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Budget battle over incentives intensifies, could doom session

January 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott today proposed Florida spend 83.5 Billion dollars next year. He’s also seeking almost 700 million in tax cuts, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he focused most of his attention today on two items totaling just over 160 million dollars.

Rick Scott said it once,

“If we don’t fund Enterprise Florida and we don’t fund Visit Florida, we have to understand we’re going to lose opportunities for our families.” Scott was speaking at the annual AP Legislative planning meeting on the Capitol’s top floor.

He mentioned the need for continued incentives to lure businesses and tourists to Florida six times.

“This is important to you?” We asked.

“Yea, just think about what I ran on. I don’t think there’s any question  when I ran in 2010 I ran on jobs. this state was in trouble.”

The reason for the almost singular focus on incentives is because there is strong opposition to them from the House Speaker.

Budget Battle00000007Q:”If they’re not approved, whoever blocks them is going to cost people jobs.”

“Yeah, that;s just not true and there won’t be any incentives in the budget” says Richard Corcoran.

Democrats have now joined Republicans in opposing incentives in the House, and that unity is going to make it harder for the Governor to overcome their objection.”

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz says the 160 million incentive package Scott wants could be better spent elsewhere.

“We have school funding that’s 50th. That’s why I say we have misplace priorities” says Cruz.Budget Battle00000006

The Senate is siding with the Governor, which could lead to a stalemate on the budget..something the House Speaker seemed to acknowledge tongue in cheek.

“I was going to show you a video” says Corcoran. “Two trains going in different directions, finally hitting each other and derailing. that could be how session ends.”

And while the final decision on the budget won’t be made for another three months, the train tracks are already rumbling.

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State workforce pay raises on horizon

January 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott has proposed pay raises for Correctional officers and sworn police officers who work for the state. His budget released today also contains a one time bonus for state employees, who have not had a raise in about four years. the legislature has consistently said no to state workers. Scott says that needs to change.
“We have great state workers, and you really have thank people for what they do.  People who work for state government are on a mission and they try to do their job really well, so I think we need to pay them well.”

Florida’s workforce is among the smallest and least paid per capita in the nation.

State Pay Raises00000004

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Scott backs Trump immigration order

January 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Although thousands protested President Trumps immigration order in major cities across the state, Governor Rick Scott told reporters that nobody should be surprised.

“I’m comfortable that we now have a President and head of Homeland Security that’s going to focus on the safety of Americans” says Scott. “ Look, there’s always a better way to present some…roll something out, but what I do care about, I care about the safety of the people in our state.”

The immigration efforts were also applauded by the state House Speaker. When asked, Senate President Joe Negron called the problem a federal issue but said the country must protect its borders.

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Scientists say “Keep the Course” on Everglades projects

January 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

60 water policy experts and scientists delivered a letter to Governor Rick Scott today, urging him to continue on with projects already underway to restore the Everglades. The scientists are concerned a plan by the Senate President to buy 60 thousand acres south of Lake Okeechobee would disrupt the projects already under way. Henry Dean is the former Director of the South Florida Water Management District.

“They need to finish those jobs, reservoir,storm water treatment areas, a number of projects taken together  will provide probably another 6 hundred thousand acres get of storage that we need in South Florida” said Dean after delivering the letter to Scott’s receptionist.

US Sugar is opposed to selling its land to the state for the projects envisioned by the Senate President, and they are organizing local opposition to the land buy.

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Teacher shortage looming, Scott offers some incentives

January 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott today proposed spending 58 million dollars to attract and retain teachers in Florida The state willed to hire six thousand or more new teachers next school year, depending on how many retire. Scott told reporters at his budget rollout that there will be bonuses for newly hired teachers.

“Teachers are key to preparing our future generations for great careers” says Scott.        “And we need to make investments to recruit and retain the best educators in our classrooms. This year we are proposing 58 million dollars for teacher recruitment and retention initiatives, including 15 million dollars to eliminate initial certification and renewal certification fees for teachers.”

The state is also expected to increase the amount it sends to private schools under the corporate scholarship program that allows companies to contribute to a private entity instead of paying a state corporate tax.

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Senate President leaves law firm over potential conflict

January 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Days after Governor Rick Scott called on attorney lawmakers to cease employment with a  firm that lobbies the legislature, Senate President Joe Negron left his longtime firm. He says it was not because of the Governor;’s letter.  The Gunster Firm has US Sugar as one of its major clients. Negron is pushing a forced purchase of US Sugar land to use for Everglades restoration.

“When a bill was filed that could have a potential effect,  s significant effect on a client of the firm that I’m employed with, I thought in the abundance of caution, because this is such an important issued to me, the community and the state, I though in the abundance of caution, to avoid any problem, that it would be best for me to step away from my firm” said Negron at the AP meeting.

