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5 posts from May 3, 2014

May 03, 2014

Gaetz: It was a good year for education

Not long after the 2014 legislative session came to a close Friday, Senate President Don Gaetz said it had been “a good year for education.”

Indeed, K-12 education came out a big winner. Lawmakers simplified the complicated school grading formula. They created new scholarship accounts for children with special needs. And they directed a record-high $11 billion in state funding to the K-12 education system.

"Florida’s schools did very, very well," said Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and former Okaloosa County schools superintendent.

Democrats were also pleased with the results — for the most part.

They said Republicans had been forced to strike a balance between expanding school choice and appeasing public-school supporters.

"It's an election year," said Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat. "That's what it all boils down to."

Read more here.

Film industry supporters won't give up fight for incentives

One bill that failed to make it across the finish line this year sought to expand the state's entertainment industry tax incentive program.

The proposal was a top priority for both South Florida and Tampa Bay. Lawmakers from both regions argued it had the potential to pump millions of dollars into the state economy.

The Senate was considering a plan to add $300 million in tax credits over the next six years. 

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah, pitched a far more expansive proposal in the lower chamber. But it never managed to take off. Later, the House included a Qualified Television Loan Fund in its proposed tax cut package. The Senate eliminated the provision on the second-to-last day of session.

On Saturday, Film Florida President Leah Sokolowsky said she was disappointed in the outcome of the session.

"Beginning tomorrow, Film Florida will rededicate itself to educating our state’s policymakers on the positive economic impacts that the entertainment industry provides," she said in a statement. "We will bring our message from the Panhandle to Key West that for every $1 the state invests in the entertainment industry, $5.60 is returned and infused back into our state’s economy."

In other words, expect the bill to be back next year.


Joe Biden drops by Rep. Joe Garcia campaign office opening

From a press release:

"MIAMI, FL – Today, Vice President Joe Biden made an unannounced visit to Representative Joe Garcia’s campaign kickoff, joining Representative Garcia to open his campaign office in Miami.

"Vice President Biden and Representative Garcia addressed more than 200 volunteers who were in attendance at the campaign’s first grassroots event of 2014. The grand opening marks the launch of a massive mobilization campaign that will include major voter-to-voter contact on the phones and at the doors by Representative Garcia and his energized grassroots supporters.

“I was honored to be joined Vice President Biden and hundreds of supporters as we kicked off our grassroots campaign – South Florida residents are excited and energized to win this race,” said Representative Joe Garcia. “From the doors to the phones, we are building one of the strongest grassroots campaigns in Florida, and our message of getting Washington focused on problems that matter – like finally passing comprehensive immigration reform, fixing the flood insurance program and helping businesses grow jobs – is truly resonating with South Florida families.“

"Immediately following the event, dozens of volunteers went into their neighborhood, going door-to-door to register voters.

"The office address is: 12851 SW 42nd Street, Miami, FL 33175; 2nd Floor."

Will Weatherford says no to RPOF chair candidacy


House Speaker Will Weatherford says he doesn't want to become the Republican Party of Florida Chairman for now.

"Humbled by all the encouragement to run for RPOF chair but I have a higher calling right now...being a more present husband and father," Weatherford said on Twitter.

Does that mean he's definitely not running for the post?

"The answer to that is yes," he said. "I'm worn out. We’re going to have our fourth baby in September and I have to man the fort."

That makes the selection of Clay County GOP Chair Leslie Dougher more likely. She's a favorite of Gov. Rick Scott's inner circle. But some Republicans preferred Weatherford. With him gone, the reasons not to choose Dougher are few and far between for the GOP.


Last-ditch effort at trauma center fix fails


What started as a plan to shield three disputed HCA trauma centers from legal action, and later added limits on sky-high trauma access fees, collapsed entirely late Friday as legislators failed to pass any trauma measure.

One of the most high profile issues of the session fell prey to political maneuvering as the House attempted to amend it — and a bunch of unrelated issues — onto a bill that turned into such a train that House Speaker Will Weatherford chanted "choo-choo'' as it came up in his chamber. The House approved the measure, but the Senate would not take it up as session drew to a close.

"The bill got too heavy and was in trouble as soon as the House decided to use a train instead of a stand-alone bill,'' said Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, the Senate sponsor.

The failure to grandfather Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County, Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Ocala Regional Medical Center does not mean the facilities will be shut down anytime soon. But it almost guarantees that legal challenges from long-standing trauma centers that contend HCA was improperly granted state permission to open will continue. Safety net hospitals including Tampa General Hospital, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and UF Health Jacksonville have been embroiled in litigation that could eventually force HCA to shutter the three centers.

Read more here.