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Court Split to be Nixed by Senate

April 29th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon is one of the three most powerful people in state government, so when he announced a plan in March to split Florida’s Supreme Court, people took notice. Cannon has been upset with the court since it removed three legislative amendments from last years ballot. Now, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the court battle has resulted in some real political hardball being played at the Capitol.

Death penalty delays and the foreclosure crisis were sited as reasons to add judges to the Supreme Court, but as former Justice Raul Cantero, a Jeb Bush appointee, told Senators as he walked the Capitol, neither problems are the courts fault.

“What it needs are more trial judges to handle the foreclosure cases,” Cantero said.

Cantero’s push back is paying off. When the time came for the State Senate to take up the court bill…It was skipped.

Moderate Republicans not happy with the court-packing plan were summoned to meeting rooms in the back of the Senate.

“They were trying to see if we couldn’t enhance some of our projects, but our projects are doing as well as we could expect in a budget like this,” Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole) said. “It would be nice to have a little more money but not at that expense.”

Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff has been pushing the court plan for the House Speaker. Without 24 votes in the Senate, supporters are scrambling.

“It changes on a daily basis,” Bogdanoff said.

But the legislation is the top priority of the powerful House Speaker. He could bring the legislative process to a screeching halt over the court changes if he wants. That threat isn’t sitting well with opponents,

“The one thing that should never have happened was to take something that the Speaker is pushing as far as a policy issue, and play that against the entire budget. That’s wrong,” Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) said.

With the Senate unwilling to split the court, the question now is what will the Speaker insist on. That means we won’t know what the court will look like until lawmakers have gone home.

Part of the court-packing plan would allow Governor Rick Scott to appoint three new justices. It would also give lawmakers a say in the confirmation.

Posted in Amendments, Legislature, State News, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

School Choice Expansion

April 29th, 2011 by flanews

Right now just 14-hundred students receive money from the state to leave a failing school for a better school in their district. But the Florida Legislature hopes to expand the school voucher program. As Whitney Ray tells us, a bill to expand the definition of a failing school is at the heart of their plan to grow the voucher program.

Twenty-four schools in Florida are considered failing. Students from those schools can receive a state voucher to attend a better school in their district. Just 14-hundred students are using the vouchers.

Governor Rick Scott and the state legislature want to expand the school choice program. Representative Brad Drake says options will improve education.

“Anytime you give a child an opportunity to learn in a different environment, something more suitable, more comfortable to the parents, I say all for it,” said Representative Brad Drake.

A bill to allow a student from a failing schools to not just leave the school, but leave the district is moving in the legislature. House Democrat Geraldine Thompson says simply leaving a failing school doesn’t ensure academic success.

“The data show that students that leave a “failing” school and go to another school do no better at the second school than they did at the school where they were,” said Representative Geraldine Thompson.

The definition of a failing is broadened under the legislation. Right now state law defines a failing school as a school that’s received two Fs in a four year period. The bill redefines failing to include Ds.

The change would add dozens of schools to the failure roles making thousands of students eligible to leave their schools.

“Children learn differently and not everybody learns the same way so it’s important that while empowering the parent you’re also empowering the child,” said Representative Will Weatherford.

The vouchers can only be used to transfer to traditional public schools or charter schools, but a constitutional amendment is in the works that would pave the way for the vouchers to be used at private religious schools.

The Religious Freedom Act would overturn a 125 year old state constitutional amendment that banned public money from funding religious institutions. If that happens opponents of the school choice legislation think the vouchers could then be used at religious schools.

Posted in Children, Education, Legislature, Rick Scott, State News | 1 Comment »

College For Foster Youth in Jeopardy

April 29th, 2011 by flanews

Only three percent of Florida foster kids graduate from college and legislation being discussed in Tallahassee could lower the success rate even more.

Right now kids who age out of the foster care system can receive money to go to college until they are 23. A bill filed by Representative Matt Hudson would lower the age to 21. Christina Spudeas, the Executive Director of Florida’s Children First says the change would leave the kids who are trying to improve their situation with no where to turn.

“There’s really only a handful in the whole system that qualify for this. They have to be in college fulltime. They have to be doing really well. And so to take that away will be effectively telling them quite school, drop out, don’t become productive citizens, it’s a horrible bill,” said Spudeas.

Florida Children First is supporting two other bills that would allow foster youth who change schools midyear to continue to participate in extra curricular activates. The bills would also give every foster kid an education advocate.

