March 27, 2014

State college 'mission creep' becomes focus of Senate tuition proposal


Sen. Joe Negron has decided that Florida's community colleges are offering too many bachelor's degrees that duplicate programs at the 11, soon to be 12, state universities. As the Senate's budget chief, he is in a position to do something about it.

Negron is championing Senate Bill 1148, which today passed the Appropriations Committee that he chairs with one dissenting vote. The bill requires the Legislature to approve any new bachelor's degree programs at community colleges. That takes power away from the state Board of Education, which approves new bachelor's programs at state colleges except St. Petersburg College. By law, it doesn't have to get outside approval.

Separately, the Appropriations panel approved a budget amendment filed by Negron that reduced community college funding for bachelor degrees by 10 percent. That money, was then redistributed to the state's two "pre-eminent" universities. Florida State University and University of Florida received an extra $1.7 million each from the 24 state colleges that have baccalaureate programs. (Four community colleges choose not to offer bachelor degrees.)

Negron, R-Stuart, said he not only thinks state colleges should have a tougher time adding new bachelor degrees, they also should reduce some of the ones they currently. The 175 programs currently offered at community colleges cover subjects that don't fit the initial goal of creating bachelor's degrees that address specific, regional workforce needs, he said.

"We can't build an elite university system if we have a state college system that is trying to do the same thing as the university system," Negron said. "So this is something that I personally care about, so I'm working through the appropriations process to really develop and implement a point of view that I have."

Sen. Jack Latvala, a St. Petersburg Republican, cast the sole "no" vote to SB 1148 and had heated debate with Negron over the budget reductions. Latvala said the Legislature decided several years ago to allow community colleges to offer bachelors degrees as a way to provide students more access at affordable prices.

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Longtime MDX board member resigns over treatment of Mike Fernandez by Gov. Rick Scott's campaign team

Gonzalo Sanabria, a longtime Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board member, resigned Thursday from his post to protest the “disparaging and disrespectful” treatment of Mike Fernandez, the former co-finance chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign.

“Since he has been treated in such a disparaging and disrespectful manner by your [campaign] staff and ignored in his advice, it is obvious that there is a great deal of dysfunction and disconnection of which I want to have no part nor can I render my support any longer as you are governing from a weak and flawed platform,” Sanabria wrote in an email he sent to Scott’s staff and shared with the Miami Herald.

Sanabria, who also quit his leadership post with the Republican Party of Miami-Dade, said his resignation was “mostly due to your perceived insensitivity to loyal supporters and our Hispanic community in Florida.”

Fernandez quit his position as top fundraiser for Scott’s campaign last week. Three of his emails, obtained by the Herald/Times and Politico, showed Fernandez repeatedly questioned the judgment of Scott’s advisers and the quality of his campaign ads and his Hispanic outreach.

He also complained about a lack of access to Scott and accused unidentified campaign aides of mimicking a Mexican accent in front of his business partner, a charge the campaign denies but will not discuss in detail.

Fernandez, who lives in Coral Gables, is a highly successful health care billionaire entrepreneur who came to the United States as a poor young boy from Cuba — an ideal symbol of a successful pro-businessman who could help Scott court Hispanic votes.

The political tit-for-tat with Sanabria began Thursday morning when Sanabria, 65, a real estate broker and investor who lives in Coral Gables, announced his resignation in an email that he sent to the Herald.

Scott’s office, without mentioning Sanabria’s resignation, then issued a short press release announcing that Javier Vasquez, a 50-year-old attorney from Miami Lakes, would be appointed to the MDX board.

Later, Scott spokesman Frank Collins issued a terse and blunt statement saying that Sanabria was upset at the governor’s decision earlier that morning to not reappoint him.

“We called Mr. Sanabria just after 11 a.m. today to let him know that he would not be reappointed to the MDX Board due to his votes to raise toll fees on the people of Miami-Dade,” said Collins. “Mr. Sanabria, an appointee of the previous administration, later sent an email upset about not being reappointed.”

