May 31, 2013

GOP to Hispanics: We want you to seek state-level office

A national project aimed at diversifying the Republican Party will spend $6 million to recruit new Hispanic candidates.

Leaders of the Future Majority Project on Friday said they hope to identify 200 new political hopefuls -- and propel at least 75 into state-level office.

“The Future Majority Project is working to ensure the Republican Party better reflects America’s diversity, and I’m proud that we are bringing much needed voices to the table,” said Florida state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican involved with the effort.

The announcement came at the tail end of a Republican leadership convention in Austin.

The Future Majority Project is part of the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization that seeks to elect Republicans to state-level offices. Last year, the project identified 125 new Hispanic candidates in 26 states.

A separate initiative by the Republican State Leadership Committee identified 191 new female candidates. Eighty-four of the women won office, according to data provided by the organization.

The Future Majority Project has powerful allies. Its chairs are Governors Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada. Diaz and Florida state Rep. Jose Oliva, of Miami Lakes, serve on the advisory board.

May 13, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New executive editor at News Service

Jim Saunders has been named the new executive editor of the News Service of Florida. Saunders replaces founding executive editor David Royse, who will become the News Service’s associate editor of special projects.

Along with his role as associate editor, Saunders, 47, has also reported on health care and other issues for the News Service. He was previously capital bureau chief of The Florida Times-Union in 1998 and held similar positions for The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Health News Florida. He is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Royse, 43, left the Associated Press to help start the News Service in 2008. He’s moving to Chicago where his wife, Jessi Bishop-Royse, is taking a post at the Social Science Research Center at DePaul University. Royse, who will work on special projects for the News Service either remotely or in Florida, will remain involved with the growth of the News Service of Florida and its parent company, Affiliated News Services, which also runs Statehouse News Service in Boston.

New public information officer for FDLE

Linda McDonald is now the main spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as part of her new role as the communications coordinator in the FDLE’s Office of External Affairs.

McDonald was most recently a state purchasing operations communications analyst with MyFloridaMarketPlace. She has also served as the communications deputy director and communications director for the Florida Department of Management Services and she was the communications director for First Professionals Insurance Company in Jacksonville.

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April 30, 2013

Bill to replace 'mental retardation' with 'intellectual disabilities' sent to Governor

Brittany Norman, a 25-year-old Tallahassee woman with down syndrome, had a message for Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday: "Sign the bill." She was referring to SB 142, which replaces the words mental retardation with intellectual disability in state law. Norman was in the House gallery when the bill passed by a vote of 119-0 -- it already clinched a unanimous vote in the Senate so it's headed to the governor.

Norman said she hopes changing the word in state law will help change the names people call her. She wiped away tears as she recalled being called "retard" and "ugly." 

"It makes me sad," she said.

Norman was one of several people with disabilities who spoke in legislative committees to support the bill. Seeing such support made her feel "happy," Norman said.

Michele Poole, president of The Arc of Florida said federal health, education and labor policy statutes were changed in 2010 when Congress passed and President Obama signed Rosa’s Law. Thirty-nine other states have made similar changes to their state laws.

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April 29, 2013

House bill restricts talking and texting for interstate truckers

While the texting while driving bill awaits action in the House, that chamber has passed legislation that would restrict drivers of commercial motor vehicles traveling interstate highways from talking or texting on hand-held phones while driving.

The measure gives the state teeth to enforce federal regulations that were approved in Jan. 2012. The law applies to vehicles ranging from 18-wheelers to school buses run by private contractors. Technically a commercial vehicle has a “gross vehicle weight rating” or a weight of at least 10,000 pounds, transports more than eight passengers (including the driver) for compensation or more than 15 passengers (including the driver) who don’t pay anything.

The measure was an amendment to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles bill (HB 7125), which passed the House last week. It’s been sent to the Senate, which also has a highway safety bill with numerous amendment proposals, that's expected to be heard on the floor Tuesday.

“Not only are we penalizing the drivers if they’re texting and driving, we’re penalizing the companies. And the companies are behind us," says Rep. Irv Slosberg, a co-sponsor of the House bill.

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April 26, 2013

Commission won't drop Rep. Nuñez's attorney's fees in dismissed ethics case

 While the State Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint against Rep. Jeannette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, last month, she can't pass her attorney's fees to the complainant, the panel decided on Friday.
    On March 13th, the Commission found no probable cause to believe that Nuñez had misused her position to mail a legislatively-funded newsletter to voters who were not her constituents in newly established District 119, in apparent violation of House policy, before the 2012 election Aug. 14th.
    But the Ethics Commission followed a recommendation by staff to reject a petition by Nuñez's attorney, Juan-Carlos Planas, to dismiss attorney's fees and costs the representative incurred in the case.

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April 18, 2013

House passes two abortion-related bills after heated exchanges

Following hours of fiery debate that included accusations of female infanticide and eugenics, the House passed a bill that would ban abortions based on sex or gender by 71-44 on Thursday.

