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238 posts from January 2017

January 31, 2017

Janet Cruz says Democrats haven't done enough to convince voters


Cruz2_8colHouse Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa said Florida's budget woes are due to misplaced priorities and chided the minority party for not doing a better job convincing voters that they're fighting in their best economic interests.

"I don't think as Democrats we've done a good enough job at articulating how our core values have a direct impact on ensuring Florida families can continue to climb the economic ladder of success," Cruz told reporters Tuesday.

The comments follow an election cycle when Democrats were expected to perform much better than they did, particularly in the state Legislature, where they picked up one Senate seat and two in the House.

More funding for public education, better access to health care and a focus on clean water will help the state's economy grow, Cruz said, and help avoid budget shortfalls such as the projected one this year.

"Our state doesn't have a revenue problem or a spending problem," she said. "What we have is a problem in priorities."

Pressed for details about how the state has misaligned its priorities, Cruz said funds should come from economic incentives, though she did say there were some that she understands "both sides" of, such as tourism funding that helps Tampa International Airport but also fueled a $1 million contract with Pitbull last year.

Photo by Monica Herndon, Tampa Bay Times

Governor uses budget to oppose Florida ports from doing business with Cuba


A week after threatening Florida ports with retaliation if they do business with Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is using his proposed state budget to further make the point.

Buried on page 222 of his 363 page state budget is a line prohibiting money from a pot of $176 million for various port improvements from going to any facilities the does business with the communist nation.

In the budget, Scott’s administration says no money can go to “infrastructure projects that result in the expansion of trade with the Cuban dictatorship because of their continued human rights abuses.”

Gov. Scott proposes $58M to recruit, retain top teachers

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To better recruit and retain quality teachers for Florida's K-12 public schools, Gov. Rick Scott wants the state to spend $58 million in the next budget year on a handful of initiatives -- and those don't include a controversial teacher bonus plan that lawmakers, with Scott's support, have advanced in recent years.

"Teachers are key to preparing our future generations for great careers," Scott said Tuesday when rolling out priorities of his 2017-18 budget proposal during a news conference in Tallahassee. "We have to make investments to recruit and retain the best educators in our classrooms."

Specifically, Scott proposes:

-- $15 million to eliminate initial and renewal certification fees for teachers;

-- $10 million for "a one-time hiring bonus for teachers testing in the top 10 percent of the Subject Area Examination in the subject they are teaching in the 2017-2018 school year";

-- $5 million to "increase the diversity of teachers in critical shortage and high-need areas";

-- $5.9 million to "recruit Bright Futures scholars that major in education and commit to 4 years of teaching following graduation in the rural districts from which they graduate high school";

-- $16 million for school districts to "implement targeted recruitment and retention initiatives that meet the district’s need";

-- And, $6 million to "reward great teachers in low-performing schools."

Lawmakers will need to decide whether to include Scott's recommendations when they formally craft and vote on next year's budget in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in March.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott proposes $58M to recruit, retain top teachers" »

Scott proposes $83.5 billion state budget


Gov. Rick Scott proposed a $83.5 billion state budget proposal on Tuesday that would cut $618 million in taxes mostly for business, boost education funding and would revive a state job incentive program the Legislature eviscerated last year.

Scott said decreasing taxes, even though mostly for businesses, helps all Floridians.

“When jobs are created, it helps the poorest, most disadvantaged families who need a job the most,” Scott said Tuesday.

But the tax cut plans and his quest revive the state’s program to give tax breaks to private businesses has already been coldly received by state lawmakers who say tough budget conditions will make both ideas difficult to agree to.

While Scott as governor is required to propose an annual state budget, it is the Florida Legislature that must pass a spending plan. Scott does have veto powers to remove funding from the budget.

On education, Scott is proposing a 4 percent increase in combined state and local funding for schools. That would boost funding from $20.2 billion to almost $21 billion and increase per pupil funding from $7,204.58 to $7,420.99 if agreed to by the Legislature. 

Most of that increase in spending would come from local property tax dollars, which would account for nearly $558 million of the extra dollars.

Scott insisted that the additional money required from local property taxes don't amount to a tax increase, because -- although homeowners will pay more on their tax bill because of higher property values -- the tax rate isn't changing.

"If we're going to make Florida the best state for future generations we have to invest in our students," Scott said.

Part of that committment he said is $58 million in teacher recruitment and retention initiatives.

Other proposals highlighted by Scott on Tuesday:

-$360 million for water quality projects including $65 million for Florida’s springs, $60 million for Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee clean-up efforts; and $225 million for Everglades restoration funding.

-$454 million in cuts to sales tax on commercial leases for businesses.

-$38 million in pay raises for corrections officers and $5 million for signing bonuses of up to $1,000 for officers at understaffed prisons, and $2.5 million to increase pay for officers assigned to prisons with mental health units.

