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Gun Law Changes Few for 2013

April 30th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers have sent the Governor a bill closing a loophole that has allowed mentally ill people to purchase guns. The legislation requires those who voluntarily commit themselves to sign away their firearm rights until they are well. The legislation is the only bill dealing with guns that will be approved by lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session. Sponsor Audrey Gibson calls it the beginning of a conversation. “It’s something that is a rallying point because of the some of the incidents that have happened in our country. And as I told Marion , at least we’re at the table talking about it. And we should continue to talk about other ways to make sure we stop gun violence” says the Jacksonville Demcrat.

At the beginning of the session there was great speculation the Stand Your Ground law would be reviewed. NRA’s Marion Hammer, who watched today’s bill pass, says there was not need for a review. “There is nothing wrong with the legislation. There are problems with the way people are interpreting it, and that’s an easy fix. So, there was no “Stand Your Ground” or Castle Doctrine legislation” says the longtime NRA spokesperson.

A Stand your ground task force held meeting across the state and made several recommendations on stand your ground changes, but no legislation was heard.

Posted in Business, Civil Rights, Economy, Education, Firearms, Guns, Legislature, Politics, State News | 1 Comment »

Déjà vu for Parent Trigger

April 30th, 2013 by flanews

Legislation to allow parents to turn their child’s failing school over to a charter school company was defeated in dramatic fashion today. The parent trigger bill died on a tie vote in the senate. Whitney Ray was there. He was also in the chamber last year when a tie sank the 2012 version.

Deja vu in the Florida Senate. A bill to giving parents another option to fix their child’s failing school has sparked debate in Tallahassee for two years running.

There was debate on the senate floor on the last day of the 2012 session. The parent trigger bill was on final passage. The debate intensified. After more than an hour of debate senators voted. Parent trigger died on a tie vote.

A new version of the parent trigger was back this year for round two. The stage was set once again for a showdown in the senate.”

The bill was amended in an attempt to gain more votes.

“The turnaround option selected by the district school board shall be final and conclusive. There is the answer members,” Explained Sen. David Simmons.

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans still railed against it.

“Not one parent every called me to support this bill,” exclaimed Senator Nancy Detert.

“This bill is not needed. We have options for parents now,” said Senate Democrat Geraldine Thompson.

The senate voted. And once again, a tie brought down the parent trigger.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Corrections Pay Parity

April 25th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

State police officers will be getting up to eight percent raises this year under the budget plan being considered, but correctional officers say they are being given far less under the plan. Lawmakers are hoping to keep FHP officers from leaving the state for more lucrative jobs in local police agencies, but Christina Bullins, who is a corrections-probation supervisor,  says those who guard Florida’s prisons are also leaving for bigger salaries. “I was up here yesterday with the gentleman that was working for the state department of corrections and prisons. He said he loved his job and he left for Osceola County Corrections and instantly made ten thousand dollars more” says the Teamsters lobbyist.

Budget Chairman Joe Negron says he and other budget writers are aware of the corrections officers concerns and are working to bring parity to the officers when it comes to pay increases.

Posted in State News | 16 Comments »

Scott Priorities Still in Limbo

April 25th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott has been championing a twenty-five hundred dollar a year pay raise for every teacher in Florida since February.

Today is the fifty-second day of the annual sixty day legislative session, and lawmakers have yet to agree to the raises. They would prefer merit based pay hikes, but Scott says teachers have done their job and deserve an across the board hike. “We’ve had a dramatic turnaround in this state. We can brag about our education system; number six in the country. But we constantly have to work on how to do we improve it. Right now one way to improve it, in my opinion,  is the classroom, the payroll increases” says Scott.

Scott’s second priority, a sales tax break on manufacturing equipment is also in limbo. He has been using veiled threats of vetoing priority projects of legislative leaders if he doesn’t get his way.