Florida has a citizen legislature and lawmakers are not allowed to vote on issues that have a direct benefit to their pocketbook. The House Speaker also works for a law firm, but says no bills are filed that would benefit his firms clients.

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FSU President to students and faculty: Stay Home

January 30th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Following the President’s Executive order banning travelers from seven middle eastern countries, the President of Florida State University  is urging faculty, staff and students from these counties not travel abroad. And at least one student has already been affected.

FSU President John Thrasher posed this message on the University’s web site Sunday afternoon. In it he says the travel ban is causing confusion, uncertainty, disruption, and worry among students,

“Well, it’s a concern” says the FSU President. “Its a concern to international students, and people from other countries and faculty members and all that.”

The message was posted as several hundred people were marching to the Capitol

to protest the travel ban. Aamir Hassan was one of the protestors.

“We’re fearful” he said. “so we have to make plans to avoid worst case scenario.”

One of FSU’s biggest  concerns is the two thousand people who use the National High Magnetic Field Lab. They re worried they won’;t be able to come and go.

The ban could also disrupt studies at the Joint FSU/FAMU engineering School, where  Yuaus Akinona told us the ban that someone with a criminal record should be scrutinized, but:

“People who are schooling here from other countries, they can’t go home” says the Nigerian national.  “So, I don;t know, it didn’t go down well with me.”

FSU was still gathering date on how many students could be impacted, But President Thrasher says at least one student has been affected.

“Who apparently was traveling in January, and is stuck somewhere and can’t get back. it was a graduate student” says Thrasher.

Thrasher also says those students impacted are involved in vitally important work that enriches the university.

The FSU President says the order has caused more angst among faculty and students than any real travel delays yet, but it could impact travel for many during spring break.

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Sports subsidies to be focus of legislative battle

January 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Subsidies to sports teams are under attack in the state Capitol. Begun as an effort to lure the Chicago White Sox to St. Pete in 1988, more than 400 million has gone to teams since then, but the former lawmaker who sponsored the subsidies say they have brought and kept teams here.

In 1988 St. Petersburg was going broke finishing a baseball stadium for a team it didn’t have. The White Sox were using the city as leverage for a new stadium at home. Then State Representative Pete Dunbar came up with the idea of offering a tax incentive to lured a team, but only if the team came and started collecting sales taxes.

“It didn’t cost you anything if they didn’t come. So, it was a Field of dreams” says Dunbar, invoking the theme of “if you build it, they will come.

The White Sox ultimately declined. But teams did come, putting Florida on the map for pro sports. Now the subsidies are under attack by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Sports Subsidies00000006“First of all, should we even be in that business” says Corcoran. “Secondly, do they work?”

The strong anti subsidy stance is putting the House at odds with the Senate, where Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala says the cash has brought and kept teams here.

“All that gets spent for the stadiums themselves is the incremental increase in the taxes that are collected at the facility from before the construction took place” Latvala told us.Sports Subsidies00000008

Ten years ago, the program was broadened to include spring training facilities and is credited with keeping teams we have from going to Arizona.

Dunbar says he supports a review of the cash outlays, but he believes they have given Florida Major League Status.

”We’ve got the Lombardi trophy here. The Stanley Cup has been won here” he says. Add a basketball championship and world Series title to the list.

The fight over these subsidies and other is shaping up to be one of the major battles of the coming legislative session.

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Water Wars legal bills to be scrutinized

January 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida has spent almost a hundred million dollars over the last 16 years fighting Georgia and Alabama over water rights for the H2O that flows into the Apalachicola River. The fresh water is essential for oyster production and a healthy estuary for most game fish in the area. Legal fees spiked to 41 million over the last two years as a lawsuit intensified. Now House Speaker Richard Corcoran has appointed two members with expertise to go through the receipts with a fine tooth comb.

Sports Subsidies00000006“I think when you look and go through those bills, you’re going to find really fast that defending the rights of Floridians, yes, that’s an absolutely worthy expense” says Corcoran. “Spending a hundred million dollars in illegal fees, uh, we’re getting gouged, and that needs to be fixed.”

One of the law firms just hired the DEP official who authorized millions in legal fees for the firm before leaving the agency, prompting a proposed constitutional amendment to keep state officials from working for people they hired for at least six years.

 

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Voter fraud few and far between in Florida

January 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

President Donald Trump is calling for a national investigation into voter fraud, but officials say it isn’t happening here.

Florida Democrats were quick to pounce on the President’s tweet, pointing out that the investigation should start with Trumps own Chief Strategist, who was registered in both New York and Sarasota. After the posting, Steve Banyon’s name was quickly removed from voter rolls in Sarasota.

Voter Fraud00000008Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon followed with this letter, calling on the Secretary of State to investigate.

“What I realized is that if there were voting irregularities, than that would mean he didn’t win, and if that’s the case, maybe they need to investigate” says the Senate Democratic leader.