Read entire story here


- Sergio R. Bustos, State/Politics Editor, Miami Herald

Miami-Dade SOE endorsed delay of search for noncitizen voters

Miami-Dade Supervisor Penelope Townsley agrees with the decision by Secretary of State Ken Detzner to delay the next round of searching for noncitizens on the voter rolls, said her spokeswoman Christina White today.

Detzner announced his decision to delay today as a result of the Department of Homeland Security revamping the database that he planned to use to verify if voters on the list are ineligible. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security started to revamp SAVE in February and won't be done until 2015. 

“From the very beginning we always felt and understood our statutory obligation is to remove ineligible voters from the rolls and will continue  to do so,” White said. However, “we always wanted it to be a more credible and reliable list -- that’s what we have been waiting for. Now that they said they will delay it we will pick it up when they decide to finish the list.”

Several groups that support voting rights -- including the League of Women Voters and the Advancement Project -- had been critical of the "purge." They have said the state-led purge disproportionately hit minorities, snagged those who could legally vote -- including a Brooklyn-born World War II vet in Broward -- was ineffective and a waste of money.

“What we have seen from past efforts it has not been successful in identifying ineligible voters,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the Florida League of Voters. “Of course the League believes and always believes only eligible voters should vote but the process we already have in place -- supervisors work every day, all day to clean our lists and keep them up to date -- shows the current process is working very effectively. .... Micromanaging by the political appointee Secretary of State position was shown to be ineffective in fact in uncovering ineligible voters.”

Here is our earlier post about Detzner. He has sinced issued a press release verifying that he has decided to delay "Project Integrity."


Galvano bill takes aim at regional planning

If Pasco County approves a subdivision of 2,000 homes on its border, should it review and discuss the project with the state and adjacent counties, like Hernando?

After all, those 2,000 homes would produce “regional impacts” like 20,000 daily trips, an externalized cost that wouldn’t just be paid by Pasco, but Hernando and surrounding cities and towns as well. Currently, the state provides a review process in which those surrounding jurisdictions can report and discuss those costs.

But under a bill that barely passed Senate Appropriations Thursday, 9-5, that review of “developments of regional impact,” or DRIs, would be eliminated for seven counties, bringing the total number to 15 that would be exempt from such a review.

SB 372, sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, would exempt seven counties with populations greater than 300,000, including Pasco, Sarasota and Galvano’s home county of Manatee. The exemption is already in place for eight counties with populations of 900,000 or more — including Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

“At  the heart of the whole issue, you do have additional cost and time associated with the DRI process that perhaps in 1972 was appropriate,” Galvano said. “The counties that have to go through the DRI process are less attractive to developers. Someone going into Hillsborough could avoid high cost that they would encounter in Pasco.”

Time is money in the development world. And the time it takes to review the project was seen by several members of the committee a prime reason why they believe the DRI process is onerous.

But the review process is invaluable for adjacent jurisdictions, who otherwise wouldn’t have any way to discuss anticipated costs from the neighboring project, said Eric Poole, assistant legislative director for the Florida Association of Counties.

“The DRI process has gotten a bad name,” Poole said. “It’s not a regulatory program. it allows all the parties to come together and figure out how the project will affect the region.”

But getting all parties in the same room takes time, and that concern trumped any for a more deliberative regional planning process.

“Do you have any idea on what it costs in terms of time to pursue a DRI through the layers of DRI, and the cost?” Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, asked Poole.

Lee, a  homebuilder, was one of nine Republicans who approved it. Five voted against it, including Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Senate Appropriations Chair. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

But it’s not looking good for Galvano’s bill. It still has the Senate’s Rules committee before it heads to a floor vote. And its companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has yet to be heard at its first House committee. When asked Thursday afternoon about why his bill hasn't advanced, Gaetz walked away and wouldn't comment.

Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, chairs the House's Economic Affairs Committee, so he oversees all three committee stops Gaetz's bill must pass through to get a floor vote in the House. Gaetz and Patronis have been rivals for the Senate seat being left vacant by Gaetz's father, Don, but Patronis said he hasn't weighed in yet on the bill. He said he doesn't know why it hasn't advanced past the first stop, economic development and tourism, which is chaired by Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

So with the House prospects looking dim, perhaps senators are just indulging Galvano, who’s considered a sure bet for Senate President in 2018.

