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255 posts from January 2014

January 29, 2014

House, Senate leaders outline education priorities

Expect debates on vouchers, school grades and charter schools this year. 

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his priorities for the upcoming legislative session would include "restoring trust and integrity into the school grading system."

Parent groups (as well as some policy experts and superintendents) have called for an overhaul of Florida's A-F school grading system, saying the formula has become overly complicated and essentially meaningless.

Weatherford said he would also push for a "massive expansion of choice for families."

Step one, he said: expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship program, potentially to thousands of students, while considering new accountability measures.

What's more, Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they would prioritize expanding access to industry certification programs.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, noted that enrollment in industry certification programs had jumped from 954 students in 2008 to 61,730 students in 2013. He said he wants to remove the funding limit on Career and Professional Education classes, so that CAPE funding would be on par with Advanced Placement funding. 

Charter schools may also be on the agenda, especially if Sen. Bill Montford has anything to do with it.

Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, raised concerns about charter schools involuntarily withdrawing students for poor academic performance and behavioral problems.

"Charter schools are public schools and I believe they should be held to the same standards," he said. 

 

 

Bondi says she'll intervene in gay marriage lawsuit, if asked

Attorney General Pam Bondi said Wednesday that she is prepared to enter into one of the most divisive issues of the election year by joining in opposing a lawsuit that is asking a judge to throw out the state's ban on gay marriage. 

"If I am asked, yes (she will intervene) because it is my obligation as attorney general,'' she told reporters at the annual Associated Press Legislative Planning Summit in Tallahassee. "This is a constitutional amendment that voters passed by 60-something percent. My job is to defend that."

Six same-sex couples last week sued the Miami Dade County clerk of court seeking the right to marry, saying the 2008 ban violates their right to equal rights under the law. Voters amended the state Constitution by a vote of 62 percent to ban gay marriage and reject the recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed in other states. 

She compared it to opposing the proposed constitutional amendment on medical marijuana. If it were to become law, she said, "I have said I'll not vote for it but I'll defend it as attorney general,'' she said. 

Although Bondi campaigned on the promise that she would "vigorously defend Florida’s law banning gay adoption in our state,'' she did not revive the issue after she was elected since the state had lost its lawsuit attempting to stop gay couples from adopting children. The policy had been vigorously fought by her predecessor Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum and the time period on appeal expired before Bondi took office, her office said.

"Gay adoption is fully legal in Florida,'' she said. 

If Bondi joins the lawsuit, she would enter into one of the most polarizing issues of this election season. A March 2013 survey by Public Policy Polling found 75 percent of Florida voters favor allowing gay people either to marry (38 percent) or to have civil unions (37 percent).

Gov. Rick Scott has indicated he supports the gay-marriage ban. Democratic challenger and former state Sen. Nan Rich repeated her support for gay marriage at the reporters forum on Wednesday.

And Democrat Charlie Crist — who as the Republican governor in 2008 supported the ban — now sides with Rich and wants the constitutional amendment repealed.

"No one would want to be told they can’t marry the person they love. It’s an issue of fairness and I’m proud to support it," Crist said in a statement issued after the suit was announced.

 

Charlie Crist might have to raise $165,000/day to stay competitive with Rick Scott

@MarcACaputo

Charlie Crist faces the most-daunting of challenges in the governor's race: keeping at least half-way behind Gov. Rick Scott's money-spending rain-making juggernaut of a campaign effort.

Leading in the polls and better-liked, the former governor knows that the current governor has to greatly outspend Crist to redefine him successfully. So Crist likely needs to hold Scott to no more than a 2:1 advantage.

And since Rick Scott plans to spend as much as $100 million (through his committee, his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida), Crist wants to spend as much as $50 million.

Total cash on hand for Crist, between his campaign and political committee accounts: $3.9 million. Let's call that $4 million. That leaves a mere $46 million for him and Democrats to raise in the 278 days until the Nov. 4 Election Day (assuming he wins the Aug. 26 Democratic primary against Nan Rich, running since early 2012, who has only about $75,000 cash on hand in her campaign account as of the last reporting period that ended Dec. 31.)

So Crist and the Democrats need to start hauling in an average of about $165,467.63 daily. That includes weekends and holidays. 

The flip side to all the challenges Democrats face: Scott's goal looks even more daunting at first. 

Scott has about $24.6 million in his political committee’s bank. So he'd have to raise about $75 million more to hit $100 million. But Scott has the state Republican Party, which controls the Legislature and therefore the special interests seeking to curry favor, cranking up fundraising like never before. And, perhaps more importantly, Scott's independently wealthy.

