Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have ambitious plans to provide the state’s 2.7 million schoolchildren with more choices in education.
Their focus: fostering the growth of charter schools and voucher programs.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican and vice chairman of the House K-12 Subcommittee, said school choice is a priority for the Republican caucus because “it provides opportunities for families to get out of generational poverty.”
But critics believe something else — this year’s gubernatorial election — is driving the push.
“They are afraid they aren’t going to have a governor who would sign all these bills come November,” said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association.
Read more here.Full Story
Week three of the legislative session gets off to a slow start, giving lawmakers time to return to the Capitol. Still, some significant proposals will be up for consideration in the upper chamber. Will those lawmakers be able to harness the luck of the Irish? Here are five things to watch:
Winners of the week
David Jolly. Underestimated from the start — and even trashed by anonymous GOP bigs in Washington just before the election — the once obscure former lobbyist looks like a giant killer.
Florida homeowners. Finally, Congress delivered flood insurance relief.
Loser of the week
Alex Sink. She has narrowly lost two elections she had been widely expected to win. Does the hyper-cautious former banker have the stomach, or fire, to see if the third time is the charm?Full Story
“Yeah, Curt,” the voice message began, “Paige Kreegel.”
Kreegel was calling Curt Clawson. They are GOP opponents in the special election for Florida's 19th Congressional District.
“If you don’t already know, I just read or heard that the PAC people are going to spend so much negative on her and so much negative on you. It’s not something I wanted, and not something I can prevent. Anyway, that's the way it is.”
The message was left Friday. On Sunday a Super PAC began a negative TV ad against Clawson and another GOP candidate, Lizbeth Benacquisto, branding them “liberal.”
How did Kreegel know?
Though the Values are Vital PAC is pro-Kreegel, he is barred by law from coordinating with the group.
The questions surrounding his ties to the group add to a larger story of the murky walls between campaigns and a growing number of outside groups. Values are Vital is run by Anthony Farhat, who was Kreegel’s finance director in 2012. It is one of two Super PACs are playing in the race, the other apparently backing Benacquisto. …Full Story
From the Miami Herald:
Fraternal twins Tariji and Tavont’ae Gordon were born together but died two years, eight months and 24 days apart. One was buried in a potter’s field; the other was disposed of in a shallow grave covered by earth, plywood and a sheet of tin.
Tavont’ae, the first to die, suffocated at 2 months of age while sleeping on a couch with his mother, Rachel Fryer, who later tested positive for cocaine. Child welfare authorities took Tariji from Fryer and put her in foster care. Then they gave her back, convinced Fryer had tamed her drug habit and neglectful ways. Three months later, Tariji was killed by a blow to the head.
Fryer stuffed Tariji’s body into a leopard-print suitcase, caught a ride and buried her 50 miles from her Sanford home. The girl’s pink-and-white shoe, an unintended grave marker atop freshly turned dirt, was the only hint of her life and death. She would have turned 3 this month.
The twins joined a sad procession of children who died, often violently, after the Florida Department of Children & Families had been warned, often repeatedly, that they or their siblings could be in danger. …Full Story
Charlie Crist has been spending so much time in South Florida -- from where most of the big Democratic campaign money comes -- that he and wife Carole Crist have rented a place on tony Fisher Island near Miami's South Beach. Mrs. Crist used to own condos there but sold them after marrying the former governor.
Crist, who has never owned a home, continues to rent a condo in downtown St Petersburg's Bayfront Tower.
“I’d never leave the ’Burg. Ever,” Crist told Buzz on Saturday night.Full Story
Floridians will have three opportunities next week to pay final respects to former Gov. Reubin Askew, who died Thursday at age 85.
Escorted by a military honor guard, Askew will lie in state at the Old Capitol in Tallahassee from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday. It was in that historic building where Askew served 12 years as a legislator and for most of his eight years as governor (during Askew's second term, the state opened the "new" 22-story Capitol).
The last state official to lie in state at the Old Capitol was former Gov. Claude Kirk, who died in 2011.
A memorial service for Askew will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Faith Presbyterian Church, 2200 North Meridian Rd., Tallahassee. Gov. Rick Scott will attend and some if not all of the six living former governors are also expected. A spokesman for the Askew family, Jon Peck, said the list of eulogists at the service has not yet been finalized. The church has seating for about 750 people.
On Friday, a public graveyard service with full military honors will be held at 11 a.m. Central Time at Bayview Memorial Park, 3351 Scenic Highway (US 90 East) in Pensacola, where Askew grew up. …Full Story
For years, former Gov. Reubin Askew had a regular invitation to the annual meeting of the Leadership Florida class in Tallahassee where he was asked to speak with Joseph Hatchett, the former federal judge whom Askew appointed the state's first black Supreme Court justice.
It was affectionately known as the "Joe and Rube show." Here's a summary of their dialogue on Jan. 19, 2012. (We hope to post the podcast later):
Askew introduced Hatchett as "a man with a good heart" and noted how Florida is "blessed" because of his willingness to take the job.
