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Florida’s Potential Presidential Primary Snafu

February 28th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida law requires Florida to have one of the earliest Presidential primary elections in the nation. Rules adopted by both parties at the national level could penalize Florida if it goes ahead with a January 31st vote, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, keeping the early vote could be potentially embarrassing for the Florida GOP.

The January primary in 2008 helped cement John McCains GOP nomination.

Now, with Obama in the White House, 2012 matters most to the GOP. New rules agreed upon by both Democrats and Republicans push the four early state primaries back to February. That is a problem for Florida. State law says our primary is January 31st.

GOP lawmakers who are in control, could push the date back , but so far they are balking.

Florida is the most important state in the presidential election, Florida Senate president Mike Haridopolos said.

State legislative leaders are also getting support for keeping the early date from Floridas newest US Senator.

No Republican can win the presidency without winning Florida, so we should make sure pretty early on that our nominee is someone who can fly here, Senator Marco Rubio said.

Democratic state Senator Arthenia Joyner of Tampa has legislation to move the primary to March 6th.

Governor Rick Scott has said that he favors the earliest date possible for a primary that doesnt cost the state any delegates. That would be March 6th.

Republicans from South Carolina are calling for the national GOP convention to be moved out of Florida, if the state votes early. Florida Democrats say the whole mess could embarrass state GOP leaders.

The Republicans could be hosting the national convention and not have a delegation there, Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.

Florida Republican party leaders remain confident the national convention will stay in Tampa, no matter when the state decides to hold its Presidential Primary.

If the state does keep its January 31st date, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are expected to all move their dates from February to January, and if the state sticks with the early date, it could lose delegates to the convention.

Posted in Elections, Legislature, Politics, State News | No Comments »

Everglades Restoration Faces Steep Cuts

February 28th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Floridas Everglades restoration plan faces a 66 percent cut in the Governors budget proposal, but environmentalists say the cut is too step coming on the heels of previous cuts in recent years. The Everglades Foundation commissioned a poll which found widespread support for continued funding. Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation says a sweeping majority of Floridians believe job creation and protecting drinking water through restoration is very important.

“We’ve already taken a significant hit–from 200 million, to 100 million, down to 50, and now, potentially, down to 17 million annually, Fordham said. We believe that everyone needs to share the pain, but again, the Everglades restoration has already taken a disproportionate hit.”

The poll found that a majority of likely 2012 voters believe job creation and economic growth are tied to an abundant supply of clean water. The current restoration project is expected to create 22 thousand jobs.

Posted in Environment, Rick Scott, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Unemployment Reform Moves to House Floor

February 25th, 2011 by flanews

Major changes to the way Florida pays its unemployed are ready to be voted on in the state house and session hasnt even begun. State lawmakers have fast-tracked a plan that would reduce the number of weeks the unemployed can receive benefits, make it easier for businesses to challenge claims and as Whitney Ray tells us, lower taxes.

Randall Webster got an unwelcome gift for his 50th birthday, a pink slip. For the first time in his life, he was unemployed.

A living hell to be honest, Its been very difficult, said Randall.

A former nonprofit director, Webster took his story to lawmakers trying to cut unemployment benefits.

Its very difficult when you walk into a situation trying to gain employment and theres well over 150 candidates trying to get those jobs, said Randall.

Under a new proposal, jobseekers like Randall would lose their benefits if they turned down jobs that pay the same as their unemployment checks, regardless of their skill level. The bill would also reduce the number of weeks jobseekers can receive state benefits from 26 to 20. Democrats call the legislation heartless.

Where are those compassionate conservatives that everybodythat you all talk about? asked Representative Jim Waldman.

Friday the bill passed its final House committee on a party line vote. The bill has been speeding through the legislative process, and even though session has yet to begin its ready for a floor vote, which means tax relief for Florida business could be right around the corner.

The bills sponsor says if it goes all the way, businesses, on average, will get a 20 dollar per employee tax break this year. And more tax relief the following year.

The global idea in Florida as far as doing everything we can to encourage businesses to move to the state, said Representative Doug Holder.

At issue is two billion dollars Florida has borrowed from the feds to pay claims. The 1st payment is due this fall. The bill sets up a system to pay off the debt by 2020.

Posted in Economy, Legislature, State News, Taxes | No Comments »

High Speed Rail Extension

February 25th, 2011 by flanews

The US Department of Transportation is giving Florida more time to come up with a high speed rail plan. Today Governor Rick Scott met with US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.

Today was the deadline to claim the dollars, but after the two met LaHood extended the deadline. Scott says the project is too risky and fears, if it fails, Florida would be on the hook for the money. Brad Ashwell with Florida PIRG is just one of a dozen groups that will spend the next seven days trying to change Scotts mind.

