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
The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a proposal that would allow some undocumented immigrants (as well as the children of military personnel stationed on Florida bases) to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities.
The 19-7 vote was closer than some observers expected.
Voting in favor of the measure: Republican Reps. Dennis Baxley; Marti Coley; Steve Crisafulli; Erik Fresen; Eddy Gonzalez; Ed Hooper; Seth McKeel; Marlene O'Toole; Jimmy Patronis; and Dana Young; and Democratic Reps. Joe Gibbons; Janet Cruz; Reggie Fullwood; Mia Jones; Mark Pafford; Hazel Rogers; Darryl Rouson; Cynthia Stafford; and Alan Williams.
Voting against: Republican Reps. Ben Albritton; Richard Corcoran; Jamie Grant; Matt Hudson; Clay Ingram; Charles McBurney and Greg Steube.
The bill had changed considerably from its last committee stop.
On Thursday, Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, added language that would prevent colleges and universities from raising their tuition rates more than six percent above the rate set by the Florida Legislature. It would also eliminate the automatic tuition increase meant to account for inflation. …Full Story
Alex Sink said today she is "keeping an open mind" about running against David Jolly again in November.Full Story
Two days after her narrow loss to Jolly in the special election for Congressional District 13, Sink said she has no timetable for making a decision but is in no rush to decide.
She had not returned calls and messages after the election so we stopped by her rented condo in Feather Sound. Sink, a longtime Hillsborough resident Jolly had called a carpet bagger, chuckled at hearing I expected her to be back in Thonotosassa.
"Why wouldn't I be here? My lease runs until November."
Sink said she all along it would be a tough race and took nothing for granted.
"It's a 50-50 district but it still leans right because of gerrymandering," Sink said. "But I still think Washington is broken and needs better people."
From the News Service of Florida:
The behind-the-scenes filtering continues on a $378.8 million measure aimed at restoring and protecting Florida's natural springs.
Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, temporarily postponed the proposal (SB 1576) from making its first appearance of the legislative session Thursday in the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. Influential business groups have opposed the measure.
"We had hoped today we would have our bill coming out in a more finalized version," said Dean, chairman of the committee. "But as of the last week or 10 days of working in this area, we still feel that there are improvements that need to be made, and we have not tied the last of the issues together."
The wide-ranging proposal, which Dean and a group of senators have been working on for months, was introduced Feb. 28. Gov. Rick Scott has requested $55 million in the 2014-15 state budget for springs protection, up from $10 million in the current year. …Full Story
The Senate Thursday fine-tuned a high-priority ethics bill with a new lobbying restriction that observers say is aimed directly at former Senate President Ken Pruitt, who works as a Tallahassee lobbyist while also serving as St. Lucie County property appraiser.
Pruitt was a well-liked Senate president from 2006 to 2008, but his high-profile lobbying practice in Tallahassee (15 clients, including Florida Crystals Corp. and the Palm Beach County sheriff's office) doesn't sit well with senators.
The amendment, by another former Senate president, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, won a unanimous vote in the 19-member Senate Appropriations Committee. Lee's amendment would prohibit constitutional officers such as sheriffs, state attorneys and property appraisers from lobbying for compensation. The restriction would take effect after the next election.
"If I had my druthers, you'd have to pick which side of this equation you want to be on," Lee said. "You either want to be an elected official and represent the people or you want to be a lobbyist and represent special interests." …Full Story
WASHINGTON — David Jolly was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the U.S. House of Representatives, capping an intensely fought election to replace his former boss, the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
Jolly took the oath on the House floor at 2:07 p.m., using a family Bible.
"We have had a nationally watched race, that race is now over," Jolly told his new colleagues. "And now it is time for me as a member of Congress and this body to join with each of you to follow in the footsteps that you have made in serving your community as I begin to serve mine."
Longtime Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, led him to the corner where Young would sit. "I broke down crying," Jolly told the Tampa Bay Times. "We all know the spirit he left in that chamber."
