April 03, 2014

Rick Scott's Mostly True claim about (private sector) job growth

Ask Gov. Rick Scott about practically any topic and he is bound to steer the conversation back to jobs.

The former CEO of a health care company loves to cite statistics that relate to job growth, such as this one in a March 31online ad:

"Florida’s economy is on a better path. Since December 2010 Florida has created 540,000 new jobs. Let’s keep working."

Scott, who has governed during the national recovery, is expected to face former Gov. Charlie Crist, who governed during the recession, in November. The jobs picture under both governors is a key topic of debate in the race.

Did Scott correctly cite the number of new jobs in Florida? Turn to PolitiFact for the answer.

Broward debates bed tax dollars for Panthers vs. beaches

Panthers CEO Rory Babich wouldn’t play ball when we asked him today what his Plan B is -- and if it includes relocating the team --- if the Broward County Commission rejects his request for a hike in bed tax dollars.

“In my view that is a hypothetical ....,” Babich said in an interview after a Tower Forum event in Fort Lauderdale Thursday. “It’s my belief we will reach an appropriation resolution.”

The Panthers, which lose about $30 million a year, are seeking an increase in bed tax dollars paid by tourists to help pay off the debt on the county-owned arena. On the other side of the debate was Kevin Speidel, area management director for Hilton Worldwide and Broward’s president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. The county’s hotel and tourism industry wants money devoted to the county’s main tourism draw: the beaches.

The Panthers -- and the arena which hosts other events -- is not one of the main tourism attractions in Broward.

The county’s tourism czar Nicki Grossman  said in an email: “We estimate that about 30,000 room nights are related to all events at the arena (concerts) annually. We have over 8 million room nights per year sold.”

The Panthers get $8 million a year from a 2 percent bed tax. Preliminary estimates indicate that the Panthers’ request would cost the county about $5.6 million “however, the proposal lacks any meaningful consideration to the county in return,” county auditor Evan Lukic wrote in February.

Currently the Panthers get 16 percent of the bed tax -- their request would raise that to one-third, Speidel said. The team’s lease is through 2028 -- the remaining debt is more than $200 million.

Babich argued that the bed tax has generated more than the county originally predicted and therefore the Panthers should get a “portion of that excess.”

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry said in an interview that the County Commission may not vote on the Panthers’ request before the commission starts it’s summer break in late June. Commissioners are divided on the bailout request and it’s unclear at this point if it will pass, the Sun-Sentinel shows.


Lopez-Cantera and House killed tag fee cut in 2010

As they rewrite history, Tallahassee politicians can have short memories when it suits their political objectives.

Take the current debate over reducing car registration fees and the bill Gov. Rick Scott signed Wednesday rolling back some fees to pre-2009 levels.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who voted to raise the fees as a member of the House in 2009, told reporters that he only had "one option" when Charlie Crist was governor, to increase registration fees by about 35 percent. 

The following year, Lopez-Cantera had a chance to reduce tag fees by a smaller amount. But the record is clear that along with the rest of the House, he voted no.

That year, the Senate voted 37-0 for a bill that would have lowered the fees. The bill was SB 1436, sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and co-sponsored by Democrat Dave Aronberg and Republicans Charlie Dean and Don Gaetz. 

After that unanimous Senate vote, the bill went to the House, where an amendment by Republican Rep. Rich Glorioso of Plant City stripped off all of the fee-reduction language and sent the bill to a conference committee, which turned out to be a death sentence.

The House vote of 116-0 included a yes vote by Lopez-Cantera, House majority leader under Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala (view the roll call vote here).

Rep. Brad Drake of DeFuniak Springs filed the House version of the tag fee reduction in 2010 (HB 71), but it went nowhere.

DCCC puts Carlos Curbelo on defense over Ryan budget's Medicare cuts

From a press release:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching the first phase of a sweeping nationwide paid effort – “Battleground: Middle Class” – to communicate with voters in Florida that Candidate Carlos Curbelo’s new Republican budget is selling out the middle class in favor of special interests and the ultra-wealthy.

The “Battleground: Middle Class” project will reach voters through paid advertising, efforts to connect them to their representatives and field efforts in their neighborhoods and at their homes.

Carlos Curbelo and House Republicans’ new budget was unveiled Tuesday, and highlights include: raising taxes on middle class families, ending the Medicare guarantee for seniors and turning Medicare into a voucher program, and costing our economy 1.1 million jobs next year alone – all while heaping tax breaks on corporations that ship jobs overseas.