It was the third successful abortion bill to pass the House in two days.

House Bill 845, sponsored by Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, would require a doctor to sign an affidavit that a woman is not seeking an abortion based on sex or gender. A person who performs, or actively participates in a sex/gender abortion can be charged with a third-degree felony; not reporting a sex/gender abortion can also result in a fine up to $10,000.

In his closing statement, Van Zant said the bill is necessary because "race and sex selection abortion is prevalent throughout America, including Florida," though no specific figures were provided.

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April 16, 2013

Senate passes texting while driving bill

The Senate unanimously passed a texting while driving bill on Tuesday and sent it the House. For the first time, it looks like Florida could get a law restricting texting. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice,  who has been trying to get a bill passed for four years,  said the offense "needs to stop, this is the year."

The bill (SB 52) makes texting while driving a secondary violation, which means a motorist would have to commit another offense, such as careless driving, in order to be pulled over. Once stopped, a driver could receive two tickets, one for the infraction and one for texting.

"Everyone is in support of this bill," Detert said. "The general public supports it by 89 percent. We really don't need the statistics... We see it every day as we drive."

Detert credits House Speaker Will Weatherford for allowing the bill to be heard in the House. This is the first time representatives have had the chance to vote on the measure, which has cruised  through committees this session.

The texting problem, Detert said, has become an "epidemic" with 11 teenagers dying every day in the country due to texting. Florida is one of five states without any type of texting ban.

Senate Democrats agreed to roll over a third reading of the bill and make it available for a final vote. "The bill is long overdue," said Minority Leader Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. "We've lost too many young people, too many people in general."

April 15, 2013

Biz group fights to keep insurance industry's $220 million tax cut with new TV ad

Associated Industries of Florida has launched a campaign to save a $220 million tax break for insurance companies, releasing a new 30-second spot recently.

The influential business group is protesting the proposal of Florida’s Senate Budget Chairman, Joe Negron, who surprised many last month with a plan to eliminate the tax break in order to lower car registration fees for consumers.

The tax break was created in 1987 to help recruit insurance companies to Florida. Negron questioned whether it had outlived its usefulness and said the lost revenue could be used to lower the cost of car registrations (the Legislature hiked those fees in 2009).

The insurance industry—which normally gets along with the business-friendly Legislature--protested the proposal, calling it a “tax hike.” It passed through the Senate Appropriations committee anyway.

Now, the business lobby is making its appeal directly to consumers in a campaign-style TV ad. 

“Major employers are coming to Florida, and hiring. That’s growth our economy needs” the ad’s narrator says as images depicting booming commerce flash across the screen. “But now, some in Tallahassee want to end it.”

The ad says the tax cut helped create the 40,000 insurance jobs that have been added in Florida in the last five years. It closes with the slogan, “Keep the working tax cut. Keep the Jobs.”

Words you won’t hear in the ad are: “insurance companies” or “lower driver’s license fees,” as the commercial does not lay out the details of the “working tax cut” or why lawmakers are considering scrapping it.

See the ad here.

April 12, 2013

Enterprise Florida rallies board members to lobby against cuts to economic incentives

The Florida House and Senate have largely rebuffed Gov. Rick Scott’s call for a huge budget increase for economic incentives, which the governor awards to companies to help bring them to Florida. The organization that helps dole out the cash has sounded a red-alert to its members, telling them to lobby the Legislature for the increased budget. 

In his budget, Scott called for nearly $300 million in economic incentives, up from just over $100 million last year. The House and Senate have gone the opposite direction, proposing to decrease Scott’s funding despite a flush budget surplus. They’ve also passed several measures to increase scrutiny on the economic incentives, after high-profile bankruptcies and legal problems of companies that received tax dollars and then went bust. A report by watchdog group Integrity Florida has also increased legislative concern, questioning Enterprise Florida’s award of contracts and incentives to companies that have a seat on the board.

Fred Leonhardt, an Enterprise Florida board member, put his colleagues on alert last week about the potential gutting of the economic incentives budget.

“The elimination of incentive funding will eliminate Florida’s ability to compete in economic development projects,” he wrote in an email to the board.

He also wrote: "EFI will be calling on you in the future to reach out to legislators on this issue if negotiations do not improve the budget outlook. "

His email is below:

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April 11, 2013

Senate passes bill to tighten oversight of assisted living facilities

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that aims to tighten oversight of Florida's nearly 3,000 assisted living facilities passed  by a 38-0 vote. "It's a work that we've all put a lot of effort on,'' said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, sponsor of  HB 646.
  The bill was  prompted by a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed years of abuse, neglect and even death of ALF residents, said Sobel, D-Hollywood.
 "Legislation failed in the 2012 session," Sobel said during the bill's second reading Wednesday. "We have a more targeted approach this year. We are attempting to better enforce existing regulations. I know this bill significantly improves the lives of over 80,000 residents in ALFs in Florida."

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