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159 posts from April 2007

April 30, 2007

Highway to be named after Cosgrove

Two Fridays ago marked a year since former state legislator John F. Cosgrove died after undergoing an emergency appendectomy at a medical facility in South Africa. He had been vacationing in Zimbabwe.

On Monday, Florida House members unanimously passed a proposed law that designates highways across the state after influential or note-worthy people. Under that bill, Cosgrove, who served as a state representative for 17 years, would be memorialized too.

A portion of the Florida Turnpike Homestead Extension between Southwest 152nd and 216th streets in Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay would be designated "John F. Cosgrove Highway."

Cosgrove died April 20, 2006. He was 56. A lawyer. And the Town of Cutler Bay's first mayor. But he was best known for passing legislation to keep insurers from pulling out of Florida after Hurricane Andrew.

At the end of last week, Bernie, Cosgrove's wife looked on as the Florida Senate passed the same bill.

Sen. Larcenia Bullard, a Miami Democrat who sponsored the bill, said "we lost an institution when we lost John." A rather timid Bernie said she felt honored. "John's memory, his spirit, is with us today."

It's last stop: the governor's desk.

For a list of the other Miami-Dade County roads to be dedicated, click here for the language of the bill.

Dean welcomes press after all

After some hell-raising by The Miami Herald and local Democrats, the National Democratic Committee has decided to allow press to attend chairman Howard Dean's speech to Democratic activists in MIami tomorrow.

But no questions from the press allowed.

The DNC says it wasn't the hell-raising that prompted the change; when more than 150 people are expected, the press is invited.

Looser slots rules pass House

Looser rules for Broward's new Vegas-style casinos made it through the Florida House, after a close vote today.

The proposal by Rep. Jack Seiler, R-Wilton Manors, would allow an extra 500 machines per facility, would increase hours and would permit ATMs in the facilities as long as they remain off the casino floor.

The House bill passed in a 61-52 vote after more than half an hour of debate on the expansion of gambling.

"This is our opportunity to say no more," said Rep. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican.

But as several South Florida representatives argued, gambling already exists at the state's Indian casinos and gambling cruises. The changes only help the state cash in as well.

"This is not a debate about gambling," Seiler said. "Gambling is happening in our state. It's happening here guys. It's in front of our eyes...We're just trying to level the playing field."

The discussion was an about face from the Senate where similar bill by Sen. Steve Geller, a Cooper City Democrat, passed last week 29-9 with almost no debate.

The chambers will now need to work out the differences between the two bills before they can go to the governor.

Press shut out from Howard Dean speech

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is slated to speak to as many 200 people tomorrow at Parrot Jungle in Miami. Sounds like an event you'd expect to be covered in your local newspaper, especially since the Legislature is on the verge of moving up Florida's presidential primary despite warnings from Dean that it will cost the state delegates to the national convention.

But a spokesman for the national committee, Luis Miranda, says the event is closed to the press. Hmmmm. Doesn't the party trust its own national spokesman to put the party's best foot forward? Doesn't the party want Dean want to crow about its presidential prospects? Doesn't closing events to the press lead to negative speculation?

Freedom isn't free and neither are parks and libraries

In today's Miami Herald, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson makes the case that homeowners will be sorry if state lawmakers slash their property taxes. Read the Op-Ed here.

GOP debate in Tampa

In what could be the first of two nationally broadcast presidential debates from Florida, the Republican presidential contenders are invited to face off at the University of South Florida in Tampa on June 14.

The forum will be aired on Salem Radio Network, a Christian broadcasting organization. Audio and video will also be available on TownHall.com, a conservative online news site. Florida politicos who have been watching Mitt Romney's aggressive outreach in Florida won't be surprised to know he was the first to commit to the event.

The GOP candidates are expected to meet again in Florida at the state GOP convention in Orlando on Oct. 21. FOX News is broadcasting.

Graham named to corporate board

Former Sen. Bob Graham has been appointed to serve on the board of directors of Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans.