Galvano has said he hasn't discussed the bill with its developers, including the politically influential Carlos Beruff, who has contributed at least $3,000 to Galvano's reelection campaign this year and is chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Last year, Manatee County commissioners made things more difficult for that project, which includes a convention center and hotel on Sarasota Bay. They moved the boundaries of a so-called "urban service area,'' making it harder to develop. Galvano's bill would eliminate urban service areas.

State may suspend non-citizen voter purge efforts

Facing overwhelming resistance from county election supervisors in a busy election year, Gov. Rick Scott's administration is expected to suspend all efforts in 2014 to comb the Florida voter rolls of suspected non-citizens.

Scott's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, held conference calls with supervisors Thursday, during which he said the state is reluctant to move forward due until it can evaluate new changes to a federal homeland security database, known as SAVE.

Detzner promised a final decision later Thursday. "This process," he said, "causes me some concern in terms of being able to implement a program with credibility and reliability, such that it would not affect or distract supervisors."

Detzner sought input from supervisors on the suspension of purge efforts, and it wasn't long in coming.

"It is a good idea to postpone the project until we're sure we have it right," said Citrus County Supervisor Susan Gill. "The closer it gets to the election which I know you're well aware of, the more likely is it is that we'll get a lot of criticism."


Crist launches digital media buy attacking Scott and defending Obamacare


The Charlie Crist campaign on Thursday launched a digital media ad that will run exclusively online and in social media that attacks Gov. Rick Scott for his “misleading” ad on Crist and offers up a defense of the Affordable Care Act without ever mentioning Obamacare.

“Rick Scott wants to take us back to the days of insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, where women are charged more than men, and lifetime caps limit care even for kids with cancer,’’ says the narrator as it shows pictures of people and ends with a shot of Scott in 1995, from a two-hour-long deposition when he was head of Columbia/HCA health care.

The campaign will spend “thousands of dollars” posting the ad on various online platforms, said Kevin Cate, Crist spokesman. He declined to disclose specific numbers.

Last week, Scott’s campaign launched the second of his $2 million television ad campaign and used it to go after Crist for his support of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The ads are airing in the state’s 10 media markets. The Florida Democratic Party has asked stations to remove the ad because of its inaccurate content.

Recent polls have shown Scott trailing Crist in a head-to-head matchup, although Crist is just one of a number of Democrats who is seeking the nomination.

In a conference call with reporters, former state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami called Scott’s latest ad “shameful — not just because it’s mostly false and misleading but it also confirms Rick Scott has no vision.”

He said he didn’t know why the ad didn’t refer to Obamacare, but said Crist will not shy away from defending the benefits of the program.

“We will respond forcefully to these false ads,’’ he said. “On healthcare, for instance, we believe we should be making the law work. He is blocking care for Floridians. He wants to take us back to a time when pre-existing conditions weren’t covered and when things were worse for women.”

Recent polls have shown that while support for the health care reform break along party lines, a narrow majority of independent voters oppose it in Florida. The reforms, however, have the support of blacks and Hispanics. Support for the expansion of Medicaid, which disproportionately enrolls minorities, is also widely popular but the Republican-dominated Legislature has refused to do so.

Higher speed-limit bill headed to Senate floor


A proposal to increase speed limits to 75 mph on Florida's interstates is ready for the full Senate's consideration.

The Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 392 with four dissenting: Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

The rest of the commitee sign off on the bill co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. Clemens argued that the state Department of Transporatation should be allowed to adjust speed limits using data and statistics.

“This bill takes myth and politics and replaces it with facts and engineering," Clemens said.

Safety advocates have argued that higher speed limits would lead to more accidents and fatalities and that drivers would push speedometers past the posted maximums. Clemens' bill also would allow speed limits to be increased 65 mph on four-lane highways outside urban areas and 60 mph on other roads the state manages.

The House version of the proposal, HB 761, has one more committee stop before it makes it to the floor. If the bill is passed by both chambers, it would go into effect July 1. The FDOT would have final say on which roads would allow faster vehicles.

