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14 posts from March 26, 2014

March 26, 2014

Red light cameras get reprieve as Brandes bill stalls

@mikevansicker

Red light cameras needed something to stop a losing streak.

They may have gotten it in a Wednesday Senate Transportation committee.

Just last week, the Tampa City Council voted against renewing the city’s contract for the cameras, despite producing more than $1.6 million in revenue. Earlier this month, St. Petersburg decided it was getting rid of its cameras by Sept. 30, even though its cameras had produced nearly $1 million in their first two years.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, thinks the cameras don’t make intersections safe and that they’re only used to raise revenue. His bill, SB 144, would make the cameras illegal.

And since he’s the chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, its passage seemed like a sure thing.

Not so fast.

After a series of amendments that would have more tightly regulated the cameras failed to pass, Brandes temporarily postponed the vote on the bill.

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Lawmakers play starring role in film industry tax incentive plan

Lights... camera... incentives.

Actors, producers and film crew members descended on Tallahassee Wednesday to support the proposed expansion of the entertainment industry incentive program, which provides tax credits to film and television projects based in Florida.

Their collective lobbying helped persuade a Senate panel to approve a plan adding another $300 million in tax credits over the next six years — a first step toward the bill becoming law.

But the advocates had their eyes on a much larger prize: a long-shot House proposal that would provide the entertainment industry with nearly four times as much support.

“Our existing incentive programs have kept us competitive with Georgia and Louisiana,” Miami-Dade Film and Entertainment Commissioner Sandy Lighterman said. “We have things that they don’t have. But we need the additional tax credits, because otherwise, we are off the map.”

Read more here.

House Dems strongly urged to support budget -- or else

@mikevansickler

Just two days ago, Rep. Dennis Baxley said he was fighting for Democracy in sponsoring a bill that would give the Cabinet, not state parks administrators, the final say in making any changes to historic sites in state parks.

“Let’s do it by elected officials,” Baxley, R-Ocala, told reporters Monday. “We live in a democratic republic and that’s how you make policy.”

Yet there was Baxley on Wednesday trying to take a very big vote away from House Democrats, otherwise known as elected officials, by urging them to not vote against the House’s proposed $75.3 billion budget.

“My concern is to hear people at this juncture vote against the budget, it’s discouraging,” said Baxley. “It’s hard to work with people and negotiate with them about adding and fixing or changing things when they’re aleady locked down in opposition. What is the reason they’d even work with you?”

The implied threat -- vote yes or it’ll be more difficult to negotiate the projects you want in the final budget  -- came before the House Appropriations Committee voted. Did it work? Well, six Democrats did end up voting against the budget.

They were: Janet Cruz of Tampa, Reggie Fullwood and Mia Jones of Jacksonville, Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, Cynthia Stafford of Miami, and Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale.

But at the same point last year, all 10 Democrats voted against the House budget, meaning four votes were peeled away by Republicans. They were Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg; Joseph Gibbons, Hallandale Beach; Hazelle Rogers, Lauderdale Lakes; and Alan Williams, Tallahassee, switched over.

“It’s illogical to me that every member on the other side votes for the budget, as every Democrat votes against it,” Rouson said. “There’s enough good things to vote for it, and enough bad things to vote against it...I hope moving it in conference we can do more. I support it today not because I agree with every aspect, but I intend to challenge it, and make it as good as it can be.”

 

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Orlando businesswoman named to state Board of Education

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday named Orlando businesswoman Marva Johnson to the state Board of Education.

Johnson, 44, is a corporate vice president for Bright House Networks LLC.

Her term begins March 26 and ends Dec. 31, 2017.

“I am confident that Marva will be a committed servant to Florida students," Scott said in a statement. "I look forward to working with her and the entire Board of Education to further ensure that all Florida students can get a great education so they can pursue their dreams.”

House gives new life to controversial voucher proposal

Remember that school voucher bill everyone thought was dead?

The proposal was given new life on Wednesday, thanks to a procedural maneuver by a state representative.

Many observers thought the proposed expansion of the school voucher program was off the table after Sen. Bill Galvano withdrew the Senate version of the bill (SB 1620) last week. Without a companion in the upper chamber, the House school voucher bill (HB 7099) stood virtually no chance of becoming law.

