« February 2011 | Main | April 2011 »

467 posts from March 2011

March 31, 2011

Lawmakers poised to ease class-size limits

Florida voters last November rejected relaxing constitutionally mandated limits on the class sizes. So state lawmakers have taken matters into their own hands.

Tucked in the House and Senate budget plans is a provision tweaking the definition of the educational core curriculum, a move that would reduce by hundreds the number of courses under class-size restrictions.

The change is welcome news for cash-strapped school districts desperate for looser — read: less expensive — class-size caps. But it has irked some Democrats and teachers who pushed through the 2002 constitutional amendment for smaller classes.

Full story here.

Young teachers to lose potential tenure

The full Florida House on Thursday afternoon passed a so-called education "repealer" bill, eliminating outdated language from state statutes.

Except getting rid of part of that language means first-, second- and third-year teachers will not be eligible for three-year, professional services contracts commonly known as tenure.

The Legislature did away with tenure earlier this session, saying current teachers would not be affected by the change. The wrinkle comes with young teachers who are on annual contracts and have not yet qualified for tenure.

"I want to thank you again for again showing the people of Florida how disingenuous some of this legislation has been," state Rep. Dwight Bullard, a South Miami-Dade Democrat, said on the House floor.

But Republicans told our colleagues at The Gradebook that they didn't promise teachers who didn't already have tenure that they could get it. And the issue is now moot, said Rep. Kelli Stargel, the Lakeland Republican who moved the repealer bill forward.

"We're not doing anything sneaky," she said, before her proposal passed along party lines, 78-39.

Cannon and Alexander: We're a week ahead of schedule

House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander have both confirmed it for us: they are a week ahead of schedule in budget and session deliberations.

Does that provide credence to the rumor floating through the halls of the Florida Capitol -- that lawmakers will finish the budget early, send it to the governor, thereby triggering the one-week rule , which gives him only one week to review, sign or veto the spending plan?

The idea is that if lawmakers don't like some of the budget decisions of their hard-to-read governor, they can override his vetoes without calling themselves back into special session. Sound plausible?

Alexander isn't biting:  “That’s not our plan,'' he told reporters today. "It is theoretically possible but I think these issues are so profoundly difficult for the legislature to consider that at the end of the day -- although we are perhaps a week ahead of schedule -- I expect we will exhaust that week coming to terms with these different decisions."

Cannon wouldn't say either: "It’s too soon to predict,'' he said. "We should at least end on time maybe early."

Florida Senate budget passes, 2 Dems join GOP

The Florida Senate's proposed budget just cleared the appropriations committee on a largely party-line vote. Two Democrats voted for it: Gary Siplin of Orlando and Bill Montford of Tallahassee.

Oral arguments set for feds' appeal of Florida judge's ruling on ObamaCare

Florida's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care reform legislation is one step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments for the U.S. Department of Justice's appeal of a Florida judge's ruling that the law is unconstitutional are set for June 8 before the 11th District Court of Appeals.

Florida filed the suit shortly after President Obama signed the legislation into law. Twenty-five states and the National Federation of Independent Business joined the suit. 

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled in January that the individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty is unconstitutional, and used that as a basis for striking down the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The case is likely to be appealed to the country's highest court.

In a news release, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi predicted the case would make it to the Supreme Courrt by the fall.

"We are pleased that the 11th Circuit scheduled oral argument this June, so we can resolve this case and protect Americans’ individual liberties," Bondi said in a prepared statement. "This case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and a case of such national importance should have no delay."

NRCC doesn't shy away from David Rivera

The Miami Republican -- whom some GOP'ers have distanced themselves from in the wake of inquiries into his finances -- was among the lawmakers featured on the board at the National Republican Congressional Committee fundraising dinner Wednesday night.Gop[1]

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the keynote speaker at the event which raised an estimated $10 million for Republican 2012 campaigns. Today's the last day for fundraising in the first quarter.

'Course NRCC chief Pete Sessions has said Rivera is "doing a very good job." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has not shared Sessions' enthusiasm.

Senate budget cuts Gov. Scott's security detail in half

Claiming the governor's security detail justified when the governor was the brother of a president and a nation at war, the Senate budget eliminates half of Gov. Rick Scott's security detail.

Scott relies on the 16 Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents assigned to him to escort him from the capital to the governor's mansion, from the mansion to his private plane and protect him in his daily duties. The current budget of $1.2 million would be cut in half under the Senate proposal.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, attempted an amendment to restore it. Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander opposed. Fasano withdrew it.

"I never thought I'd be sitting here trying this,'' Fasano said. He added that based on "some of the decisions coming out of the plaza level we may have to'' beef up his security.

Alexander said that the budget expense was justifiable when Gov. Jeb Bush was in office, since he was the brother of a president and the nation was at war. But now, ''we're cutting along, got a whole new governor" and when they are asking state employees "to take reductions" Scott should to.

Chamber uses police and teachers to anger police and teachers in new TV ad

The Florida Chamber of Commerce's latest ad has angered police and teacher union members in Tallahassee this week protesting changes to cuts in their salaries and benefits.

The ad offers up a sentimental pitch to viewers that attempts to sympathize with "police officers and teachers" to get viewers to support a bill that strips police officers and teachers from using direct deposit from their paychecks to pay their dues.

But the move has prompted the union's grassroots effect, Awake the State, to start a petition drive urging people to sign this statement: "The Florida Chamber says it speaks for the interests of Floridians, but we know different. This high-priced lobbying firm only speaks for the interests of wealthy, multi-state corporations, not the interests of Florida’s communities and small businesses."

Here's the text of the chamber ad:

Firefighters, police officers and teachers are facing uncertain times. So the last thing they deserve is for unions to take away their hard-earned money to play politics, sometimes without asking for approval. That’s why the Supreme Court voted to allow workers paycheck protection. After all they do to help us, isn’t it time we helped them?

Carl Littlefield joins DCF

Gov. Rick Scott's office has found a soft landing for Carl Littlefield, their former head of the Agency of Persons with Disabilities. Littlefield abruptly resigned before he could testify in front of a Senate panel about a Tampa-area group home that allowed residents to have sex.

According to Scott's public records web site, Littlefield is earning $78,000 per year at the Department of Children & Families Tampa office.

Senate passes plan to put water districts under legislative control

A Senate plan to allow the legislature to take over control of the state's five water management districts' spending and taxing passed the Senate Budget Committee without discussion, or public testimony.

The idea is the brainchild of Sen. J.D. Alexander, the Republican budget chief who also wants to cut water management district property taxes by $411 million this year.

"We have essentially adopted an out of sight out of mind approach to these entities,'' he said. He told the committee that he believes that the water management districts have exceeded their spending authority, although he acknowledged that the state constitution allows them to levy property taxes. For example, he said, his staff research found that the Southwest Florida Water Management District "had over $800 million in reserves."

"In my 14 years, I have had more complaints about water management district expenditures and taxation than anything else I deal with,'' he said.

Continue reading "Senate passes plan to put water districts under legislative control " »