amended the law in 2002, becoming the only state in the nation to get rid of "guilty knowledge," also called mens rea. In essence, lawmakers eliminated the requirement that prosecutors prove that the defendant intended to commit the crime, shifting the burden of proof to the defense. Scriven's ruling aims to shift it back to prosecutors.

Pew poll: Barack Obama's lead "has vanished." Romney in GOP front, Perry surging

From the Pew Research Center:

The sizeable lead Barack Obama held over a generic Republican opponent in polls conducted earlier this year has vanished as his support among independent voters has fallen off.Currently, 41% of registered voters say they would like to see Barack Obama reelected, while 40% say they would prefer to see a Republican candidate win in 2012. In May, Obama held an 11-point lead.

This shift is driven by a steep drop-off in support for Obama among independents. The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 20-24 among 1,501 adults and 1,205 registered voters finds that just 31% of independent voters want to see Obama reelected, down from 42% in May and 40% in March. Where Obama held a slim 7-point edge among independent registered voters two months ago, a generic Republican holds an 8-point edge today....

Meanwhile, there is no greater clarity to the GOP nomination race. Only about a quarter of voters (24%) have given a lot of thought to their 2012 options. That rises to just 30% among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Overall, Romney continues to hold a significant lead among Republican voters: 21% say they would like to see him win the nomination. Rick Perry gets the support of 12%; 11% back Sarah Palin, 11% Michele Bachmann, 9% Ron Paul and 8% Herman Cain. No other candidate receives more than 3% of the support of Republican-oriented voters. Perry and Palin have not yet said whether they will run.


Dem gov. chief O'Malley bashes, thanks Rick Scott and the "tea party governors"

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the head of the Democratic Governors Association, was in Miami yesterday for a meet-and-greet with DGA donors and the longshoremen. (First impression: O'Malley could play well on the national stage, with a clear speaking speaking style and blue-collar sensibility from a Mason-Dixon state). We caught up with him, and O'Malley gave a taste of what the national Democratic message will be in the 2012 elections.

In some ways, it's all about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, as well as his fellow conservative Republican freshmen, Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Their policies have made O'Malley's job a little easier, he said, in selling the Democratic message.

"This new crop of governors, this last class, the tea party governors, are helping to draw distinctions between Democratic and Republican governors that were sometimes a little more difficult to see in the past," O'Malley said. "Whether it’s in how they negotiate with labor unions -- their philosophy about infrastructure -- they live in a make-believe world. I don’t think it’s a Republican or Democratic notion that a modern economy requires modern investments, but these guys would have you believe that the beginning and end of a governor’s job is just to cut."

"They look at labor unions as the enemy," he said. "For some of them, they believe that in this crisis there is an opportunity to break unions and to even scores with political enemies. I’ve never looked at the workforce as the enemy."

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July 28, 2011

Bill Nelson's gotta debt plan

Sen. Bill Nelson issued an 11th hour debt plan this evening -- interesting time considering this story and the fact that his office hadn't mentioned any of this to us despite ongoing talks. Here's the press statement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson tonight joined a handful of other senators in trying to advance a new plan to resolve the nation’s debt stalemate, unveiling some of its details in a Senate floor speech.

There would be an immediate cut of more than $2 trillion in spending to lift the debt ceiling.  Then within six months an independent committee would recommend another $2 trillion, or a total of $4 trillion, in specific long-term spending cuts.  If Congress cannot agree on the cuts with a straight up or down vote, then the President would have the option of again raising the debt ceiling until sometime in 2013. 

The latter part of the idea stems from a plan put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that also gives Congress the right to disapprove the President’s decision.  The new idea also combines the main provisions of two other different plans on the table with McConnell’s, one from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and one from Speaker of the House John Boehner.

 “I’m just a little country boy, but it seems to me that sometimes we get so wrapped up in all the intricate details that the obvious solution is just right there under our nose staring us in the face,” Nelson said of the idea in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday night.

 The Florida Democrat and member of the Senate Budget Committee pitched the idea to a number of other senators Thursday morning, including his Republican counterpart from Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio.

 The plan, Nelson said, gives everybody something: spending cuts, revisiting the debt ceiling in a few months, but giving the President the power to lift it if the two political parties can’t agree on cuts.

Nelson said that in combining the best of the three existing but divergent plans already on the table “we have the solution right underneath our noses. … And it seems to me like the obvious solution, since we are now at the eleventh hour and getting close to the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour.”