But late Wednesday, Rep. Erik Fresen combined the voucher language with a separate bill creating education savings accounts for special-needs children. That bill (HB 1503, now PCB EDAS 14-03) has a counterpart in the Senate (SB 1512), and is thus still in play.

Fresen, R-Miami, said it made sense to combine the proposals.

"The two bills were on separate paths to begin with, but they both fit under the umbrella of school choice," he said. "This bill now covers the entire scope of school choice."

The voucher program, also known as the tax credit scholarship program, provides private-school scholarships to about 60,000 children from low-income families.Its supporters were hoping to more quickly expand the cap on the corporate income tax credits that fund the program. Their goal: to provide scholarships for 50,000 additional children.

The original proposal would have allowed sales tax revenue to help fund the voucher program. It would have also enabled certain students to receive partial scholarships, and removed some of the barriers to children in foster care.

Fresen did not carry the sales tax provision over to the new combined bill.

"It was the most contentious point," he said. "We figured if we were going to revive the bill, we should adjust that part."

Fresen did not add language requiring scholarship students to take the state exams. Senate President Don Gaetz has said a voucher expansion bill will not be heard in the Senate without that provision. But the House has insisted that such a testing requirement is unnecessary and impractical.

Said Fresen: "The House position has always been different from the Senate position. All we were doing was consolidating two [House] proposals dealing with school choice."

Would Fresen consider adding testing language moving forward?

"Everything is on the table," he said. "There is still a lot of time in the session."

PCB EDAS 14-03 will be heard at Friday's House Education Appropriations Subcommittee meeting. 

Senate passes bill banning local officials from moonlight as legislative lobbyists

Former Senate President Ken Pruitt is among an elite group of people.

He is not only one of a handful of legislators who have held the coveted job of Senate president, he is also one of a handful of people being targeted by a high-priority ethics bill passed unanimously Wednesday by the Florida Senate.

Pruitt served as Senate president from 2006 to 2008 but, like many former legislators, parlayed his clout as a top-dog lawmaker into a high paying career as a lobbyist. He has 15 clients, including Florida Crystals Corp. and the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office, and his firm has reportedly earned as much as $150,00 a year in lobbying fees from Florida Crystals alone.

Pruitt’s full-time job, however, is serving as St. Lucie County’s elected property appraiser, a position that increases the value of the retirement benefits he earned as a long-time legislator.

Under the bill (CS/SB 846) the Senate passed, Pruitt and other constitutional officers – such as sheriffs, state attorneys and property appraisers – would be banned from lobbying for compensation. The restriction does not take effect until after the next election so Pruitt buys some time. His term ends in 2016.

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Senate: Require state parks to have lifeguard during peak swim season

Florida has among the highest number of child deaths because of drownings in the nation. It also doesn't require lifeguards to be on duty during peak swimming hours at state parks.

That would change under SB 1484 which was passed Wednesday by the Senate Environmental Preservation Committee.

“Lets stop being the highest in the nation for child drowning deaths and send a message and that florida has the best state parks,'' said Sen. Elenor Sobel, D-Hollywood, the bill sponsor. The national Centers for Disease Control reports that in the last year counted, 2009,14 out of 100,000 children in Florida under age 19 died from drowning. The rate was exceeded only by Texas. Nationally, most of the drownings occur in swimming pools and one out of three are in natural water.

The bill requires that life guards be on duty only during peak swim periods and holidays at the 65 state parks that allow swimming. The cost to the state to hire certified life guards and build stations is estimated at about $850,000. That could be a problem. Even in a year where legislators have nearly $1.3 billion more to spend, lawmakers don't like to spend it on enforcing new rules.

Another problem: the bill's companion, HB 1309 by Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, hasn't gotten a hearing. 

St. Leo poll: Scott is narrowing the gap on Crist but remains behind

@LearyReports

Gov. Rick Scott has closed the gap on Charlie Crist, a new poll shows.

Crist narrowly leads Scott 43-39 – a result within the margin of error – but Scott has made up 8 points since December, according to the Saint Leo University poll.

A couple caveats: The poll is conducted online and was done before the recent blow-up that resulted in Scott losing his finance co-chairman. St. Leo also found Alex Sink with a big lead on David Jolly several weeks before the special election, but that changed. Still, other polls have shown a tighter race as Florida's economy improves.

