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March 24, 2015

Lopez-Cantera participates in trade mission to Peru

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has traded Tallahassee for warmer climes.

Lopez-Cantera is in Lima, Peru Tuesday. 

His visit is part of a "trade mission with Enterprise Florida to bring job opportunities to the state," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Lopez-Cantera's itinerary includes meetings at the U.S. Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Commerce and Tourism, as well as a luncheon with the American Chamber of Commerce of Peru. He will also chat with President of the National Port Authority Edgar Patino Garrido and Deputy Mayor of Lima Patricia Juarez.

Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, will be in the Florida Capital, working to build support for his proposed tax-cut package.

Report calls for more need-based financial aid

There's been a lot of talk about college affordability in the early days of the legislative session.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has made the issue a top priority -- and is pushing both a textbook tax cut and legislation that would prohibit universities from raising graduate-school tuition.

On Monday, the Senate Higher Education Committee approved a proposal by Sen Anitere Flores, R-Miami, that would accomplish those goals and require colleges and universities to publish the cost of each course before the semester begins (SB 938). The House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee is scheduled to take up a similar proposal on Wednesday.

But a national non-profit organization says there is still work to be done.

A report issued Tuesday by the Young Invincibles showed that tuition at Florida's four-year public institutions had grown by 67 percent since 2007, "the second highest increase in the country during that time period." 

The report also noted that funding for Bright Futures Scholarships had dipped in recent years as lawmakers raised the standards the awards -- and that universities had asked for an additional $45 million to provide scholarships for low-income students.

The organization called on Florida lawmakers to spend an additional $90 million on need-based financial aid in 2015.

"We share Governor Scott's and the Florida Legislature's commitment to making college more affordable," Young Invincibles Policy and Research Manager Tom Allison said in a statement. "But we have to spend our limited resources efficiently. To do that, we need to target aid to students who wouldn't go to college without the aid."

The House budget proposal calls for a $6.7 million increase in need-based financial aid.

 

Tuesday: Things to watch in Tallahassee

Drones, Cuba, guns, water. There’s a good novel somewhere in the legislation that will be heard today, Day 22 of Legislative Session. Choose your own adventure from these five things:


* Drones are the target of two companion bills, HB 649, which will be heard at 8 a.m. at the House Civil Justice subcommittee (404 HOB) and SB 766, which will be heard at 4 p.m. at the Senate Judiciary committee (110 SOB). Sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha and Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, the bills would prohibit persons, state agencies or a political subdivision from using drones to capture an image of privately owned or occupied real property or owner or occupant of property “with intent to conduct surveillance” without their written consent.


* The Florida Senate is on the floor Tuesday morning. Among other things, the upper chamber will consider a memorial that would rebuke President Obama for opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba -- and discourage the federal government from opening a Cuban consulate in Florida (SB 866). The proposal, by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is largely symbolic, but sure to find support among Republican lawmakers.


* A big day for guns. The Senate will vote on a bill (SB 290) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a license while evacuating an emergency. Said Brandes, "“My bill simply allows people who are lawful gun owners who are fleeing for their lives to not be considered felons." (10 a.m., Senate chamber). At 1 p.m., the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will take up HB 623 by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, which would ban shooting a gun on residential property. It was filed in response to a St. Petersburg man who had set up a gun range in his backyard (404 H).

 

* The Senate considers an overhaul of the state’s water management system when it takes up SB 918 during today’s 1:30 p.m. Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee (37 SOB). Last week, the chair of the committee and sponsor of the bill, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, vetted the House version, HB 7003, which passed the lower chamber in the first week. The bills are quite different. The Senate provides broader protections of natural springs and creates and advisory board that would rank water projects. The House version would eliminate permitting as a regulatory tool for the South Florida Water Management District’s oversight of landowners north of Lake Okeechobeee. In its place would be “best management practices”, a series of laxer guidelines for landowners.