Following is a summary of Nelson’s plan, and a transcript of his floor speech:


Debt Ceiling Compromise

·        6-month extension of the debt ceiling

·        Immediate $2.2 trillion in 10-year deficit reduction solely from spending cuts (discretionary spending caps, overseas contingency operations, mandatory savings)

·        Joint Congressional Committee on Deficit Reduction directed to produce recommendations in six months for an additional $2 trillion in deficit reduction

o   Everything on the table

o   Fast-track Congressional consideration (up or down vote, no amendments) for Joint Committee recommendations

·        Authorization for President to increase debt ceiling in six months through December 31, 2012, subject to disapproval vote by Congress

o   Disapproval resolution could be vetoed, Congress could vote to override the veto

{ Not an official transcript of the senate proceedings.}

Mr. Nelson:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Mr. President, we are here awaiting the action of the House of Representatives. We don't know whether the House is going to pass the John Boehner proposal.  But regardless of what they do, we have the solution right underneath our noses.


There have been discussions today.  I've had a number of discussions with our colleagues.  I've had a discussion first this morning with my colleague from Florida and have had discussions with others.  And it seems like to me that the obvious solution, since we are now at the 11th hour and getting close to the 59th minute of the 11th hour, is that you take elements of both the Reid proposal, the McConnell proposal and the Boehner proposal. 


And so I would suggest that our leadership consider, regardless of what happens in the House, because the Senate's going to have to act on something to get 60 votes to meet the filibuster threshold here in this chamber and then send a package back to the house.  And I would suggest that it be this -- that we take the Reid proposal of the larger amount of spending cuts.  Senator Reid at first said that's $2.7 trillion.  Maybe it's been by CBO marked down at about $2.2 trillion.  But that whatever that larger amount, clearly larger than the Boehner proposal, even though some would argue that it's the Iraq and Afghanistan war wind down savings that you would get, but whatever it is, it is larger than the House proposal and use that as the first cut by lifting the debt ceiling.  But there would be a sequence of events that would happen after that to avoid what the Senate Democrats do not want, that the markets and the rating agencies cause the debt instruments, the U.S. Treasury bills, to be downgraded.   There needs to be certainty for those rating agencies for the United States government debt.  And it could be achieved this way. That you have a BRAC-like committee, that would be composed equally of Republicans and Democrats that would come up with a package that would then come back to each house, no amendments, up-or-down vote.  But that the fail-safe backup in case that that committee were not able to come to agreement, or in the event that it came back to both houses and one of the houses did not pass it, that you would then have the McConnell proposal which is that the President would request the increase of the debt and there would be this procedure that Senator McConnell had laid out that there would be a resolution of disapproval if there were such a disapproval, then the President, of course, could veto it.  And in order for the President's veto to be overridden, there would have to be a two-thirds vote and there would not be a two-thirds vote and, therefore, there is the assurance that you would have the raising of the debt ceiling to get us through this next year and a half. 


It seems that it's right under our nose.  And if the parties will just realize that now is the time that we have to act and we have to find the workable solution that we can get the votes. Now, if we can get, with that kind of proposal, 60 votes here in the Senate, then it goes down to the House.  Whether they've passed the Boehner proposal or not, at the 11th hour and the 59th minute, recognizing what's at stake for the country, then the House of Representatives is going to do the right thing and they're going to pass it.


Mr. President, I'm just a little country boy, but it seems to me that sometimes we get so wrapped up in the all the intricate details that the obvious solution is just right there under our nose staring us in the face.  And I would respectfully request that the Senate consider this.


Mr. President, I yield the floor and I would suggest the absence of a quorum.



Lakeland's Dennis Ross among the GOP freshman to tell John Boehner "no"

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, took the bold step today of saying "no" to House Speaker John Boehner.

Ross was among the freshman Republicans who told Boehner, R-Ohio, that he wouldn't be voting for the speaker's debt-ceiling proposal. Republicans struggled Thursday to find enough votes within their own ranks to pass a GOP plan to cut future deficits and raise the nation's debt limit — even though their party leaders were solidly behind the plan. And even though recalcitrant Republicans marched in and out of Boehner's office Thursday for arm-twisting sessions. 

Ross had this to say on Facebook about his decision: "Let me just say, that it makes me sadly chuckle on the inside when I hear folks who were here in DC when pres. Bush didn't pay for the wars, raised discretionary spending by more than most Democrat Presidents, and generally approved budgets that led us down this path, tell me that "I don't get it." -- and I mean folks in MY party."