“Carlos Curbelo’s new Republican budget is the clearest illustration yet that he is not on the side of Florida’s middle class families – Curbelo’s Republican budget rewards the special interests and the wealthy who need help the least, and does it on the backs of the middle class,” said Josh Schwerin of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The people of Florida cannot afford Curbelo’s reckless budget that costs jobs, threatens middle class families’ financial security, raises their taxes, and ends the Medicare guarantee for Florida seniors, while giving more handouts to the corporations and special interests that are shipping our jobs overseas.”

Curbelo responds:

While I'm pleased the DCCC has recognized that I'm going to win this election, the budget does not yet have my input. That will come next January, after we've defeated Joe Garcia and put an end to the scandals and the embarrassment that he has caused our community. Joe Garcia and the DCCC's baseless attacks and shallow talking points aside, I would vote for any budget that helps create jobs and rewards hard work, protects Medicare for seniors, and stops immorally piling debt on my generation and on my daughters' generation.  While I have not fully reviewed this budget I'm inclined to support it. 

Garcia responds to Curbelo's response:

“I have fully reviewed the Ryan budget, and it’s a disaster for America. It raises taxes on middle class families and lowers taxes on the wealthy. It turns Medicare into a voucher program, and puts the hole back in the Medicare Part D donut. It does the opposite of protecting Medicare for seniors. It is a big giveaway to wealthy donors, and anyone who does even a cursory review of this budget should reject it out of hand. I will never hesitate to oppose a budget that harms seniors and the middle class.“

Here's the web ad:


Hundreds of college students head to the Capitol on Thursday

A press release from the Florida College System Student Government Association:

Over 400 college students from across Florida are expected to unite at the Capitol steps on Thursday, April 3rd at 10 am to rally for College Affordability and In-state Tuition, among other concerns.

 The Florida College System Student Government Association (FCSSGA) represents the nearly one million students enrolled in the Florida College System's 28 community and state colleges.

Continue reading "Hundreds of college students head to the Capitol on Thursday" »

Today in Tallahassee: Five Things to Know

It’ll be a long, busy day at the Capitol, as the budget is discussed on both floors. There are some key bills, too.

House Education Committee meets at 8 a.m. and is scheduled to hear HB 7083 that would require charter schools and school districts to use a standard contract. Districts believe it will take away their ability to negotiate with charter schools and oppose it.


At 9 a.m., the Senate’s Transportation Committee* will consider SB 772, by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, that would change the make-up of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. It reduces the number of MDX board members from 13 to 9 and prevents lobbyists from serving on the board. Last week, Gonzalo Sanabria, a longtime Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board member told the Times/Herald that he resigned from the board because of disrespectful treatment toward Mike Fernandez, the former co-finance chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign. Scott’s office said Sanabria was dismissed because he supported toll increases. The bill would give the governor more control over the board.


The main attraction at the Senate’s 11 a.m. floor session, is a final vote on SB 448, the so-called “warning shot” bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. Backed heavily by the NRA and having already cleared the House, it would expand the state’s “stand your ground” protections by granting immunity for those who fire a warning shot. They will also begin discussing its proposed $75 billion budget.


The Senate will also vote on SB 320, by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would require parasailing boat operators to carry liability insurance of $1 million per occurrence, or $2 million in aggregate.


The House, meanwhile, is expected to vote on its proposed $75 billion budget for the budget year beginning on July 1. Spoiler alert: Democrats will note the absence of Medicaid expansion. Republicans won’t care.


* One thing NOT happening at the Senate’s 9 a.m. transportation committee that is quite noteworthy is that there will be no second consideration of SB 144. Sponsored by the committee chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the bill would ban red light cameras. It stalled last week in a 4-4 deadlock. Although Brandes said he would bring it back up again for a vote today, he said he chose not to because the prospects of another deadlock, 5-5, was too likely. He said he’s considering his next move, which could include amending the bill language onto a transportation highway safety bill later in session. He did that last year, too, but the amendment failed.

April 02, 2014

Senate advances sweeping child welfare reforms; will money follow?

Innocents LostA key Senate committee approved a sweeping overhaul of Florida’s child welfare law Wednesday, the first step toward passage of a series of reforms designed to stanch the deaths of children at the hands of their parents or other caregivers.

The proposal, an amendment to SB 1666 approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, is the most significant revamp of the state’s child welfare system in at least a decade. It aims to increase the quality and quantity of child protection investigators and strengthen the ability of the state to remove a vulnerable child from an unsafe home after the parents have demonstrated a pattern of neglect or abuse.

The 142-page bill merges several different Senate bills and adopts language from a companion measure passed out of a House committee last week. It contains several recommendations from Innocents Lost, a Miami Herald series that detailed the deaths of 477 Florida children whose families had prior contact with the Florida Department of Children & Families.