There isnt a lot of time. There are other states waiting for this money. They are drooling and salivating over the prospect of getting our tax dollars and putting it into their transportation infrastructure. Its really short-sighted and frankly stupid to reject the money and lose an opportunity to move forward with this project, said Ashwell.

Senator Bill Nelson released a statement regarding the extension. In the statement he says there is too much at stake for us not to try everything we can.

Posted in Rick Scott, State News, Taxes, Transportation | No Comments »

Civil Rights on the Line

February 24th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Conflicting views over when felons should have their rights restored are clashing at the State Capitol. In 2007 most former felons were given an automatic restoration of their civil rights. Many are still kept from working because the restoration does not include the right to be licensed. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the ACLU was asking for more rights restoration today, while the Attorney General says no one should get their rights back automatically

Thursday was Rick Scotts first Clemency meeting; He was in a generous mood. I move to grant restoration of civil rights, the Governor said. But two of the other three on the board must agree and they were not so generous. Saying no to two Scott requests.

Oscar Hernandez was pulled from his car in 1993, after he shot one of his attackers, he fled. That cost him five years in state prison. I simply reacted to a matter when I was attacked, he said.

Hernandez was before the State Clemency Board Thursday, asking for a pardon, not just his civil rights, so he could work as a cab driver. If my civil rights would have been restored, I still would not have been able to get a cab license, said Hernandez.

Thousands of people like Hernandez have done their time, but cant be licenses plumbers, cabbies or a host of other professions. The ACLU and a host of Democrats want the restoration of civil rights to also mean eligibility for a license.

Put all Floridians back to work. Put the least lost and the left behind, back to work, said State Senator, Chris Smith of Broward County.

After a 2007 change that automatically restored the rights on non-violent felons, a hundred thousand people are still waiting for their rights. Now, if the Attorney General has her way, no rights will be given back automatically.

I dont believe that any felony should have an automatic restoration of rights. I believe you should have to ask, said Attorney General Pam Bondi. The ACLU says Bondi just needs to be educated about the consequences of ending automatic restoration.

Posted in Cabinet, Criminal Justice, Rick Scott | 2 Comments »

Students Fight for FSU

February 24th, 2011 by flanews

College students are taking action to stave off budget cuts to higher education and benefit reductions to state employees. 35 students from Florida State University walked the halls of the capitol today pleading their case. As Whitney Ray tells us, over the past four years seniors in the group have seen class sizes increase, and teacher quality decrease.

These Florida State University seniors are getting a crash course in civics. They made the short walk from FSU to the state capitol Thursday, with stories of how three straight years of budget cuts have impacted their school.

You start to see some of the programs being a little bit watered down, said Dustin Daniels, FSU Student Body President.

There are fewer TAs in your classrooms, More people in your classrooms, said FSU Senior Brock Howard.

Since 2007 FSU specifically has been cut about 85 million dollars. Thats resulted in 40 programs being shut down, said Bobby Seifter, VP of the FSU Student Body.

The three student body leaders headed a group of 35 FSU students on a lobbying trip through the halls of the state capitol.

They found sympathy for their story, but hope is all together different. Millions of stimulus dollars for higher education arent likely to be replaced.

Plus a budget exercise in underway at the behest of lawmakers, asking public universities to come up with a plan to cut 15 percent for their budgets.

Its just a worst case scenario, but with a 3.7 billion dollar budget shortfall money has to come from somewhere. State Senator Mike Fasano says tough choices will be made.

Reporter: So is this just the harsh reality at this time?
Fasano: It is, it is and thats what really is sad because those students are paying for it.

The students will share the burden. A 15 percent tuition increase is likely at each of the eleven state universities. The students also raised concerns that a reduction in health care and pension benefits to professors could cause good teachers to leave Florida.

Posted in Education, Legislature, State Budget, State News | 3 Comments »

Planned Parenthood Federal Funding Fight

February 24th, 2011 by flanews

Womens rights advocates and Democratic legislators gathered in the state capitol today to fight federal cuts to Planned Parenthood.

Republican members of the US House of Representatives want to eliminate all federal financing for the program that provides birth control, STD screening, and counseling. North Florida Planned Parenthood CEO Staci Fox says thats unacceptable.

Taking down an organization like Planned Parenthood means removing lifesaving cancer screening services and affordable access to birth control for women all over this country. This is not something that is acceptable to women, said Fox.

The cut is part of the House budget. Now the US Senate will have to decide whether or not it wants to keep funding the program.

