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Mary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Mary Ellen Klas

Mary Ellen Klas is capital bureau chief for the Miami Herald and co-bureau chief of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and a graduate of the University of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. Before she became bureau chief for the Herald in 2004, Mary Ellen was Tallahassee bureau chief for Florida Trend magazine and also served as a senior writer for the Palm Beach Post. She was bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post from 1990-94, after which she worked part time for 10 years while her daughters were young. She is married to John Kennedy, senior writer for the Palm Beach Post's Tallahassee bureau. They have two daughters.

Phone: 850-222-3095


Twitter: @MaryEllenKlas

  1. Legislators make few repairs to Florida's safety net but push back on tax cuts

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Something strange was happening in the halls of the Republican-led Legislature as it passed the halfway point of its annual session.

    With a budget flush with more than $1 billion of additional revenue, lawmakers are locked in a debate over whether to back a budget that restores $1 billion in cuts to the state's tattered safety net for the state's most vulnerable children, disabled and elderly — as the state Senate proposes — or returns it to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, as the House and Gov. Rick Scott propose....

    Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, R- Orlando talks with the Tom Lee- R- Brandon, Senate Appropriations Chairman. (SCOTT KEELER   |   TIMES, 2015)

  2. Senator blasts budget process for blocking restoration of Florida Forever land-buying program


    Florida Senate leaders rejected a budget amendment Wednesday that would have restored $222.5 million to the Florida Forever land-buying program that has been left threadbare since the Great Recession, arguing that the amendment was "out of order" because it would have left the Senate's proposed budget out of balance. 

    The amendment, by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, would have restored the funding to the state's once-vaunted land acquisition program, heralded by environmentalists as visionary approach to shielding the state's fragile ecosystems and waterways from pollution and other development encroachment.
    The state program was wiped dry by lawmakers during the tight years of the recession and so environmentalists asked voters to approve Amendment 1 in 2014, creating a dedicated funding stream lawmakers would be required to use for land acquisition and water preservation.
    Despite that, legislators have steadfastly refused to restore the land buying program -- which was first begun as Preservation 2000 by Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in 1991 -- to its traditional level of $300 million a year. The 2015-16 budget  includes only $17.5 million for the acquisition of vital conservation lands through Florida Forever. The Senate proposed budget raises that to $22.5 million. 
    Altman's amendment would authorize $222.5 million in bond proceeds from recurring money used to fund the Land Acquisition Trust fund, to be used for land acquisition through the Florida Forever program. He argued that the revenue source -- the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions -- is "a robust fund and is expected to grow" so earmarking the money to pay bonds for land buying "will not affect the stability of our state." 
    "It's the best stewardship of our tax dollars,'' he said. "These lands we want to purchase; we will lose them. They're escalating [in value] faster than our ability to purchase them."
    But Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the Senate majority leader, called a "point of order" saying the amendment was not appropriate because it upset the budget balance. Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Orlando, agreed and the amendment was withdrawn.
    Altman was angered by the ruling and said it exposed a serious flaw in the Legislature's budget process. 

    "All I was asking is to restore the right of this body in public to question an allocation,'' he told reporters after the Senate adjourned. "Horrific, horrific ruling that sets a horrific precedent."...

  3. Florida House committee advances bill to expand casino games

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers made uneven progress on ambitious plans to rewrite the state's gambling laws Tuesday as a House committee did what has been virtually impossible for the conservative chamber to do in the last decade: pass a bill that expands gambling in Florida.

    At the same time, though, the more gaming-friendly Senate put the brakes on its plan.

    In the House, the Regulatory Affairs Committee gave the nod to one bill — ratifying the agreement between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe to expand casino games on their reservations — and also approved a companion measure. The measure tightens loopholes in the state's gambling laws while adding slots permits in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and offering new gaming options outside of South Florida....

    Gov. Rick Scott, center, talks with James Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, at the tribe's headquarters in Hollywood earlier this month. Lawmakers are debating whether to approve a gaming compact signed by Scott and the tribe along with other possible changes to state gambling laws. [ASSOCIATED PRESS]
  4. House committee votes to expand gambling, ratify compact


    The House Regulated Affairs Committee on Tuesday accomplished what has been virtually impossible for the conservative House to do in the last decade: pass a bill that expands gambling in Florida.

    The committee not only gave the nod to one bill -- ratifying the agreement between  Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe to expand casino games on their reservations -- it also approved an ambitious gambling bill that tightens loopholes in the state's gambling laws but expands casino games at parimutuels in Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties....

  5. House committee rejects attempt to put gaming compact to statewide vote


    The House Regulatory Affairs Committee meeting is off and running, as they take up three high-profile bills aimed at rewriting the state's gaming laws and ratifying the compact negotiated between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe. 

    First up, Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, offered a rewrite of the compact, putting a cap on the number of slots the tribe can offer,  giving blackjack to them for the next 15 years -- but not including craps and roulette and clarifying that they may not relocated their existing gambling facilities....

  6. Ambitious gaming bills get preview today


    Two legislative committees today will try to do what has been an impossible for the last five years: pass a gambling bill that expands casino gambling, starts to remove the life support for the dying parimutuel industry and does it in a way that doesn't cut revenues to the state.

