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Corporate Tax Breaks and Incentives Take Back Seat

February 29th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott has used just about every speaking opportunity to push lawmakers for a billion dollar tax cut and 250 million dollars for economic development. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, lawmakers are responding with a resounding NO.

Rick Scott pushed his tax cuts and incentive money at this Capitol rotunda event  in early February.

“We’ve got to keep putting money in Enterprise Florida” Scott said that day and likely every day since.

And the Governor’s Let’s Get to work committee has spent just over a million dollars since the first of the year on TV with this message.

“Attract businesses to move to Florida.”

But lawmakers are saying no. Scott is getting none of the 250 million to lure businesses, and less than half of the tax cuts he has been seeking. Rep. Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola) and Chairman of the Appropriations Committee that handled the tax breaks says s decision as made early on not to find the  incentives package.

“We stand at the House position of zero dollars for the quick action closing fund, the enterprise fund” says Ingram.

Enterprise Florida is already saying that fifty thousand jobs won’t be created because of the decision. But lawmakers aren’t buying it.”

Lawmakers are also pushing back by refusing the Governor’s request to use local property taxes to fund an increase in school funding. Senator Don Gaetz was the first to propose cutting property taxes instead of corporate taxes.

“There are over eleven million property tax payers, i’m told, in the state of Florida. So when we can give tax relief to eleven million people, that’s better than giving it to a handful of corporations” Gaetz told us.

Right now, the so called required local effort costs property owners four dollars and ninety five cents for each one thousand dollars of taxable value.

“There will be literally a decrease in the required local effort down to I think about 4.6 mills.”

Scott was out of the Capitol Monday morning.  His office declined an interview when he returned at midday.

By requiring the required local effort property tax levy, the owners of a home valued at one hundred fifty thousand dollars should see about a three hundred fifty dollar reduction in their property taxes next year.

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STEM Day

February 26th, 2016 by flanews

Science, technology, engineering, and math..or STEM education…got a big push at the Capitol this week. As Matt Galka tells us, as technology students took over Tallahassee, lawmakers on the inside pushed for legislation beefing up computer instruction in schools.

Politicians can be a little robotic…but it was a good thing this week at the Capitol. STEM day allowed student Peter Leonard to show off his science, technology, engineering and math skills.  Leonard wants to take the skillse he’s learned in the Florida Lego League and turn them into a job.

“People say ‘oh I’m never going to use that’ but we’re getting to the point where math is needed more than ever,” said Leonard.

 

Many of the projects were made outside the classroom.

State Senators passed a bill this week allowing schools to offer computer coding as a foreign language.  High School senior Dustin Carwile said it definitely belongs in classrooms.

“Not everyone enjoys Spanish or French just like anything else. Not everyone enjoys football or agriculture, not everyone enjoys it, so that would be a way to get more of a variety of students where and into things they like and enjoy and are passionate about,” said Carwile.

Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor said she’s not picking a side on the bill…but she sees the value – especially with STEM job demand growing.

Critics of the legislation said it takes away from learning other cultures…and worried that some Florida schools can’t properly incorporate it with limited technology access.

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Death Penalty Fix Hits Temporary Snag

February 25th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The US Supreme Court ruled last month that Florida juries needed a bigger role in deciding life or death. A legislative compromise has already cleared the State House, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, that compromise ran into a temporary snag today.

Compromise legislation calls for the jury to vote unanimously twice. Once on guilt, a second time on whether the crime was so bad it warrants death.

“You are hereby committees to the Department of Corrections” said in sentencing Gary Michael Hilton to Death.

After that a third vote with at least a ten two majority is needed to recommend death. Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Greg Evers helped work out the deal.

“There was an agreement between the House and  Senate that we would do a ten-two in lieu of a nine three or unanimity.”

Prosecutors agreed to the 10 – 2 standard.

But Public defenders argue that requiring a unanimous jury  is the only way to make sure the courts don’t step in again. Rex Dimmig was representing the  FL Public Defender’s Assn.

“Require unanimity. Follow the words of the Florida Constitution” Dimmig told the committee.

Then after an informal vote count.

“we’re going to show this bill temporarily postponed.”

The halt concerned victims families. Blake  and Nancy Williams came to tell their daughter Mia’s story.

“She was driven to a secluded place in the woods and her car was set on fire. She was in the trunk and she perished in that fire” said her Father.

