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22 posts from April 3, 2013

April 03, 2013

Legislators cross party lines for votes on abortion bills

After an emotional debate, a divided House committee passed a bill on Wednesday that would ban an abortion based on the sex or race of an unborn child, one of four abortion-related bills proposed this year.

Two Republicans crossed party lines and voted against the bill, even though Judiciary Committee Chairman Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, implored members "Isn't there something we can agree is wrong?"

Republicans Ray Pilon, of Sarasota, and Heather Fitzenhagen, of Fort Myers, said they couldn't agree with House Bill 845, which requires that a physician or health care professional be required to sign an affadavit stating that the reason for the abortion isn't related to the sex or race of the child. The penalty for performing an abortion based on those reasons would carry a civil fine of  up to $10,000.

"I'm a very strong conservative Republican," Pilon said, but added he couldn't support the bill. "I believe in personal responsibility," he said, adding that the bill put the burden on the physician instead of the court system. Fitzenhagen said the bill, which passed by a vote of 10-7, gets into areas that "perhaps we shouldn't be delving in." The sole Democrat voting for the measure was Rep. Daphne Campbell of Miami.

Continue reading "Legislators cross party lines for votes on abortion bills" »

Rep. Joe Garcia: To avoid airport & seaport delays, Congress should give customs more money


With federal budget cuts to blame for slow lines for passengers and cargo entering South Florida, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia wants Congress to give Customs and Border Patrol Protection more money to speed things up.

In a letter he plans to send Thursday, Garcia will ask the House appropriations committee to "support strong funding levels" for customs officers.

"Arbitrary CBP cuts at our air and sea ports, in communities like Miami-Dade County, will only weaken our economy and destroy middle class jobs," wrote Garcia, a Miami Democrat.

Overtime pay for customs officers shrunk as part of the automatic federal budget cuts known as the sequester. In March, a busy month for South Florida tourism, that led to long waits for Miami International Airport for international passengers, many of whom missed their connecting flights and had to spend the night at the airport. U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had warned about the coming understaffing in a February visit to MIA.

Cargo traffic has also been delayed -- including time-sensitive deliveries for South Florida's flower import industry, Garcia wrote.

Garcia plans to hold a news conference at the airport Thursday to draw attention to the problem and to his letter asking for support from other members of Congress. He will be joined by representatives from the airport, PortMiami, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Association of Floral Importers of Florida.

The headline of this blog post has been changed to remove the word "patrol." 

PPP survey: Rand Paul rising, Rubio still leads in '16 GOP race, Hillary beats both


Public Policy Polling, a firm that typically surveys for Democrats (but has a pretty solid track record) released its latest 2016 presidential poll that mirror ones from McClatchy-Marist and Quinnipiac University:

Rand Paul's well publicized filibuster last month has vaulted him up the list of Republican contenders in PPP's newest look ahead to the 2016 Presidential contest.

Marco Rubio continues to lead nationally, as he has on all four of our 2016 polls so far. He's at 21% this month, basically the same as 22% the month before the State of the Union address. Rubio's favorability of 62/10 is slightly better than 59/12 in early February. The whole water drinking episode hasn't had any effect on his standing- nor has his stance on immigration reform.

Continue reading "PPP survey: Rand Paul rising, Rubio still leads in '16 GOP race, Hillary beats both" »

Time running short on Dolphins deal


Six weeks from a possible countywide vote on a subsidized renovation of Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Dolphins still lack a crucial element for their pitch to the public: a deal.

The team’s plan to use local hotel taxes and state subsidies to fund part of a $390 million upgrade of the 1987 facility continued to move closer to state approval Wednesday, with a key Florida House committee endorsing a bill needed for the public dollars. And sources said county commission staffers were mulling a special meeting for early next week to schedule the referendum, which is expected May 14.

But with time running short to comply with public notice regulations for the vote, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has yet to announce a deal with the Dolphins — much less reveal the financial details that will determine the ultimate cost to the public.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Gimenez said this week. “It’s hard, but it’s doable.”

In recent weeks, Dolphins executives announced that Miami-Dade would not be asked to borrow any of the money needed for the upgrade, but instead would use a stream of new hotel taxes to help pay off the debt from the project over the next three decades. The Dolphins also said they would pay back Miami-Dade $120 million at the end of the 30 years, representing the county’s share of the $390 million construction tab.

