Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

April 15, 2015

Schools guns bills stumble in Florida Senate

A proposal that would allow certain teachers to pack heat in public schools is on life support after the Senate Education Committee declined to vote on it for the second meeting in a row.

The measure (SB 180) could still come up as an amendment to a related bill.

But Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, has been adamantly against it, and he said he was hopeful that the full Senate would side with him if the measure found its way to the floor.

"I've talked to several members, and they agree that it's not the Senate process to go around us at this point," he said.

The bill, which would allow school employees with law enforcement or military experience to carry concealed weapons on school property, has been under consideration for the past three legislative sessions.

This year's other controversial bill involving guns and schools — a proposal to allow concealed weapons on college campuses — also has stalled in the Senate.

The so-called campus carry bill (HB 4005/SB 176) won the approval of two Senate committees earlier in the session. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, did not schedule the bill for a hearing on Wednesday, and legislative committees are no longer meeting.

"I decided to holster it after polling the members of the Senate," Diaz de la Portilla said. "There wasn't support for it."

Diaz de la Portilla is among the opponents.

"I really don't think it is a good idea for a 21-year-old at a frat keg party to be packing heat," he said, "and I'm both an NRA member and a concealed-carry permit holder."

The language could still wind up on the Senate floor, but under Senate rules it would face a higher bar for approval.

Students, professors and campus police chiefs plan to remain on high alert.

On Wednesday, Florida State students Jade Reindl, 20, and Jacob Elpern, 19, delivered 10,000 petitions from students who oppose the measure to Senate President Andy Gardiner.

"The students have made it very clear: We don’t want this bill to pass," said Reindl, a junior from Niceville. "It's not in the best interest of students. It’s not in the best interest of the universities."

Marco Rubio raises $1.25M online in first day of campaign

From the Associated Press:

Sen. Marco Rubio raised $1.25 million online during his first full day as a presidential candidate, a person close to the Florida Republican's campaign said Wednesday.

The first-term senator entered the race for the GOP nomination on Monday evening during a rally in Miami. A day later, his campaign made an aggressive digital push for donations. It quickly paid off.

The haul is as much as Rubio's team had hoped to raise online during April, May and June, according to a person close to the campaign. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss campaign's inner workings.

Rubio's haul is on par with other presidential hopefuls. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky each raised $1 million online in their first 24 hours.

Rubio's early fundraising is cash that he can directly control and use to hire staff, air television ads and poll voters in early nominating states. He can only accept $2,700 per donor to help him win the nomination, but most online donors chip in $5 or $10 at a time.

Separately, Rubio allies have started a political organization, Conservative Solutions PAC, ready to raise and spend unlimited cash on his behalf.

Senate panel votes to confirm Florida's chief healthcare administrator

A Senate panel threw its support behind Florida’s top healthcare administrator Wednesday, but only after grilling her for more than 60 minutes about the deepening impasse over the healthcare budget.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted 8-1 to recommend that Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Elizabeth Dudek keep her job.

Dudek faced a series of tough questions about her agency’s negotiations with the federal government over the future of the federal-state hospital funding program known as the Low Income Pool. The $2.2 billion program, which helps hospitals that treat low-income patients, is scheduled to expire in June unless the state and federal government agree on a successor program.

The confirmation hearing took place one day after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sent Florida a letter saying the future of the LIP program was linked to whether lawmakers accept federal Medicaid expansion money –- something House Republicans are refusing to do.

Dudek told the panel she was surprised by the correspondence.

"From the beginning, we had an agreement with CMS that our discussions were only about LIP, and not expansion, and we stressed that LIP funding would be necessary, with or without expansion," she said.

Continue reading "Senate panel votes to confirm Florida's chief healthcare administrator" »

Gardiner tells Gov. Scott his tax cuts are 'on the shelf' in Senate

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, had a phone conversation with Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday about the session's budget stalemate.

"They had a cordial conversation," said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who was listening in Gardiner's office. "The president indicated that we're anxious to get a budget and we'd like to do it on time, and we're anxious to get a budget that responds to the (health care) issues -- and we've got the tax cuts on the shelf. We're also supportive of the education funding that the governor wants to do. But before we decide how to do it, we've got to get this big elephant tamed. There's a $2 billion elephant in the room."

Miami asks Hollywood, Boca Raton to pay for downtown Tri-Rail station

via @NewsbySmiley

Miami city officials really, really want to help build a Tri-Rail station downtown -- and they want cities in Broward and Palm Beach counties to foot part of the bill.

On Wednesday, Miami's Chief Financial Officer Fernando Casamayor sent out letters to 11 municipalities to the north asking for money to help fund the $69 million project.

Tri-Rail wants to connect to All Aboard Florida's under-construction transit hub, and has secured soft commitments for a majority of the cost. But a gap of about $10 million remains, in part because Miami city commissioners have balked at paying for the entire remainder of the bill not covered already by funds from Miami-Dade County, Tri-Rail and the Florida Department of Transportation. Mayor Tomas Regalado has also threatened to veto the use of any general fund dollars.

"Since public transportation is a regional responsibility and improving Tri-rail connectivity to the urban core would alleviate congested streets and highways across the entire region for residents and visitors, we are asking for your financial support," Casamayor wrote to officials in Hollywood, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and other cities.

The city has until June 9 to present a funding package to the city commission.

Jeb Bush's claim about gun permits in Florida

Facing a long list of GOP presidential contenders at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush touted his own pro-gun rights record.

Bush took a friendly jab at another potential presidential contender in the room:

"Today there are well over 1.3 million law-abiding Floridians with a valid concealed weapons permit, 1.3 million. That’s the most in the nation -- nearly double that of the second state, which is Texas. Sorry, Gov. Perry."