Florida has been without a death penalty since the court ruling on January 12th. It wills that way until lawmakers act and the Governor agrees.

The Williams tell us not having a death penalty isn’t an option.

“We’re doing everything in our power to bring justice. Not just for her, but for all victims of horrendous crimes such as we;ve gone through” said mom Nancy.

The bill was brought back up later in the day and approved, but another fight over a unanimous jury is expected.

The Williams never did get to tell lawmakers the story of their daughters death. Her killer got a 9-3 death recommendation. Alabama and Delaware are the only death penalty states that don’t require unanimous verdicts.

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Fracking Bill Voted Down..For Now

February 25th, 2016 by flanews

Fracking hasn’t found many friends in the public who have spoken out against the controversial practice at the Capitol. As Matt Galka tells us, opponents scored a small victory Thursday, but fracking isn’t a dead issue at the Capitol yet.

Fracking opponents filled the Senate Appropriations committee to capacity Thursday.

Dozens of people from around Florida traveled to Tallahassee to speak out against the drilling and chemical process.  Andrew Rock from Tampa said he couldn’t think of a bigger issue.

“We don’t want to poison our drinking water and we don’t want to look for more oil and gas,” said Rock.

The bill in question – one that would allow the state to temporarily prohibit fracking, study it, then create guidelines for it.

“If this bill dies, we will wake up in March and still have fracking,” said bill sponsor Garrett Richter (R-Naples).

Senators weren’t convinced it was best for Florida.

“I think the major question is are all these risks worth what we would be getting in return. The answer for me is ‘no,'” said Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores.

“You say we don’t know if this is dangerous to Florida. Did we wait for them to drop the atomic bomb on Florida to find out if it was dangerous for us?” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa).

The bill failed, but the issue isn’t dead yet…the committee made a motion to reconsider it.

It means the bill can be voted on again in the two weeks before session ends. Many opponents said if it comes to that – they’ll be back.

The bill has already passed the state House.

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Digital Assets

February 24th, 2016 by flanews

Everyone knows about “the cloud.” The digital storage system just floating around carrying some of our personal information. As Matt Galka tells us…lawmakers want to make sure the answer to who gets your digital assets after you pass away isn’t up in the air.

Attorney Pete Dunbar used handwritten accounts to write a book about his father’s experiences in World War II.

“The letters had been written to my father’s mother and father, they were kept by my mother, they were there and available,” he said.

The letters passed down letters provided a first person view of the war.  Dunbar says there’s no way the book could’ve been written if they were online..

“Those would not have been available to me if they were somewhere in the cloud,” said Dunbar.

The question about what happens to your digital assets after you pass away has created some messy situations in the digital age.  Senate sponsor Dorothy Hukill says the bill is necessary now more than ever.

“People are doing banking online, they’re doing all kind of financial transactions online. How would anyone even know about those transactions if they can’t get access and how would they take care of you,” Sen. Hukill.

Bigger internet companies opposed the bill last year, but that wasn’t the case this time around.

House sponsor Jay Fant says the bills help Internet Service providers avoid ongoing litigation.

“There can be some lack of clarity on how to obtain those assets or how to Marshall those assets for the estate. And this bill cleans that up, so in these modern times, these are the kinds of things the law is catching up with,” said Rep. Fant.

A person could grant access to digital assets through power of attorney or will them to a relative under the legislation.

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House Passes Changes to State Pension Plan

February 24th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida House today approved changes to the state pension plan. The legislation allows retirees to come back into the system, but only if they choose a 401k option, it gives the families of slain police officers five thousand dollars in burial benefits the biggest change is that it automatically directs employees who don’t choose between the 401k plan or the defined benefit plan into the 401 k plan. Retired police officer, Representative John Cortes says the cops he knows don’t want a 401 k plan.

“Right now this pension system that you are trying to push onto police officers, which they don’t want anyway, is a 401K. Nobody wants a 4021k . they want something sustainable. A pension” says Cortes.

But Sponsor Matt Caldwell says everyone still has a right to choose the best plan for them, but those who don’t choose will end up in the 301k plan.

“And most of our employees that are choosing, today they choose the investment plan.the better choice for those who aren’t showing is the investment plan. We’re not going to punish those employees anymore by making a bad decision for them.”

