February 18, 2014

Weatherford's pension overhaul faces steep climb in Senate, despite Gaetz support

From the News Service of Florida:

Hopes seemed to evaporate Tuesday that exempting law-enforcement officials and emergency personnel would make changes to the state retirement system an easier sell this year, as a key senator signaled he had deep reservations about the measure.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee voted to introduce the bill (SPB 7046) by a 5-4 margin after Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, joined the panel's three Democrats in voting against the measure. Latvala was one of a handful of renegade GOP senators who sank a more-sweeping pension overhaul last year.

"I've got more convincing to do," said Senate Community Affairs Chairman Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who sponsored the bill.

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February 14, 2014

Weatherford: Expand voucher program

If Florida’s controversial school voucher program needed a powerful ally in Tallahassee this year, it found one: House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is building support for a proposed expansion of the tax credit scholarship program, which provides private-school scholarships to about 60,000 low-income children in Florida.

The proposal would enable corporate donors to earn dollar-for-dollar sales tax credits in exchange for contributions to the scholarship program. (Donors can currently earn credits toward their corporate income taxes, as well as their insurance premium and alcoholic beverage excise taxes.) It would also create new partial scholarships for participating students whose families suddenly earn too much money to qualify.

But Weatherford may have to agree to some radical changes to the program — including a proposed requirement that scholarship students take standardized tests.

“For a bill to pass the Senate, an assessment will be a prerequisite,” Senate President Don Gaetz said Friday.

Read more here.

February 04, 2014

Will Weatherford: We can do better than Gov. Rick Scott's proposed higher ed budget

@tbtia

House Speaker Will Weatherford believes that state universities deserve more funding, pushing for a tuition increase last year over the objections of Gov. Rick Scott who vetoed the measure.

There appears to be a difference in opinion again this year, with Weatherford saying he doesn't think Scott's budget proposal included enough money for the 12 public universities. "I think we can do better than what the governor suggested, but it was a good starting point," the Wesley Chapel Republican told the Times/Herald on Tuesday.

The Board of Governors requested $100 million for performance funding. They wanted half of that, or $50 million, to be in new money. Instead, Scott recommended $80 million for performance pay with half of that being new funding.

"Ideally, I think we can do better than $40 million worth of performance funding, and I think we can do more that what the governor suggested with regard to capital outlay," Weatherford said.

Scott's budget, which he unveiled last week, also includes $84 million for universities facilities projects: $34 million for maintenance, repair, renovation and remodeling of existing buildings and $50 million for construction projects specifically tied to science, technology, math and engineering.

The Board of Governors is lobbying the state for almost four times that amount: $321 million. The universities say they need that money to address the needs of aging buildings and to finish projects that have already been approved but not fully funded.

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Weatherford says House leaders are now on-board for casino expansion now

After years of resistance, the conservative leadership of the Florida House has signaled its willingness to pass legislation that would expand gambling to include new Las Vegas-style casinos in Miami Dade and Broward in exchange for a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve any new games in the future.

“I would be willing to talk about gaming in the State of Florida, even expansion, in return for contraction in some areas and passing a constitutional amendment,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford in an exclusive interview with the Herald/Times on Tuesday.

Weatherford added, however, that for the House to support new casinos there would have to be two strings attached: Gov. Rick Scott would have to negotiate a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe in 2014 — a year before the a key provision is set to expire — and the new casinos would not start up unless a constitutional amendment is passed in November to require voter approval of any subsequent games in the future.

“It’s a trade-off that I’m willing to do,’’ Weatherford said

Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, last week told reporters that passing a sweeping gaming bill was not a priority for him this session. However, his statement Tuesday breathes new life into an issue that appeared to be stalled for another year.

It also guarantees that legislators have more time to solicit campaign contributions to their political committees from multi-national casino giants as well as gambling interests in Florida who want their own casinos. Full story here. 

January 29, 2014

Weatherford, Gaetz propose lower cap on tuition hikes; Scott outlines higher ed budget

@tbtia

Calling it an effort to reduce the burden on the state's prepaid tuition program, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have proposed limits on future tuition increases.

They would accomplish this by capping the tuition differential that state universities are allowed to request from the Florida Board of Governors. Under current law, the universities can requested additional tuition increases beyond whatever is approved by the Legislature as long as the total net increase does not exceed 15 percent.

During the economic downturn, many universities requested and were approved for tuition differential up to the 15-percent cap.

With Gov. Rick Scott's opposition to tuition increases well known, that has become less of an issue in recent years. Last year, tuition was held flat and no universities asked for any differential. A few also went so far as to reject a 1.7 percent tuition increase tied to inflation per state law, but most did not.

This morning, Scott also outlined his higher education budget proposal for 2014-2015. It reflect far less money than what the Board of Governors requested, and state universities are likely to continue lobbying the Legislature for more money.

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January 22, 2014

House leadership adds hurdle for parents seeking help from marijuana extract

The proponents of a proposal to decriminalize a non-euphoric marijuana strain that helps kids with seizures are winning hearts, but not the support they need from Florida House leadership.

A key legislator, Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, fears the idea will get confused by voters who think it’s a sign lawmakers support a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for some medical use.

“I don’t want to be the first to start down a slope of approval on the use of illicit drugs under the claim of medical protection,’’ he said. “But I’m not saying I wouldn’t vote for something that would help these families.”

Baxley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wants a stand-alone bill that is not tucked into a criminal-justice package as its House sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has done. Baxley’s approach has the support of House Speaker Will Weatherford but is opposed by supporters of the bill, who say it will make it easier for naysayers to kill it.

The proposal supported by parents with children suffering seizures would allow a marijuana strain known as Charlotte’s Web to be legally developed in Florida.

