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8 posts from January 9, 2014

January 09, 2014

Latvala faces long odds in bid to toughen residency requirements

“This is an issue that we’ve been working on for some time,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, during a Thursday news conference about his new bill intending to stop lawmakers from fudging where they live.

Since at least last summer, Latvala has been pushing Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford to authorize inquiries into whether certain lawmakers, especially Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, lived outside the districts they represent.

While Latvala swears this isn’t a political crusade, just remember that Sachs defeated one of Latvala’s allies in the Senate in 2012 who would have boosted his chances of becoming Senate President in 2016. During an April Senate ethics committee, Latvala lashed out at his spoiler, publicly accusing Sachs of violating the residency law. Sachs has maintained that she didn’t.

Because Florida law isn’t clear on the matter, Latvala hoped to clarify it himself.

So why didn’t Thursday’s unveiling of his long-awaited legislative cure feel more like a victory for Latvala?

Blame the number of questions swirling around his bill and the House companion sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

A legal opinion released on Wednesday is the main problem.

Continue reading "Latvala faces long odds in bid to toughen residency requirements" »

NEWS ALERT: Precourt takes the job everyone knew he would take

Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, sure played it coy the other day when he said he'd have to talk to his family and think about taking that lucrative $175,000 to $200,000 job at the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority

Well, in a Thursday release surprising no one, here is his resignation from the Florida House. 

Statement by Florida House Representative Steve Precourt regarding Resigning from the Florida Legislature  

Tallahassee, Fla.—Florida House Representative Steve Precourt (R-Orlando) today released the following statement regarding resigning from the Florida Legislature.

“Today, I submitted my resignation as a member of the Florida House of Representatives to Speaker Will Weatherford. Serving in the Florida Legislature has been a great experience, and I am grateful to have worked alongside such esteemed men and women. Working to establish fiscally conservative policies, reinforcing limited government, protecting the unborn, and standing for religious freedom were some of my proudest moments. Representing the constituents of Central Florida in Tallahassee has truly been an honor and I look forward to continuing my service in another capacity.  As I work towards an agreement with the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, I commit to maintaining their good reputation. I vow to work hard to uphold the highest standards when serving their customers, the public, the stakeholders and all the many constituents."

Rubio: Pathway to citizenship no sure thing

Sen. Marco Rubio was blunt Thursday: A single comprehensive immigration-reform bill won’t pass Congress — and a pathway to citizenship for those illegally in this country is no guarantee, either.

Rubio indicated he’s prepared to vote for a series of immigration bills from the U.S. House even if none has a citizenship pathway.

“Just because it doesn’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something,” Rubio said. “Ultimately, you don’t solve the immigration problem unless you address the people who are here illegally.”

The Florida Republican said a major hurdle is GOP mistrust of President Obama, whose administration has selectively enforced some immigration laws and “unilaterally” delayed aspects of Obamacare.

As a result, he said, House Republicans worry that passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill would give Obama the chance to legalize the status of up to 11 million undocumented immigrants while slow-walking and delaying border-security efforts dear to conservatives.

“We have tried the one-big-bill approach. I do not believe that it is feasible given the current political climate and the distrust of government,” Rubio said.

More here



Aaron Cohen Act finds early support on Senate panel

A bill seeking to create tougher penalties for hit-and-run drivers won approval from the Senate Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee on Thursday.

The proposal is being called the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act in memory of a Miami cyclist killed in a hit-and-run crash in 2012. 

Proponents say the measure is needed because Florida law gives drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents an incentive to leave the scene. The driver who fatally struck Cohen was sentenced to 364 days in jail for taking off after the crash. He would have faced a minimum of four years had he been found guilty of DUI manslaughter. (Police suspected he had been drinking.)

The version of the bill that came before the Senate panel on Thursday looked slightly different from the original draft. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, first proposed a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for leaving the scene of a crash with fatalities.

He amended the term to four years in a strike-all amendment.

"At the very least, you have the proportionality with [the penalty for] DUI manslaughter," Diaz de la Portilla said. "There is no incentive to flee."