Similar legislation has had a rough time in the Senate in past years, making its passage this year uncertain.

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Rick Scott for Vice President?

February 24th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott is being mentioned as a potential Vice Presidential candidate if Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it’s an outside chance, but Florida could wind up with a woman chief executive if Trump and Scott were to win.

Governor Rick Scott made national news when he defended Donald Trump back in January in USA today. He became the darling of national talk shows.

“We need a big change and Donald is talking about it” is what Scott told Morning Joe viewers.

Now the former hospital executive is said to be on a short list of potential Vice Presidential candidates if Trump wins the GOP nomination. Scott told us it’s not on his radar.

Q:”Are you interested?”

WhatI focus on is my job here. I have three years left in this job. We’ve added a million three hundred thirty five thousand jobs. I want to add more jobs” said Scott.

But Trump supporter and state representative Larry Ahern thinks Scott would be a good choice.

“You look at the politics of Washington and you say, what’s the biggest problem here? I think its the political insider that always being played” says Ahern.

Super lobbyist Bill Rubin lobbied for Scott before he was Governor and has known him longer than other Tallahassee insiders,

“They’re both business people that are not connected to the political establishment in a year when the political establishment is not the choice, in my opinion, of either party” says Rubin.

There is a scenario, however improbable in this year of strange political happenings that could see Florida end up with its first woman Governor without her ever seeking the job.

The Lt. Governor is next in line to take over. But he’s running for the US Senate…if he wins, the Attorney General, Pam Bondi would become Governor.

Scott has been elected twice as Governor, but in both 2010 and 2014 he got less than 50 percent of the votes cast. His margin was 48.9% in 2010 and fell to 48.1% in 2014.

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Uber Safety Concerns

February 23rd, 2016 by flanews

A horrific string of shootings in Michigan this past weekend by an uber driver could have some impact here. As Matt Galka tells us, some are telling lawmakers to take note as they try and craft statewide legislation for the ride sharing service.

If you call an Uber…you trust that the person picking you up will get you to where you’re going safely.  A killing spree in Michigan over the weekend by an Uber driver who allegedly picked people up in between shootings has some people calling for tougher background checks.

Taxi company lobbyist Ron Book has been calling for the legislature to level the playing field between Uber and Cab drivers.

“I think the Michigan shooting just simply puts more exclamation points behind you have to have real background checks. And some notion that that created an employer employee relationship is hogwash,” said Book.

Minimum insurance requirements are driving Uber bills currently moving through the Capitol with minimal emphasis on driver background checks.

The House’s version of the bill already passed the chamber, but some lawmakers tried to amend it to include fingerprint level background checks. The amendment failed.

Senator David Simmons sponsors an Uber bill in his chamber. He says the shooting emphasizes that protections are needed.

“It’s very important to us to assure that there’s insurance protection, obviously, and to make sure that there is protection for riders and their safety from the drivers,” said Sen. Simmons.

Simmons bill currently doesn’t overrule local regulations placed on Uber – that means a local government could require a stronger level of background checks.  The House’s verison preempts local rules and creates uniform regulations statewide.

Some, but not all, cab companies around the state require fingerprinting for background checks. Uber currently runs name checks. The Michigan shooter had cleared Uber’s current background check system.

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Economic Incentives Face Rocky Road

February 23rd, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers spent two hours today debating reforms to the program that gives businesses cash and tax incentives to move to the state. It is the top priority of the Governor, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, in the end, the Governor may not get the money he is seeking.

Governor Rick Scott has been almost singleminded in what he wants from lawmakers this year.

“Attract businesses to move to Florida, start and grow here” says a TV spot Governor Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee is running statewide.

The Governor’s plan is under attack from the right. This ad from Americans for Prosperity hit the web this week.

“They say the plan will diversity the economy, but all they’re doing is taking money from Florida families and businesses”

And the plan is being  attacked from the left as Democrats seek to bring more accountability to corporate incentives. Rep.David Richardson (D-Miami) says Enterprise Florida, the states economic development arm has problems.  “Enterprise Florida CEO has no been spending your money and my money wisely.”

While giving tentative approval to tighter rules for giving tax incentives, the State House has so far funded the program at zero.

“It provides no dollar allocation in this bill for any part of this program” says State Rep. Boyd, who handled the bill on the House Floor.