After all, Scott spent $75.1 million of his own money in 2010.

So what's another $75 million -- especially if special interests pick up more of the tab than ever?

Most of Scott's proposed boost to education spending would come from property taxes

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday gave new details about his proposed $18.84 billion education budget.

The proposal includes a $542 million boost to K-12 funding.

Some of the boost -- about $54 million -- is needed because 12,529 new students are expected to enroll in Florida schools. But the proposal would also push Florida's average per-student funding to $6,949, an increase of $169 over the current level.

(Per-pupil spending would still fall short of the record high: $7,126 in 2007-08.)

Democrats were critical of the plan Wednesday, in part because two-thirds of the overall increase would be funded by property taxes. Scott has not recommended increasing the millage rate local school districts must levy, but property values are expected to rise, meaning tax collection will also increase.

Only about $167 million of the proposed boost would come from state funding.

“After cutting education by more than $1 billion in his first year of office, this year’s spending plan appears to be another education shell game that relies on property tax increases," House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said in a statement.

But Senate President Don Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County schools superintendent, said school districts would not differentiate between the two sources of funding.

"All of the dollars matter," he said.

The details of Scott's proposal for facilities funding also came under fire.

Scott has recommended $81.3 million in funding for charter school maintenance from the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, fund.

The governor proposed using $80 million in lottery funds to support maintenance in traditional public schools, and $72.1 million to support projects in seven small school districts.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said he was disappointed that no PECO dollars had been earmarked for traditional public schools.

"Let the governor explain to the children in crumbling public schools across Florida why they don't count, too," he said.

Joe Garcia: I raised $412k last quarter, $1.8m for campaign

From a press release:

Congressman Joe Garcia raised more than $412,000 in the fourth quarter of last year, bringing the total raised for his reelection campaign to more than $1.8 million and putting Rep. Garcia among the top congressional fundraisers in the country.

“I am humbled by the faith shown in me by the people of South Florida who have given to our campaign,” Garcia said. “I work every day on issues that matter, like flood insurance reform, and it is gratifying to receive such strong support.”

Garcia is a top-five fundraiser among incumbents in competitive House races and receives 82 percent of his financial support from in-state donors, according to OpenSecrets.org. He is 2nd among all congressional Democrats for money raised from in-state donors.

Legislative leaders lower expectations on a gambling bill

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz continued to lower expectations on the odds of a massive rewrite of Florida's gambling laws to get passed this year. 

"There are some issues that are forced on us by consequence, constitution, timing and gaming is an issue that is forced to the stage either this year or next year by the fact that the Seminole compact is up for some re-negotiation,'' Gaetz said, referring to the state's agreement with the Seminole Tribe that gives them a monopoly in exchange for about $250 million in annual payments to the state. One segment of the agreement is up for renewal in 2015.

"When you do that, you touch the dominoes that make everything else effective. I don't think expansion of gaming, or gaming legislation, would be a Will Weatherford or a Don Gaetz priority...It's not something we want to be involved in but it's something circumstances probably require either us or our successors to do something about."  

As the Herald/Times reported on Sunday, Gov. Rick Scott is also keeping his distance on the constroversial issues of gambling as he seeks re-election. That could change if Republicans determine that putting a constitutional amendment regarding gambling on the ballot could draw some voters to the polls that would support the governor.

Speaking to reporters at the annual AP Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee, the Republican leaders downplayed the chances of moving legislation through this election year despite spending $400,000 and conducting a series of hearings around the state. 

Both leaders said they will not vote for any new gambling options in Florida without a provision for a statewide constitutional amendment. 

"The Legislature has demonstrated, over the last 30-40 years, frankly an inability to create normalcy, to create predictability in the gaming environment,'' said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "It has allowed for more loopholes that I could count. I believe for the Florida House to even take up, to even consider a gaming bill, that we would have to have confidence that we are going to put a constitutional amendment on the with regard to the people to have a voice or I don't think you'll see us taking up gaming in the House."

Weatherford said the amendment would have to be a "referendum that would be approved at 60 percent for any other expansion of gaming. I thnk the citizens of Florida want to have their hand on the wheel when it comes to expansion of gambling." 

He defines expansion, he said, as "anything new."

 

Gaetz and Weatherford offer a joint agenda aimed at vets, tax cuts and more pension changes

As an election year looms, Florida’s Republican legislative leaders announced they will focus on a legislative agenda that continues to refine their attempts to provide more skills-based education, cuts  taxes by $500 million, keeps sexual predators off the street, strengthens regulations on homes for the elderly and gives military veterans more support.

