1. Florida Politics

Judge's decision could carve hole in Florida budget

Published Mar. 6, 2012


Decision could carve budget hole

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford announced Monday that she will announce her decision in the union lawsuit against the state over state worker pensions at a special hearing in her courtroom today. Depending on how Fulford rules, legislators could face a $2 billion budget hole or dodge a bullet.

The Florida Education Association and other state and local government unions sued the state last year after the Legislature cut worker salaries 3 percent, eliminated cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, for retirement benefits, and shifted the money into the general revenue fund to save the state $1 billion during the 2011 legislative session.

If Fulford rules against the state, legislators may have to find $1 billion to repay state workers for the money removed from their salaries this year and come up with another $1 billion to repair a budget for the 2012-13 budget year.

If she rules in favor of the state, the 3 percent cut from worker salaries will remain.

Special session on maps looks likely

Senate President Mike Haridopolos all but admitted defeat Monday in the first round of court reviews over the Legislature's redistricting map and predicted lawmakers would be back in a special session to revamp their maps.

"We're going to be here for extraordinary session, my guess, I think, given the give-and-take last week in the Supreme Court,'' Haridopolos told reporters Monday. His reasoning: "nothing surprises me in the Supreme Court anymore,'' he said.

During rigorous questioning last week, four of the seven justices — led by Justice Barbara Pariente — raised questions about the maps, particularly that drawn by the Senate.

Haridopolos said he expects the court to reject one or both of the Legislature's maps.

The result, Haridopolos said: Expect a special session devoted to redistricting to be called by Gov. Rick Scott convening as early as next week.

Injured man closer to $10 million settlement

A Sunrise man who was paralyzed by a speeding deputy 14 years ago is nearly a signature away from receiving a $10.75 million payment from the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

The Florida House of Representatives passed a claims bill (SB 4) for Eric Brody, now 32, approving the compensation package more than six years after a jury awarded his family $30.9 million.

The bill, which passed the Senate already, will head to the desk of Gov. Scott if the two chambers can agree on an appropriate amount of attorney's fees and costs. The Senate caps the fees at about $2.7 million, while the House version caps the costs at $400,000.

Brody has had to use a wheelchair since 1998, after a speeding Broward County sheriff's deputy plowed into the car he was driving, causing severe brain injury.

His family has been traveling to Tallahassee for the past four years, trying to collect the $30.9 million jury award.

Each year, the Legislature has ended its session without passing a claims bill for Brody. The bill passed 107-7.

Surgeon general to retire this week

Dr. Frank Farmer, the state's surgeon general and head of the Department of Health, announced his retirement Monday, effective Friday.

In his letter to Gov. Scott, Farmer said he was stepping down from his post to help care for his wife, Peggy, who is battling breast cancer.

"We are both confident that she will have a complete recovery and cure but it is time for me to retire and support her and our family through this time," he wrote.

Dental hygienists bill passes Legislature

A measure that would allow dental hygienists to give injections of local anesthesia to patients has passed the Legislature. The House approved SB 104 by a vote of 115-0. The bill now goes to Gov. Scott.

Dental hygienists who want to deliver local anesthetic shots would have to finish a 60-hour course and maintain certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They would be allowed to use needles only with patients 18 or older.

Times staff, wires