One of the biggest questions remaining is how much of the new hotel tax the Dolphins want annually. County forecasts show raising mainland hotel taxes to 7 percent from 6 percent, as called for in the Dolphins’ bill, would generate about $690 million over 30 years. The Dolphins and Gimenez have been negotiating over how much of the tax should go to the team, with Miami-Dade’s largest hotel group advocating a portion go to tourism promotion.

A Dolphins spokesman said Wednesday it’s too early to say how much public money the team would require. “Any attempts by The Miami Herald to guess this number are premature,” Eric Jotkoff said.

More here

Turkeys return to Tallahassee

The economic downturn has made them rare in these parts, but make no mistake: The turkeys are back.

With a surplus of nearly $3.5 billion, lawmakers are ready to dole out pet projects for the first time in quite some time. (The Senate budget is still socking away $2.9 billion in reserves, the House budget is putting away $2.6 billion).

“It’s good to have a little money again,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. “This is like the old days with the amendments.”

Latvala sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which on Wednesday included a bundle of “amendments”, aka “member projects”, aka “turkeys”, in its $74.3 billion proposed budget.

So there’s money stuffed in there for an odd assortment of things, like a Fort Walton Beach ballet school and what not.

Here’s a rundown of what made it in the proposed budget, which still must be negotiated with the House for approval, and, if that gets passed, must get by Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.

Continue reading "Turkeys return to Tallahassee" »

Miami Gardens Democrat not so sure about Dolphins stadium proposal

A new sign of Democratic opposition to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium bill is coming from close to home—Rep. Sharon Pritchett, D-Miami Gardens. Pritchett represents the very constituents who live next to the Dolphins’ stadium, where a proposed $390 million upgrade is expected to bring new jobs to the community.

She has concerns about the bill. She voted for HB 165 in committee Wednesday, but due to a limited “structured debate” process, was not able to voice her concerns. 

The Herald/Times reviewed a copy of Pritchett’s prepared statement, in which the freshman Representative points out the fact that tax dollars would be going to a privately owned venture instead of “hospitals, schools and law enforcement.” Pritchett believes the Dolphins should pay back any tax revenue they get, with interest.

Even though her logic (pro-government, anti-“corporate-welfare”) is safely liberal, Pritchett is one of only two Democrats to publicly announce opposition to the stadium bill. Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, voted against HB 165 last month. 

Using rhetoric that bordered on left-leaning, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, admonished Democrats and Republicans on the committee for supporting the bill:

“When we decide we can’t expand Medicaid, when we can’t expand services to victims of domestic violence, when we can’t expand services to the (physically) disabled,” he said, “I hope you take comfort in the fact that you sent $385 million of your taxpayers’ dollars to a for-profit, billion-dollar corporation.”

The bill passed 10-7 Wednesday with 'No' votes from seven Republicans, and could have died in committee without united support from Democrats across the state. Pritchett and others on the committee have been lobbied quite hard by the Dolphins, as the team tries to gather up support for up to $90 million in tax breaks from the state and a new local hotel tax to raise even more. 

 Here’s Pritchett’s prepared statement on the bill: 

Continue reading "Miami Gardens Democrat not so sure about Dolphins stadium proposal" »

Lawmakers push Citizens rate hikes, as company touts lower risk of 'hurricane taxes'

Rocked by a series of corporate scandals — and with its CEO facing a tough confirmation hearing — Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has gone increasingly positive with its messaging in recent weeks. The company says it has done a superb job of reducing risk over the last year, and the chance of “hurricane taxes” has plummeted by 43 percent.

That message clashes squarely with the apocalyptic warnings echoing through the Florida Legislature, where lawmakers are using “tough medicine” themes to push a bill that would cause insurance rates to skyrocket.

Lawmakers, espousing the doomsday rhetoric of the insurance lobby, say Florida is one hurricane away from financial destruction, and shrinking Citizens by raising rates is the fiscally prudent thing to do.

Citizens made similar arguments last year, but of late the company has backpedaled from much of its austerity message and measures. Policy changes last year, while unpopular, have helped Citizens to shrink rapidly, removing much of the threat that Floridians will have to bail the company out after a storm.

By the time hurricane season rolls around, Citizens “will have reduced assessment potential for Floridians by $3 billion, or 43 percent,” CEO Barry Gilway told lawmakers this week during a confirmation hearing to keep his job. “Now, I want to repeat those numbers, because it’s huge.”

It’s a much different message from the one coming from reform-minded lawmakers in Tallahassee.

“If the hurricane doesn’t even go through your area, your constituents will be assessed upwards of between $2,000 and $5,000 per year,” Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, told lawmakers Wednesday.