The list of priorities, called “Work Plan Florida 2014” was outlined by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, before a meeting of reporters and editors in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

“The state of Florida has had a tremendous transformational turnaround in the last three years,’’ Weatherford said, noting the 6.2 unemployment rate and rise in tourism.

He attributed it to “disciplined, focused, conservative leadership” and said his agenda is “doubling down” on their achievements.

“I believe in the redistribution of opportunity,’’ he said. Their joint agenda will freeze university tuition in 2015, increase education vouchers for private schools, and focus on restoring “trust and integrity into our grading system.”

Gaetz said he wants Florida to be the nation’s top destination for military veterans and the least favorable destination for sexual predators. He said the state will also increase regulation on Assisted Living Facilities, an effort the industry has resisted since the Miami Herald first exposed the abuses three years ago. 

He said they will endorse a $500 million tax cut but, unlike targeted tax cuts of the past, it will be “broad based tax cut that will target low income and working Floridians.”

Weatherford said efforts will also increase to protect the vulnerable with legislation that cracks down on human trafficking and closes loopholes in how the money is spent and also reduces the waiting list for the disabled.

Finally, Weatherford will renew his effort to revise the state’s pension fund to steer more of the accounts to privately-managed investors which, Gaetz said, would provide “more options for making retirement for Floridians secure.”

Meanwhile, as Republicans nationally remain divided on economic and social policies, the leaders appeared to focus on a modest list of initiatives with populist appeal. Neither leader mentioned any proposals to address the fact that Florida still leads the nation in mortgage foreclosures and is second in the nation in the number of uninsured Floridians under the age of 65.

The veterans proposal will waive licensing fees for military veterans who move to Florida, waive out-of-state tuition for veterans and fund scholarships for Florida National Guard members. 

The crack down on sexual predators aims at increasing public notification, expand registration requirements to better track and monitor sexual offenders and strengthen civil commitment laws. 

Gaetz said they will also tighten ethics laws to make failure of a public official to disclose his finances "grounds for removal." He also wants to tighten legislative residency rules.

"This isn't a Republican plan, a Democratic plan -- this is a Florida work plan,'' Gaetz said. 

 

Gaetz and Weatherford offer a joint agenda aimed at vets, tax cuts and more pension changes

As an election year looms, Florida’s Republican legislative leaders announced they will focus on an agenda that continues to refine their attempts to provide more skills-based education, cuts  taxes by $500 million, keeps sexual predators off the street and gives military veterans free tuition.

The list of priorities, called “Work Plan Florida 2014” was outlined by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, before a meeting of reporters and editors in Tallahassee on Wednesday.

“The state of Florida has had a tremendous transformational turnaround in the last three years,’’ Weatherford said, noting the 6.2 unemployment rate and rise in tourism.

He attributed it to “disciplined, focused, conservative leadership” and said his agenda is “doubling down” on their achievements.

“I believe in the redistribution of opportunity,’’ he said. Their joint agenda will freeze tuition in 2015, expand private school vouchers, and focus on restoring “trust and integrity into our grading system.” They did not provide any details on how much they intend to spend on expanding school vouchers. 

Gaetz said he wants Florida to be the nation’s top destination for military veterans and the least favorable destination for sexual predators.

He said they will endorse a $500 million tax cut but, unlike targeted tax cuts of the past, it will be “broad based tax cut that will target low income and working Floridians.” He explained that is a reference to the Senate's $236 million proposed cut in auto tag fees, which is expected to save most Florida drivers $12; the remaining tax cuts are focused on businesses. 

Finally, Weatherford will renew his effort to revise the state’s pension fund to steer more of the accounts to privately-managed investors which, Gaetz said, would provide “more options for making retirement for Floridians secure.”

Meanwhile, as Republicans nationally remain divided on economic and social policies, the leaders appeared to focus on a modest list of initiatives with populist appeal. Neither leader mentioned any proposals to address the fact that Florida still leads the nation in mortgage foreclosures and is second in the nation in the number of uninsured Floridians under the age of 65.

The veterans proposal will waive licensing fees for military veterans who move to Florida, waive out-of-state tuition for veterans and fund scholarships for Florida National Guard members. The total cost is estimated at $14 million.

The crack down on sexual predators aims at increasing public notification, expanding registration requirements to better track and monitor sexual offenders and strengthen civil commitment laws. 

