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House Budget Differs from Gov’s Plan

March 29th, 2013 by flanews

Merit raises for teachers, across the board pay increases for state employees and changes to the Florida Pension Plan are all part of the new House Budget proposal. As Whitney Ray tells us, the budget deepens the divide between Florida’s House Speaker and the Governor.

Education is the big winner in the budget proposal released by the Florida House Friday. House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to spend more than a billion dollars on education with money set aside for teacher pay raises.

“If we are going to increase funding for teachers we believe merit pay should be part of it. We should be rewarding our wonderful teachers who’ve gone the extra mile,” said Weatherford.

Governor Rick Scott is also proposing teacher pay raises but Scott wants a 25-hundred dollar across the board increase. Raises aren’t the only area where Scott and Weatherford differ.

The House budget also leaves out money available through the Medicaid Expansion. Scott wants the cash but he can’t claim it as long as the House is standing in his way.

The Senate has devised a plan to allow the state to accept the money to insure people through the private sector. Advocates for expansion want the House to fall in line.

“If Florida doesn’t find a way to except these federal funds it will be in a competitively disadvantaged position,” said UF Researcher Alan Hodges Ph.D.

Part of the House budget also relies on money gained from closing the state pension plan to new employees. Unions are crying foul.

“I think this is the breaking point for us. Enough is enough,” said Joanne McCall, Vice President of the Florida Education Association.

But it’s not all bad for state workers. The House budget includes a 14-hundred dollar across the board pay raise for all state employees.

House Minority Leader Perry Thurston released this statement about the budget proposal. “While increases in education funding, restoration of prior-year university system cuts, and pay increases for hard-working state employees and school teachers are important goals that we hope Florida’s new budget will achieve, there also is a crisis of uninsured Floridians that demands legislative attention this session.”

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

UF Medicaid Expansion Study

March 29th, 2013 by flanews

Expanding Medicaid in Florida could create more than 100-thousand jobs according to a revised report from a University of Florida Researcher. Dr. Alan Hodges says if Florida accepts the 50 billion federal dollars to expand Medicaid, not only will jobs be added in the health care sector, but construction, manufacturing and other professions will also benefit. Hodges says the 121-thousand jobs created would be high paying, steady jobs.

“They are going to have an average salary of 57-thousand a year and overall all jobs in the state would average 50,700 in annual salary,” said Hodges.

The research does not address how the expansion would impact the state after three years, when Florida would be responsible for 10 percent of the new Medicaid costs.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Tuition As Cheap as a Cellphone

March 28th, 2013 by flanews

Florida college students pay some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation. But a plan to keep them low may be falling apart. As Whitney Ray tells us, Florida’s House Speaker told university presidents today why he thinks a six percent tuition hike is needed.

At the University System’s Board of Governors Meeting Thursday the hardest question came from the student member.

“I just wanted to ask if you could briefly comment on the six percent increase in the base tuition that was put into the House budget?” asked Cortez Whatley.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford addressed the group just days after announcing a proposed six percent tuition increase. He answered the student’s question using his smart phone.

“The average student in Florida, what they actually pay out of pocket at our major universities, I believe all universities, is about the same amount of money as they spend on this,” answered Weatherford.

University presidents are vowing not to raise tuition, if state lawmakers will restore last year’s 300 million dollar budget cut and add 100 million additional state dollars.

Weatherford says the state can restore the cut but students need to help pitch in the extra money.

“The Florida House is putting a tremendous amount of investment into our higher education system, but we can’t deny the fact that we have some of the lowest tuition in the country and we have to make some movement on that front,” said Weatherford.

The message to students is wait and see. Even if they get out of the legislative session without a tuition increase, they’d still have to convince the University System’s Board of Governors to keep the cost of college low.”

“All of this is still in a state of flux and until the final day of legislative session it’s impossible to say where we’ll be,” said BOG Chancellor Frank Brogan.

The university presidents are still hoping to avoid a legislative tuition increase. Their secret weapon, Governor Rick Scott, who opposes increases and has veto power.

If the six percent hike gets through the legislature and past the governor, the University System’s Board of Governors couldn’t lower it. But they could vote to keep raising it up to the 15 state cap.