Posted in Business, Children, Education, Legislature, Politics, Rick Scott, State Budget, State News | 2 Comments »

Scott Seeks Air Traffic Control Change

April 25th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Air Traffic Jam

Governor Rick Scott has been complaining about air traffic control furloughs every chance he gets, including on national talk shows. He says reducing air traffic controllers by ten percent each day could be disastrous for Florida Tourism. “I don’t want our hotels to be impacted; our restaurants to be impacted. Our businesses in the state to be impacted, and I clearly don’t want anything from the safety standpoint to happen. So, I am hopeful that the White House will do the right thing” says the Governor

Scott says 142 million people travel to Florida by air each year and tourism supports one million jobs. He wants the Obama administration to change the furlough policy quickly.

Posted in Business, Economy, Rick Scott, State News, Tourism | 2 Comments »

Cinderella Honored at State Capitol

April 24th, 2013 by flanews

Dunk City was in the House today, the Florida House.

Basketball players from Florida Gulf Coast University were honored in the state House for their historic NCAA run. FGCU became the first 15th seed in the history of the NCAA tournament to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. The Senate also welcomed the basketball team into its chamber.

“We love Tallahassee. It’s a great city… but it’s not as good as… Dunk City… Congratulations you’ve made Florida proud,” said Senator Garrett Richter.

The FCGU Eagles got the nickname Dunk City after their high flying slams and ally-ops caught the attention of fans this March.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

State Pension Reform

April 24th, 2013 by flanews

The future of Florida’s state retirement system is in limbo as Republicans in Tallahassee line up behind two different reform plans. As Whitney Ray tells us, while Republicans debate over how to reform the system, Democrats say leave it alone.

Garneted money for retirement, it’s a thing of the past for most workers, but not state employees. They still get a pension backed by the state, but that promise is in jeopardy.

Republicans in the Florida Legislature are worried the state won’t be able to keep its promise. Both chambers have reform bills. The House plan would close the pension to new employees beginning in 2014.

“If we go with this plan the savings are going to be in the tenss of billions of dollars over the course of 30 years, now that’s depending on a lot of assumptions, but it’s a huge magnitude in the correct direction,” said House Sponsor Jason Brodeur.

The Senate version only closes the plan to the highest paid state workers and some see it as a fair compromise.

“If you are comparing the two proposals then yes the Senate has a much more moderate position,” said Senate Democrat Oscar Braynon.

Braynon says if the legislature has to choose, then his chamber has the better version. But Democrats from both chambers would rather see session end with no reform.

“Why do we need to be messing with it at all? It’s one of the healthiest plans in the entire country and the truth of the matter is it’s working just fine,” said Senator Jeff Clemens, a Democrat.

“I feel like this is a solution looking for a problem we have a healthy FRS system,” said Braynon.

The House already passed its bill. Now time is running out for the Senate to act. The reform comes on the heels of legislation forcing state workers to contribute three percent of their salaries to the pension plan. The senate bill would reduce the contribution rate to two percent.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Parent Trigger

April 23rd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Sponsor Says Parents Win Either Way

Legislation to allow parents to take over failing schools is poised for a vote in the state senate later this week or next. The so called parent trigger bill would let parents in schools that received an F for two our of three years vote to turn the school over to a private corporation. Sponsor Kelli Stargel of Lakeland says the legislation will get parents who haven’t been paying attention to the school involved.

“What this bill would do in my opinion is get parents  involved. A lot of times people are stuck in a situation and they don’t know where to go and they don’t know how to fight, they don’t know what’s available to them. What this bill would do is tell these parents who are stuck in a failing school you do have a voice you do have a say” says Stargel.

A majority of fifty percent plus one would have to vote to change the school. Stargel says even if only thirty percent vote for a change, that would be thirty percent more parents involved than before the vote.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Scott Showdown Over Teacher Raises

April 23rd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Successful Session or Not? 

Governor Rick Scott is giving lawmakers a less than subtle hint they can expect their pet projects vetoed or worse if they fail to deliver on the twenty-five hundred dollar across the board pay raise he has made his top priority. Lawmakers want raises distributed based on merit. While Scott doesn’t use the veto word, his meaning isn’t being lost.

“We need to continue to improve our education system. Reward our teachers, respect our teachers. They’ve done a great job. So, I’ve got my priorities; they have theirs and I hope we’ll have a successful session” Scott told reporters.

