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404 posts from April 2011

April 29, 2011

Does Senate have the votes on immigration?

The Florida Senate originally planned to meet on Saturday -- possibly to consider a controversial immigration crackdown that has drawn throngs of protesters to the state Capitol this week.

But then Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who wants to make changes to SB 2040, cancelled the Saturday session, prompting questions as to whether the chamber would have enough votes to pass a revamped version of the bill. Of course, it's impossible to get a head count when Senate leaders have not released their updated proposals.

Anything considered too hard line would be a non-starter for members of the Miami-Dade delegation and likely most Democrats. A couple of Republicans from outside of Miami-Dade have also said they are troubled by the ideas mentioned by Senate leaders.

On Friday, Sen. Anitere Flores -- the Miami Republican who initially carried the bill before Haridopolos gave it to Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales -- said immigration is riddled with conflicting interests.

"This is a severely complicated, complex issues where there are hundreds of different people that have hundreds of different opinions. There are employment provisions. There are law enforcmenet provisions. There are business owner provisions," she said. "And there are just individual human emotions. There are political considerations. All those considerations are all there. To try and make that into a bill that you can get a majority of votes on in the House and the Senate is a problem."


Update: Pension deal inked, costing workers 3 percent of their pay

Teachers, police, firefighters and state workers would face a 3 percent cut in their take home pay as the state uses the money to pay for retirement costs under a pension agreement reached late Friday by state legislators.

The agreement will require all public employees enrolled in the Florida Retirement System to have 3 percent of their earnings shifted to their retirement accounts beginning July 1. Combined with other adjustments in the state benefits' plan, the savings to the state will be $1.18 billion -- more than budget writers planned in their first budget drafts.

That extra cash from state and local government workers -- about $234 million over the Senate's proposed budget and $471 million over the House's -- leaves room for bill drafters to use the extra money to resolve differences in the health care budgets or to help finance the first installment of Gov. Rick Scott's plan for a corporate income tax cut, which had been initially rejected by both chambers.

The pension agreement also will hit workers in their retirement years. It calls for the elimination of the annual 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all employees enrolled in the FRS after July 1, 2011. Anyone who is currently retired will continue to receive COLA payments and current employees will keep the benefits they have already earned when they retire but will not earn any more after this year.

Continue reading "Update: Pension deal inked, costing workers 3 percent of their pay" »

South Florida activists collect thousands of petitions against insurance rate hikes

Irina and Carmen Vilarino make an unlikely pair of political activists. The sisters help run their family business -- 18 restaurants in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties -- and have never been to the state Capitol to talk to lawmakers about anything.

But on Friday, the two flew from Miami to Tampa and from Tampa to Tallahassee lugging a box full of what they said were thousands of petitions neatly wrapped with rubber bands. Their goal: to keep lawmakers from approving proposals that could result in insurance-rate hikes.

For about two weeks, the Vilarino sisters have put out petitions at their restaurants (including La Casita and Las Vegas), made them available online and gone on Spanish-language radio and television urging residents to send legislators a message: "No more," Irina Vilarino said.

The sisters said they heard Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, decrying the insurance bills, SB 408 and SB 1714, earlier this month on Spanish media. The Vilarinos then poured tens of thousands of their  own money, they said, into their petition-gathering campaign. They hope to collect some 100,000, even with only a week left in the legislative session.

The two said they were inspired by last month's landslide recall of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and County Commissioner Natacha Seijas.

Continue reading "South Florida activists collect thousands of petitions against insurance rate hikes" »

Dean Cannon: Bills are dying

On the Florida House floor Friday evening, Speaker Dean Cannon repeated the phrase of the day: "Bills are dying."

House leaders have been pushing members to limit their questions on a slew of pending proposals slated to be taken up by the end of the night -- or risk not making it through this legislative session, which ends next Friday.

"This is the last day they have a chance to live," Cannon said earlier Friday. "Bills are dying, that's right."

Replied Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, who was asking a series of questions: "Both my bills are dead, so..." (Cue laughter.)

Cannon, sounding like a very smooth auctioneer, has been cutting off lawmakers reading their bills, to more chuckles from the chamber.

JD Alexander: I use e-Verify, and it's imperfect. And it's tough to find blueberry pickers

Sen. JD Alexander, the Senate budget chief now handling a controversial immigration crackdown proposal, told reporters Friday that he uses the federal government's e-Verify system.

A citrus grower, Alexander said he turns prospective employees away if they don't clear the system. But he did not give e-Verify a ringing endorsement. "It takes a while to really know the answer," he said. "It has the potential of being wrong."

"It's a fair amount of cost," he added -- about $20 per person that doesn't match. "It's fairly expensive."

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, also said he's short about 100 people to pick a blueberry crop. "For all the unemployment, there just are not folks who want to come out and pick blueberries," he said, for about $9 an hour.