Florida Dems want stations to pull Scott's 'misleading' Obamacare ad

The Florida Democratic Party sent a letter Thursday morning to 67 television stations in all 10 media markets asking them to refrain from airing the "patently false" attack ad from the Rick Scott campaign featuring Democrat Charlie Crist's support of Obamacare. 

The $2 million ad campaign was launched last week by the governor's "Let's Get to Work" committee and features former Gov. Charlie Crist being asked by CNN if he thought Obamacare has harmed Floridians and he replies "I don't think so at all. I think it's been great." The ad also repeats statements about the impact of Obamacare that the Associated Press and PolitiFact have demonstrated are inaccurate.

“This advertisement knowingly misleads your viewing audience about the impact of the Affordable Care Act,’’ writes lawyer Mark Herron for the Democratic Party. “As a responsible media source, it is your duty to ensure that this type of advertising does not contain patently false information. The FDP would strongly urge you to refrain from airing this advertisement.”  Download Obamacare Great Cease and Desist

The letter then cites reports by PolitiFact and a story by Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout that demonstrated the ads were inaccurate. Herron attaches a point-by-point rebuttal.  Download 2014 03.24 Charlie Crist on Obamacare Great Rebuttal

The ad says that “news reports say 300,000 health plans cancelled,’’ but the Democrats point out that a spokesman for Florida Blue, which held the plans, told the Associated Press this month that policyholders who initially had been notified that they could lost their plans have actually "kept their plans." 

The ad also claims that the federal government says that Obamacare will result in “less work hours for American jobs.” The Democrats say that is inaccurate by citing a February PolitiFact report that refers to a Congressional Budget Office report which concluded that some Americans will decide on their own to work fewer hours because of the greater access to insurance on the individual market and subsidies to help pay for it from Obamacare. PolitiFact this week examined the ad and ruled it "mostly false."

The Democrats also note that the ad quotes a CBO report claiming “Obamacare will drive 2.5 million Americans out of the workforce” when the phrase never appeared in the CBO report.

The Republican Party of Florida called the letter "another example of amateur lawyering by Florida Democrats.

"They are desperately trying to change the subject away from the fact that they, and their darling candidate Charlie Crist, support a devastating, disastrous, and wildly unpopular law that harms Floridians. It didn’t work before and it won’t work this time,” said RPOF spokeswoman Susan Hepworth.

This is the second time the party has asked television stations to take down an ad by the governor’s campaign. Two weeks ago, the party said the governor’s first ad of the campaign titled “Families” violated Florida law because it failed to prominently indicate that it was paid for by the governor’s campaign because it said only that it was “sponsored by Let’s Get to Work.”


Today in Tallahassee: Five Things to Know

Pack a lunch; the Senate's budget committee has scheduled a 9-hour meeting. Here's more details about that and what else to watch today:

You read it correctly. The Senate Appropriations Committee meets from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to begin working on the budget, including wading through 50 amendments (and counting) that have been proposed.

Also on the Appropriations Committee agenda is a proposal (SB 392) to increase the maximum speed limit to 75 miles per hour on interstates, 65 on four-lane highways outside urban areas and 60 on other roads the state manages.

The same panel will also debate SB 1148, which reduces maximum tuition increases at state universities from 15 percent to 6, removes a provision in state law that requires universities' tuition to increase at the rate of inflation and requires community colleges to seek the Legislature's approval before they introduce new bachelor degree programs.

Anti-abortion advocates will be in Tallahassee for "Celebrate Life Day." Many will attend the House's Health & Human Services Committee where HB 1047, a proposal that would restrict doctors from performing abortions anytime the fetus is considered viable, is up for debate.

The House will hold an afternoon session, and members are expected to vote on proposals to expand access to public-school extracurricular activities for children who are home-schooled or attend other types of schools (HB 533), allow university support organizations to meet privately when discussing donations (HB 115) and remove a moratorium on new nursing home beds (HB 287).

March 26, 2014

Red light cameras get reprieve as Brandes bill stalls


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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