Governor Rick Scott has begun calling lawmakers into his office to tell them what he wants. They aren’t saying if he’;s making threats, but they are

n’t giving him what he wants yet.

The Senate is leaning toward the 250 million Rick Scott wants, but it is bucking him on his tax cut package. Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee says it’s too early to say the job won;t get done.

“That has been a sticking point, no question about it., as are the level of tax cuts and some of the funding priorities. .But  it’s just too soon to declare that we’re at some sort of an impasse” says Lee.

And the clock is ticking. Lawmakers must have a final budget in two weeks or face costly overtime.

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Mother of Murder Victim Opposes Death Sentences

February 23rd, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Darlene Farah lost her daughter when she was gunned down more than two years ago in a Jacksonville  cell phone store. Now she’s walking the hallways of the state Capitol on behalf of other murder victims families, asking lawmakers to do away with the death penalty. Her argument: overtime the case come up, she has to relive the horror of her daughters death.

Sot: Darlene Farah

Murder Victims Families

“I have to worry about the conviction being overturned. Take that money and use it for something else. Rehabilitate those people, the first time offenders who go to jail and come back out that are convicted felons and can’t get jobs. Use that money for something else.”

Florida’s death penalty sentencing was declared unconstitutional in January. Lawmakers will take up a compromise bill Thursday that would require a 10-2 jury verdict for a death sentence.

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Jax Pension Plan gets Tentative Approval

February 23rd, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

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The City of Jacksonville has the worst funded pension program in the state. It can only pay 55 cents of every dollar its promised. Mayor Lenny Curry is asking lawmakers to allow the city to use  a half cent sales tax until the year 2060 to fund the plan. It received tentative approval from the State House today. rep. Travis Cummings says there are few options.

“This is an issue that is not going to go away without another revenue stream. I’m a fiscal conservative, but you can’t raise the milage enough. You can’t raise the gas tax or other things, This is really a bold initiative. This is something that Mayor Curry and his administration has worked out” says Cummings.

The plan requires voter approval and could be used by other cities and counties. In Jacksonville’s case the actual cash won’t flow until 2030, but they city is hoping the action will send a message the city is serious about solving the pension problem.

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Jeb Bows Out of Race for White House

February 22nd, 2016 by flanews

If you asked almost anyone around Florida’s Capitol last year who would be the 2016 Republican Nominee for President, they probably would have said “Jeb Bush.” As Matt Galka tells us, supporters are still proud of the former Governor despite his lackluster showing in the race for the White House.

Former Governor Jeb Bush called it quits Saturday. Media consultant Ron Sachs – a Democrat *and* Bush supporter – says no one saw this coming last year.

“This is the oddest, weird if you will, presidential campaign in our lifetimes. And no one could have factored in Donald Trump launching a campaign and it taking the kind of root it has taken with a bunch of angry people in the country,” he said.

Bush’s name recognition didn’t resonate nationally.  Lobbyist and former Bush aide Slater Bayliss said Monday was a tough day.

“I’m sad he won’t get to show the rest of the country what he did for Florida,” said Bayliss.

Bayliss hopes the former Governor’s message isn’t lost on the remaining candidates.

“One of the things I thought Governor Bush did well was propose some substantial policies, and I hope once the craziness settles that the remaining candidates will adopt some of those policies,” he said.

Now many in the Bush camp are being recruited by Marco Rubio. Tampa State Representative Jamie Grant was backing Bush. Now he says he’s all in for the Florida Senator.

“I think Marco has a story to tell, I think Marco tells that story incredibly well, and I think it’s time to go win this thing for Marc,” said Grant.

Rubio needs the supporters, and the coin, if he hopes to wrestle the nomination away from leading candidate Donald Trump.

Bush raised over $100 million dollars for his campaign…something that’s not lost on Rubio’s campaign as they try and swing some of that money towards the Senator.

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Recess Legislation on Life Support

February 19th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation to require 20 minutes of recess a day at elementary schools cleared the state House last night by a vote of 112-2, but even with such an overwhelming vote, Mike Vasilinda says the legislation is on life support.

As many as one in Four Florida kids is overweight or obese. In a video for parents, the Florida Department of Health advises kids: “To be active and play 60 minutes a day”

Legislation requiring 20 minutes a day of recess cleared the State House with just 2 no votes. Rep. Bob Cortes (R-Maitland) is the prime co-sponsor.