Posted in Health | No Comments »

Poll says Voters Side with Kids

February 24th, 2011 by flanews

Move over jobs and taxes. According to a new poll released today voters want state lawmakers to focus on childrens issues this upcoming legislative session.

Children joined a huge cow on the steps of the capitol this morning in Tallahassee touting the new poll numbers showing that seven out of 10 voters want issues such as childrens health care, mentoring and pre-k to top the legislative agenda. The poll was conducted by Tarrance Group at the behest of the Childrens Movement. David Lawrence Jr., President of the Childrens Movement of Florida says lawmakers should take heed.

We are not asking for a one year legislative wonder but we do insist that we do need to begin this very year to make specific progress in how children succeed in school and in life, said Lawrence.

Session starts March 8th. Childrens programs will be in a budget battle for dollars because lawmakers have to work with a 3.7 billion dollar budget hole.

Posted in Children, Legislature, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

Pill Mill Politics

February 23rd, 2011 by flanews

Pressure is mounting on Florida to do something about the state’s pill mill problem. The US Drug Czar along with law enforcement officers from other states are growing frustrated because people are flocking to Florida, loading up on painkillers and overdosing. As Whitney Ray tells us, a new prescription drug database would stop the doctor shopping, but Florida’s rogue governor isn’t having it.

Florida is ridden with pill mills. During a six months period, nine million painkillers were prescribed in just two south Florida counties. Seven deaths a day are attributed to people in Florida illegally using legal drugs. Lawmakers created a prescription drug database to curb the problem. The database set to go online this spring would track people who go from doctor to doctor collecting meds.

Governor Rick Scott is taking a defiant stance against the database even though its heavily supported by members of his own party.

“I don’t support the database. I believe it’s an invasion of privacy,” said Scott.

The database would help Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi in her fight to stop the South Florida pill mills, but she’s reluctant to chastise the governor’s decision.

“It’s my goal to use every tool possible to shut them down. That includes implementing the rules that have been previously frozen,” said Bondi.

The tension is building at the capitol as officials line up against the governor or keep quiet.

Scott’s not only catching heat from lawmakers here in Tallahassee but the Feds and law enforcement officers in other state’s are fed up with him because they say the pill mill problem in Florida is also killing resident’s in their states.

The Senator whose legislation created the database says Scott cant stop it.

“It’s in law and he can’t just, all of a sudden, wipe a law out. As much of what Governor Scott would like to do with some of our laws–he can’t just wipe it out, said Senator Mike Fasano.

Legislative efforts are underway in the House to find a replacement for the database that satisfies the governor. For at least the first year the database would be paid for with 1.3 million dollars of federal grants and private donations.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, Rick Scott, State News | 34 Comments »

Senator Rubio Back in Tally

February 23rd, 2011 by flanews

US Senator Marco Rubio was in the state capitol today meeting with state lawmakers from his own party. While in Tallahassee Rubio spoke about his efforts to reduce federal spending. He also met with Governor Rick Scott and says Scotts decision to turn down the 2.4 billion dollars for high speed rail was the right one.

The issue is whether we can afford it and tragically we can’t because until we get spending straightened out in Washington it’s going to be very difficult to fund projects like these,” said Rubio.

The state has until Friday to come up with a plan to go around the governor and secure the federal money. Lawyers from the US Department of Transportation have been talking with Scott, trying to convince him to change his mind.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Scott Recieves Tough Questions at DBPR

February 23rd, 2011 by flanews

There were tough questions today for Governor Rick Scott as he faced people with jobs hed like to eliminate. Governor Rick Scott toured the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in Tallahassee. Scott has called for the elimination of some of the branches within the department. Employees of those branches asked the Governor why. They also asked Scott why he wants to tool with the state pension plan.

“The question if anybody didn’t hear it in the back–the question is, is it unfair to state employees any of my proposals with regard to changes in health insurance with a pension plan. Here’s what I think about it, step one, everybody here wants a plan that they can rely on, right? Right now your plan is underfunded, whether anybody wants to acknowledge it or not. Pension plans all across this country including Florida are underfunded,” said Scott.

Scotts not shying away from the people whose jobs hes recommended eliminating. His tour of state agencies and departments continues.

Posted in Rick Scott, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

State Lawmakers Push Sports Safety

February 22nd, 2011 by flanews

Every year, 100-thousand Floridians suffer a traumatic brain Injury. Many of them are high school athletes that feel pressured to get back in the game while still feeling the effects of their injury. As Whitney Ray tells us, state lawmakers want a health official to intervene in cases where high school athletes suffer a blow to the head.

Sixteen year old soccer player David Goldstein is taking his story to the state capitol.

In January 2010, I had a head to head collision with another soccer player, during the district finals for my schools soccer team, said David.

