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6 posts from December 20, 2012

December 20, 2012

Legislature wants budget transparency but exempts itself from the rules

Florida's lawmakers say they want to make the state's $70 billion budget process more transparent but when it comes to handling contracts and disclosing state salaries, neither Senate President Don Gaetz nor House Speaker Will Weatherford is quite ready to require the legislature be held to the same standards that it imposes on state agencies.

State law imposes strict rules for no-bid and sole source contracts in state government, requiring any contract over $250,000 be put out to bid and any sole source vendor to meet strict requirements. But the legislature has exempted itself from those rules.

There are nearly 33,400 contracts listed on the Chief Financial Officer's website with data on who gets paid for them and how much each vendor collects from taxpayers. The legislature does not list any of its contracts on the public site.

Anyone working for state government in an agency or state university has his salary posted for all to see on Gov. Rick Scott's FloridaHasARighttoKnow.com website. But there is no salary information for the legislature and its 1,530 employees.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who each became presiding officers in November, make it available only upon request. This doesn't please Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, himself a former Republican Senate president from North Palm Beach.

"I don't think the legislature should be exempting itself from the laws it is placing on other agencies,'' Atwater said last week. Story here.

PolitiFact examines Lenny Curry tweet about Charlie Crist and Todd Akin

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s evolution from Republican to independent to Democrat has prompted speculation that he will take on Republican Gov. Rick Scott -- and led to sharp criticism from Florida Republicans.

After CNN's Soledad O’Brien interviewed Crist on Dec. 12, 2012, RPOF chairman Lenny Curry took to Twitter to keep up the attacks on Crist. He tweeted: "Crist has a record of being rigid on guns, gays, marriage and abortion. He is making an indecent proposal to Dems."

Curry also tried to link Crist with U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri famous for his comment during his 2012 U.S. Senate bid that "legitimate rape" rarely results in pregnancy. Akin apologized for his comment and lost the election. Akin was a longtime supporter of bills that were backed by abortion opponents. He's now so famous that he is a point of reference for abortion rights.

Curry tweeted about Crist:  "BTW, he holds the same position as Akin on abortion."

He later tweeted: "Answer: Todd Akin & @charliecristfl hold same abortion views. No exception except the life of the mother. Google it. Its all there."

Democratic consultant Kevin Cate tweeted "I’ll let @politifact sort it out...."

Okay, we will.

Former Sen. Mike Bennett flip-flops on early voting as he prepares for new elections role

From the Bradenton Herald:

Manatee (County)'s newly elected supervisor of elections Wednesday called for more early voting days and more flexibility in setting up early voting sites.

Republican Mike Bennett, who will be sworn in Jan. 6 as the county's new supervisor of elections, echoed remarks made to CNN by Florida Gov. Rick Scott on how to fix the state's embarrassing election day meltdown.

During the Nov. 6 general election, Manatee voters waited up to two hours at the county's sole early voting site; in some counties, the wait was up to six hours.

In 2011, as the president pro tempore of the Florida Senate, Bennett voted to cut back on the number of early voting days. "I don't have a problem making it harder (to vote)," he was quoted as saying. "I want people in Florida to want to vote as bad as that person in Africa who walks 200 miles across the desert. This should not be easy."

But now that he's about to take over as the county's elections supervisor, Bennett said Wednesday he would like to see the number of early voting days restored from eight to 14, and more flexibility given to local officials in choosing early voting sites.

Bennett also advocated new voter registration cards with photo ID's for all Florida residents, paid for by the state.

Read more here.

Miami-Dade grand jury: Florida should reinstate absentee voting witness requirement

Florida should reinstate a requirement that someone witness an absentee voter’s ballot signature, and Miami-Dade County should work closely with assisted-living facilities in order to prevent voter fraud, according to a report issued this week by a Miami-Dade grand jury.

The grand jury, convened to examine problems with absentee-ballot voting, made 23 recommendations — 10 to Florida lawmakers, 13 to the county elections department — designed to tighten regulations for voting by mail and make it easier for law enforcement to punish violators.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle asked the 21-member grand jury to take on absentee voting following the August primary election, in which two Hialeah ballot brokers known asboleteros were arrested and charged with voter fraud and with violating a county ordinance that prohibits the possession of multiple absentee ballots.

“The headlines of the breaking news coverage revealed gaping holes in the absentee ballot voting process in our community,” says the report, released Wednesday. “As we discovered, each of those holes represented an opportunity for someone to commit fraud — undetected and in the shadows.”