Posted in Education, Legislature, Politics, State News | 5 Comments »

Don’t Take Our Guns

March 28th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

A divided House committee today approved a Memorial to Congress, urging them not to take any gun ownership rights away from Floridians. Approved mostly along party lines, GOP lawmakers say the measure puts Congress on notice the state will refuse to ban assault weapons, large ammunition clips, or any other weapons ban until the issue has been fully litigated. Sponsor Neil Combee, a Republican from Polk County, says the legislature will ultimately decide what constitutes an infringement.

“What would be proposed could be coming down fromWashington. I don’t know but the point is it’s something that we will take seriously and challenge anything just goes too far” says Combee.

Opponents say the Memorial sets up a constitutional battle that could force the US Supreme Court to choose between the Constitutions tenth amendment which guarantees states rights and the second amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms.

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

Specialty Plates, Special Treatment?

March 27th, 2013 by flanews

A Florida State Trooper is jobless tonight. Fired, he says, for ticketing a state lawmaker. The trooper says it’s an unspoken rule of FHP to give elected officials a break. Whitney Ray spoke to an FHP coronel today who says there is no unspoken rule.

Above the law, that’s how a fired state trooper describes the Florida Legislature.

In November on Interstate-10 State Trooper Charles Swindle pulled over State Representative Charles McBurney. Swindle told McBurney he was speeding, going 87 in a 70. McBurney says he wasn’t speeding.

Reporter: Did you ask for any favors? Did you say, I’m a state lawmaker?
McBurney: Absolutely not, that is totally inappropriate.

In an exclusive interview, McBurney told me the trooper saw his state legislature specialty plate and asked if he was a lawmaker. He then told McBurney he was going to ignore the speeding violation and ticket him for not having proof of insurance.

“Right behind my drivers license is my proof of insurance which was there all along,” said McBurney.

McBurney says he tried to show Swindle his insurance card.

“So then he said to the effect, look you can pay this find of 250 dollars, the speeding ticket, or you can pay this 10 dollar proof of insurance,” said McBurney.

McBurney complained and Swindle was fired. Now Swindle’s challenging his termination. He says there’s an unspoken rule at FHP to let lawmakers off easy, and he was just trying to cut McBurney a break. I asked FHP about the allegation.

Reporter: Do state lawmakers get special treatment on the roadways?
Lt. Col. Ernie Duarte: Absolutely not.

I also asked state lawmakers if their specialty plates every got them out of a ticket.

Reporter: Have you ever been treated specialty for having that plate?
State Senator Oscar Braynon: No I have not. I’ve actually received tickets with those plates.

I called and emailed Swindle’s attorney, but my request for an oncamera interview went unanswered. On the day McBurney was ticketed another state lawmaker was also pulled over by Swindle. According to the inspector general’s report Swindle also told Representative Mike Clelland, he was doing 87 in a 70 and wrote him a ticket for no proof of insurance.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

First Ad of the 2014 Race for Governor

March 27th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

The 2014 Governor’s race is now officially underway.  Governor Rick Scott released his first campaign ad on Facebook this week.  The video shows Scott speaking to a group of factory workers… talking about how much the economy has improved since he’s been in office.

“There’s a stunning contrast between the economy I inherited and the economy today.  As you know the four years before I became governor the state had lost 832-thousand jobs.  Unemployment had tripled from 3.5 to 11.1 percent” says Scott, who met with reporters after attending a jobs announcement in Jacksonville.

The ad could be a direct shot at former Governor Charlie Crist, who is expected to enter the race as a Democrat. Scott was asked about the race on CNN Wedesday morning and said it wasn’t about 2014,, but about reminding Floridians how far the state has come. He repeated his mantra that he wants every family “to have a job”.


Posted in Adam Putnam, Charlie Crist, Politics, Rick Scott, Sink | 206 Comments »

Tuition Hike on House Agenda

March 27th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

A tuition hike is in the works at the state capitol.  After months of what looked like a tuition neutral legislative session, the Florida House is breaking ranks with the Governor and the Senate and pursuing a six percent increase.  The suggested tuition hike is furthering the divide between the Florida House and the Governor.

Before the 2013 legislative session began, Presidents of Florida’s public universities gathered in Tallahassee and promised not to raise tuition.

The schools are seeking an extra 118 million dollars.  If the legislature gives them the money, they promise not to increase tuition for a year.   They may not have a choice, says House Speaker Will Weatherford. “We may see a smaller tuition increase.  It’s not going to be a double digit increase or anything like that,” says Weatherford.

