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11 posts from February 4, 2014

February 04, 2014

Superintendents tell Gov. Rick Scott that school districts need more money

Gov. Rick Scott spent the past week promoting his “historic” proposal to boost education spending.

In a meeting Tuesday with Scott, about 30 school superintendents did all the talking.

In a polite, yet direct way, the school district leaders said they would still be unable to pay for maintenance, new school buses, security upgrades and the technology needed to administer computer-based tests.

Some asked for the authority to hike property taxes to bring in extra revenue.

The budget wasn’t their only concern. Saying the state was hurtling toward a “potential debacle,” the superintendents implored Scott to slow down the transition to new education standards and standardized tests.

“We want to get this right the first time, not the second or third time,” Pinellas County Superintendent Mike Grego said.

Read more here.

Scott now urges Boehner to support flood insurance bill


Gov. Rick Scott today urged House Speaker John Boehner to take up legislation to provide relief to Florida homeowners getting rocked by higher flood insurance rates.

“For too long, Florida has been a donor state to the National Flood Insurance Program by contributing $16 billion over the last three decades, which is nearly four times the amount Florida homeowners have received back in claims," Scott said in a statement. "I also again extended an invitation to Speaker Boehner to join me if the President accepts my invitation to meet on this important topic. The President needs to let Florida families know now how he will undo the outrageous flood insurance hikes he forced on Floridians. Whether a legislative or executive fix, we need immediate action for Florida families.”

The move is a bit of a shift for Scott, who had basically ignored Congress and tried to press President Obama to take executive action. Boehner and other House leaders have indicated they do not like the Senate bill that passed last week, contending it goes to far in reversing 2012 reforms under the Biggert-Waters Act. Today, House Democrats attempted, and failed, to use a procedural tactic to get a vote on the Senate bill.

Will Weatherford: We can do better than Gov. Rick Scott's proposed higher ed budget


House Speaker Will Weatherford believes that state universities deserve more funding, pushing for a tuition increase last year over the objections of Gov. Rick Scott who vetoed the measure.

There appears to be a difference in opinion again this year, with Weatherford saying he doesn't think Scott's budget proposal included enough money for the 12 public universities. "I think we can do better than what the governor suggested, but it was a good starting point," the Wesley Chapel Republican told the Times/Herald on Tuesday.

The Board of Governors requested $100 million for performance funding. They wanted half of that, or $50 million, to be in new money. Instead, Scott recommended $80 million for performance pay with half of that being new funding.

"Ideally, I think we can do better than $40 million worth of performance funding, and I think we can do more that what the governor suggested with regard to capital outlay," Weatherford said.

Scott's budget, which he unveiled last week, also includes $84 million for universities facilities projects: $34 million for maintenance, repair, renovation and remodeling of existing buildings and $50 million for construction projects specifically tied to science, technology, math and engineering.

The Board of Governors is lobbying the state for almost four times that amount: $321 million. The universities say they need that money to address the needs of aging buildings and to finish projects that have already been approved but not fully funded.

Continue reading "Will Weatherford: We can do better than Gov. Rick Scott's proposed higher ed budget" »

Bondi, legislators call for passage of "Aaron Cohen Act" to crack down on hit-and-run drivers

Attorney General Pam Bondi, legislators and law enforcement leaders are joining the widow of a Miami cyclist killed in a 2012 hit-and-run crash on the Rickenbacker Causeway in her campaign to crack down on hit-and-run drivers.

At a press conference Tuesday, Patty Cohen said she has been pursuing a change in the law, which now gives drunk drivers an incentive to leave the scene of a hit-and-run, since her husband Aaron was struck by a motorist on the Causeway’s William Powell Bridge on Feb. 15, 2012.

The proposal, known as the “Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act,” aims to eliminate that incentive.

Under current Florida law, drunk drivers who kill someone receive a minimum mandatory sentence of four years in prison. But those who leave the scene to avoid being caught drinking face less stringent penalties, said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, sponsor of SB 102.

“It is a growing epidemic,” said Diaz de la Portilla, who was flanked by a nonpartisan group of legislators as well as a cadre of uniformed officers and representatives of police and sheriff’s associations at the press conference.

Florida motorists were involved in 69,994 hit-and-run crashes in 2012, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Of that total, 168 were fatal -- roughly three people a week. And most were pedestrians.

“No family should have to suffer like ours has,” said Cohen, whose daughter Lily was 3 ½ and her son, Aiden 9 months, when her 36-year-old husband was killed. He had been riding with cycling partner Enda Walsh, who was injured, when they were hit by Michele Traverso, who fled the scene. 

“He kept driving,” Cohen said. “He ran, he hid his car, he never even stopped, he never even called 911.”


Continue reading "Bondi, legislators call for passage of "Aaron Cohen Act" to crack down on hit-and-run drivers" »

Weatherford says House leaders are now on-board for casino expansion now

After years of resistance, the conservative leadership of the Florida House has signaled its willingness to pass legislation that would expand gambling to include new Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami Dade and Broward in exchange for a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve any new games in the future.