Yep, Florida does have 1,384,756 million concealed weapon permit holders as of March 2015.

It’s not surprising that Florida would be among the top states for the number of gun permits since it is now the third most populous state in the country. But does Florida lead the nation in gun permits and is that nearly double that of the second state, which is Texas? We were fired up to find the facts.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated Bush's claim and see our full Truth-O-Meter file for Bush.

Will Weatherford's a no for Marco Rubio's Senate seat

@PatriciaMazzei

Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford won't be following in Marco Rubio's footsteps -- at least not yet.

Weatherford ended speculation Wednesday that he might run for Rubio's U.S. Senate seat next year, citing his young family. He's youngest child is 7 months old.

A slew of Republican U.S. House members from Florida have said they're thinking about candidacies. So are Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami and state Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter is the most prominent candidate on the Democratic side.

House lets Senate take the lead on film incentives

The House is deferring to the Senate in an overhaul of tax credits to lure TV and film projects to Florida.

Set to consider amendments to its proposal (HB 451) Wednesday, House leadership postponed the bill while it watches how the upper chamber moves forward.

“We’re assessing what’s going on in the Senate with the issue,” Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said. “We have every intention of moving that along.”

Really, it comes down to a timing issue. If the House and Senate advance plans that are substantially different, the bill could get caught up in bouncing back and forth between the chambers and not be resolved before the legislative session ends May 1.

Both chambers’ proposals would give more decision-making power in doling out tax credits to a film and entertainment commissioner based on a scoring process that emphasizes economic impact. Right now, money is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, and the last appropriation was used up years earlier than was intended.

There is one big policy difference between the two plans, by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park. Detert is pushing hard for a quick-action closing fund, which would allow for some funds to be allocated to tax credits more quickly when the state needs to act fast to secure a production.

That’s not quite as popular in the House.

“I know that Sen. Detert likes the quick action close,” Miller said. “The House is not — we’re not saying no to that. It’s just how we fit the pieces together."

How Marco Rubio might step up his presidential game

via @LightmanDavid @CAdamsMcClatchy

WASHINGTON -- Marco Rubio is the Republican presidential field’s all-star newcomer, who looks great on paper and has limitless potential — but he’s also untested, unproven and unlikely to vault to the head of the crowded pack anytime soon.

Rubio, who entered the presidential race Monday, probably has until late summer to start moving out of single-digit poll numbers. He ranks seventh among a dozen major Republican contenders, according to the average by RealClearPolitics, an independent political news organization that compiles polling data.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker top this congested field, at about 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

But polls this early in the campaign rarely mean much. At this point in 2007, leaders included former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Republicans and Hillary Clinton for Democrats. Barack Obama was far back.

Voters in early primary and caucus states, notably Iowa and New Hampshire, usually start paying close attention in late summer. And this year, two August events are likely to thin the field: the first major debate, in Ohio, and the Iowa straw poll.

In the meantime, insiders are taking Rubio seriously, for at least three reasons:

▪ His resume is political gold. At 43, the Florida senator is part of a new generation of political leaders. He’s the son of Cuban immigrants, telegenic and well-spoken.

▪ He’s played well in Iowa. Rubio was an early supporter last year of Joni Ernst, when she was a lesser-known underdog seeking the U.S. Senate seat she subsequently won. “He got a lot of chits from that,” Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said.

▪ He’s able to raise a lot of money. At the January California meeting of major Republican donors, he was one of several potential presidential candidates to appear — and he won an informal straw poll.

More here.

Marco Rubio sticks up for tax plan to conservative critics

via @learyreports

Newly minted presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Wednesday defended a tax proposal that has come under attack from conservatives as a budget busting handout and political gambit to win votes from the middle class.

"Our argument is that this is not redistribution because this money doesn’t belong to the government in the first place," Rubio said at an event at the Heritage Foundation. He said parents who choose to raise children vs. those who do not have “additional costs that they are contributing not just to their family but to America’s future and the tax code doesn’t recognize that. … I’m looking forward to a vibrant debate.”

Rubio and his partner, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, argued that the new $2,500 per child tax credit their plan includes is a way to reward parents who are adding future taxpayers to the system.

Rubio and Lee did not dispute reports it would add trillions to the deficit but contend it would grow the economy in the long run and overall government spending cuts and Medicare and Social Security reforms are needed.

Their proposal reduces the 7 current tax rates to 2 (15 percent and 35 percent) and drops the corporate tax rate to a maximum of 25 percent from 35 percent, including so-called pass through entities, and eliminates capital gains and dividends taxes.

But it has drawn criticism from the left, which sees it as a massive break for the wealth, and the right, which has focused on the child tax credit.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said Tuesday, "with this proposal, a Senator Rubio makes himself the party's most visible ally of the "new" Republican idea that the Reagan tax cutting agenda is a political dead end, and that the party now must redistribute revenue directly to middle class families. It's not clear how Candidate Rubio would hope to win a tax-credit bidding war with Hillary Clinton, who'd see and raise on the size of the credit and make it refundable to non-taxpayers. The Rubio tax credit looks like an obvious political gambit with no economic growth payoff."

Rubio said he was a “huge proponent of everything President Reagan did.” But he added, “I also think we need to recognize that the 21st Century has some significant differences from the era from which he governed. … We need to say globally competitive and we need to recognize that in the 21st Century families face expenses and challenges that weren’t there in the 20th. My family made it to the middle class as a bartender and as a maid. It would be very difficult for them to do that in the 20th Century for what those jobs paid.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times