Voter Fraud00000006Reports of voter fraud are few and far between, and every complaint is investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Just over twenty million votes were cast in Florida over the last two cycles. 13 companies were received by the Department of Law Enforcement.

Elections Supervisors downplayed the potential before the election.

“It would be virtually impossible” said Ron Labasky, who represents all 67 Supervisors in the Capitol.

And they stand by their statements. Senate Ethics and Elections Chair Kathleen Passidomo says there are no plans to open an investigation.

“We haven’t seen anything. We haven’t been asked to investigate” says Passidome. “I think he’s talking about other states perhaps. I haven’t heard him speak about any voter fraud he’s identified in Florida.”

In a statement the Secretary of State’s spokesperson said they office is not aware of widespread voter fraud and safeguards are in place to prevent it.

And Governor Rick Scott, who is ultimately responsible for how elections are run in Florida, is saying only that he is glad we had record turnout and a smooth election in November.

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Celebrity Podiatrist convicted in wife’s murder

January 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

It took a jury in the State Capitol just 90 minutes to convict a celebrity podiatrist of the murder of his wife. Samira Frasch was a French model found dead in her pool hours after her husband took the couples two children to a home in Panama City. Defense attorneys contended

she was killed after husband Adam Frasch left. The jury obviously did;’t buy that story.

Defense attorney Clyde Taylor was asked afterwards what he thought the verdict should have been.

“Not guilty”Not guilty” he responded.

“Based on what?” he was asked.

“She wasn’t in that pool for more than an hour. and even it was an hour, two hours or three hours, my client was in Panama City”

But prosecutor Georgia Cappleman says the pool changes everything.

“And it’s not an exact science, and all the experts agree that once cold water comes into play, it completely throws off their ability to determine the time of death.”

Adam Frasch was sentence to life in prison. It is unclear what will happen to the couples two young children.

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Facebook Live suicide on lawmakers radar

January 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

nakiaselfie

The Department of Children and Families is in the process of producing a detailed report on their contacts with a 14 year old who has been in the foster care system and committed suicide over the weekend on Facebook live. The House  legislative committee overseeing the agency met today but did not discuss the case, but Chairwoman Gayle Harrell says the death is on their radar.

“This is something I have to see the CERT report and really ask the tough questions when we get that information back.  this is a major problem and we are going to continue to focus on child welfare” says Harrell.
The DCF website shows 23 children have died this year in Florida.

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Democrats walk out of committee over invited speaker

January 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A discussion on refugees and homeland security prompted several Florida House Democrats to walk out on one presenter today. Mark Krikorian is the director of the Center of Immigration Studies. Rep. Bobby DeBose called his organization a hate group.

WALKOUT00000005“He said very disparaging things about black people. He said very disparaging things about Latinos. He said very disparaging things about Jews” says DeBose. “And listen, I’m all about free speech and this guy is free to show up and fill out a card and speak, but the fact this guy was invited to talk about policy that’s going to shape this state and how we address these issues. It’s very disturbing to me.”

Committee Chair Gayle Harrell said the wished the Democrats would have listened to the Skype presentation.

“I’m as disappointed, I really have to say I was disappointed. I would have hoped they would have liked to hear and listen to a divergence of opinion, and ask those tough questions, challenge the speaker” said the Chairwom

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Whiskey wall legislation clears first committee

January 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A State Senate panel today approved a bill allowing big box stores like Walmart and Target to sell liquor inside the store instead of in a separate location. The vote came over the protests of traditional liquor stores who say the change will make booze more available to teens. Charles Bailes is the CEO of ABC Liquors.

“Kids don’t really buy alcohol as much as they steal it, and the more accessible it is the more its going to be stolen, and you don’;t have to look back far to look at the state of Washington and what happened there” say Bailes.

A teen in Washington drank a six pack before being arrested for shoplifting, Sponsor Anitere Flores says the same thing could happen in Florida now, and keeping liquor separate won’t change that.

“They have beer and wine in a big box store, and we’ll have liquor in a big box store. that’s all the bill does” says Flores. “It didn’t change anything about obtaining a liquor license,  so each individual store if they want to go out and start selling liquor, they’ll have to make their case before DBPR. The bill doesn’t change anything about that. It just says you don’t have to have in a separate store.”

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Back to school sales tax holiday legislation filed

January 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation was filed today to provide a ten day back to school sales tax holiday. tight revenue forced lawmakers to cut last years tax free days down to just one weekend, but sponsor Keith Perry of Gainesville says cuts elsewhere this year should leave cash for the ten day tax holiday.

“Families really look forward to this. Its a stressful time getting your kids ready to go to school and having to go out and buy all the supplies. It can be a fun time too, but they look forward to it and I’m glad to sponsor the bill this year on the Senate side and give thesis families an opportunity” says Perry.

Governor Rick Scott is also proposing a ten day back to school tax holiday as well as a tax holiday on hurricane supplies and a three day event for veterans.

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