The 41-year-old Republican, who became a Capitol Hill lobbyist after working for Young, won a tight race Tuesday against Democrat Alex Sink that captured the nation's eye and saw more than $12 million in spending, mostly from outside groups.
Full story here.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the centerpiece of the 2003 medical malpractice overhaul law, blasting the Legislature for creating an “alleged medical malpractice crisis” and concluding that the cap on wrongful death non-economic damages violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause.
The 5-2 ruling, written by Justice R. Fred Lewis, suggested that legislators created a crisis to push through the caps on damages in medical liability lawsuits which “has the effect of saving a modest amount for many by imposing devastating costs on a few.”
The caps limited payments for pain and suffering to $500,000 or $1 million, depending on the circumstances and the number of people involved. Lewis concluded the law unconstitutionally discriminates against “those who are most grievously injured, those who sustain the greatest damage and loss, and multiple claimants.’’
The decision will effectively remove the cap on so-called “non-economic” damages when someone dies because of medical malpractice. Victims whose cases were resolved between the time the law took effect in late 2003 and today, however, will have no recourse. The Florida Justice Association estimates there are more than 700 medical malpractice cases pending statewide.
“This is a monumental decision,’’ said Ken Sobel, a Fort Lauderdale trial attorney and past chairman of the FJA’s Medical Malpractice Bar. “It is being resoundingly applauded by our side of the bar, and quietly applauded by the defense bar.” Story here.
Gov. Rick Scott supports a Senate proposal allowing some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates, his office confirmed Wednesday.
The governor is on board with the measure partly because it addresses one of his top legislative priorities: preventing state universities from raising tuition rates above those set by the Florida Legislature.
“I want tuition to be lower,” Scott said. “It’s unbelievable how much tuition has gone up.”
The House version of the immigrant tuition bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez of Miami, does not currently restrict the ability of colleges and universities to set tuition rates. But lawmakers will consider adding a similar provision.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has made immigrant tuition one of his top priorities this year, said he was encouraged by Scott’s support.
“The governor has shown great compassion by working to prevent children from being punished for the mistakes of their parents,” said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “I appreciate his support and look forward to working with him.”
Florida lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented students for more than a decade. …Full Story
Attorney General Pam Bondi is fighting a plan that would limit Medicare coverage for some drug testing in Florida and could allow accidental deadly drug combinations.
The proposal, by the Jacksonville-based Medicare contractor First Coast Service Options, would restrict reimbursement for confirmatory tests, which are used to check the accuracy of drug screenings.
In a Tuesday letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, Bondi cited Florida’s “protracted battle against prescription and illicit drug use,” and said the new guidelines would “restrict access to one of the most critical tools for identifying drug abuse and misuse.”
“Our fear is if Medicare goes down this road, Medicaid will soon follow suit,” Bondi said.
Read more here.Full Story
The collection of our work in response to the passing of Gov. Reubin Askew:Full Story
A leftover from the reporter’s notebook on this week’s congressional campaign, in which Republican David Jolly beat Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby. Full Story
The unprecedented outside spending in Pinellas County’s recent congressional race turned it into the most expensive special election in history, and at times made it seem like one giant debate among national interest groups over Obamacare and other issues.
And yet, in spite of all the television ads, mailers and robocalls, there actually were scattered moments of retail politics during the campaign, when the candidates themselves seemed to be working for each last vote, handshake by handshake.
One day last week, Republican David Jolly moved from dinner table to dinner table at the Palms of Largo retirement complex, answering retirees’ questions about his stands on abortion, Obamacare and Social Security, and exulting when two Democrats said they’d already voted for him.
The same day, Sink spent a couple hours calling voters individually; her campaign kept track of those who said they were still undecided, in spite of all the media attention and unending campaign commercials. On Election Day this Tuesday, Sink was dialing more undecided voters, as her campaign mobilized its volunteers in an effort to bring voters to the polls.
Unlike most election night events, Sink’s started at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, half an hour after the polls closed. The idea was to keep working until the very last minute.