Here's their joint announcement:

 

 

President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford Announce

Work Plan Florida 2014

 

 

Tallahassee–Florida Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) today announced their joint 2014 Work Plan Florida Agenda. Addressing a group of reporters and editors from across the state who gathered in Tallahassee for the annual Associated Press Editors Forum, the President and Speaker outlined the 5-point agenda they will pursue during the 2014 Legislative Session.

 

“There are hundreds of issues that arise during a legislative session.  Some come from outside Tallahassee, some from time deadlines, and some from the constitution. Speaker Weatherford and I have decided to work together to go beyond these basic responsibilities and lift up other issues we want to solve,” said President Gaetz. “We’ve traveled thousands of miles together, listening to people all over Florida. We’ve heard from our members, who’ve heard from their constituents and of the hundred things we could do, these are the five things we will do and they form our bicameral 2014 Work Plan for Florida.”

 

“Work Plan 2014 represents the second year of an aggressive, inclusive reform agenda,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel).  “I look forward to working with President Gaetz during the upcoming Session on these issues, which are important to the future of our state.”

 

“The 2014 Work Plan centers on steps we can take to keep Florida on the road to economic recovery. By reducing taxes and fees by $500 million, government is taking less money from the hardworking Floridians who earn it, leaving more money for the day-to-day needs of Florida’s families,” continued President Gaetz.

 

 

Work Plan 2014, Joint House and Senate 5-Point Agenda

 

 

1. ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY THROUGH EDUCATION

     Expand pathways out of poverty through education and jobs

 

            Increase the Value and Accessibility of Higher Education

  • ·         No tuition increase for 2015
  • ·         End soaring cost increase for Florida Prepaid College Board
  • ·         Reduce tuition differential

 

            Expand Education Choices for Families In Poverty

  • ·         Raise cap for Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program

 

            Cement Link Between Education and Jobs

  • ·         Reward performance in higher education
  • ·         Increase student access to Career and Professional Education (CAPE) Industry Certifications opportunities

o   Remove 0.3 weighed FTE funding limit on CAPE

o   Florida CAPE Digital Classroom

 

 

2. FLORIDA GI BILL

    Establish Florida as the top “Welcome Home” state for the military, veterans

     and their families

 

            Expand Education and Employment Opportunities

  • ·         Waive out-of-state tuition for veterans
  • ·         Fund scholarships for members of the Florida National Guard, including online programs and book stipends
  • ·         Waive licensing fees for returning veterans

 

            Invest in Florida’s Military Infrastructure

  • ·         Finish commitment to restore and renovate Florida’s armories
  • ·         Fund base buffering efforts to preserve Florida’s military missions and protect our military bases

 

3. PROTECT VULNERABLE FLORIDIANS

     Increase safeguards for Florida’s children and seniors

 

            Improve Protections Against Sexual Offenders

  • ·         Keep offenders off our streets and away from our children

o   Increase the length of sentences and extend monitoring after release

  • ·         Better inform our communities, law enforcement and families

o   Require individuals registered in the sexual offender database to provide more information

  • ·         Improve coordination between government and law enforcement

o   Enhance communication between state and county officials when a sexual offender is released from prison

 

            Child Welfare Reform

 

            Fund Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to reduce the   Critical Needs Waiting List

 

            Fully Fund Maximum Current Year Expansion of the Guardian Ad Litem Program

 

            Keep seniors safer by making the administration of Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) more transparent and accountable

 

            Increase Funding for Child Advocacy Centers

 

            Better Address Human Trafficking

 

4.  $500 MILLION TAX CUT

     Reduce the amount of money government takes from Floridians who earn it

 

  • ·         Reduce Taxes and Fees 
  • ·         Lower Vehicle Registration Fees for All Florida Drivers

 

5.  IMPROVE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY AND EFFICIENCY

     Achieve reform of the Florida Retirement System and continue to improve  

     ethics laws

  • ·         Strengthen the retirement system for public employees
  • ·         Develop an Information Technology Governance Strategy for State Government
  • ·         Continue to Improve Florida’s Ethics Laws
  • ·         Implement Lobbyist Compensation Audits
  • ·         Clarify Legislator Residency Requirements

Scott proposes $74 billion wishlist budget, focused on tax cuts

Gov. Rick Scott packaged together his election-year priorities Wednesday and offered up a $74.19 billion budget proposal to Florida lawmakers that is slightly below the current year budget.