“I think the supporters make a compelling case for the use of Charlotte’s Web to treat children with severe seizures. There is currently no member bill filed on the matter,” Weatherford said in a statement to the Herald/Times.

Meanwhile, the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Medical Association, which represents doctors, say they remain vigorously opposed to legalizing marijuana for medical use, but they acknowledge the value of strains high high in cannabidiol (CBD), the ingredient that controls seizures, but is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that creates a high. More here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/04/3852689/parents-of-children-with-epilepsy.html#storylink=cpyThose strains have shown promise for stopping or slowing the seizures in children with severe epilepsy and provides other medical benefits for people with other conditions. More here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/22/3886681/house-leaders-add-hurdle-for-parents.html#storylink=cpy

December 18, 2013

What about Will Weatherford for LG?

Will weatherfordSo the governor's office has released a shortlist of four names for lieutenant governor, two people instantly declined and, while speculation is heavy that the favorite is state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, it still looks like a bit of a long-shot.
 
What about a fifth name that's the real candidate: House Speaker Will Weatherford?
 
The talk supporting Weatherford is worth considering: He's young, telegenic, was featured as a rising star by the American Conservative Union, and is the son-in-law of one of Florida's most-respected Republicans, former House Speaker Alan Bense. Plus, he's a favorite son of the Tampa Bay home country of Gov. Rick Scott's likely challenger, Charlie Crist, and he won't be running for anything after his term expires in November. 
 
There is one problem: adding Weatherford to the ticket anytime before the legislative session ends in May would not work too well on so many levels, including the constitutional separation of powers doctrine.  So, consider this: speculation continues about Lee and maybe even a new short list throughout the spring. Finally, with the legislative session tightly wrapped up, the governor makes his pick. Weatherford and Scott become the ticket. Boom. Momentum. 

December 12, 2013

With broad support for cut in auto fees, now it's a matter of "How much"?

It's no surprise that Gov. Rick Scott has plenty of support among legislative leaders for his plan to announce in Tampa this afternoon his proposal to cut auto registration fees in next year's budget.

After all, the Senate's plan to do the same, SB 156 , has picked up strong support and looks like an easy sell in next year's legislative session, which begins in March. 

But there is a big difference between the two. Scott wants to cut auto registration fees by $401 million. The senate bill, which is sponsored by budget chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, only slashes them by $233 million. Though lawmakers are expected to be facing a surplus of $1 billion, that $168 million difference between the two plans is no small thing.

Yet so far, at least, Republican leaders are shrugging that this difference won't be too difficult to bridge.

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he was happy that Scott was supporting the car fee reduction while downplaying the differences.

"We welcome the governor getting on Joe Negron's bandwagon," Gaetz said. "He's pushing it a little bit faster, but that's good."

Gaetz said it's too early to dwell on details of where the money will come from. In Negron's bill, the money to pay for the cuts would come from general revenue. He said estimated revenue, while overall promising, has been shifting too much to propose specifics details just yet. But Gaetz did suggest that Negron's bill could be changed, perhaps to include a bigger break for motorists.

For instance, Gaetz said the $225 "origination fee" that motorists pay to put new cars on the road could be reduced. To do so, however, might cost another $100 million. 

"We can make Negron's bill even stronger," he said. "There's a chance for Negron 2.0."

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said he, too, was supportive of Scott's proposal to reduce fees.

"The governor's plan, Negron's bill, it's all good stuff," Weatherfood said. "It's just a question of 'How much?' We'll work with the governor and Pres. Gaetz to get a number that everyone will agree with."

 

 

November 07, 2013

Bense admitted to Atlanta medical center in battle against nervous system condition

AllanbenseFormer Florida House Speaker Allan Bense has been admitted to Shepherd Center in Atlanta this week to undergo rehabilitation for neurological impairments related to Guillain Barré syndrome, according to a statement released by the hospital on Thursday.

According to a description by the Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barré (ghee-YA-buh-RAY) syndrome is a disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.

According to a Shepherd Center spokeswoman, Jane Sanders, Bense said his goal is to recover after months of rehabilitation under the guidance of a treatment team.

Shepherd Center specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury and neuromuscular disorders such as Guillain Barré syndrome. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center, a private, not-for-profit hospital, is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation.

Sanders said the Bense family is appreciative for the outpouring of support from friends and supporters in Panama City, Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. For updates on his progress and to post messages that cheer him on toward recovery, visit Mr. Bense’s CaringBridge website at www.caringbridge.org/visit/allanbense.

Bense was admitted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville in mid-September for the rare nervous system condition in mid-September. According to the family's online journal, Bense went to the ER on Sept. 8 after experiencing what felt like a heart attack.

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November 04, 2013

Panel: Economic impact of marijuana "cannot be determined"

Legalizing medical marijuana could cost the state in excess of $1.1 million to operate each year, but any other financial or tax impact of offering the drug to the seriously ill is still unclear, according to a state economic panel.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference finished its analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative on Monday and concluded that “increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined.”

Aside from the Department of Health, which estimated that it would cost an estimated $1.1 million yearly to regulate the medical marijuana industry, most agencies said the cost would not be significant or did not yet have any hard numbers.

The report stated the health department’s costs “will likely be offset through fees charged to the medical marijuana industry and users."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff's Association stated there will be increased costs based on the experience of other states, but did not offer any numbers.

The report estimates that about 417,000 to 452,000 will use medical marijuana based on figures from other states. It was also estimated that about 17,178 to 41,271 snowbirds may apply for ID cards to use medical marijuana.

The campaign to put a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot was launched by United for Care, spearheaded by high-profile, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, whose law firm employs Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

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