Hatchett, who as a young law student was banned from staying in the hotel where the bar exam was being held, went on to become the chief judge on the federal bench for the Southeast region.
"We're making progress,'' Askew told the crowd at the Governor's Club. "In my opinion, not enough progress but we're making progress."
He recalled how someone once said to him, "You were forever a risk taker, and I said that's the only way I wanted the job. You just do it and take your chances."
Among his chances was his stand on integration: "I really was so tired over the hypocrisy of the busing situation because it never became a controversial issue until we started busing white children."
After he stood up in favor of integrating schools, the Democratic Party took a poll and his numbers rose. "A lot of people who opposed busing, they weren't racists but there were enough other racists to make up for it."Full Story
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor appears Sunday on Political Connections on Bay News 9 in Tampa Bay. The full interview airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., but here's a clip:
It’s the end of the second week of the legislative session and Tallahassee is splitsville. No lawmakers are left in town. Even the governor and attorney general have headed south. Although legislators face a funding ban during session, the governor and members of the Cabinet do not. Here are five things to watch for:
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford released proposed allocations for spending next year, and the plan is clearly boosted by revised forecasts giving lawmakers $150 million more general revenue to spend next year.
The biggest headline is that Weatherford’s proposed $10.8 billion in pre-K-12 education is $165 million more than what Gov. Rick Scott’s proposing in his proposed budget and $335 million more than this year. In higher education, Weatherford is hoping to spend $3.6 billion, or about $500 million more than Scott.
The Senate still has to release its allocations, which are expected soon. The two chambers must then settle on spending in a budget to be voted on in May.
Here’s Weatherford’s letter to House members: …Full Story
With their bill to suspend Florida's new education benchmarks stalled in the Legislature, opponents of the Common Core State Standards are pursuing a new strategy.
They are turning the heat up on Gov. Rick Scott.
Last Sunday, about 80 members of the group Florida Parents Against Common Core protested outside a private fundraiser for Scott on Jupiter Island. Members of another group, Stop Common Core Florida, traveled to Tallahassee on Thursday to meet with Scott's top education adviser, they said.
What's more, the Republican Party of Florida's Legislative Affairs Committee issued a formal resolution last month, urging Scott to take executive action against the standards.
"It's time for Rick Scott to listen to the people," said Chris Quackenbush, a grandmother and businesswoman who drove from Fort Myers to Tallahassee on Thursday to make her point."How does he expect to win reelection without his base?"
Indeed, the continuing controversy over the standards puts Scott in a political pickle.
Read more here.Full Story
State lawmakers passed bills on Thursday that increased proposed reductions in auto registration fees to better match the size of the cuts proposed by Gov. Rick Scott.
The Florida House Finance & Tax appropriations committee voted 18-0 on a bill that would reduce taxes and fees on motor vehicle licenses by $25.05 for heavy weight vehicles, $21.55 for middle weight vehicles, and $18.55 for light weight vehicle.
The cuts would cost the budget about $309 million in general revenue between July 1 and June 30, 2015 and an estimated $395 million in subsequent years. The Senate’s Appropriations Committee voted 18-0 on a bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that was amended to match the House bill. Initially, Negron had suggested cuts that would have reduced fees by an average of $12 a vehicle and cost the budget only about $185 million next year. But state economists revised the revenue forecast Wednesday, giving lawmakers another $150 million to spend. …Full Story
He’s a crucial swing vote that could tip the Florida Senate in favor of House Speaker Will Weatherford’s long-sought pension reform, but Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, said such an overhaul is even less likely than last year.
“If it passes, it’ll be snowing in Miami,” Evers said during a Thursday news conference with the Florida State Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 20,000 sworn officers who are currently enrolled in the state’s $135 billion pension system that pays for the retirement of 1 million current employees, including teachers, and county and state agency workers.
Weatherford tried and failed to last year to prohibit new employees from enrolling in the state pension plan, which provides a guaranteed return, and steer them into private 401(k)-style plans, that are subject to the swings of the market. …Full Story
Will Democrat Jessica Ehrlich run for Congress in the Pinellas County district where Republican David Jolly just won?
“I have not given any thought to it at all,” she said Thursday. “I thought Alex was going to win.”
Democrat Alex Sink lost narrowly to Jolly in the special election this week that was held to fill the remainder of the term of longtime Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died in October.
Sink told the Tampa Bay Times today she is "keeping an open mind" about running against Jolly later this year, in the regularly scheduled election. Ehrlich said she was disappointed Sink lost.
Ehrlich, an attorney and former congressional aide from St. Petersburg, ran against Young in 2012 and was running against him again last year. But after Young died and Sink jumped in the race, Ehrlich bowed out.
Since then, Ehrlich has appeared as a Democratic analyst on some national television shows, and was interviewed this week on Fox News on The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.
She said she also has been working with other Democratic candidates around the state.Full Story