-$5.8 million for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to hire 46 new employees dedicated to counterterrorism.

For the first time in five years, Scott’s budget calls for no cuts in staff at the state Department of Health and county health offices. Those cuts were criticized last year by lawmakers who said disease outbreaks were exacerbated by the cuts.

However, there remain 1,500 “phantom” jobs currently authorized by the Legislature but not filled by the health department. That trend could continue.

Scott’s budget calls for nine additional employees to help put in place a medical marijuana program under the voter-approved Amendment 2, as well as 21 new epidemiologists to address outbreaks like Zika.


Gov. Rick Scott seeks $2.6 million cut to building permit fees


Gov. Rick Scott is planning to ask the Legislature to cut $2.6 million in fees charged to homebuilders when they file building permits.

The fee cut is part of a $8 million package of fees Scott said he wants to cut that affect businesses, veterans and seniors. The building permit cut is the largest of the 9 fee reductions Scott rolled out Monday. The building permit cut would reduce funding for developing and adoption of state building codes, but Scott’s office said there would still be “sufficient funds” to do enforcement activities if the Legislature agreed to the cut.

In a statement to the media, Scott’s office said the fees add to higher construction costs that ultimately affect consumers.

“When we cut fees and taxes, it helps businesses create jobs, and reduces costs for families across our state,” Scott said.

Among other cuts proposed by Scott on Monday included:

-$2.3 million in fees for senior citizens 80 and over who give up their driver licence for a state issued ID card.
-$1.6 million in fees to transfer a vehicle’s title from a deceased person to their surviving spouse.
-$700,000 in fees for getting a replacement or renewal ID for people who are 80 years old or older.
- $141,000 in fees to get a commercial drivers license for military veterans.
- $130,00 in fees charged on businesses that file sales and use taxes with a paper application instead of online, which already free.
- $58,000 in fees charged to veterans to get a “V” placed on their drivers license to prove they are a veteran.
-$25,000 in fees for applying to commercial drivers license schools.

PolitiFact: Trump says FBI terror investigations at a high but that's hard to prove



President Donald Trump defended his plan to ban immigrants from terror-prone countries by arguing that the FBI’s terror investigations are at an all-time high due to policies of the previous administration.

“President Obama and Hillary Clinton have, and (former Secretary of State John) Kerry have allowed tens of thousands of people into our country,” Trump said on ABC News Jan. 25. “The FBI is now investigating more people than ever before having to do with terror. And it’s from the group of people that came in. So look, look, our country has a lot of problems. Believe me. I know what the problems are even better than you do. They're deep problems, they're serious problems. We don't need more.”

We couldn’t independently verify the number of current FBI investigations and compare that to the past, and Trump put no timeframe on his historical comparison. We decided not to put Trump’s claim on the Truth-O-Meter, but we will lay out the evidence we found from experts. A spokesman for Trump did not provide any information to back up the claim by deadline.

Keep reading here from PolitiFact Florida.

January 30, 2017

Sen. Bill Nelson writes Trump letter protesting immigration order


U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, wrote a letter to President Donald Trump objecting to his executive order on immigration. Nelson, the only statewide Democratic office holder, is one of many Democratic lawmakers in South Florida to criticize Trump's order.

Here is the Nelson's letter:

I write to express my concern with your recent Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Regardless of the constitutionality or legality of this Executive Order, I am deeply concerned that it may do more harm than good in our fight to keep America safe.

Defeating the diabolical threat of terrorism is imperative to our national security. Our military and intelligence professionals are engaged around the world in the fight against terrorist groups like ISIS. Our success in this fight, both at home and abroad, depends on the cooperation and assistance of Muslims who reject radicalism and violence. Whether intended or not, this Executive Order risks alienating the very people we rely upon in the fight against terror.

Over the weekend, numerous people were detained at U.S. ports of entry, including an Iraqi interpreter who served alongside our troops. When we promise sanctuary to individuals who risk their lives assisting U.S. forces in the fight against terrorism, it is both unfair and counterproductive to turn them away at our shores.

 While we must do everything in our power to protect the United States, I am concerned this Executive Order will only undermine our counterterrorism efforts. I urge you to develop policy that keeps America safe, builds trust with our partners, and demonstrates compassion to those who need our help.

Corcoran, Scott demand more information about refugees in Florida


6a00d83451b26169e201b7c8ce742e970bBefore President Donald Trump issued an executive order blocking refugee resettlement in the U.S., the Florida House already had its sights on the program.

Last Friday, before Trump issued an executive order temporarily blocking refugee resettlements, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, wrote a letter to the president calling refugee resettlement a "one-sided partnership that is particularly concerning." He further called for the federal government to provide the state with more detailed information about the refugees being sent to Florida.