“We have had some of the best and brightest minds working on this and we are troubled by the 477 innocent lives lost, as written by the Miami Herald,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who chairs the Senate Families and Elder Affairs Committee. “This is a tremendous movement from the past.” Story here. 



Weatherford: Time is running out for a gambling bill

Gov. Rick Scott is in quiet, some say subdued, negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over a new gambling compact. The House won't take up a bill to address gambling expansion until a compact is complete. And the Senate has repeatedly postponed a hearing to vote out its proposal to build two new destination casinos in Miami Dade and Broward.

Conclusion: "It's getting late,'' said House Speaker Will Weatherford on Wednesday.

As the Legislature reached its half-way point of the 60-day session on Wednesday, pre-session predictions seem to be coming true as the odds of a gambling bill emerging, then passing, become dimmer each day.

Weatherford told reporters that while the House has moved one bill through committee, it's not prepared to take any more action until the governor acts. 

"We said for the last six months, there were two components: One was a negotiated compact. We have not seen that and we’re almost at the sixth week of session,'' he said. "It’s probably getting a little late for a compact at this point. And second, we said we needed a constitutional amendment to move from both chambers. That doesn’t look like it’s moving in the Senate either. It’s getting late.”

Meanwhile, legislators have had no updates on the progress of the negotiations. "It's very quiet,'' Weatherford said. 



Plan to divide shared FSU-FAMU engineering program sparks debate


A behind-the-scenes effort to divide an engineering program shared by Florida State University and Florida A&M University is igniting a lingering debate about racial inequality and how state resources are allocated in higher education.

State Sen. Joe Negron says the plan will allow the universities' "good" joint College of Engineering to morph into "great" individual programs. FAMU would keep the existing building on a remote part of FSU's campus and current state funding; FSU would get $13 million to begin the multi-year process of creating a new program in a new building.

"The important thing for FAMU is there is no reduction whatsoever for the College of Engineering at FAMU, they will continue to be funded at the current level," Negron, R-Stuart, said.

According to the Board of Governors, FAMU had 369 engineering students in undergraduate and graduate programs in 2013 and FSU had 2,142.

FAMU opposes the measure and so does Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who believes the historically black university and its supporters are being forced to fight the same battles they lost nearly 50 years ago.

Read more here.

While Florida halts SAVE non-citizen voter purge, other states proceed ahead

Think the use of SAVE to search for non-citizen voters is dead? Perhaps in Florida, but not elsewhere.

While Florida recently scrapped using SAVE to search for non-citizen voters this year, Colorado and Maricopa County, Arizona continue to use that federal data to check voter registration eligibility -- and more states appear poised to join that list.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced last week that he would delay his second round of searching for non-citizen voters due to changes underway to the federal SAVE website that won’t be done before the 2014 election.

Detzner’s purge shortly before the presidential election in 2012 was criticized by election supervisors who said it was sloppy, rife with errors and poorly timed. The state started with a list of 180,000 potential noncitizens and later pared it to about 2,600 and then to 198. In the end, about 85 were removed.

In 2013, Detzner went on a statewide tour to visit county election officials and promise a much more effective process using the SAVE data. He dubbed the second round “Project Integrity.”

But in March, Detzner said as a result of DHS making changes to the SAVE website he had decided to delay the project. DHS finished the first phase of the website changes in February and is planning for the next phase -- but the website continues to remain operational. Unrelated to SAVE, this week a federal appeals court ruled that the 2012 purge was illegal because it was done too close to election day.

The Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler continues to use SAVE despite the website changes.  

Colorado signed an agreement to access SAVE in August 2012 and started using it for voter registration purposes shortly thereafter. A spokesman for the Secretary of State, Andrew Cole, told us in an email that their office hasn’t had any issues with the SAVE website “and do not plan on halting our checks as a result of the changes to the website.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many non-citizens have been removed from Colorado’s voter rolls as a result of SAVE. Since 2008, Colorado has removed 622 noncitizens from the voter rolls -- but that includes a few years before the state started using SAVE for that purpose, Gessler spokesman Richard Coolidge said. At least 55 voters identified through SAVE searches sent letters back to the state asking that they be removed from the voter rolls. (Gessler has faced heat for the purge.)

In 2005, Maricopa County in Arizona became the first such agency to access SAVE for voter registration purposes, DHS previously told PolitiFact.

“We have not halted the use of the SAVE program and the DHS website continually goes through updates but it has never affected our ability to check citizenship status for prospective voters in Maricopa County,” Jasper Altaha, who works for the Maricopa County Elections Department said in an email. “We only use the SAVE program on the front end when a voter first registers to vote; we don’t use the SAVE program to remove voters from the voter rolls.”

Virginia and North Carolina only recently gained access to SAVE and haven’t started using it yet for voter registration while Iowa is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.