Even though David felt dizzy that day he choose to keep playing; the game was too big, the pressure too great.

This opportunity comes up and I didnt want to let it go and I got hurt, said David.

After collapsing at practice a day later, and passing out at school, David decided to get help. He found out he suffered a brain injury from his injury and his choice to keep playing.

Unfortunately David’s story is all too common. Every year thousands of high school athletes suffer concussions. Many of them never get treated.

The Brain Injury Association of Florida is launching an informational campaign to help parents and athletes better understand the issue. State lawmakers are also pushing guidelines that would leave the decision to get back in the game up to health officials.

We want to have doctors to be the ones who give the final ok. Not just kind of the coach on the sideline saying go ahead get back in the game. It could be doctors, it could be nurses that are trained in these issues, said Bill Sponsor Anitere Flores.

The NFL is backing the legislation. The league suffered a loss last week when a former Chicago Bears safety committed suicide. Before he shot himself in the chest he texted loved ones telling them to have his brain examined. He believed his life struggles were brought on by concussions he suffered playing football.

Part of the legislation would require schools to give parents information about traumatic brain injury and have parents give their consent before their children could play high school sports.

Posted in Children, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Scott Responds to Shooting

February 22nd, 2011 by flanews

With the shooting death of a St. Petersburg police officer last night the total number of officers killed this year in Florida has risen to six.

Those deaths have occurred since Governor Rick Scott took office. Scott has attended funerals for all the officers and called last nights shooting tragic, but hes sticking by his plan to cut the special risk pension plans for Florida law enforcement and firefighters.

Im trying to make sure that we have a pension plan thats fair to taxpayers. Its a pension plan that people that rely on it in the state know they have a pension plan, so the things that I suggest make all the sense in the world, said Scott.

The cut would force law enforcement officers to work about 12 years longer to receive the same retirement benefits they receive right now.

Posted in Rick Scott, State News | 1 Comment »

Public Employees Up in Arms

February 22nd, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

State employees across the country are up in arms over proposed changes to their benefits package. A stalemate in Wisconsin was created when democratic state senators left the state to prevent a vote eliminating collective bargaining. Relations here in Florida are not as heated as in other states, but are reaching the simmering point.

Governor Rick Scott wants state employees to pay 5% of their salaries toward pensions, and he wants them to get only limited payments for health insurance. If you are taxpayers in this state, you know, you likely dont have a pension plan. If you even have a 401k your employer may not contribute, says Scott.

30 Palm Beach County firemen, including Fred Angelo, were in Tallahassee getting the lay of the land Every every worker should be concerned about their pensions, say Angelo.

Others have been giving the governor an earful. Doug Martin is the negotiator for AFSCME, which represents state employees and others. He says some of the proposals that are out there could get people pretty riled up, particularly on retirement and health benefits.

But Florida is not likely to be Wisconsin. Just before the turn of the 20th century, a group of Florida lawmakers, like those in Wisconsin, went across the state line to keep the Senate from having a quorum, but that couldnt happen today.

The reason: Republicans are in such total control, they dont need a single Democrat vote to do anything they want..as long as they all stick together.

Senator John Thrasher has upped the anger level by introducing legislation to keep the state from payroll deducting union dues.Government should not be using their resources to collect union dues. Simple as that, says the Jacksonville Senator.

Florida Education Association President Andy Ford says Thrashers bill is nothing more than payback. The union beat back attempts at Merit Pay sponsored by Thrasher in 2010. In our mind once the election is over, its over and you need to work together and try to bring everybody back together, says Ford.

While other states are at the boiling point, Floridas public employees are just starting to plan demonstrations.

State lawmakers worked on reforming local pension plans today. The state pension plan is on the agenda Thursday afternoon.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Merit Pay and Blood Pressure

February 22nd, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Seventeen Florida teachers spent 6 months working with the non profit Center for Teaching Quality.

The group is working on ways to best share best practices among teachers. It is also recommending that state lawmakers not move forward with a controversial merit pay plan that sets teacher pay based on FCAT scores. Barnett Berry says using the FCAT scores is too volatile.

Measuring teachers on a value added rating using the FCAT is very similar to measuring your doctors performance based on your blood pressure rating,” says Berry. “Blood pressure readings fluctuate, there are many different causes for it, and there are many different sorts of approaches you need to take to modify that blood pressure.

Floridas 2010 Teacher of the Year, Megan Allen, who was part of the workgroup, says teachers know merit pay is in their future.

We are not afraid of performance pay. We just want to make sure it is done right, with no unintended consequences for our favorite people, our students,” says Allen.

The Merit pay legislation has cleared the first of three legislative committees in the Senate. A House bill is yet to be heard.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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