Posted in Legislature, State Budget, State News | 5 Comments »

Rep. Patronis Ushers Bath Salts Ban through House

April 29th, 2011 by flanews

The House voted today to ban synthetic cocaine and PCP, also known as bath salts.

The drugs were legal sold in head shops and convenient stores until earlier this year when Florida’s Attorney General issued an emergency order banning them. From there Representative Jimmy Patronis filed legislation to permanently ban bath salts. Minutes after the bill passed the House unanimously Patronis told us banning the drugs will save lives.

“It is going to create a predictable in law enforcement’s ability to do their job. And knowing this is one less option for somebody to put in their system and chemically imbalance themselves and do harm to anybody and themselves,” said Patronis.

Now the bill heads to the state senate where it’s expected to receive unanimous support.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Take Your Kids to Work

April 28th, 2011 by flanews

Lawmakers, Lobbyists and state workers brought their kids to the capitol today to celebrate take your sons and daughters to work day. They met the governor and as Whitney Ray tells us, they’re hoping his jobs plan works so they can find jobs once they graduate.

Eight year old Mary Taylor got a first hand lesson on road design, but
When it comes to a career she would rather be in the spotlight than designing traffic lights. Her mom brought her to the state capitol Thursday as part of “Take your kids to work day. Governor Rick Scott encouraged Mary and the rest of the kids to think about their careers.

But with an 11 percent unemployment rate there are concerns over what jobs will be available once the kids are old enough to work. Scott is promising a better economy by the time these kids graduate.

“What I’m committed to doing is making sure our state is the state that’s most conducive to job growth,” said Scott.

Mary’s mom is hopeful.

“I hope that in the future the employment rate will get better,” said Annette Taylor.

She’s introducing Mary to jobs in science and engineering.

Cynthia Lorenzo the Director of the Agency for Workforce Innovation says those jobs will still be in high demand by the time the third grader enters the workforce.

“Science Technology Engineering and Math, those are very stable careers of the future and very worth looking into,” said Lorenzo.

But for now Mary is focused on her singing career. And if Nashville isn’t calling be the time Mary graduates… the good news is Florida’s unemployment rate is expected to be cut in half.

By 2018, the top paying jobs in Florida are expected to be computer software engineers, sales representatives and Network Systems Analysts. The career with the highest demand will remain nursing.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Immigration Protests Persist

April 28th, 2011 by flanews

Immigrants and their supporters continue their marathon effort to convince the state legislature to stop immigration reform.

The legislation would make it a state crime to be undocumented and make it easier for local law enforcement officers to receive the authority to act as immigration officers. Today the group released a report claiming the bill would cost the state 45 billion dollars to implement the law, defend it in court and other economic impacts like the loss of cheap labor. The group hopes the message gets to Senate President Mike Haridopolos. Felipe Matos, an undocumented college student from Brazil says it’s time Haridopolos made his position on the legislation clear.

“He is not taking responsibility, and even though it is obvious he is against us, he keeps saying that he is unsure. So what we want is for him to take a clear position so we can tell the Latino community not to vote for him in 2012,” said Matos.

The group has been successful in keeping the legislation at bay, but it could still be brought up and voted on before session ends May 6th.

Posted in State News | 24 Comments »

Voters Rights Advocates Oppose Elections Bill

April 28th, 2011 by flanews

A group of community leaders, voter rights groups and consumer activists who were kept for testifying about sweeping changes to the state’s elections law… spoke out today.

The League of Women Voters, Florida PIRG, and the Ion Sancho the Leon County supervisor of elections told reporters the changes will keep people from voting. The legislation would limit early voting to one week instead of two, although the polls would be open late during the one week of early voting. Sancho say the changes will make overtime skyrocket.

“The 14 counties that have so far reported indicate that working a 12 hour day would be a 1.8 million dollar budget impact on local government because it is the counties that pay for early voting,” said Sancho.

The bill would also create a 50 dollar fee for any volunteer participating in a voter registration drive if the forms weren’t turned in to the supervisor of elections office with in 48 hours.

Posted in Elections, Legislature, State News | 14 Comments »

Sinkhole Coverage May Not Be Required

April 27th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Senate spent most of the morning arguing over whether insurance companies should be required to offer sink hole coverage. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the debate is far from over, but if the majority of the Senate gets its way, thousands of homeowners could be forced into the insurer of last resort.