The budget proposal includes his wish-list of priorities, from more tax breaks for businesses to replumbing the Everglades and lowering the state’s debt ratio. Titled the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget,’’ the governor said "this includes another historic tax cut budget for Florida Families" and is a "sharp contrast to the four budgets before we took office."

Scott, a Republican and former corporate executive, came into office vowing to shrink government and said, in a statement on Wednesday "more revenue does not mean we should grow government. Instead we should grow our businesses." 

His proposed spending plan is about $297 million smaller than current budget of about $74.5 billion. Even though this proposed budget is smaller than this fiscal year's, both could have been considered outsized by Scott when he campaigned in 2010 and called that smaller, $70.3 billion plan "bloated."

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the governor said his budget reduces state debt by $170 million, on top of the $3.6 billion debt reduction he said he has already achieved. After the recession shrunk state revenues for his first two years in office, the governor has more money to work with this year than he had in 2013 – the second year revenues have risen.

Scott used his budget to draw a sharp contrast to former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is now running against him as a Democrat. Scott's budget reduces 1,200 jobs but his initial budget release did not provide immediate details and still unknown is whether he plans to use any of the new money to restore program cuts made in previous years.

It is clear that Scott’s spending plan includes more than $500 million in givebacks, including reducing an increase in the state’s auto tag fee by about $25 per driver and lowering taxes on business rents by $100 million. Scott wants to double state spending on Everglades and has vowed to devote $31 million more to child protection at the Department of Children and Families, including adding 447 positions at the agency that has been plagued by a series of child deaths over the past year.

The menu of tax cuts includes a plan to eliminate $401 million in motorist fee hikes approved when legislators were in the throes of the recession in 2009 and raised $2.2 billion in fee increases in 2009, when Crist was governor. He also wants a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday, a 15-day sales tax holiday for hurricane supplies, and a reduction in corporate filing fees by $33 million.

The governor made no mention of his decision last year to support Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. Since he made the announcement, he has all but abandoned any attempt to persuade legislators to draw down the $51 billion in federal funds over 10 years. His budget does include $26 million to pay for part-time state workers as required under the law.

What kind of reception the governor's spending plan will get is still unknown. In the past three years, lawmakers have virtually ignored the bulk of the governor’s recommendations, with the exception of a $1.3 billion cut to education he sought his first year in office, which continues to haunt him with teachers and parents.

That year, Scott called for $4.6 billion in reductions even though legislators didn’t scale back spending that far. Last year, lawmakers restored about $1 billion of the previous cuts to education but schools still faced a net reduction. This year, Scott is asking for $542 million more for public education, an amount some legislative leaders have said is still too modest and relies too much on property tax increases as property values rise. 

Scott defended the education budget as "historic funding" and said fourth graders are scoring No. 2 in the nation and "we're headed in the right direction." Full budget is here.

Rep. Seth McKeel, a Lakeland Republican who is House Appropriations chairman, commended the governor for his focus on reducing taxes. 

"As always, the House will take the Governor’s proposal into careful consideration as we work to develop a responsible budget that maximizes every dollar and prioritizes funding in the best interest of all Floridians without raising taxes on our hardworking families,” he said in a statement.

Connie Mack IV makes it official, won't run for old seat vacated by cocaine congressman Radel

@MarcACaputo

And then there was one... less. One less potential candidate, that is, for the Fort Myers-based congressional seat vacated Monday by Trey Radel amid a cocaine scandal.

In a statement this morning, Radel's predecessor and friend, Connie Mack IV, said he wouldn't run in what could become a bitter primary involving former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and potential candidate and  state Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto:

Trey Radel’s resignation from Congress has put Southwest Florida at the beginning of a new and important political chapter.

 “I spent my tenure in Congress fighting for Southwest Florida’s shared conservative values and for the fundamental belief that freedom is the core of all human progress.

“I introduced new policy ideas, like the Penny Plan, that would balance the budget in a common-sense responsible way. I always stood for principle over politics, even on controversial issues like Arizona’s immigration law. And I did all I could to stand up for the rights of people in Venezuela and elsewhere against the dictators and thugocrats who oppress them in ways few Americans can truly understand.

“These have always been my passions. They always will be. In the weeks, months and years ahead I will continue to advocate for our shared principles,not as a candidate or Member of Congress, but rather as a private citizen. And I will do all I can to support candidates in Southwest Florida and elsewhere who champion the Penny Plan.
 
“I hope the people of Southwest Florida will join with me in ensuring we elect a new Representative who will represent us with the passion and grace our community and our country needs, and who will be an unwavering defender of the simple idea that freedom matters because freedom works.”