Boehner postponed an early evening vote on the debt ceiling to continue to twist arms. Instead, he and other leaders worked furiously to persuade 217 Republicans to vote for passage. 

Handsome salaries for Miami-Dade mayor's new hires

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is demanding concessions from county employees in a bid to cut spending. At the same time he is handing hefty salaries to his new coterie of top advisors that rival -- and even surpass -- some of the pricey compensation packages paid in the previous administration ousted by a voter recall.

Gimenez’s kitchen cabinet, announced Thursday, will be:

•  Ed Marquez, a former Miami city manager who will make $267,000 to serve as one of five deputy mayors, a newly created position similar to the previous job of assistant county manager;

•  Jack Osterholt, who is leaving his post as executive director of the South Florida Regional Planning Council and will earn $250,000 as a deputy mayor;

•  Genaro “Chip” Iglesias, the former Key Biscayne village manager and previous Gimenez aide, who will now serve as chief of staff and deputy mayor for $225,000;

• Alina T. Hudak, the county manager and top administrator when Gimenez was elected last month, who will stay on as a deputy mayor earning $259,000;

•  And a fifth deputy mayor to be hired in coming days.

“I want the best people available to help me reduce the size of this government and reduce costs,” Gimenez said. “Sometimes that doesn’t come cheaply.”

More here.

On debt ceiling, lawmakers turn to Spanish-language radio

If you tuned into Spanish-language radio in Miami Thursday, you were bound to hear from federal lawmakers -- and wannabe lawmakers -- making their cases on the debt-ceiling battle in Washington D.C.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, speaking on WQBA-AM (1140), put the blame of the impasse squarely on a Senate controlled by Democrats and on President Barack Obama.

The House's proposal is imperfect, Diaz-Balart acknowledged. "But up to now, the only thing we have from the Senate or the President are speeches," he said.

"The one responsible if this doesn't get approved is one person, the president," Diaz-Balart said. "He's in another world. It's as if he were in his living room drinking martinis" and not paying attention, he added.

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Online travel settlement in the works for Orange County

A settlement is in the works for Orange County's multi-million-dollar lawsuit against online hotel discounters Expedia and Orbitz, according to sources close to the agreement. The agreement, expected to be taken up at the Tuesday meeting of the Orlando County Board of Commissioners, is very hush-hush.

Orange County comptroller Martha Haynie told the Orlando Sentinel today that the agreement "is not done until it's done" and referred us to her attorney, who is out of the office until the end of the month. The county was seeking $10 million a year, up to $100 million, from the companies in lost tax revenues. Haynie told the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday that those estimates were "too high." Sounds as if the settlement is going to be a fraction of what they thought they could get.

This could be a pretty big deal if the commission approves the settlement and the four-year Orlando case is over. First of all, Orlando is one of the largest hotel markets in the world and this settlement is likely to be noticed by several other pending cases in Florida and around the nation. A case involving 16 Florida counties is scheduled for trial in February in Leon County Circuit Court and another involving Broward and Osceola counties is also pending there.

Also, legislation could resurface again attempting to clarify the law and put an end to all those lawsuits and the Florida Cabinet is expected to hear a report from the Department of Revenue on this issue Aug. 16.

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No end yet to lethal injection drug hearing

A hearing that began Thursday morning on the new use of an anesthetic drug in Florida’s legal injections will continue next week, after a Miami judge decided that scientists for both sides should testify in person and via video conference on Tuesday.

The hearing stems from the case of Manuel Valle, sentenced to death for shooting and killing Coral Gables Police Officer Louis Pena in 1978. Valle’s execution, initially set for Aug. 2, was temporarily stayed by the Florida Supreme Court on Monday until Sept. 1, pending a hearing on the safety and efficacy of the drug in question, pentobarbital.

The defense’s expert witness on the drug was unable to be in Miami before Tuesday, when the judge was scheduled to be on vacation. The prosecution’s expert could have testified by phone Thursday, but Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola — apparently postponing her vacation — said she would be more comfortable seeing the witness’s face by video to establish his credibility. That expert will testify Tuesday, too.

A quiet but alert Valle, 61, appeared in court Thursday, handcuffed, carrying a bulky file and wearing orange-and-blue prison garb and thick glasses that slid down his nose.

He turned occasionally to look at family members seated in the courtroom and spoke only halfway through the proceedings, when his lawyer told the judge Valle preferred to go back to Florida State Prison in Starke than to sit through the remainder of the hearing through Tuesday.