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404 posts from April 2011

April 20, 2011

George LeMieux's Facebook spoof

Former Sen. George LeMieux, running for U.S. Sen. in a four-man GOP race, has hired Harris Media (of Rick Scott's gubernatorial election fame) to produce his first campaign-style web ad whacking Democrat Bill Nelson. Here it is (note the Snoop Dogg reference)

Streamlined regulations flushes potty parity law

Saying the 1992 law known as "potty parity" is no longer needed, the House Health and Human Services Committee voted Wednesday to flush it off the books.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, R-Miami, repeals the requirement that when buildings are built or remodeled in Florida they must include three womens toilets for every two for men. It was enacted in response to long waiting lines at women's restroom in public facilities during public events -- such as football games. Since then, the state has incorporated the International Plumbing Code into the state building code which sets the number of toilets for the expected public use and size of a facility -- usually two female toilets for every one male.

During the meeting, potty jokes flew. Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, warned Logan: "Do you realize you may miss an entire quarter of a football game if you repeal this?”

Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, asked: "Is it important to you to wipe this law off the books?"

Logan agreed and the bill was passed.


Charter school bill passes last committee stop

Top-rated charter schools could more easily add students and expand grade levels under a House proposal that passed its last committee stop today.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would also automatically reward those schools with 15-year charter renewals.
It passed on a 12 to 5 party-line vote of the House education committee. Rep.
Betty Reed, D-Tampa, whose daughter is involved with a charter school, abstained.
Charter schools would be considered “high performing” if, in the last three years, it has received at least two “A”s and had satisfactory financial audits. By those measures, a total of 108 charter schools would currently qualify.
Supporters described the proposal as a way to allow the best charter schools to more quickly meet the demand cited waiting lists of 57,000 children.
“Does it fix every problem? No, but it’s a great start,” said Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-LadyLake.
Critics expressed concerns over the inclusion of charter schools run by for-profit companies and the addition of language that gives enrollment preferences to certain children.
But more broadly, some Democrats said the proposal makes it too easy to open charter schools, at the risk of hurting traditional public schools.
“It now opens us up to having to rationalize every year what the purpose of the public school is,” said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami.
Bullard said the measure doesn’t take into account the public school children whose parents don’t push to get them into charter schools.
“What happens to the … children who are left to fend for themselves in schools that we’re not addressing,” he said. “We have to have the courage and responsibility by saying we’re going to do right by those kids who not only are in struggling situations but also in struggling schools.”
The enrollment increases allowed under the proposal would cost at least $5.1 million in 2012-2013, according to a legislative staff analysis.
A Senate version passed its last stop, the budget committee, last week.

Legislator joins in proliferation of suspect Internet (sweepstakes) Cafes

PALM HARBOR — State Rep. Peter Nehr has found a new venture to replace his failed flag shop and prop up his sagging financial fortunes: He has opened an Internet sweepstakes cafe, a type of business that Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats considers illegal gambling and has worked to keep out of the county.

Though Coats and his staff met with Nehr last year to talk about the sweepstakes cafe industry, Coats said he didn't know until Tuesday that Nehr had opened a sweepstakes cafe in a Palm Harbor strip center.

Coats wasn't the only official surprised by Nehr's new business. So was state Sen. Mike Fasano.

Fasano, sponsor of a bill in the state Senate to establish new controls over sweepstakes cafes, had recruited Nehr last fall to introduce a companion bill in the House, but Nehr chose not to file the bill. Nehr never told Fasano he was going into the sweepstakes business himself.

"I had no idea and I'm shocked," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "We reached out to Nehr and he agreed to it. We were disappointed that we were not able to get a House sponsor. I don't want to go beyond that." More here.

-- DeMorris Lee, St. Petersburg Times

Should legislators start clock earlier on redistricting?

The Florida House convened its first meeting of its redistricting committee seven weeks into session today and, after an overview by lawyer Miguel DeGrandy, Rep. Even Jenne asked: are they moving fast enough?

DeGrandy, a state rep from Miami during the 1992 redistricting brawl that was lasted for two years, recalled how he qualified to run for re-election only to have the court redraw the district, knock him out of the district he lived in, and forcede him and dozens of other legislative hopefuls to rush to their elections office and refile. Confusion reigned and DeGrandy warned that could happen again.

"Voter confusion was rampant in 1992,'' he said. "What I can tell you is your concern is well-founded and the sooner that you start, the less chance there is something like that happening."