“I would be willing to talk about gaming in the State of Florida, even expansion, in return for contraction in some areas and passing a constitutional amendment,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford in an exclusive interview with the Herald/Times on Tuesday.

Weatherford added, however, that for the House to support new casinos there would have to be two strings attached: Gov. Rick Scott would have to negotiate a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe in 2014 — a year before the a key provision is set to expire — and the new casinos would not start up unless a constitutional amendment is passed in November to require voter approval of any subsequent games in the future.

“It’s a trade-off that I’m willing to do,’’ Weatherford said

Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, last week told reporters that passing a sweeping gaming bill was not a priority for him this session. However, his statement Tuesday breathes new life into an issue that appeared to be stalled for another year.

It also guarantees that legislators have more time to solicit campaign contributions to their political committees from multi-national casino giants as well as gambling interests in Florida who want their own casinos. Full story here. 

Proposed biometrics ban sails through House, Senate panels

A bill that would prohibit school districts from collecting biometric data sailed through two committees on Tuesday.

The practice has been controversial since May, when the Polk County district started scanning student irises without parent permission. 

Read more here.

Miami-Dade commission overturns mayor's veto, restores workers' pay


The third time proved to be the charm for the Miami-Dade County Commission to restore workers’ pay.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted 9-4 to override a veto by Mayor Carlos Gimenez. As a result, the commission’s earlier decision to end an unpopular pay concession for county and Jackson Health System workers will stand.

Most employees have been contributing 5 percent of their base pay toward group healthcare costs for the past four years. That contribution will now go away, retroactive to Jan. 1.

The stunning turn of events handed a stinging defeat to Gimenez, who had twice vetoed the commission’s 8-5 vote to eliminate the healthcare contribution. His administration seemed on the verge of a compromise Tuesday.

But before the commission could even consider a deal, it had to vote on the veto itself. That’s when Commissioner Juan C. Zapata switched sides, giving the majority the deciding vote it needed to override the mayor.

There were loud gasps on the County Hall commission chambers. Gimenez stared at Zapata. Elated union members and leaders shook hands and congratulated each other. The commission had overturned the veto.

More here.

Rick Scott raising money in Tarpon Springs

Rick Scott's re-election campaign is funded mainly by his "Let's Get to Work" committee. But looking at the invite for its Feb. 18 fundraiser in Tarpon Springs, and all the contractors hosting it who do business with the state, we wonder if a better name would be "Let's Get Some State Work."

The reception is at the home of Wendy and David Nelson and the minimum donation is $1,500 per person. The host committee includes David W Dunbar, Rep. Ed Hooper, Preferred Materials, Brandon Construction, Cone and Graham, Sen. Jack Latvala, David Nelson Construction, Florida Transportation Builders Association, Shutts and Bowen, Suncoast Paving, Speaker Will Weatherford.

Jeb Bush wades into CD-13, endorses Republican David Jolly in TV spot. Will it matter?


An endorsement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush means a lot... in a GOP primary.

But in a special general election for Congress in a swing district?

We'll have to find out now that Bush endorsed David Jolly in his run against Democrat Alex Sink. Bush showcases his endorsement in an ad paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bush's involvement isn't the only eyebrow-raiser when it comes to conservative strategy in the district. Last night, Jolly "seemed to be making a Fox News audition tape," said Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano, noting the candidate's conservative stances on abortion, immigration, and education.

In an interesting twist, it appears Jolly is against Common Core -- the educational standards that Bush has crusaded for.

The red meat would be less noteworthy in a very red district. But CD-13 isn't one. President Obama carried the district with 50.1 percent of the vote compared to Mitt Romney's 48.6 percent, according to a Daily Kos analysis.

But those election results are for a general election. In mid-term special elections, Democrats drop off at a far higher rate than Republicans. It looks like the GOP is again banking on that happening. Considering past results, it's not a bad bet. But considering recent Democratic wins locally (think Amanda Murphy), the Republicans might be displaying a penchant for falsely believing that everyone is a conservative deep down inside.

It's also important to note that campaigns come down to candidates. And word in Pinellas County is that Sink is underwhelming as a candidate; Jolly did better in last night's debat.

We'll just have to see.

Diaz-Balart to sugar baron: Hey, Alfy, try crying for democracy in Cuba instead of lost mansion


And the hits from the Cuban exile community keep coming.

Outraged by a Washington Post report about Florida Crystals' Alfonso Fanjul appearing to sidle up to Cuba's regime, Republican Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Marco Rubio are hammering away at him. Meantime, Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has held his fire.

Alfy is the Democratic side of the sugar company's duo; with brother Pepe contributing to Republicans. So consider the criticism by the Republicans is a political two-fer:

Continue reading "Diaz-Balart to sugar baron: Hey, Alfy, try crying for democracy in Cuba instead of lost mansion" »