Lawmakers have to wrap up their budget negotiations before next Tuesday to have an on time adjournment  at the end of next week.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Abuse Survivor Continues Crusuade

April 23rd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

A sex abuse survivor completed a 15 hundred mile walk and run across Florida today, ending at the state Capitol to draw awareness to the issue. Lauren Book comes from a privileged family and was abused by a nanny as a child. This was Book’s fourth year walking the state, telling survivors to speak up.”We’re showing people how important it is to tell because it’s all about prevention and awareness and this is why we walk 1500 miles so that people know that it’s ok to tell and they’re surrounded with love and help and guidance and support” says Book.

Governor Rick Scott welcomed Book to the Capitol, telling the crowd “This impacts every family somehow. Everybody gets impacted by this horrific crime. Whether it’s a family. Whether it’s our friends, whether it’s our neighbors but you get impacted.”

Last year, Book worked to get lawmakers to require every person who sees abuse., not just caregivers, to report it. This year she has successfully lobbied for two point five million for abuse centers in the budget.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Ticket Wars on Hold

April 23rd, 2013 by flanews

A battle between the nation’s two largest ticket companies has ended for now. Ticketmaster and Stub Hub were fighting in Tallahassee over bills to help their businesses, but as Whitney Ray tells us, Disney ended up the big winner.

How you buy and use tickets in Florida is in limbo. For several years running, Stub Hub has pushed legislation to ban paperless tickets.

Paperless tickets are a more recent phenomenon… some artists or sports teams require a block of tickets to be sold exclusively online and redeemed at the gate with the credit card used in the purchase.

This doesn’t sit well with Stub Hub. They say paperless tickets keep people from gifting their tickets, auctioning them for charity or most importantly reselling them. They formed the Fan Freedom Coalition.

Fan Freedom came out early in session with a bill to make tickets personal property.

“If I buy a ticket, I have to show up with the credit card I bought the ticket on and my photo ID and they are nontransferable,” said Grimm.

Ticketmaster fired back, saying paperless tickets protect against scalpers. They pushed their own legislation to stiffen penalties for ticket fraud and force ticket brokers to register with the state.

“Brokers scoop in, they actually try to sell the tickets before I even put them on sale,” said Ron Spencer manager of the Leon County Civics Center.

Lawmakers decided the issue was too controversial to tackle this session. They gutted one of the bills and replaced it with language to protect theme park tickets.

Tuesday the Florida House discussed the legislation. It would create a 10-thousand dollar fine for people who sell multi-park or multi-day passes after they’ve been partially used. The penalty for reselling multiday and multi-park passes right now is five hundred dollars.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Teacher Pay Negotiations

April 22nd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

House and Senate negotiators have said no to the Governor’s across the board pay hike for teachers, opting instead for merit based increases. Both plans cost 480 million dollars. The Governor says the across the board raises are one of only two priorities he has and believes the legislature will come through. “We need to do an across the board twenty five hundred dollar pay raise for each and every one of our classroom teachers. Our k-12 school system is doing an outstanding job” says Scott.

Scott got a boost from Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, who says implementing merit pay a year earlier than scheduled for 2014 would be difficult. “We are convinced that it is a time to reward our teachers for their hard work and for our great outcomes. It’s also a great mechanism for us to retain our talent and to recruit new talent as Florida lags behind the nation on average teacher pay” says Barbara Jenkins.

Two weeks remain in the legislative session. What’s uncertain is if the differences in pay plans are philosophical, or if lawmakers want something from the Governor in return.

Posted in Business, Children, Education, Legislature, Rick Scott, State Budget | 4 Comments »

Tuition Increase Decreasing

April 22nd, 2013 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott and college students are winning the battle against tuition hikes. Today Scott signed a bill to give research universities more funding, without charging students more money. The House is still asking students to pay more, but As Whitney Ray tells us, the proposed tuition increase is shrinking.

What a difference a year makes. Last April, Governor Rick Scott was surrounded by university presidents pushing a bill to give some of them unbridled tuition authority.