"We find the present arrangement for this program unacceptable and an abrogation of our duty to protect the safety of Florida residents," Corcoran wrote. "Consequently, the Florida House of Representatives is seriously re-evaluating Florida's role in these programs."

Refugees are vetted by the United Nations and federal law enforcement before being assigned a state for resettlement. Corcoran's complaint, which echoes concerns raised by Gov. Rick Scott since late 2015, is that state officials are not given full background information that went into that vetting.

It follows a belief held by the Trump administration that refugees are insufficiently investigated before arriving in the country and pose a risk to public safety, though the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told a House panel last week that there have been no acts of terrorism committed by refugees in this state.

Scott in 2015 opposed efforts by then-President Barack Obama's administration to resettle additional Syrians in the country and demanded the federal government release more information about the refugees it had sent to Florida already, a request that was denied.

"This is what the governor had been saying all last year with the Syrian refugees and so obviously the governor firmly believes that this information should be shared with state law enforcement so we can protect citizens in our state," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Monday.

Photo: Associated Press

Court administrator weighs in on Corcoran v. Court dust-up: Nothing new, full court was consulted

James E.C. PerryIn a letter today to the chairman of the House Justice Appropriations Committee, Florida's state courts administrator Patricia "P.K." Jameson attempted to clear up some misconceptions about the Florida Supreme Court's decision to allow a retiring Justice James E.C. Perry to complete unfinished work on the bench.  Download 20170130-Letter to House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee

Perry was appointed senior justice by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga in December pending his retirement on Dec. 30. The appointment originally lasted until Sept. 30, 2018 but on Jan. 11 Labarga assigned a new order ending Perry's term tomorrow, saying that when he made the first order, Perry's replacement had not been named at and "it was not known when a new Justice would be appointed to replace him. That issue now has been resolved."  Download Perry (James E C) sj orders

In the meantime, House Speaker Richard Corcoran threatened to sue, suggesting that Perry was serving as an unconstitutional "eighth justice." He also sought an end to any reimbursement he may have been paid. 

Jameson's note to Rep. Bill Hagar, R-Boca Raton, clarified that Perry wasn't paid, that his appointment is nothing new, that he served in the job to finish up work that might otherwise still be pending and his assignment as a retired justice was done "in consultation with the full court."

"The appointment as a senior justice is distinct from appointment as a senior judge, and there is no compensation provided Senior Justice Perry for his work in that capacity,'' Jameson wrote. "The appointment of a departing justice of the Court as a senior justice allows him or her to continue to serve in that capacity so pending work may be completed efficiently and timely."

She added that "this is not a new procedure" and in the last 20 years, "six different chief justices have issued assignment orders for eight departing justices to serve as senior justices."

Jameson explained that the practice was done "as a matter of judicial efficiency" because "it would take significant time for new justices to review anew cases that may otherwise be disposed much sooner with the participation of a senior justice who heard the case originally."

Corcoran and the House lawyers who prepared his brief argue, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court uses a different system which requires the court to rehear a case when a pending case is not completed before a justice retires or decide the case with the remaining justices.  Download DRAFT 2017.xx.xx_Petition for quo warranto


Florida-Mexico trade summit postponed amid tensions with Mexico



Donald Trump’s frequent clashes with Mexico are already having an impact on Florida’s relations with one of its top trading partners.

A trade summit meant to foster better ties between Mexico and Florida businesses set for Feb. 22 in Orlando was abruptly postponed Monday less than a week after Trump threatened a 20 percent border tax on Mexican products coming into the U.S. and just days after the President of Mexico canceled his meeting with Trump over the tension.

“Understandably, there has been much uncertainty given the current state of negotiation and trade discussions between Mexico and the U.S.,” Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council wrote to expected attendees of the summit. “And while we remain encouraged about the opportunities to continue to increase ocean trade between Florida seaports and Mexico, we also feel discussions from this Summit would be more productive at a time when more information and clarity can be provided.”

The Florida-Mexico Trade Summit, promoted as “Bridging the Future,” was supposed to include Francisco Gonzalez Diaz, CEO of ProMexico, that nation’s economic development arm charged with selling Mexico to the world.

But that was before a tumultuous first week the Trump administration and Mexico clashed over border walls, a tariff and visit schedules.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Ports Council insisted the postponement was not a reaction to anything that happened last week and was instead just about needing to get more information about what happens next between the two trading partners.

Mexico and Florida have seen a big increase in trade over the last few years. Just in 2015, there was a 21 percent increase in trade between the two, according to the most recent data available from Enterprise Florida. Total imports from Mexico to Florida have grown from $2.6 billion in 2013 to $3.2 billion in 2015. Cars have been the top important, growing from $500 million in imports in 2014 to more than $1 billion in 2015.