He added: "This is about protecting people not wearing a metal exoskeleton.”

Enda Walsh, who was riding with Cohen at the time of the crash, expressed his support for the bill Thursday, as did Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz.

"Somehow, the information became it is easier to take a gamble and leave the scene, than it is to stand there and face the consequences," Diaz told the Senate panel. "This is one bill that is actually going to save lives."

The bill passed by a 10-0 vote. 

It must now win the support of the Senate Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and Economic Affairs Committee.

CORRECTION: Auto fee cuts in Negron bill subject to change

CORRECTION: An earlier version misquoted Negron. He didn't say the proposed fee cut would increase.

It’s not recommending as big of a cut in fees as the one proposed by Gov. Rick Scott, but don’t worry about that now, says the sponsor of SB 156, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

The bill, which reduces auto registration fees by an average of $12 per person, was passed unanimously Thursday by the Florida Senate’s committee on transportation, tourism and economic development appropriations. Negron said that average fee reduction will only grow in the coming weeks.

The cuts have drawn wide support in both chambers, and among both Republicans and Democrats as a measure that “returns money to the middle class”. It’s so popular that Gov. Rick Scott is proposing his own reduction plan that’s about double what Negron is offering, a fee decrease of about $25 per person.

Scott’s plan reduces the fees by about $401 million. So far, Negron’s proposed reductions would decrease revenue in Florida’s budget by $185 million in 2014-15, then by $236.7 million in recurring years.

Negron told reporters afterward that the gap between the two proposals is not a serious one and should be bridged once more precise estimates for next year’s budget revenues are released.

"I’m sure we’ll be able to agree on an appropriate amount once we have a better idea of what our revenues are going to be," Negron said.

Although he doesn’t have a determined fee cut amount yet, he said it would be larger might differ from the bill’s current reduction of $12 for the average motorist.

“We’ll be able to work out those details on an appropriate number once we know more about our revenues," Negron said. "So we can sort that out in the upcoming session. We can promise people that the fee decrease will be large and one that they will feel."

The reductions come in fees required to register a motor vehicle, vessel or mobile home, and returns them to the levels prior to Sept. 1, 2009. That year, lawmakers increased taxes and fees $2.2 billion to stave off a budget deficit after the economy collapsed.

Negron’s proposal would cut fees by about half the amount lawmakers raised them in 2009: by $12 per motor vehicle, $2 per vessel, and between $4.50 and $9 to register a mobile home. The fee reductions would go into effect Sept. 1.

Bespeaking its populist appeal, the bill has yet to spark a nay vote.

The cuts in Negron’s bill would reduce a number of nominal fees, including:

-- From $5 to $2.50 the service charge for each application of an original, duplicate or transfer of any license plate, mobile home sticker or validation sticker, including the transfer or duplicate issuance of any registration certificate. The revenue from the reduced service charge would be deposited into the Highway Safety Operating Trust Fund in the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles or retained by county tax collectors.

-- From $3 to $1 the service charge imposed on the issuance of a registration receipt for a vehicle, vessel or mobile home registration. This fee would be retained by the DHSMV.

-- From $1.50 to 50 cents the fee imposed on each motor vehicle registration issued for treating all license plates and validation stickers. This revenue would be retained by the DHSMV.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, voted for it on Thursday. But during a meeting on Wednesday, she noted the rather modest savings for residents.

“It’s a small number, I know that,” she said. “It adds up to $12 for an $84 fee.”

The big winners in a bill like this: Those companies with large fleets, which can multiply the savings by the number of cars they have.

House panel considers controversial charter-school space sharing

A House panel is pushing forward with big changes to the state's charter school law.

A draft bill, released this week by the House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee, would require charter school governing boards and school district to use a new model contract. It would also enable the state Department of Education to perform technical reviews of charter school applications.

The draft received mostly positive feedback during a subcommittee meeting Thursday morning.

