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15 posts from April 25, 2014

April 25, 2014

Along party lines, House passes pension overhaul setting up a rematch with Senate


The Florida House passed a bill Friday that would overhaul the state and local pension systems, setting up a rematch between the Senate and Speaker Will Weatherford, who has one last shot at realizing one of his top priorities.

HB 7181 passed 74-44, along party lines, that would shrink the number of people enrolled in the state's $135 billion investment plan and steer new hires to private investment plans. For two years, Weatherford has been pushing for a reform of the state's retirement system, a cause championed by his core base: The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, the group founded by the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The Senate defeated Weatherford's attempt last year at pension reform, 22-18, and after prospects for a similar reform dimmed this session, Weatherford married the state pension bill with a more popular bill, one dealing with local pensions, in an attempt to pick off some Senate holdouts

Democrats and union groups who oppose Weatherford's attempts support the local pension reform, which would permit municipalities to reduce plan benefits in an attempt to shore up the finances of the plans. The state system, they argue, is fine and doesn't need any more tinkering after years in which lawmakers have reduced benefits for state employees and teachers.

"We have two bills combined because one bill could not stand on its own merit," said Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando. 

Continue reading "Along party lines, House passes pension overhaul setting up a rematch with Senate" »

Senate OKs bill allowing noncitizen to practice law

The Senate Friday passed and sent to the House a bill that would allow a noncitizen to practice law in Florida for the first time, subject to the approval of the Florida Supreme Court.

The 25-12 vote was prompted by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in the case of Jose Godinez-Samperio, 27, of Largo, a native of Mexico who came to Florida at age 9 and has tried for more than two years to gain Bar admission after graduating with honors from FSU's law school. Justices said they were powerless to act unless directed by the Legislature because of a federal law.

Every South Florida senator voted for the bill.

The House must follow the Senate's lead and Gov. Rick Scott would have to sign the bill for Godinez-Samperio to open a law practice.

The bill (HB 755) was amended to apply to as few noncitizens as possible. An amendment by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, limits the scope of the provision to an "unauthorized immigrant" who came to Florida as a minor, has lived here for at least 10 years and has met Bar admission requirements.

All 14 Democrats in the Senate were joined by 11 Republicans in passing the bill. Twelve Republicans voted no and three Republicans did not vote, including Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was out of the chamber at the time.

Senate passes bill to shift Citizens policies into unregulated companies

After a brief debate, the Florida Senate passed SB 1672 to shift homeowners who carry Citizens Property Insurance into non-regulated property insurance plans in an effort to get them out of the state-run company.

The Senate voted 22-16 to send the bill to the House, where a similar proposal was killed last year. Opponents the proposal could mislead homeowners into thinking they are getting the same insurance for less and could cause homeowners, seeking to save money, into out-of-state companies that aren't held accountable in Florida.

Under the bill, SB 1672, unregulated insurance sold by surplus lines carriers would be included in the list of options homeowners can choose from in the state-run clearinghouse when their policy is up for renewal.

These companies would have to offer the same coverage Citizens offers and rates must be 15 percent or but, since surplus lines are not regulated, there is no assurance the rates won’t change.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, said it was “admirable and some would say necessary to try to depopulate citizens insurance,’’ but he warned it will have unintended consequences. 

"Surplus lines are not regulated,'' he said. "If they try to get their benefits after a storm, they’re going to have a tough time doing that."

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Tallahassee-to-Miami flight makes emergency stop in Tampa

from The Tampa Bay Times:

An American Airlines plane bound for Miami made an emergency landing at Tampa International Airport on Thursday after reporting smoke in the cockpit while the plane was still in flight, Tampa Fire Rescue said.

The smoke was reported at 9:15 p.m. and the plane landed at 9:20 p.m., said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink. A rescue crew responded to the airport. The plane landed safely and no injuries were reported, Fire Rescue said.

The plane left from Tallahassee and carried 50 people, Zink said.

The cause of the smoke was unknown Thursday night, she said.

Miami-Dade Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho was one of the people aboard. At 9:15 p.m., he tweeted: "In for emergency landing after taking off from Tallahassee after loud explosion and smoke. Attempting to land in Tampa."

Thirteen minutes later, he tweeted again: "Landed in Tampa after lengthy maintenance delay in Tally and explosion and smoke forced a tense aggressive landing. Safe."

At 10:05 p.m., he posted a "selfie" from inside TIA with a number of people, including U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.

Weatherford: BOG should have a say in FAMU-FSU engineering split


House Speaker Will Weatherford said discussion about a Senate proposal to divide the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering into separate programs should involve the state Board of Governors. The House has yet to agree to include money in the final budget for the split, and the decision may ultimately rest with Weatherford himself.

"I would say that both (Florida State University) and (Florida A&M University) have very good points to be made," Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said. "I would also say that the Board of Governors has  a role to play in this conversation. I don’t think the Florida House is in a rush to do anything."

Weatherford's brother played football at FSU and his father-in-law is chairman of the school's Board of Trustees. But the House speaker has not indicated whether he will ultimately side with FSU supporters in granting the request from powerful Sen. John Thrasher to give FSU $13 million to begin establishing its own engineering program separate from FAMU.

Weatherford noted the oversight role of the state Board of Governors and said its wishes should be considered as budget talks continue.

"My goal is that whatever takes place, whether it’s a conversation driven by the Board of Governors or the Legislature, that FAMU is unharmed, and that Florida State is unharmed," he said. "That there’s a way to do this that’s amicable, a way that both universities can flourish, in a way that both universities can provide high quality engineering degrees for their students."