“I believe that recess is definately a right, not a privilege” says Cortes.

A Facebook page for Florida recess moms has hundreds of followers. A half dozen of them, including Pinellas County mother of three Christie Bruner came to the Capitol to support the recess bill, because they say local school districts aren’t listening.

“If it’s not a policy or a mandate, there’s going to be people who don’t follow it. just like everything else. that’s why where’re rallying with other counties to come to the state level” says Bruner.

The problem: Senate Education Chairman John Legg. Legg is single handily blocking the bill from being heard and tells us he wont change his mind.

“It is a too rigid of a solution that is best left up to our local districts to resolve” say Legg.

State Sen. Bill Montford is a member of the Senate Education Committee. He supports the idea of recess, but.

“Recess is good. kids need it. But in place of what? what do we remove from those seven hours we have with children” says Montford.

When the state added an extra hour a day at 300 low performing schools, the price tag was 66 million.

Legg did tell us that is counties don’t adopt recess locally, the bill could be back next year. If it is, Legg won’t be there to block it. He’s not running for reelection.

The bill specifies that teachers can not keep kids from going to recess to finish their work or for disciplinary reasons. Senator Legg told us that provision went too far.

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Budget Talks

February 19th, 2016 by flanews

Lawmakers have three weeks left to pass the one bill they constitutionally must pass…the state budget. As Matt Galka tells us, there’s still time, but lawmakers aren’t looking for a repeat of last session’s mess.

We’re past the midpoint of 2016’s legislative session. At this same time last year…things were starting to unravel.  The House and Senate were divided over healthcare…and session ended without a budget being passed.

A year later, the two chambers have already passed their respective budgets but there about one billion dollars apart. House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford isn’t worried…yet.

“I think if you look back, we are probably on a normal schedule. They could ramp it up and shut it down pretty quickly and get a budget to the Governor before the end of session. I think it’s still possible,” he said.

There are no budget conferences this weekend but Florida’s House Spekaer expects them to happen early next week.

One of the hold ups: a tax  cut package. The House is backing the Governor’s one billion dollar – mostly corporate – tax cut package. The Senate says everyone has to give a little.

“We have to come to an agreement in that number first and foremost in order to understand what the tax cut package will look like before we can start building a budget,” said Speaker Crisafulli.

Pafford says one billion dollars is out the window

“It’s a long shot, it was nonsense when the governor put it out there, it’s nonsense now. It’d be interesting if the Governor spent some time in Tallahassee anytime soon and actually showed up to work, you know? But apparently that’s one job he doesn’t want to show up for,” he said.

One thought: the legislature could give the Governor a budget early and possibly override any vetoes he may make. They’d have to come to an agreement in about two works to potentially make that happen.

Lawmakers are also wrestling with another issue – incentive money for businesses possibly relocating to Florida. It’s another top priority of Governor Rick Scott’s, but lawmakers aren’t ready to commit.

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Uber Legislation Still Divided

February 18th, 2016 by flanews

The legislature is again trying to pass statewide regulations for transportation network companies like Uber. As Matt Galka tells us, both chambers have different ideas of how to handle ride sharing.

Uber touted big usage numbers around Florida Thursday. The company’s pushing for the legislature to pass a pro-transportation network company bill.

The Florida House and Senate have their own versions of how to regulate companies like Uber.  Both chambers have different bills requiring minimum insurance policies and background checks.

One of the sticking points is whether or not to overrule local regulations.

House sponsor Matt Gaetz says drivers need uniform policies as they travel the state

“My favorite place to have dinner is 45 minutes away from my House. To go there I have to go through seven different political subdivisions – different cities, different counties. So if you don’t have one system that applies statewide, you functionally kill companies like Uber and Lyft because they can inadverntntly cross a boundary and break a law,” said Rep. Gaetz.

Senator Jeff Brandes says even though the bill moving through his chamber doesn’t include overruling local regulations – it’s not too big of a hurdle.

“I think special interests are trying to block this legislation adn the Florida Senate is in position to rise about that,” he said.

The Senate sponsor says he’s open to compromise. The Senate’s bill cleared its final committee Thursday afternoon.

The House already passed its version of the bill. The Senate is ready to take a full vote on its own version.

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