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Michael Van Sickler, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Michael Van Sickler

Michael has been with the Tampa Bay Times since 2003. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, he graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and got his master's degree at the University of Florida. He has worked at the Ledger and the Palm Beach Post. For the Times, he has covered everything from mortgage fraud, growth and development in Tampa Bay, and St. Petersburg City Hall. He now covers state politics and government as part of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau.

Phone: (850) 224-7263.


Twitter: @MikeVanSickler

  1. Showdown with House set as Senate unanimously passes $80.4 billion budget


    Senators passed its $80.4 billion budget Wednesday by a 36-0 vote that showed a unified front in a looming showdown with the House over how to address a drop in federal money that has left a hole of at least $1 billion.

    “We’ve been dealt a fairly difficult hand this session,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Tom Lee, R-Brandon....

  2. Senate restores some Amendment 1 money for land buys


    In an effort to quell anger from environmental advocates who supported Amendment 1, the Florida Senate agreed to spend in next year’s budget $35 million for Florida Forever land acquisition and another $20 million for land acquisition for springs restorations.

    “We want to send a message to those who supported the amendment and tell them, we hear you,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park....

  3. Mid-session report: Winners and losers in budget pork


    Lawmakers faced with a potential $1 billion hole in next year's budget aren't holding back requests for money that will make them look good back home.

    Through March 20, members of the Florida House requested $2.9 billion in a raft of requests chock full of hometown projects, even as lawmakers struggled to span a gap in the budget caused by the possible end of federal aid for the care of low-income patients....

  4. Despite budget constraints, hometown pork still popular with Florida lawmakers

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Though the Florida Senate unanimously passed its $80.4 billion budget Wednesday — and the House appears unified to approve its own version today — there's plenty of behind-the-scenes wrangling among members when it comes to pet projects.

    In fact, despite staring at a potential $1 billion hole in next year's spending plan, lawmakers aren't holding back requests for money that will make them look good back home. ...

    State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said that the outlook is good for the University of South Florida’s downtown Tampa medical center to receive at least partial funding in next year’s budget.
  5. The Buzz Official Amendment 1 Poll* Results: Buy more land


    * Not even close to scientific.....

    On Wednesday, The Buzz asked you, dear reader, why you voted for Amendment 1. Thanks to get-out-the-vote efforts by the Florida Senate Democrats on one side of the issue (buy more land), and Associated Industries of Florida on the other side (land and water maintenance), the votes poured in. ...

  6. Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee


    Most members of the Senate will be back in their home districts Friday, but the House is in session at 10 a.m. The lower chamber will take up several high-profile education proposals.

    Here are five bills to watch on the House floor:

    * HB 7043: This proposal by House K-12 Education Committee Chairwoman Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, encourages school districts to adopt mandatory school uniform policies for children in grades K-8. Districts that do could receive up to $10 per student to spend as they see fit....

  7. Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee


    The 24th day of the 60-day Legislative Session could have been a lot busier had not the Senate cancelled its appropriations meeting. But it will still be plenty busy.


    * The House Regulatory Committee will hold a four-hour workshop on gaming starting at 8 a.m. The agenda includes a discussion on the gambling agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe that's set to expire in July....

  8. Voters suggest Amendment 1 funds were supposed to be spent acquiring land

    State Roundup

    John Hendershot was one of 4.2 million Floridians who voted for Amendment 1, helping it pass by an overwhelming 75 percent majority in November.

    For him, there was no mistaking what the ballot measure meant.

    "I was convinced that the purpose was to set aside money primarily for environmental lands acquisition purchases and to preserve and protect environmental lands," said Hendershot, a 61-year-old Tampa psychologist. "It was intended to add to, and not to replace, existing funds that were already intended for environmental purposes."...

    Cattails supplant sawgrass on 100,000 acres of the Everglades, fed by the flow of phosphorous from the sugar industry, vegetable farms and suburban sprawl — and blocking the historic flow of water and wading birds.
  9. Tell us what you expected from Amendment 1


    Nearly 75 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 1, the proposal to set aside some $10 billion in tax money over the next 20 years to be used for purchasing environmentally sensitive land and protecting wildlife and water resources.

    Since the November election, the question has been how will the Legislature implement the program. That's something lawmakers are sorting out now in the 2015 session....

  10. Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee


    The 23rd day of the 60-day session is here. It’s not halfway yet, so there’s still no light at the end of the tunnel. But that’ll give everyone time to mull over just how far apart the House and Senate budgets are when lawmakers begin discussing them later today.

    Five things on today's horizon:

    * The House Insurance and Banking Committee will debate the so-called Right to Try Act (HB 269), which would let terminally ill patients access experimental drugs. The committee meets at 8 a.m. in 404 HOB....

  11. Florida House and Senate battle over tax cuts

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE -- The tax cut battle lines have been drawn.

    On one side is the House, which on Tuesday unveiled $690 million worth of proposed tax cuts on everything from cell phones and cable TV to textbooks and gun club memberships.

    "The average Floridian pays about $1,800 a year in state taxes," said the chairman of the House finance and taxation committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. "That's the lowest in the country. But we can do even better. And we will." ...

  12. House reveals $690 million tax cut plan, further chasm with Senate


    Florida House leaders unveiled a $690 million package in tax cuts on Tuesday that further highlights a schism with the Senate on Medicaid expansion.

    “We’re eager for the Florida senate to join us in our desire to cut taxes,” said the chairman of the House finance and taxation committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

    About $15 million more than what Gov. Rick Scott proposed to cut in taxes in January, the House plan would:...

  13. Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee


    Drones, Cuba, guns, water. There’s a good novel somewhere in the legislation that will be heard today, Day 22 of Legislative Session. Choose your own adventure from these five things:

    * Drones are the target of two companion bills, HB 649, which will be heard at 8 a.m. at the House Civil Justice subcommittee (404 HOB) and SB 766, which will be heard at 4 p.m. at the Senate Judiciary committee (110 SOB). Sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha and Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, the bills would prohibit persons, state agencies or a political subdivision from using drones to capture an image of privately owned or occupied real property or owner or occupant of property “with intent to conduct surveillance” without their written consent....

  14. Capitol Buzz: 5 things to watch today in Tallahassee


    Day 21 of Legislative Session is here already? 
    Today will be the busiest Monday so far, especially for the Senate, an appropriate start for what should be the most hectic week yet.

    * Another controversial gun bill is up for a Senate vote.  The Senate's Criminal Justice Committee takes up SB 180, sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, that would authorize school boards to allow designated teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons on public school campuses. The groups Everytown for Gun Safety and the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, have taken aim on this bill and Evers' SB 176 (which would allow concealed weapons on college campuses) in a TV ad. (4 p.m, 37 S)....

  15. Gov. Rick Scott's tax cuts and education spending at risk in House and Senate budgets

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Less than two months ago, an enthusiastic Gov. Rick Scott, fresh off his re-election victory, unveiled his plan to spend Florida's $1 billion surplus.

    Tax cuts to the tune of $673 million. A record level of per-student spending. More money for Bright Futures scholarships.

    But as the release of the House and Senate budgets showed on Friday, Florida's financial picture has changed dramatically since then. And Scott, who's gotten used to having much of his agenda endorsed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in past years, could be due for a disappointment....

    Gov. Rick Scott proposed a budget of $76.98 billion.