The budget chief's concerns echoed those of the state's powerful agricultural industry, which has resoundedly opposed SB 2040. So have big business, Disney, some local and law enforcement officials and immigration advocates.

Alexander said he has still not figured out what to do with the bill, which Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, yanked from Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

"In a perfect world we would control our borders," Alexander said. But many undocumented immigrants, he added, have been in the country for decades. "It seems challenging to suddenly ask them not to be able to be here...I'm personally troubled by the broad net that could be cast."

Chris Dorworth asked for it ...

State Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, dared PolitiFact to check his state during a debate about proposed House changes to the state growth management law (The changes have since been tacked onto the budget, courtesy of clever House negotiators).

"This is ripe for a PolitiFact, but I've asked in almost every committee we've seen this bill -- I don't believe any other state in the union has a system like we do," Dorworth said. "I think we might be the only (state) in the United States of America that has a statewide review of local land use and zoning decisions. And that means we are 50th, or 49th at worst, in terms of the fact that we have to get our local decisions approved through the state."

Read what PolitiFact Florida found here.

Rewrite of growth management laws tied to state budget

A group of House and Senate lawmakers tasked with negotiating economic development issues in the budget emerged from a committee meeting this afternoon with deals on a pair of other bills as well: one to provide $10 milllion to Panhandle counties hurt by the BP oil spill and another that repeals the state's growth management laws.

The economic development agency was a priority of Gov. Rick Scott. But before signing off on that, Sen. Don Gaetz tucked in his so-called Oil Recovery Act (SB 248) while House Speaker Dean Cannon's top lieutenants inserted the growth management changes (HB 7129).

Continue reading "Rewrite of growth management laws tied to state budget" »

Latvala blasts Senate leadership for 'intimidating' members to withdraw amends

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, stood to blast Senate leadership for failing to allow a series of amendments on a parimutuel bill to end live racing at greyhound tracks.

"The best way that we can craft a parimutuel bill is if everybody comes to the table,'' he said. "I have great respect for the institution…" He talked about how the public sent them to the Legislature because "they think we have a brain. They think we can make decisions and it’s very disappointing to be part of a situation where all of our brains and all of our contributons aren’t utitlized to the best degree."

As Haridopolos stood at the podium, his arm crossed, sending the signal that he was not pleased, Latvala added: Senators who wanted to file amendments "were intimidated out of them."

Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, who three years ago lobbied for the Jacksonville Kennel Club which strongly wants the bill to pass without the amendments, disagreed. "I don’t know that anybody has been intimidated,'' he said. He explained that he didn't want to bring up amendments that had never been heard before.

Haridopolos said "if you didn't like the bill, you could have filed an amendment and some people choose to file late-filed amendments and I choose to let those late-filed amendments to be introduced. ...This has been the most open Senate with multiple hearings for any individual who wanted it. So we're going ot vote on this so we can focus on other issues." He then offered to bring the amendments back, or postpone the bill until they were ready to address the amendments again. No one raised his hand.

Ironically, Senate leaders an hour earlier, agreed to attach a growth management bill to the conforming bill on the budget, which had never been heard in the Senate, against the objections of Latvala. The conforming bill cannot be amended and is an take-it-or-leave it option for senators.

No debate, no surprise: Adam Putnam's school-lunch transfer passes Senate

Senators unanimously approved Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's plan to steal away school food and nutrition programs from the Department of Education, pushing Florida closer to becoming the third state with the arrangement.

There was no debate.

Florida would join a league of just Texas and New Jersey if SB 1312/PCB SAC 1101 becomes law.

The House is poised to take up his priority Monday. Gov. Rick Scott has not announced a position on the transfer.


Cannon's Supreme Court bill is stalled in the Senate

Strong resistance from Senate Republicans to House Speaker Dean Cannon's Supreme Court plan has the fate of Cannon's pet proposal in peril. Senators Paula Dockery and Ronda Storms both say they have more than enough votes to keep the resolution from passing in the chamber. The only thing that could save it is an amendment from Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that removes the split-court provision of the bill. Cannon wants to expand the court from seven to 10 justices and create two five-justice divisions, one for criminal and one for civil cases.

The bill was scheduled for a vote today but has been yanked from the calendar.

During discussion of the bill on the Senate floor Thursday, strong opposition was clear, with Storms saying the judiciary deserved more than a last-minute amendment in the waning days of the session. Several senators questioned if there was any proven need for the proposal, which Cannon has cast as necessary to improve the court's efficiency.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, R-Miami, attached an amendment to a bill restructuring the judicial nomination commissions, part of Cannon's court reform package, that calls for a committee to study the Supreme Court's workload and the impact of dividing it, with a report due in Jan. 2012.