In a one-on-one interview with Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford Monday, Weatherford says it’s hard to find the cash the schools are seeking

“Unfortunately we don’t have 418 million dollars, but we’ve got about 360.  So to bridge the gap and to get them to the ask that they had, there’s a six percent tuition increase, but not a 15.  We think a 15 is too high” says the House Speaker, whose word is gospel for his majority party.

Governor Rick Scott has long opposed tuition increases.  He is holding his ground.  “I’m against tuition increases.  This is a tax.  It’s a tax on students.  It’s a tax on families.  We can’t be raising the cost to get higher education in this state” says the Governor.

This is the second time this session the House has openly opposed the governor.

The first was over the Medicaid Expansion.   Scott changed his stance on accepting the money to expand the entitlement last month, but couldn’t convince enough House members to change position.


Posted in Business, Economy, Education, Legislature, Politics, Rick Scott, State News | No Comments »

Gay Marriage Rally at State Capitol

March 25th, 2013 by flanews

It’s a big week for supporters of gay marriage. Two Supreme Court cases are putting the issue front and center and as Whitney Ray tells us, the cases could have implications here in Florida where gay marriage is banned in statute and in the state constitution.

Ahead of the trials, supporters of gay marriage held rallies across the nation Monday in preparation of two Supreme Court cases. At the Florida Capitol about 50 supporters showed up, some with signs. One man, holding a bible protested the rally.

The crowd mostly kept its cool, but one woman broke ranks to challenge the protestor.

“Yeah, for gay marriage being legalized in nine states and Washington DC and countries over the world. You are on the losing side buddy,” she told the protestor.

Polls show support for gay marriage is growing, with more than half the country in favor. Twenty-nine states, including Florida have same-sex marriage bans in their constitutions. Florida also has a ban written into statute.

High School Student Emalee Schierman is being raised by lesbians. She says it hasn’t negatively impacted her or her brothers and sisters.

“My three siblings are all smart, well-rounded and just as damage free as any children born from straight families,” said Emalee.

While the group rallied outside the state capitol, inside legislation creating a statewide domestic partnership registry has stalled. Susan Gage with PFLAG, the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, says the Supreme Court cases could change everything.

“I hope that what ever might come out of the Supreme Court, if it is a positive decision for the gay and lesbian community, that they might go back and revisit this and pressing forward with marriage equality,” said Gage.

But they may not need too. Depending on how the court rules, Florida’s gay marriage ban may could be overridden. One of the two cases challenges California’s ban on gay marriage. If the US Supreme Court rules against the ban, that could render Florida’s ban unconstitutional.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

House Bans Internet Cafes

March 22nd, 2013 by flanews

The Florida House has voted to ban all internet cafes. The vote comes less than two weeks after a massive police investigation shut down 51 internet cafes statewide. As Whitney Ray tell us, the only votes against the ban came from lawmakers concerned about how the bill would affect adult arcades and jobs.

Through loopholes in state law… internet cafes have popped up all over Florida. The sweepstakes businesses continued to boom… until this month…. when a police investigation shut down 51 cafes statewide.

Days later state lawmakers resurrected a bill to ban all internet cafes. Friday debated over the ban erupted on the house Floor.

“It would be derelict of us not to deal with these,” said Representative Dennis Baxley.

“Why jump to making it illegal when the standard is simply to regulate it and tax it,” said Representative Elanie Schwartz.

Watching all the action… Former Representative Scott Plakon… who ushered the ban through the House last year.

“The House of Representatives last year, under the work of Representative Plakon, thank you for being here today, pushed it out,” said Patronis.

Member after member thanked Plakon.

“I also want to recognize Representative Scott Plakon for his strong leadership in the past several years,” said Representative Janet Adkins.

There were complaints from Democrats that the ban goes too far, too fast.

“What took place as it relates to internet cafes has nothing to do with the senior arcades,” said Representative Jim Waldman.

After the debate, the bill passed with few no votes. Now the ban goes to the Senate, where earlier this week internet café owners cried for mercy. Linda Radssek is one over several café owners preparing to give their staff bad news.

“I have to go to work now and tell my employees, you don’t have a job,” said Radssek.

Her last hope is the Florida Senate.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Internet Café Ban Moving in House

March 21st, 2013 by flanews

The Florida House is taking quick action on a bill to ban internet cafes. The language in the bill was drafted last Thursday, amended in Committee Friday… and today, as Whitney Ray tells us, is ready to be voted on by the entire chamber.