    The two packages of gambling bills, up today in the House Regulatory Affairs Committee and the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, are being done in tandem with bills that ratify the bulk of the governor's compact with the Seminole Tribe, guaranteeing the state $3 billion in revenue over 7 years. ...

  7. Florida legislative committee revives bill to legalize all marijuana strains for terminally ill

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — After months of being sidelined, a bill to legalize full-strength medical marijuana for terminally ill patients resurfaced in the Florida House on Monday with a rewrite that restores the number of eligible growers to five.

    The bill, HB 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee by a 9-2 vote, leaving it one more stop before getting to the full House. If approved, it will allow terminally ill Floridians with less than one year to live to have legal access to marijuana grown by the five authorized distributors....

    In this May 5, 2015, photo, a marijuana plant grows at a Minnesota Medical Solutions greenhouse in Otsego, Minn. The Florida Legislature is considering a bill to legalize full-strength medical marijuana and expanding the number of nurseries allowed to grow it.  [Associated Press]
  8. House rekindles bill to allow growers to sell full-strength pot to terminally ill patients


    After months of being sidelined, a bill to legalize full-strength medical marijuana for terminally ill patients resurfaced in the Florida House Monday with a rewrite that restores the number of eligible growers to five.

    The bill, HB 307, was approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee by a 9-2 vote, leaving it one more stop before getting to the full House. If approved, it will allow terminally ill Floridians who have been diagnosed with less than one year to live to have legal access to marijuana grown by the five authorized distributors....

  9. Lee says he wants 'honest answers' from regulators before hearing fracking bill


    The Senate's budget chief, Sen. Tom Lee, said Wednesday he is putting the bill to prevent local governments from imposing regulations on fracking for oil and gas on hold until the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, which he believes has been absent form the contentious discussion, is prepared to provide some "honest answers."

    SB 318 allows the state to regulate and authorize the pumping of large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground using high pressure to recover oil and gas deposits but allows the companies to shield from the public what chemicals are used by labeling them as "trade secrets." ...

    In this March 29, 2013 photo, workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Oil & Gas Inc. gas well outside Rifle, Colorado.
  10. Federal court orders rehearing in 'docs v. Glocks' case, putting law in limbo again


    GlockAs the Florida House debated two measures to expand Florida's gun laws on Wednesday, a federal appeals court vacated a ruling that upheld a controversial 2011 Florida law restricting doctors from asking questions and recording information about patients’ gun ownership....

  11. Rep. Artiles announces run for state Senate; likely against Sen. Bullard


    Frank ArtillesThe Senate shake-up continues as Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, told the Herald/Times Wednesday that he has decided to run for Senate District 40, the redrawn Miami-based district that now holds incumbent Sens. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and Anitere Flores, R-Miami, which leans Democratic....

  12. Florida Senate president: Gun bills are 'in trouble'


    Although the Florida House is expected to pass two controversial gun bills this afternoon, the odds are continuing to diminish that they'll become law this session.

    Speaking to reporters today, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the proposals are "in trouble," as far as the Senate is concerned. One of the bills allows concealed weapons permit-holders to carry openly and another lets them carry concealed on public college and university campuses....

    Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, speaks to reporters with the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau during a pre-session interview late last year.
  13. House continues to move forward with three gambling bills that involve compact


    As members of the Seminole Tribe arrive in Tallahassee today to continue to put pressure on lawmakers to approve the compact they've signed with the governor the posturing between the Legislature and the governor's office continues. 

    House Regulatory Affairs Committee Chairman Jose Felix Diaz told the Herald/Times that he is drafting three bill relating to gaming, including one that tracks the governor's proposed compact with the Seminole Tribe -- to be released no sooner than next week. One bill would establish the parameters of the compact, another would apply to other parimutuel facilities and the third would be a constitutional amendment....

  14. Legislators weigh whether change will gut Florida public records law or end abuses

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — In a debate that could reshape how the state handles its Sunshine laws, Florida lawmakers are swiftly advancing a bill that proponents say will crack down on "economic terrorists" that are abusing state law by extorting money from governments through frivolous and misleading public records requests.

    But opponents say the solution is an overreaction that will "gut" the state's open records laws and permanently cloud its Sunshine Law tradition. They warn that the bill removes the only tool the public has to seek redress when government officials violate the state's public records laws and have offered a compromise that is being rejected....

    Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, shown here during the 2014 legislative session, is pushing a bill that would remove the requirement that attorneys fees be paid when the public takes officials to court for violating the state's Sunshine law. [SCOTT KEELER   |  TIMES]
  15. Senate committees approves Jones as prisons secretary


    A company that provides prison healthcare services in five other states, announced Monday that it has signed a contract with the Florida Department of Corrections to fill in the gap in coverage after Corizon Healthcare terminated its agreement with the state last fall.

    Centurion of Florida, LLC, a joint venture between Centene Corporation and MHM Services, Inc., announced it has signed a formal agreement to begin in April to replace Corizon Healthcare as the medical provider in Florida's prisons beginning in the second quarter....