If your house falls into a sinkhole, it is considered catastrophic ground cover collapse under insurance legislation steaming through the state Senate, and it would be covered. But insurance companies would not have to offer coverage from cracks that develop because of shifting ground. State Senator Mike Fasano spent most of Wednesday morning trying to convince the Senate to require coverage of both cracks and collapse.

“You will have people who want to buy a home in this state, that will not be able to get sinkhole coverage,” Fasano said. “Therefore, they will not be able to get sinkhole coverage.”

Sinkhole losses have sky rocketed in recent years. Sponsor Garrett Richter says many of the claims are fraudulent.

“Policyholders are receiving checks, large checks for small cracks,” Richter said. “They’re taking these checks, they’re not repairing the property. They’re taking these checks, they’re paying their mortgage off, they’re buying a boat.”

Fasano lost the fight, for now.

Right now, the House still wants to require sinkhole coverage, so let the negotiations begin.

Richter believes insurance companies will offer the sink hole coverage, even if it is not required. We asked what would happen if he was wrong.

“If I’m wrong? Then there is an insurer of last resort, as designed,” Richter said.

If the Senate wins out and only catastrophic collapse ends up being required, thousands of homeowners could be forced into state run Citizens, or non-regulated out-of-state companies as early as June.

Posted in Housing, Insurance, Legislature, State News | 8 Comments »

Immigrants Reform Legislation on Life-Support

April 26th, 2011 by flanews

Weeks of hard work and protests by immigrants and their supporters seem to be paying off. One by one, state lawmakers in Tallahassee are starting to back away from immigration reform legislation. As Whitney Ray tells us, the main hold out is the Senate President and today protestors and their kids paid him a visit.

A group of farmers, construction workers and gardeners packed the halls of the state capitol Tuesday, trying desperately to talk to lawmakers. The group carried American flags and wore stickers opposing immigration reform. After three fruitless trips to legislative offices, the group of 70 split into three, to make up more ground.

“At some point I know we are going to be able to meet with them. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it’s got to be before they give a final decision,” said Brendy Gutierrez.

For seven weeks immigrants and their supporters have been protesting the legislation that would make being undocumented a crime and allow local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people under investigation.

Their tireless lobbying efforts are starting to be pay off. Republican lawmakers one by one seem to be backing away from the issue.

Most Hispanic Republicans now oppose the bill. Majority leader Carlos Lopez Cantera has spoken out against the legislation in the Spanish media, but is avoiding our cameras.

The protestors have made Senate President Mike Haridopolos their main target. They brought kids and coloring books to his office. We asked Haridopolos if he would stop the bill.

“We are going to look at that on Thursday in the budget committee and we are still debating exactly what will be in it,” said Haridopolos.

The protestors plan to stay through the week. They’ve raise more than 12-thousand dollar to rent buses and hotel rooms and have taken their kids out of school in an attempt persuade lawmakers.

A major issue playing against the protestors is promises made by Republican lawmakers and the governor on the campaign trail. They promised to pass an immigration law similar to Arizona’s. We’ll soon find out if protests are more powerful than campaign promises.

Posted in Legislature, State News | 1 Comment »

Abortion Bills Advance in the House

April 26th, 2011 by flanews

Five anti-abortion bills are being discussed on the House Floor.

The bills would force women to get an ultrasound before they could have an abortion, keep tax dollars from paying for the procedures and shut down clinics not owned by a physicians. The GOP leadership promised to focus on creating jobs. Representative Scott Randolph says these bills would kill jobs.

“These are the type of bills that when companies are thinking about relocating they look at all sort of these type of bills and they say I’m not going to relocate to some type of place that doesn’t respect GBLT rights or doesn’t respect women’s rights or I have to do something special to health care to provide health care to my employees,” said Randolph.

The ultrasound bill was passed by lawmakers last year, but vetoed by former Governor Charlie Crist. If it’s passed this year Governor Rick Scott is willing to sign it.

Posted in Legislature, State Budget, State News | 2 Comments »

Streamlined Sales Tax

April 26th, 2011 by flanews

A group of economists, business leaders and lawmakers are joining forces to tax online sales. The group is backing legislation that would bring Florida’s tax code in line with the codes in 24 other states. Streamlining the state tax code would make it easier for online shops to know what to charge and customers to know what to pay. Right now the burden to pay the tax lies on the customers. Kurt Wenner with Florida TaxWatch says the current system of taxing puts brick and mortar shops at a disadvantage because they have to charge the sales tax.