The bill is expected to be voted on tomorrow morning by the entire Florida House. The all eyes will be on the senate to see how they handle the bill.

The rush is on, to outlaw internet cafes in the wake of a massive police investigation.

Thursday afternoon The Florida House speed through a bill to clarify state law… and close all internet cafes.

The bill brought with it controversy… Democrats question why the chamber was rushing to action.

“This was hurried to the floor, last week we voted on it in committee. It went through one committee, that’s all,” said Rep. Jim Waldman.

While the question flew and the amendments were adopted… Former Representative Scott Plakon watched quietly.

Last session, Plakon sponsored a bill to ban internet cafes. It was approved by the House…. But the Senate never took it up.

“As I’ve said all along they’re crawling through what we think are loopholes in the law, and a lot of us have believed they have been illegal right from the get go and we see the law enforcement start to act so I’m just glad this day is coming,” said Plakon.

As Plakon watched from the balcony…. In the well question flew about how the bill would affect school raffles, arcades and jobs.

There more than a thousand internet cafes statewide, employing an estimated 10-thousand Floridians.

Posted in State News | 7 Comments »

Senate Medicaid Expansion Plan

March 20th, 2013 by flanews

In an attempt to break a stalemate between the House and the Governor’s office, the Florida Senate is proposing an alternative to the Medicaid expansion. Whitney Ray went one-on-one with the state senator who has a plan to allow Florida to accept the Medicaid money without expanding the entitlement program.

The full court press to claim billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid is on. House Democrats prayed with pastors Wednesday for heavenly help convincing GOP lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

“We pray for those who receive inadequate treatment for their illness,” prayed Reverend Errol Thompson with New Life Fellowship Baptist Church in Orlando.

While Democrats prayed, Alysia Peddy, a mother of a disabled Tampa boy told her story of how Medicaid keeps her family together.

Reporter: Where would you be without Medicaid?
Alysia: My son would not be home with our family, so Medicaid offers us the ability to keep us at home with us in a loving very caring environment.

The battle lines have been drawn between the House Speaker who opposes the expansion and the Governor who now wants to accept the federal cash.

“And even our governor, who we don’t always agree with, even he says let’s go ahead and let’s do this,” said House Minority Leader Perry Thurston.

The Senate’s working on an alternative plan, one that could save the state more than 100 million dollars a year.

State Senator Joe Negron is pushing a plan to use the Medicaid expansion dollars to purchase private insurance for people who qualify.

“We’ve developed a plan to use available funds to put them in private insurance. It empowers them. They get to choose their insurance plan. We have incentives in the plan,” said Negron.

The plan would require the new recipients to pay premiums and co-pays. Negron says the personal investment will make the recipients more responsible.

The plan would need approval from the full Senate, the House and the Governor. The feds would then have to sign off on the plan.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Pastors Pray for Medicaid Expansion

March 20th, 2013 by flanews

A group of religious leaders, House Democrats and union workers are praying for Florida to expand Medicaid.

The Federal Government is offering the state 20 billion dollars to expand the entitlement program to a million more Floridians. House Minority Leader Perry Thurston joined the clergy this morning to pray outside the House Chamber. Thurston is open to any plan that would expand coverage.

“We are encouraged by any effort to provide medical services to the needy portion of our community,” said Thurston.

Governor Rick Scott is onboard with the expansion. The Senate is offering an alternative plan that would still allow a million extra people to gain coverage. The lone hold out is the House.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Jennifer Carroll Responds to Financial Disclosure

March 20th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

The following statement was released by Rick Oppenheim, APR, CPRC
RB Oppenheim Associates on behalf of former Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll


On Monday, March 18, 2013, the group Integrity Florida conducted a news conference on proposed ethics legislation, led by the organization’s executive director, Dan Krassner. Mr. Krassner stated that Integrity Florida’s mission is to “promote integrity in government and expose public corruption.” The news conference then advocated for legislation intended to strengthen Florida’s ethics laws.

I support the legislation for which Integrity Florida is advocating. I agree that public officials should take financial disclosure very seriously, take greater care in completing financial disclosure forms, suffer penalties for errors, omissions and inaccuracies and that the Ethics Commission should be given greater enforcement powers.