Among the grand jury’s recommendations to the state:

• Reinstate a state requirement that a witness 18 years old or older witness an absentee voter fill out his or her ballot and sign it.

• Require that people who provide absentee voters with assistance fill out declarations similar to the ones required from people who help voters at the polls.

• Make it a third-degree felony for anyone to possess more than two absentee ballots, other than those belonging to the voter and an immediate family member.

• Exempt information on voters who have requested absentee ballots from political parties, candidates and political committees.

NRA: Charlie Crist a hunter? Maybe for political office, not deer

Picture 13As he postures to run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, newly minted Democrat and former Gov. Charlie Crist no longer wholeheartedly backs the NRA's agenda.

So Crist will no longer get the backing of the NRA.

Asked about Crist's gun flip flop yesterday, the NRA's Florida lobbyist and chief Marion Hammer took rhetorical aim.

"Are you surprised?" she said in an email to The Herald. "I'm not surprised that Charlie Crist is now joining the gun ban chant of anti-gun Democrats. Recently, Charlie Crist has been systematically turning his back on many things in which he has claimed to believe. He currently claims to be a deer hunter. I suspect that the only thing he has actually ever hunted is political office."

Crist was quite good at that, winning three statewide posts and only losing two statewide Senate races: a longshot 1998 bid against incumbent Bob Graham and the once-surprising 2010 loss to Marco Rubio.

The NRA backed Crist over Rubio.

But other events, the economy and the highly conservative electorate that year, overtook the governor. But for the events leading up to the Rubio loss, Crist had a sixth sense for perfectly positioning himself. So, in that regard, his shifted tone on guns is little surprise as he tries to boost his Democratic bonafides. Chances are, most gun voters are conservative and wouldn't have voted for the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Crist. 

Crist needs to appeal to liberals now, and reversing course on guns is just another star turn as he prepares to challenge Scott, who's now an easy pick for the NRA. Hammer said she doesn't regret backing Crist.

"At the time, he was steadfast in his support of the rights of law-abiding gun owners. We remain loyal to our supporters," she said. "If our supporters abandon the Second Amendment for political posturing or political gain, it's a whole new day."

Until now, Crist had a sterling NRA rating on guns while he was governor. But his actual firearm aim isn't so good. At least it wasn't in 2009, when Crist took a trip to the Tallahassee-area Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center with the namesake and his dad, media mogul Ted Turner (picture left). Crist was better with a bow and arrow than a 20-gauge shotgun. Like many people unfamiliar with target shooting clay pigeons, Crist didn't follow through on his shot.

In other Florida gun news, the state sometime yesterday issued its 1 millionth active concealed-weapon permit. We probably would have heard far more about the permits had the recent shooting taken place in Florida than Connecticut, which has far more restrictive laws than the Gunshine State (more about that here).

Voters don't like Scott's ideas on higher ed, won't legalize pot, but shift on marriage

Gov. Rick Scott can't seem to read the Florida electorate right these days. His latest suggestions for treating different colleges and students differently on education reform are unpopular, even more unpopular than he is, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters. Also unpopular are the Board of Education ideas to give students of different races different achievement goals.

Here's the release:

    Florida voters are dead-set against a series of recommendations made by state officials regarding education, with the largest opposition, 71 – 7 percent, against a plan to set different achievement goals for students of different races, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

    Registered voters also strongly oppose, 66 – 26 percent, charging lower tuition to college students who major in subjects such as math, science, engineering and computers that lead to higher-paying jobs, and higher tuition for liberal arts majors, considered less employable, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

    Voters also oppose, 73 – 16 percent, the idea of allowing some public universities dubbed as “preeminent” to charge higher tuition that other state colleges.

    Turning to public employee pensions, voters say 53 – 34 percent that it’s a good idea to make new state employees participate in a 401-k type retirement plan rather than the defined-benefit plan offered to current state workers.

    Opposition to race-based education goals is 73 – 7 percent among white voters, 63 – 11 percent among black voters and 67 – 7 percent among Hispanic voters.   Voters with children in public schools oppose the measure 69 – 10 percent.

    “Voters, with little difference along political, racial or gender lines, find setting different goals for different races to be distasteful,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. 

    “The data from this survey finds that voters like the idea of treating all students and colleges the same.”

    Florida voters also oppose 62 – 27 percent charging lower tuition rates for freshmen and sophomores than for juniors and seniors.

    They are also quite skeptical of Gov. Rick Scott’s challenge to the state’s colleges and universities to offer some four-year degrees for a total of $10,000.  Only 29 percent think it is very or somewhat likely to occur, while 66 percent say it is not very likely or not likely at all to materialize.

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