"Our polling shows good news for Governor Scott, as he's been able to take a sizable chunk out of Charlie Crist's lead,” said Frank Orlando, political science instructor at Saint Leo University. “Governor Scott has shored up some Republican voters, but he's also doing about as well among independents and members of the opposing party as Mr. Crist. This is surprising, considering the fact that Crist, a former Republican, was expected to do well among Republicans and independents.”

Scott’s overall favorability rating is 48 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable. Scott’s approval rating among Republicans is 79/18 – up a net of 22 points since the December poll. His overall job approval rating is 45/47 and 75/21 among Republicans – up 20 points since December. Then, Scott led Crist among Republicans, 65-17 (+48). Now Scott leads 75-13 (+62), a 14 point swing. By contrast, President Obama’s job approval rating in the state is 39/60 in the most recent poll, slipping since 44/53 in December

The news release is below. SAINT LEO, FL - Former Governor Charlie Crist narrowly leads incumbent Governor Rick Scott in the governor’s race by 43-39 – a result within the margin of error – but Scott is closing the gap since December, according to a new state poll by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

In a December Saint Leo University poll, Crist led Scott, 46-34, or by 12 points. The new poll shows an 8-point swing in Scott’s direction, though the incumbent Republican still trails Crist. 

"Our polling shows good news for Governor Scott, as he's been able to take a sizable chunk out of Charlie Crist's lead,” said Frank Orlando, political science instructor at Saint Leo University. “Governor Scott has shored up some Republican voters, but he's also doing about as well among independents and members of the opposing party as Mr. Crist. This is surprising, considering the fact that Crist, a former Republican, was expected to do well among Republicans and independents.”

Orlando added: “It's also important to note that according to our polling, Floridians strongly disapprove of the job that President Obama is doing in the White House. This type of national feeling can make its way into state and local elections by damaging the party's brand name.  If President Obama's approval ratings continue to fall, Scott will profit at the polls."

Scott’s overall favorability rating is 48 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable. Scott’s approval rating among Republicans is 79/18 – up a net of 22 points since the December poll. His overall job approval rating is 45/47 and 75/21 among Republicans – up 20 points since December. Then, Scott led Crist among Republicans, 65-17 (+48). Now Scott leads 75-13 (+62), a 14 point swing. By contrast, President Obama’s job approval rating in the state is 39/60 in the most recent poll, slipping since 44/53 in December
 
The recent poll also compared incumbent Scott’s appeal in the upcoming governor’s race to another prospective Democratic candidate, Nan Rich. The survey found Scott leads Rich, 40-32.

In other Florida results, Senator Bill Nelson’s approval rating stands at 50/33 (+17), his favorability rating is 49/37 (+12), and his re-elect rating is at 40 percent.

Senator Marco Rubio’s approval rating is 50/40 (+10), his favorability rating is 50/41 (+9), and his re-elect rating is 46 percent.

President Obama’s job approval rating among likely voters in Florida is 39/50 (-11). Congress’s job approval rating is 14/84 (-70). 

On policy issues, a majority of voters, 52 percent, say that knowing a member of Congress had voted for the Affordable Care Act would make them less likely to vote for that person. Twenty- nine percent said they would be more likely to vote for such a member of Congress. There is a strong partisan intensity gap on the issue, with 87 percent of Republicans saying support for the ACA would make them less likely to vote for a member of Congress, and 52 percent of Democrats say support for the ACA would make them more likely to vote for a member of Congress. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans say they are “much less likely” to vote for a pro-ACA member, and 27 percent of Democrat “much more likely” to vote that way.

On immigration, a majority of Florida voters support a path to legal status for illegal or undocumented immigrants, but a strong minority opposes allowing this population to remain in the United States under any conditions.

•    61 percent support a path to legal status under certain conditions
•    29 percent think this population should not be allowed to remain in the U.S. 
•    9 percent support allowing this population to stay and to apply for citizenship

“Florida Republicans are more likely than our national sample of Republicans to support a path to legal status. Fifty-five percent of Florida Republicans support a path to legal status while 37 percent think this population should not be allowed to stay in the United States. Nationally, the numbers are nearly reversed (39 percent support a path to legal status, while 54 percent say this population should not be allowed to remain in the United States,” said Saint Leo political scientist Orlando.