The former two-term governor was appointed to fill a 2-year term that ends in 2009. The company, which provides managed care services for government-sponsored healthcare programs, noted that the Florida Democrat was "very active in policy for seniors."

"Bob Graham brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to WellCares Board of Directors," said Todd Farha, the company's chairman and chief executive officer. "Sen. Graham is a recognized leader in healthcare policy issues both at the state and national level. We look forward to Senator Grahams many contributions as WellCare continues to deliver value-added solutions for state Medicaid and national Medicare programs."

Graham, a former chair of the Senate intelligence committee, decided not to run for re-election after he folded his presidential campaign in 2004. Since retiring from the Senate, he's served as a senior fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and is "currently focused on founding a center to educate future political and civic leaders located at the University of Florida and at the University of Miami."

Senators talk tolls and bologna

The discussion in the Florida Senate was supposed to be over a measure to alter the makeup of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. But as rival Miami senators Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Alex Villalobos argued over the merits of the proposal, it quickly turned into a sandwich debate.

It started with Villalobos' proposal to cut down the number of members on the MDX board and ban the authority from hiring lobbyists, a plan pushed by House Rep. Juan Zapata, a Miami Republican, who says the authority has been unecessarily putting up toll plazas on existing West Miami-Dade roads.

Villalobos called it necessary. Diaz de la Portilla said "It's really a local issue," and deferred to Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation chairwoman Sen. Frederica Wilson for a delegation position.

She responded: "I feel like a piece of bologna between two slices of bread." So began the sandwich debate.

Sen. Larcenia Bullard of Miami corrected Wilson, saying the issue was more like rotten bologna, or "tattered, chopped bologna" with green and pink spots.

Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, said he felt like he was stuck in the middle of a "local food fight."

Minutes later, after the senators voted down the proposal 20-14, Senate President Ken Pruitt dismissed the group for lunch and quipped: "We have tattered bologna in the back."

Was it a local food fight? "Yeah, so what?" said Villalobos, adding the delegation is "always split."

House offers to trade slots for taxes

In an apparent olive branch to the Senate on property taxes, the House Environment and Natural Resources Council on Monday voted 13-1 that would allow 9 of the 25 parimutuels in the state to now offer Class II video lottery terminals with the money going to reduce property taxes now levied to pay for schools. The savings would amout to about 10-20 percent reduction in the schools property taxes.

The parimutuels that offer the new games would have to be in counties with populations of over 800,000, or within 40 miles of an existing casino operated by an Indian tribes. The bill prohibits Broward County parimutuels from offering the machines, unless they give up the Class III gaming devices they now use.

The money generated is estimated to be $1 billion a year and the money would go to offset the so-called "required local effort'' now levied by school districts. It would be distributed to all counties, whether or not they have a parimutuel in their county.

"It's a tax cut,'' said Council Chairman Stan Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican.

But the bill also serves as more than a tax cut. It shows the Senate that the House is willing to push through its priority bill -- VLTs -- and trade for a bill very important to the House -- a proposal to help Miami Dade County build a new stadium for the Marlins baseball team.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. David Rivera, said it was necessary to allow parimutuels to expand because they now face increasing competition from the Class III slots offered in Broward County and the Indian tribal gaming at places like the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

The bill was the only one on the agenda for the committee, and obviously outside the committee's normal jurisdiction of dealing with environmental issues. A similar bill that allows the Class II slot machines, known as video lottery terminals, has already passed the Senate -- just without designating the money to replace property taxes.

Committee members complained that the issue was rushed through.

"We'll take another shot at this when it gets to the flor and I'm not even sure it's going ot make it that far,'' Mayfield said. 

Sen. Crist, Storms and baby daddies

Sen. Victor Crist, after a debate on Sen. Ronda Storms' bill to free legal fathers of child support payments when they're not the biological fathers, asks Sen. Storms one question: "Who's your daddy?"

The bill passed 39-0.