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Airline hailed by Gov. Scott faces theft charge

It was one of the first big job announcements of Gov. Rick Scott’s administration: Vision Airlines was bringing a hub to the Panhandle, promising 4,200 "direct and indirect" jobs to the region.

"This is going to be fun. This is our chance. We are going to win," Scott said promoting the deal in 2011.

It didn't quite work out that way.

The airline abandoned its flights to Fort Walton Beach within about 18 months. It also, local officials say, abandoned its contractual obligations to the area.

In December, county commissioners sued the company for nearly $150,000 in unpaid airline fees.

And on Monday, State Attorney Bill Eddins charged Vision Airlines with grand theft, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

The unpaid fees are from passenger facility charges collected by the airline from December 2010 to July 2012. As part of an agreement with the county, Vision was supposed to turn over $4.39 of the $4.50 charge to the county.

Vision Airlines told the Daily News it would pay what it owes, but local officials wouldn't say if that's enough to avoid charges.

Senate Dems: We don't have votes on parent trigger bill

Senate Democrats conceded Tuesday they don't have the votes to stop one of the most controversial issues of last year's session, the so-called "parent trigger" bill that will allow parents of a failing school to open the door for a for-profit charter management company to take over.

Working with a coalition of moderate Republicans, Democrats last year mounted opposition to the bill that passed the House and killed it on a 20-20 vote (there is no tiebreaker). With the turnover of the Senate in 2012, however, several of the newcomers appear to be sympathetic to the proposal, said Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauerdale.

"They have picked up enough votes so this year may be one of those years where we at least make an awful bill a bit better,'' Smith told his Democratic colleagues.

Among the newcomers is Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who has filed SB 862 to allow a majority of parents in a failing public school in Florida to restructure the school. The parents options include replacing the principal; replacing staff and administration; converting to a charter school; or closing the school and turning it over to a private charter school management companies.

The measure is backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. California was the first state to approve the law, and other states have adopted similar legislation since then.

Senators visit elections office

State senators went on an unusual two-hour field trip Tuesday to check out the internal workings of a voting equipment center in Tallahassee where ballots are cast, counted and in some cases, rejected.

The site visit by members of the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee was hosted by Ion Sancho, the long-time Leon County elections supervisor who has been an outspoken critic of Republican-backed changes to state voting laws.

Directing the tour was the committee chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who has toured his hometown elections operation in Pinellas but who wanted to give other senators a chance the learning experience of seeing a voting center from the inside.

Latvala said he would like to find a way to reduce the chances of absentee ballots being tossed out because of non-matching signatures, which he said could be helped if elections offices could use a more recent signature on file from a precinct register rather than a voter registration form that might be decades old.

"The example they showed us today was a lady who registered to vote in 1974. That's almost 40 years ago. Her signature was not the same in '74 as it is now, and I bet mine's not, either," Latvala said. "It's just a learning experience."

Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz.

Airline hailed by Gov. Scott faces theft charge 02/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 7:24pm]
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