DeGrandy, who believes there is a "100 percent chance" the redistricting plans will be challenged in court, told members: "There is a possibilty you may run for election in a plan that is ultimately thrown out by court.''

Continue reading "Should legislators start clock earlier on redistricting?" »

Who's to blame for death row backlog -- governor or court?

Speaker Dean Cannon's proposal to create separate criminal and civil divisions of the Florida Supreme Court passed the House 79-38 on April 15, 2011, but not before Democrats and Republicans argued over an alleged purpose of the court expansion -- the handling of death penalty cases.

Republicans argue the expansion is needed to help settle death penalty cases more expeditiously -- 393 people currently are waiting on Florida's death row.

But Democrats say the appeals process isn't necessarily what's slowing down death penalty cases.

"The proponents argue that the Florida Supreme Court should be split because it will allow them to expeditiously resolve capital cases that have languished in the court," said Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando. "The facts are the Florida Supreme Court has a capital caseload that is lower this year than last. The facts show that approximately 40 persons on death row have had all of their appellate review completed and await only the governor's signature on a death warrant to end the case.

"Perhaps the proponents should pass legislation requiring a governor to sign a death warrant within 60 to 90 days after all appellate review has been denied, if their concern is 'disposing' of death penalty cases."

PolitiFact Florida wondered if 40 people, more than 10 percent of the current case back-log, are waiting on the governor to sign a death warrant?

South Florida favored son Bob Menendez to face a GOP challenger?

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez -- a favorite of Cuban Americans in South Florida -- may face a high-profile GOP challenger. News reports suggest that John Crowley, a New Jersey biotech executive and, as Roll Call notes, "the inspiration for a Hollywood feature film" appears to be considering a run.

Crowley this week disclosed plans to leave his role as CEO of Amicus Therapeutics "to devote more time to interests related to public policy, civic service, and philanthropic endeavors."

Roll Call notes that "GOP officials in Washington, D.C., think Crowley has the personal wealth and biography to become an instant contender in the 2012 race." Crowley helped create a biotech company in part to research a rare disease that threatened the lives of his children. The movie 'Extraordinary Measures,' was based on his quest.

Radio ads turn up the heat on immigration

A group of immigration advocates in Miami is turning up the heat on local lawmakers over an illegal immigration crackdown proposed in Tallahassee.

Starting on Wednesday, three organizations — Democracia Inc., SEIU Florida and America’s Voice Education Fund — will begin airing Spanish-language radio advertisements calling out two Miami Republicans, Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

The spots attack the legislators for “betraying Florida’s Hispanics” by “supporting” a pair of proposals moving through the state Legislature.

Lopez-Cantera, however, has said he is against a strict Florida House measure. So is Flores, though she is sponsoring a different version of the bill in the Senate.

“An anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic law hurts, but it hurts much more when one of us supports it,” the minute-long ad says in Spanish. Flores and Lopez-Cantera are Cuban-American.

Critics liken the proposed legislation to a controversial immigration law approved last year in Arizona. The courts blocked parts of the law from being enforced. Proponents in Florida say that, absent federal immigration reform, the state needs to ensure the nation’s laws are followed.

Full story here.

A tale of Rick Scott, dirt digging and shady public records

A Memphis company that helped dig up dirt on Gov. Rick Scott's campaign opponents has relocated to the state capital. Among its new clients: Florida taxpayers.

It's unclear, however, exactly what Floridians received for their $25,000.

Scott's office, which approved the payment, said no documents related to the company's research on applicants for Scott's administration during the three month transition between Election Day and inauguration exist.

But the Times/Herald obtained an eight-page report circulated among Scott's transition team that shows the company's founder researched at least one of Scott's eventual hires.

So more documentation and work product could be out there. But where?

Former Broward state Rep. Jack Tobin has died

Jack Tobin, a colorful and at times controversial Democratic state legislator from South Florida for nearly two decades, died Tuesday after an illness. He was 69.

Tobin was a lobbyist in recent years and was in the Capitol as recently as a week and a half ago.

From 1982 to 1998, Tobin represented Northwest Broward County in the state House, a time when Democrats were as dominant as the Republicans are today, and he was among the leaders of a tight-knit group of House members known as the "Broward Mafia."

Known for his sharp sense of humor, Tobin was never shy about his close relationships with lobbyists.  He was revered by his constituents, many of them, like him, Jewish "snowbirds" who transplanted from New York City in the '70s and '80s and made a new life for themselves in South Florida.

-- Steve Bousquet