In presenting his bill, Simmons used figures from 2012, before Citizens reduced exposure drastically. Citizens clarified that the numbers used by Simmons were inflated.

But gasp-inspiring warnings about billion-dollar “hurricane taxes” are nothing new in Florida, part of the showmanship required to pass property insurance bills in the Legislature.

Each year, lawmakers and the business lobby pitch rate increases at Citizens, warning of the “Big One” and the financial wreckage it would cause. But because Florida has dodged hurricanes for seven years, Republicans from coastal regions have joined Democrats to kill bills that would raise homeowners’ insurance rates.

SB 1770 could break that trend, despite the fact that it could bring hundreds or thousands of dollars in higher insurance costs for homeowners. It passed its final committee Wednesday in a unanimous vote.

Continue reading "Lawmakers push Citizens rate hikes, as company touts lower risk of 'hurricane taxes'" »

Doral mayor declares himself 'maximum authority' of exiled Venezuelans


Things got a little awkward after Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez wrapped up her remarks Monday at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, and one by one, politicians took turns at the microphone to honor her.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, speaking broken Spanish, presented Sánchez, who will be traveling back to Cuba, with the quite large American flag that flew above the U.S. Capitol when she visited Washington. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado called his city "la gusanera" -- the wormhole -- referring to anti-Communists who left Cuba after Fidel Castro's revolution.

Then came Doral Mayor Luigi Boria, who gave Sánchez the key to his city and made the afternoon's oddest declaration.

"I'd like to give you the key, not only as the maximum authority of the city, but also as the maximum authority of Venezuelans in exile," he said.

His apparent qualifications for that lofty, self-imposed title: Boria is the first Venezuelan-born mayor in the state, and his city, nicknamed Doralzuela, is home to the largest number of Venezuelans in South Florida.

He is also an evangelical Christian and ordained minister at Alpha and Omega, a southwest Miami-Dade megachurch. That could explain why Boria also presented Sánchez with a Bible -- despite her saying moments earlier that she is agnostic.

"It's the most read book in the world," Boria said. "Perhaps you'll have time to read it."

Health care costs Weatherford Democratic support of House budget

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s refusal to offer a plan in lieu of expanding Medicaid cost him votes on his biggest bill -- the state budget.

House Democrats on Wednesday voted against that chamber’s proposed $74.4 billion budget at its final stop before a floor vote. And they actually liked much of it, such as $1.3 billion increase on education spending.

All 10 Democrats voted against the spending plan. By contrast, the Senate’s six Democrats voted hours before in support of the Senate’s $74.3 billion budget. Unlike the House, the Senate is proposing an alternative to Medicaid expansion.

“An excellent job in some areas has been done,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. “But my main concern is not what’s in the budget but what’s not in the budget. It fails to adequately protect the uninsured in the state...it’s a budget that doesn’t recognize that many low income Floridians suffer from health and financial consequences and don’t have access to health care.”

Continue reading "Health care costs Weatherford Democratic support of House budget" »

PolitiFact Florida: Testing Weatherford's claims on tuition and cellphones, residents and freedom

It's a busy week for House Speaker Will Weatherford and the PolitiFact Florida Truth-O-Meter.

Weatherford touted the state's population boom, telling a group of Americans for Prosperity Florida activists recently, "You may not know this, but today almost 1,000 people a day are moving to the state of Florida. Do you know why they're coming here? Because they are more free here than they are in some other states."

He cited a reasonable estimate for the state's projected population growth. But the reasons people move to Florida -- family, new jobs and our weather, mainly -- do not align with his definition of freedom (the state's conservative fiscal policies). PolitiFact Florida rated his statement Mostly False.

Last week at a Board of Governors meeting, Weatherford was asked why the House recommended a 6 percent tuition increase. He said, "The average student in Florida, what they actually pay out of pocket at our major universities" for tuition is as much or less than what they spend on cellphones.

We had never heard the comparison before. PolitiFact Florida compared the average out-of-pocket tuition payments for full-time, in-state students against average cellphone bills. Out-of-pocket expenses vary widely by family income group, but Weatherford has a point using average data.

Of course, because he specified tuition, this analysis does not account for the thousands of dollars that students spend on other college expenses, such as books and room and board. This statement earned a Mostly True.

Of eight fact-checks, Weatherford has not yet earned a True or a Pants on Fire! rating. Browse the rest of his file and other PolitiFact Florida fact-checks from the legislative session.