The Florida legislature is currently considering a bill that would allow undocumented students to attend Florida public colleges at in-state tuition rates. Voters are split on this idea, with 32 percent saying they should be charged in-state rates, 36 percent saying out-of state rates, and 19 percent saying undocumented persons should not be allowed to attend state colleges at all.

On marijuana legalization, 30 percent say marijuana should be legal for any purpose; 45 percent say it should be legal for only approved medical purposes; and 19 percent say marijuana should not be legal for any purpose.

On the minimum wage, voters support raising the minimum wage by a 3-to-1 margin. Seventy-three percent support raising the minimum wage (42 percent strongly support, 31 percent somewhat support). On the other side, 24 percent oppose raising the minimum wage (12 percent somewhat oppose, 12 percent strongly oppose).

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology 

The data is derived from a poll of 500 Florida adult residents conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute between March 16 and 19, 2014 and includes 401 likely voters. The margin of error is approximately five percent +/- with a 95 percent confidence level.

To view the Florida political and policy results, including methodology, visit the polling institute’s website, http://polls.saintleo.edu

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. Sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantages of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive – usually 50 cents deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account – for their participation. The institute’s executive director is Dr. Andrew (Drew) Gold, associate professor of management at Saint Leo University.

In new email, Fernandez criticizes Scott's TV ad

Coral Gables health care executive Mike Fernandez is a man with no shortage of opinions.

In another email sent to Gov. Rick Scott's campaign advisers, he's unimpressed by the quality of Scott's new TV ad. (After all, he helped pay for them, as a million-dollar donor to Scott's campaign). In the email, obtained by the Times/Herald, Fernandez takes aim at the content and style of the ad (Curt Anderson of On Message, Scott's media adviser, called Fernandez a "renegade donor" in a Politico interview Tuesday).

Fernandez, who quit as Scott's campaign finance co-chairman last week, trashed the new 30-second ad that shows Scott speaking from a softer side angle about how his mother struggled to put food on the table and his father's car was repossessed. Fernandez sent the March 15 email to campaign manager Melissa Sellers, campaign chairman Sen. John Thrasher, state GOP chairman Lenny Curry, party executive director Juston Johnson and Hispanic political consultant Ana Carbonell.

"The Governor's ad was sterile (reinforces how people see him). Imagine if he said the same words but the setting was different. Sitting on a park bench, no tie (for God's sake it is Florida), light blue shirt, not white, his family around him and at closing Ann steps in and hand him a grandson. WHAT A DIFFERENCE THAT WOULD HAVE MADE! We can raise $100 m and misspend it and the $$$ is in material.

Ignore me, but you will continue getting my comments because I want him to win.   I know, I don't know anything about politics nor political advertising but I know about sales.... You don't trust me because I am not willing to become a supporting cast member to the "Yes Team"  but trust this, my net worth exceeds $3B, and I made it because I am not stupid and I can sell!

Have a good weekend.

Mike

PS. Melissa please give a copy to the Governor. I want him to know what I am saying. I would also like to meet with him and Sen. Thrasher at their convenience.

Senate passes bill to give Florida flood insurance option

Homeowners could have more flood insurance options than the federally-subsidized national program under a measure unanimously passed by the Florida Senate Wednesday designed to encourage private insurance companies into the market.

The bill, SB 542 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, creates an alternative to the federal National Flood Insurance Program by authorizing private companies to write the insurance that had previously only been available through the federally-subsidized program.

The federal program has undergone major reforms in the last year that have sparked hefty premium increases for homeowners in flood-prone areas and with older homes, whose premiums had traditionally been subsidized. The outcry over the giant cost increases prompted Congress to enact a stop-gap measure that delays the most expensive changes to the Bigger-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, but does not repeal them. The hefty rate increases will be phased in over time.

Under the Senate plan, homeowners could potentially save money by buying less insurance than is allowed under the federal program, such as insuring their property only for the outstanding value of their mortgage, the property’s replacement cost or the actual cash value of the property. The current limits under the federal program are $250,000 for a home and $100,000 for personal property. 

The bill also authorizes insurance companies to offer various deductible amounts and to give homeowners more options for covering contents, living expenses, secondary structures, etc.

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