Despite being pushed around because of bad weather, several different rallies and protests went on with their plans today at the Capitol.
As legislators defend against a lawsuit accusing them of unconstitutionally drawing redistricting maps for Republican advantage, a House committee on Thursday passed a bill protecting lawmakers and their staff from being forced to testify and turn over documents.
Proponents said the timing of the bill had nothing to do with redistricting, but instead was a long-overdue attempt to clarify the law amid recent attempts to subpoena legislators.
“We’re seeing more and more people filing litigation,’’ seeking legislators to testify in depositions, said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, who presented the bill on behalf of the committee. Seated in the front row were the lawyers for the redistricting committee.
A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of inmates and volunteers at a Hillsborough County women's prison intended to force the state to keep it open.
The Attorney General's Office, representing the Department of Corrections, has filed a motion to have the suit dismissed. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is presiding over a hearing about the lawsuit this afternoon.
The Department of Corrections wants to close Hillsborough Correctional Institution as a cost-saving measure. The House's budget includes funds to keep the prison open, but the Senate's does not.
Updates to come.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill today that paves the way for Florida to reject federal water pollution rules and set individual standards for each water body.
"The future of our state's environment and economy depend on the health of our water bodies, and the state's rules will ensure the protection of both," said a press release from Scott's office.
The move may only fuel the years-long battle between at least a dozen stakeholders, including environmental groups and large businesses and farmers that pollute. At issue is the level of "numeric nutrients" in the water, caused by runnoff from farms and yards.
Attorney General Pam Bondi's office, which led a lawsuit against the federal government opposing the standard, also weighed in.
"Florida has always had the best expertise and resources to determine how to protect our waters," she said in a press release.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency must approve the state standard before it can be implemented. For more, click here.
Two competing coalitions advocating for PIP reform have ramped up their activities this week even though neither legislative chamber was scheduled to discuss no-fault auto insurance this week.
First, a cadre of business, insurance and law enforcement organizations released a TV advertisement featuring Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford urging viewers to contact legislators about personal injury protection reform. In the video, Rutherford blames trial lawyers for contributing to the issues plaguing PIP.
The “Put the Brakes on Accident Fraud” Coalition, which is associated with "Gear Up Florida," has taken pains not to mention specific legislation, but its materials, talking points and now the TV add appear to indicate support of the House's PIP legislation (HB 119). Rutherford, who serves as legislative chair for the Florida Sheriffs Association, said he prefers the House version over the Senate's.
A Senate panel has approved a Department of Health reorganization plan that closely mirrors changes the agency requested for itself: a streamlined mission, fewer divisions, and closure of the A.G. Holley State Hospital treating tuberculosis patients.
And that puts the Senate version, Senate Bill 1824, in contrast with the House proposal that added another controversial component: decentralizing the Department of Health and shifting many of the duties, as well as costs, to county governments.
The Senate's Health Regulation Committee, the legislation's first committee stop, approved the measure on a unanimous vote.
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, the committee's chairman, said he will work with the sponsor of the House proposal, Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, in hopes of reaching a compromise that doesn’t overly burden counties or dissolve the core functions of the agency.
“If we can do it in a way that will still maintain the Department of Health here in Tallahassee, vigilant of what is going on in our local communities, I think it is something worth supporting,” Garcia said.
Despite heart-felt appeals from students, a bill to offer in-state college tuition to children who were brought to the U.S. illegally was killed on a 4-3 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.
Sponsored by Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, the bill would have created a state version of the DREAM Act, the federal proposal that refers to Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors Act.
Students who can’t prove their residency now must pay out-of-state tuition, which is roughly three times higher, and usually do not qualify for financial aid.
Nanci Palacios, a 19-year-old college student, was brought to tears when she spoke of her three siblings and their chances of going to college. She said she graduated with a 5.0 grade point average, with more than 200 community service hours, was a member of student government and now is enrolled in a community college paying more “three times more than any other student.”
Antitax crusader Grover Norquist dropped in Tallahassee Thursday for a meeting with Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and a speech at the Florida Center-Right Coalition meeting.
Buzz spotted him waiting for his meeting in the lobby of Gov. Rick Scott's office in the Capitol.
He met with Carroll a year ago because she had suggestions for Center-Right leadership, he said (there are Center-Right meetings throughout 48 states, he added). Thursday's meeting was a follow-up. He did not meet with Scott because they spoke at CPAC last weekend.
We asked what he thought of Scott's job performance.
"General progress," Norquist said. "He's keeping taxes down. Forty-five states followed his lead last year in not raising taxes and instead reducing spending."
"She's done a good job. I saw her on the campaign trail. I think she's a great spokesman and a serious hard worker."
The Times profiled Norquist in September.
The Parent Empowerment Act won the approval of the House Education Committee on Thursday -- and now heads to the House floor.
The proposal, which is also known as the Parent Trigger Act, would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools. In some cases, a majority of parents could even petition to have a traditional neighborhood school transformed into a charter school.
Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, amended the bill before Thursday's meeting. The new version clarified how many parents per child can sign a petition (one) and added several safeguards to the petition process. For example, the proposed legislation now clearly states that parents cannot be paid for their signatures.
Armando Olivera, the president and chief executive officer of Florida Power & Light who is retiring in May, was appointed Thursday to a four-year term on the board of trustess for Miami Dade College. Olivera announced in December that he is retiring from FPL, where he has worked since 1972.
From the press release:
Olivera, 62, of Coral Gables, has been the chief executive officer of Florida Power and Light Company since 2003. An employee with the company since 1972, he was a senior vice president from 1999 to 2003. Olivera has been on the Cornell University Board of Trustees since 2009 and a member of the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council since 2001, serving as a past-chair.
As a business leader, he has been a member of the Florida Council of 100 since 2007 and served on the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors from 2004 through 2011. Olivera received a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Miami. He succeeds Robert Fernandez and is appointed for a term beginning February 16, 2012, and ending May 31, 2015.