* The House K-12 Education Subcommittee will debate a controversial bill (HB 1145) that would allow students to enroll in any public school in the state that hasn't reached capacity. The proposal would also make it easier for parents to transfer their children into another teacher's classroom within the same school.

 (By Michael Van Sickler, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Fact-checking Americans for Prosperity's claim about solar rates in Georgia

A group backed by the Koch brothers is arguing a proposed constitutional amendment that would change Florida solar energy regulations will lead the Sunshine State down a dark path.

Americans For Prosperity Florida says a petition being circulated by solar advocates Floridians for Solar Choice is the wrong move for the state, and will result in higher costs and decreased competition.

The proposal needs nearly 700,000 signatures to get on the 2016 ballot, allowing voters to decide on an amendment that would change current Florida law that says customers can only buy electricity from a utility. If the amendment is approved, customers could buy electricity from solar installers and not just utility companies. We’ve written about it before here.

At a March 10, 2015, news conference, AFP members said the amendment was misguided. They backed up their point of view by implying Georgia’s solar policies are "burdensome and expensive government mandates" that shouldn’t be emulated, and cited a Louisiana study that solar power would be very expensive to implement.

AFP Florida followed up the conference with a release that read, "In Georgia, similar net metering policies have resulted in rate hikes and did not result in solar becoming any more economically viable."

Is it true that energy regulations in Georgia -- often cited as a leader in implementing new solar policies -- have made electric rates go up? Time to rate the rates. See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

March 23, 2015

House takes Senate prison reform and strips out independent oversight and penalties

Prisons Miami HeraldA 51-page prison reform bill intended to weed out abuse and corruption at the state’s troubled corrections agency has been whittled down to a modest 12 pages in the House amid quiet opposition from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.

The House proposal, which will get a hearing on Tuesday, abandons a Senate plan (SB 7020) to require the agency to be accountable to an oversight board.

The full Senate will debate its proposal on Tuesday as well.

House leaders intend to address the state’s prison problems, documented in a series of stories in the Miami Herald, by increasing staffing levels and providing more building repairs, as has been requested by DOC Secretary Julie Jones.

“Ultimately, the governor is accountable for the actions of the secretary and the secretary is accountable for the success of the department,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, which will hear the bill, PCB CRJS 15-07, on Tuesday. “If the department is a failure, they need to search for new leadership.”

Trujillo said that while he agrees an oversight board “could be productive,” House leadership believes it could also create “a layer of bureaucracy” and so the House bill “is a work in progress.” Story here.

Websites with Ted Cruz's name redirect to pro-immigration message and healthcare.gov

Some folks on the left had some fun today at U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s expense.

The conservative Texas Republican announced Monday that he will run for President -- the same day as the fifth anniversary of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Two websites that use Cruz’s name link to left-leaning messages.

The website www.tedcruz.com states “Support President Obama. Immigration reform now!” The other website, www.tedcruzforamerica.com, links to the federal government’s healthcare.gov website.

Cruz has been critical of Obama’s immigration reform efforts and the Affordable Care Act.

The Hill reported that TedCruz.com was created in April of 2004 but then switched ownership last spring. Archived versions show it was created by an Arizona-based real estate firm, Ted Cruz and Associates.

Using a candidate’s name in a website in this fashion is nothing new and is simply some short-term unwanted attention for Cruz on the day of his big announcement. A spokeswoman for Cruz’s campaign didn’t immediately return an email seeking a comment. His actual website is www.tedcruz.org

PolitiFact has fact-checked 44 claims by Cruz about everything from global warming to who invented the arcade game Space Invaders -- see his full Truth-O-Meter record from PolitiFact.

 

FDLE chief cites time delays in notifications of prison violence

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, whose surprise appointment followed the secretly orchestrated ouster of his predecessor, Gerald Bailey, cruised through his first Senate confirmation hearing Monday. After a series of questions, mostly about FDLE's role in investigating deaths and serious injuries in state prisons, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously to confirm him.

"I did not inherit a broken agency," Swearingen told senators.