But Rep. Kionne McGhee raised concerns the bill might spark a legal challenge. The Miami Democrat noted that state law gives school districts the authority to approve new charter schools –- not the Department of Education.

“I’m wondering if a portion of this particular bill would set us up on a constitutional collision course and we would find ourselves in the court system for overstepping our boundaries,” McGhee said.

Subcommittee Chairman Michael Bileca, R-Miami, was not concerned. He stressed that the Department of Education review would be non-binding.

“It is not stripping authorization power,” Bileca said. “It is just issuing an opinion and a review.”

The House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee may also revive a proposal that would require school districts to share underutilized school facilities with charter schools.

Bileca said language was being drafted that “incentivizes the district to provide the facilities, but also ensures that the charters are wise stewards of those facilities.”

“In the end, if we can make those facilities available to provide quality education to students in the district, then they are being utilized in the way they were intended,” Bileca said. “An empty asset or an underutilized asset serves no one.”

Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, included similar language in a sweeping charter school proposal last year. But school districts raised concerns, prompting Moraitis to kill the provision at the last minute.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, said it was time to have the conversation again.

“There’s a lot underutilized space, particularly in urban districts because of the growth patterns,” Diaz said. “The taxpayers are paying for that space to be used as a school. We’re supposed to be serving kids.”

The House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee is taking a different approach to charter school legislation than last year. Rather than filing a committee bill, Bileca has released a draft version of the proposal during committee weeks, and is holding a series of workshops on the topic.

“We wanted to bring it up early so we would put it on the table and get the discussion going,” Bileca said.

Will the approach help ease tensions between charter schools and school districts? The next few weeks will tell.

FAMU picks a new president, Elmira Mangum, the first woman to hold job


Florida A&M University will have its first woman president, a top administrator at an Ivy League institution who will be asked to lead the state’s only public black university to stronger academic and financial footing.

Elmira Mangum, vice president for budget and planning at Cornell University, was approved as FAMU’s 11th president during today's Board of Trustees meeting. Her salary and starting date will have to be negotiated, and Mangum was not in attendance for the vote.

Board members praised Mangum for her experience and ability, saying they were convinced she was the right woman for the job ahead.

"She gets it," said trustee Torey Alston before the vote to confirm Mangum. "She is competent. She is strong. Change is tough. But I absolutely stand with Dr. Mangum and I encourage my colleagues to do the same."

But the vote was not unanimous. Trustees Spurgeon McWilliams and Glen Gilzean Jr. vote voted "no" on the 10-2 role call vote. McWilliams said interim President Larry Robinson has more experience than Magnum and that she gave some unsatisfactory answers during the interview process.

McWilliams said he was disappointed to hear Mangum admit that she would not make the short list for a presidential search at her current institution.

"If she's not good enough for them, she’s not good enough for me at FAMU,” McWilliams said.

The other finalist, University of North Texas at Dallas founding president John Price, received little attention during today's discussion.

Legislators launch plan to create flood insurance option

The Florida Legislature took the first step toward creating a private alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program on Wednesday, as a Senate committee unanimously approved a bill to create a framework for a regulated Florida product.

The proposal, which passed the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, has been put on the fast track in the Senate, which wants to jump-start the private market by allowing companies to offer homeowners alternatives to the flood insurance now available only through the federal government.

“This bill provides choices for consumers to fit their individual circumstance,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sponsor of the bill.

For example, consumers would have the option of covering either the outstanding balance of their mortgage, the replacement cost of their property, or the actual cash value of their property, rather than a single policy now available under the national program.

Under the Bigger-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, premiums were required to rise to reflect the true flood risk, forcing rate increases of at least 20 percent for the policyholders across the nation and much higher for homeowners in older homes that had benefited from subsidized rates for years.

Because nearly 37 percent of all policies written by the national program are in Florida, there are an estimated 268,500 homeowners who will lose their subsidized rates, sending a chilling effect on the housing market, particularly in Pinellas County, where rates have risen as much as 900 percent. Story here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/08/3859626/legislation-is-fast-tracked-to.html#storylink=cpy