“When you have a 7.5 percent price advantage that you shouldn’t have, that’s going to drive a lot more people to the internet. That’s going to cost jobs here. But it’s not just about jobs, it’s also about the rule of law,” said Wenner.

State lawmakers says streamlining the tax code would bring in 50 million dollars the first year, and take the state one step closer to forcing online shops to pay the tax, which could bring in two billion dollars annually.

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

Florida Crime at a 40 Year Low

April 26th, 2011 by flanews

Crime in Florida is at a 40 year low. The 2010 Florida crime statistics were released today. They show a 6.7 percent drop in crime. Law enforcement officers gathered at the Capitol to celebrate the drop. Steve Casey, the Executive Director of the Florida Sheriff’s Association says budget cuts have made it harder to fight crime, but law enforcement officers have risen to the occasion.

“It is impressive that Florida has seen a reduction in crime of six percent in both 2009 and 2010. It’s even more impressive when you consider these reductions occurred at a time when law enforcement community has had to absorb major reductions in staffing and funding,” said Casey.

The statistics show a three percent drop in murder, three percent drop in rape and a 15 percent drop in robberies.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Budget Negotiations

April 26th, 2011 by flanews

Fears of a special session to balance the budget and bickering over spending difference were put to rest today. Senate President Mike Haridopolos joined Speaker Dean Cannon on the House Floor to tell lawmakers they’ve reached a budget deal and are ready to move forward in conference. They also promised to end on time. Haridopolos says his friendship with the House speaker helped the two come to an agreement.

“We listened a lot to each other and that’s what made the difference in allowing us to get the allocation set, having a balanced budget, not raising taxes or fees like we promised and we are going to do our best to get out of here next Friday,” said Haridopolos.

Compromises are being made to merge the spending plan. It’s unclear at this point exactly what the Senate will get, but it looks like the House will get its bill to split the Supreme Court in two.

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

Early Voting Change Marches Forward

April 26th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

A key Senate committee today approved legislation shortening early voting from 15 to just five days over the objection of the state’s elections supervisors. But pressure from voters may be leading to a compromise.

Early voting was created after the 2000 election debacle to make sure votes were being counted. By 2008, more people voted by absentee or early than on election day. But now, a massive elections bill moving through he legislature would shorten early voting from two weeks to just 5 days. GOP sponsor Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portillia of Miami

says the legislation is an effort to cut costs.

“Number one, overall throughout the years, it (early voting) hasn’t increased overall turnout.”

But state elections records show turnout is up five percent, from 70 to 75 percent  since the 2000 election.

Attempts to restore early voting to two weeks were shouted down in a key Senate committee.

But Senators are feeling pressure, with Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville offering to come back with the same number of hours but fewer days of early voting.

“So to get the same number of hours, but you do it in a fewer number of days, would actually expand the number of hours per day and make it much more convenient for working families”.

Elections supervisors met with Senators after the vote, telling them they would like to keep the early voting just as it’s always been. Escambia Supervisor David Stafford says the is working the way it is.  “We’re trying to get as much opportunity, particularly in the general election cycle for people to early vote as possible,” says Stafford.

While some key Senators say they;’re willing to make changes later, There’s no guarantee they’ll happen. The next stop for the Voting bill is the Senate Floor.

The bill also would keep 50 thousand college students who changed their address at the polls in 2010 from voting in their college town. Student leaders were not given a chance to express their feelings to the committee before the vote was taken.


Posted in State News | No Comments »

Walk in My Shoes

April 26th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Lauren Book was sexually abused for six years as a child by her nanny.

The now 20 something has turned her pain into a walk of healing. Book walked a thousand miles. from Key West to the Capitol in Tallahassee to promote Sexual Abuse Awareness month. She is also pushing lawmakers to pass a “walk in my shoes Act to protect victims of Sexual abuse. She told a crowd of several hundred at the Capitol that abuse could happen to any of our children.

“One in three young girls will be sexually assaulted before they’re 18 years old. And one in five young boys will be sexually assaulted before they are 18 years old. One in five children will be solicited for sex on the internet, regardless of their gender. That’s why I am so proud that we have mandatory internet safety classes.”

This was Lauren Books second year of walking to promote sexual violence awareness.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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