Swearingen said a written agreement between FDLE and the Department of Corrections had led to "more and more calls" about incidents in prisons, but he did not elaborate. He also cited violations of time provisions in the agreement that requires incidents to be reported within 30 minutes, first by a DOC employee to DOC's inspector general, and in turn by the inspector general to FDLE. He said the delays are being investigated because the agreement includes administrative penalties for violations.

Swearingen said FDLE wants 17 more full-time employees for prison death investigations and said the agency is "absolutely prepared and capable" to fulfill that role. He did not address the Senate proposal for an independent oversight board to monitor the prison system.

Prodded by Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, who alluded to "some of the things that have happened," Swearingen declared his independence and said he will hold regular meetings with all four of his bosses, Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members. He said he has asked the Legislature for money in areas that Scott did not include in his proposed budget, and that no one from Scott's office has questioned that.

"I understand the importance of being an independent agency," Swearingen testified. "There are times when we're going to be asked to conduct investigations."

Coming to the Capitol: Gov. Rick Scott's 'tax cut calculator'

Gov. Rick Scott has pitched his tax cut package in appearances across the state. He has taken the unique step of running paid television ads to promote it. On Tuesday, Scott unveils a "tax cut calculator" on the first floor of the Capitol to call new attention to his call for a reduction in taxes on cell phones, cable TV and satellite service that will save a typical family about $43 a year.

For three days, taxpayers can bring their bills and use the calculator to figure out their savings. Scott will be at the booth on Tuesday and Wednesday. He'll be with University of Florida President Kent Fuchs and UF mascots Albert and Alberta Tuesday (as part of Gator Day festivities; photo op alert!) He'll be joined on Wednesday by FSU President John Thrasher and football coach Jimbo Fisher.

Insurance bill for Uber, Lyft passes first Senate panel

Facing potential cost increases, lobbyists for Uber and Lyft oppose a bill that would implement new insurance requirements for companies like them at the intersection of technology and transportation.

Unfortunately for them, a Senate panel Monday felt differently.

“This is simply a case in which we are setting forth minimum requirements relating to insurance so that our laws keep up with technology,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, sponsor of SB 1298.

At issue is a provision in the bill that would require drivers for so-called Transportation Network Companies to be insured whenever they’re driving with their phone application running.

For the unindoctrinated, Uber, Lyft and the like employ a fleet of freelance drivers who provide rides to people who request them using an app on their smartphone.

Lobbyists for Uber and Lyft say they shouldn’t be responsible for insurance when the app is running but a customer isn’t in the car with the driver.

But with support from existing cab companies, the members of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, which will next be heard in the Judiciary Committee but has not yet been put on the agenda.

Fact-checking Ron Dermer's claim about Netanyahu

Sunday shows fixed their spotlight on newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose campaign-season remarks shutting down a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict inflamed tensions with the White House.

Now Netanyahu and his delegates are saying the comments were misunderstood.

The international uproar started when Netanyahu said a Palestinian state would not happen during his tenure if he won re-election to a fourth term, which widely sounded like a departure from his previously stated support for a two-state solution. After Netanyahu’s Likud Party won enough seats to maintain coalition control of the government, Netanyahu tried to temper his position in interviews with American journalists, but President Barack Obama said he is taking Netanyahu "at his word" when Netanyahu said a two-state solution "wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership."

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Miami-Beach native Ron Dermer, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday to defend the Israeli leader. Host Chuck Todd asked, "So the president is wrong that he takes the prime minister at his word at what he said before the election?"

"He didn't say what the president and others seem to suggest that he's saying," Dermer said. "And he was very clear about it in his interview with Andrea Mitchell. He didn't change his position. He didn't run around giving interviews saying he's now against the Palestinian state."

Dermer’s claim seems contrary to widespread analysis of Netanyahu’s record, so we wanted to find out if Netanyahu’s position had changed.

Turn to Katie Sanders' fact-check from PunditFact.