I admit that I should have taken greater care with filling out my own financial disclosure forms from the past five-to-10 years and apologize for any confusion or concern caused by alleged inconsistencies.

However, I also want to emphasize that I moved quickly to clear up errors on those forms. Yes, I made mistakes, including putting a comma in the wrong place, not explaining (which was not a requirement of the Commission on Ethics) that a jump in net worth from one year to the next was the result of an inheritance following the death of my parents and included jointly owned assets and mortgages (which were owned by my husband and his assets were not subject to reporting – though they were added to an amended form). In 2010, the Governor’s campaign lawyer, Trevor Potter, even reviewed my financials, noted all line items and expressed no concerns with my forms which detailed how things were accounted for.

Yes, I agree with Mr. Krassner that some of my financial disclosure forms were “sloppy at best,” but it is incredible that he indicts me by using the term “potentially inaccurate.” Potentially? Mr. Krassner said that we need to strengthen the Ethics Commission so they can “ask questions long before we have resignations or corruption probes.” Corruption probes?

Mr. Krassner uses leading questions and suggestive language to hint at ethical lapses and corrupt intent. That is patently absurd.

I find it offensive, degrading and objectionable that Mr. Krassner suggests that, because of how I filled out these forms five-to-10 years ago, I should now be considered the “poster child” for ethics reform and corruption. My resignation last week as lieutenant governor had absolutely no connection to that.

Yes, I am guilty of being “sloppy” with those forms and making errors (that I quickly corrected). But, I am most certainly NOT guilty of ethics violations or corruption. No charges have ever been filed against me, and no one has even alleged anything to that effect – until Mr. Krassner’s outlandish, irresponsible and sensational remarks yesterday. Why hasn’t Mr. Krassner looked at Members new worth forms that indicate zero net worth?  Now, in my opinion, that would be grounds for ethics violation.

On other points made during his press conference, he should be applauded and supported. But, on the matter of citing me as an example of what is wrong in Florida with regard to ethics and corruption, Mr. Krassner should be ashamed of himself.


Posted in Legislature, Politics, Rick Scott, State Employees, State News, Unemployment | 1 Comment »

Parent Trigger Bill Locked and Loaded

March 19th, 2013 by flanews

A bill to allow parents of kids in failing schools to petition to have the school turned over to a charter company is gaining traction. As Whitney Ray tells us, the so-called Parent Trigger Bill passed a key house committee this morning over the objections of parents and teachers.

In a packed committee room, parents and teachers stepped to the mike to voice their concerns over the bill at hand.

“This would pit parents versus teachers,” said Teacher Donald Peace.

The legislation in question has been dubbed the Parent Trigger Bill. It would allow the parents of kids at a failing school to sign a petition to have the school turned over to a charter company. The petition would have to get signatures from a majority of parents.

In a House committee Tuesday morning, more than a dozen people waived their time in opposition to the bill. A dozen more chose to speak.

“We believe this is nothing more than a continued ploy to turn our schools over to for-profit companies,” said Jeff Wright with the Florida Education Association.

Only one parent spoke in favor of the bill; Lanetra Daniels who has three kids in the public school system.

“I believe that having parents who have an active say in their child’s education is needed,” said Daniels.

The bill passed on a party line vote.

After the vote we asked the bill’s sponsor if the legislation would allow charter companies to run big money campaigns to take over a school.

“For-profit charter schools are prohibited from spending money to influence parents under my bill. Parents are also prohibited from accepting gifts,” said Trujillo.

The parent trigger bill almost passed last session, but it died in the senate over concerns about would own the public buildings if charters schools took over. If the parent trigger were in place right now, parents at 25 Florida schools could petition to have the school turned over to a charter company.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Education Committee

March 19th, 2013 by flanews

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed several bills today in Tallahassee.

The Parent Trigger bill would allow parents to petition their kids failing school to have it turned over to a charter company. An anti-bullying bill also passed the subcommittee. It requires schools to update their anti-bullying policy to include cyber bullying. Legislation to allow illegal immigrants to pay instate tuition rates if they graduated from a Florida high school passed with Chairman Eric Fresen’s support.

“I think it’s important. I think it is common sense for us to allow our students who have gone through our public school system to be able to continue in our public school system,” said Fresen.

Another bill passed the committee that would designate September as American Founders month. It would allow the governor to issue a proclamation urging schools to teach students about the country’s founding fathers.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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