Despite all the persuasive arguments for the preeminence bill, Scott stood his ground. He vetoed the bill to keep cost low for students

“You want to make sure that families in this state can afford a great education and you want to make sure it’s a great education,” Scott said in an interview with reporters in April 2012.

Monday, surrounded by university presidents once again, Scott signed similar legislation. This time, the tuition increase was left out of the preeminence bill replaced by 15 million dollars for top Florida universities.

“Last year the preeminence bill was focused on a tuition increase and the governor felt that tuition increase was a burden for families in an economy that was recovering,” said FSU President Eric Barron.

The bill signing signals a partial victory for college students. There is still a chance the state legislature votes to raise tuition. The governor still opposes any tuition increases, but the legislature must act first.

“I’ve got my priorities, they have their priorities. I believe we are going to have a great session,” Scott said Monday.

The House was pushing for a six percent increase. The ask was lowered to four.

“As I understand it the House still wants a tuition increase, the senate does not, the governor does not. I’m not taking a bet on that game. The universities are pretty much just staying out of it,” said UF President Bernie Machen.

Before the 2013 legislative session began, university presidents united under a no tuition increase banner. The one condition, the state legislature increase funding.

The budget negotiations between the House and Senate continue. Both chambers have agreed to restore the 300 million dollars cut from universities last year. They’ve yet to make a deal on the additional 100 million the schools are seeking.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

House Committee Adopts Medicaid Alternative

April 20th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Increased health care for up to a million Floridians remains up in the air tonight as legislators in Tallahassee push drastically different plans. The end result could be no additional coverage for anyone.

 

Under a plan being pushed by the state House, 113,000 low income Floridians would pay a 25 dollar monthly co-pay for private insurance. A plan favored by the Governor and State Senate, would cover ten times more people. It’s funded completely by the federal government for the first three years. But it is that federal funding where House Republicans are drawing the line.

Rep. Charles McBurney R-Jacksonville, told the panel “What the government giveth, the government taketh away.”  Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, called the Feds record into question “Furthermore the federal government does have a demonstrated check record of being an unreliable funding partner.”

In pushing for the larger coverage, Democrats made a reference to Boston, where first responders rushed to a crisis. Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg says Florida should be rushing to solve a health care crisis. “We lend a helping hand. That’s what America is all about” said Rouson.

Despite the plea the committee shut down the federal money plan on a party line vote.

Rep. Mia Jones,  D-Jacksonville, says the GOP is still angry they lost the election “It’s really not about providing coverage under those plans, it’s simply about saying no to the Affordable Care Act.”The decision not to take federal money sets up a very real possibility the lawmakers could leave the State Capitol in two weeks and do absolutely nothing to expand health care.

Doing nothing says House Speaker Will Weatherford, would be profitable to taking federal money. “If it’s taking federal money that we can’t count on going home, I think we would prefer to go home” Weatherford said in an exclusive interview.

The plan being pushed by the House Speaker, gives eligible enrollees two thousand dollars to buy coverage of their choice. The House plan does not cover single, childless adults, which is one of the major differences from the Medicaid expansion favored by the Governor.  His plan also saves the state an estimated 430 million dollars on money it now spends on the medically needy program.

 

 

 

Posted in Business, Civil Rights, Drugs, Economy, Health, Legislature, Politics, Rick Scott, State Budget | 2 Comments »

Arcades File Suit

April 19th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda

Internet Cafe Ban “Too Broad”

The Florida Arcade Association, made up of two hundred amusement centers is filing a law suit, saying the law that closed internet cafes was so vaguely crafted, it had the unintentional consequence of also shutting down legitimate businesses who cater to seniors. Trimmel Gomes says the arcade association want the law declared unconstitutional.

“Senior arcades, this is for seniors, they go it’s a place for good, clean entertainment and we’re not internet cafes and that’s the problem here. We should not have been lumped in to the internet cafe ban” says Gomes.

One consequence of the law is that it bans amusement machines that take anything but coins.

 

 

Posted in Business, Civil Rights, Crime, Economy, Legislature | 1 Comment »

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