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Rep. Ted Deutch: Crist-Rich Democratic primary debate would be ‘worthwhile’

Friday, April 18th, 2014 by George Bennett

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, at a town hall meeting west of Boynton Beach on Thursday night.


U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, isn’t taking sides in the Democratic primary for governor between Charlie Crist and Nan Rich.

But Deutch sounds sympathetic to calls from underdog Rich — and Republican Gov. Rick Scott — for Crist to debate his Democratic primary rival.

After conducting a town hall meeting with more than 100 people west of Boynton Beach, Deutch was asked by a reporter Thursday night if Crist and Rich should debate.

“I think it would worthwhile for the people of Florida to be reminded of the issues that most people in the state care about, which would be the issues that are debated that night, instead of being forced to watch millions of dollars in commercials funded by outside groups that support the governor,” Deutch said.

Scott also thinks Republican-turned-Democrat Crist should debate former state Sen. Rich. Scott made the suggestion after Crist, in West Palm Beach this week, declared “Give me Scott.”

Scott Facebook townhall features unfriend-ly swipes at Crist

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott takes part in a Facebook townhall from Jacksonville.

Gov. Rick Scott hosted a Facebook townhall Thursday evening from Jacksonville, fielding one question about Charlie Crist while also managing to take a couple swipes at his Democratic rival.

Asked about Crist’s “Gimme Scott” comment this week at a Forum Club meeting in West Palm Beach, Scott shrugged off the challenge. Instead, Scott hinted that Crist shouldn’t look too far past his likely Democratic primary opponent, Nan Rich.

“That’s laughable,” Scott posted. “He has a primary and I’m sure it’s going to be enjoyable watching his debates with Nan Rich.”

But Scott also kept his focus on Crist when another Facebook friend asked if Floridians could face higher taxes if they failed to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare.

“Charlie Crist thinks Obamacare is ‘great,’” Scott responded. “I don’t because people are losing their insurance, their doctors and their jobs because of this failed law.

Scott also vowed to hold the line on college and university tuition this year. Unlike, he pointed out, Crist, who as Republican governor from 2007-11, endorsed a law which allowed tuition to climb 15 percent annually.

“We are working to stop the 15% annual increase in tuition plus inflationary increase in tuition passed by Charlie Crist. Call your state legislators and let them know this is important,” Scott told his online audience.

But just as in previous Facebook townhalls, Scott chose to avoid a few questions, too. Several questions went unanswered about why he hasn’t pushed to expand Medicaid to cover some of Florida’s 4 million without health insurance.

Another question challenging Florida for still planning to implement Common Core Standards in classrooms got a less than direct answer from Scott.

“There are two things important to me, one, high standards for Florida students are not negotiable; and two we must prevent the federal government’s overreach into our education system,” he said.

 

 

Tuition break for immigrants gains high-profile Senate opponents

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Will Weatherford’s push to grant in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants gained a couple of high-profile opponents Thursday in the Florida Senate.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, sent an email newsletter to voters in his Panhandle district assuring them that he would not vote the the measure. And Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, followed that with a statement outlining reasons why he won’t schedule the bill in his committee.

With the legislative session entering its final two weeks on Monday, the legislation (SB 1400, CS/HB 851) seen as designed to help Republicans woo Hispanic voters this fall is clearly in jeopardy.

“In-state tuition discounts should, in my view, be reserved for legal residents of Florida,” Negron said. “Florida law does not prohibit students who are undocumented from accessing our state colleges and universities.

“Once these students favorably resolve their residency status, they could become eligible for in-state tuition,” he concluded.

Weatherford, however, wasn’t ready to call the measure dead Thursday.

“There are a lot of folks praying for these kids.,” Weatherford said. “Two weeks is a long time and I remain optimistic.”

The House last month OK’d in-state tuition with the support of Democrats and more than half the Republican caucus, with Weatherford spearheading the change. But the issue remains explosive within the Florida GOP, where tea party conservatives have railed against the measure as giving a benefit to those here illegally.

Average nonresident tuition is $21,434 annually, compared with the in-state average of $6,318.

Gov. Rick Scott, as a 2010 candidate pledged to fight for tougher immigration controls in Florida but did little once elected. Scott has confined his comments on the legislation to echoing support for lowering tuition costs for Florida students, without addressing how the bill extends that privilege to undocumented immigrants.

With a bruising governor’s race underway, the tuition bill appeared primed to be a GOP peace offering to Hispanics, who have increasingly sided with Democratic candidates.

President Obama has embraced such legislation as part of Dream Act efforts to grant residency status to undocumented aliens. Obama has overwhelmingly carried the Florida Hispanic vote the past two presidential elections.

After one week, Crist spokesman ‘pursuing other opportunities’

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 by George Bennett

A week after he was announced as media contact for Charlie Crist‘s gubernatorial campaign, Eric Conrad and the campaign have parted ways.

“He’s pursuing other opportunities,” was all Crist communications consultant Kevin Cate would say this afternoon.

Conrad, who has worked in Florida with President Barack Obama‘s 2012 re-election campaign, the Florida Democratic Party and Enroll America, didn’t immediately return a call.

It’s the second time Republican-turned-Democrat Crist’s camp has seen a rapid departure from a visible post.

When he launched his campaign in November, Crist planned to bring Democratic hot hand Bill Hyers on as campaign manager after Hyers helmed Bill De Blasio‘s mayoral victory in New York. But Hyers never actually started on the job; Crist said he “wanted to stay in New York because it was good for him.” Crist eventually hired former Obama operative Omar Khan as campaign manager.

Scott’s reelection story gets another chapter in latest TV spot

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott's latest TV ad looks back on his Navy days

Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday launched the second installment of the bi0-pic approach his campaign is using to reintroduce him to Florida voters.

Like his opening TV ad, the newest 30-second spot airing statewide reflects on multimillionaire’s hardscrabble growing up. The ad reflects on his years right out of high school, when he served in the U.S. Navy and later went to college on the G.I. Bill before starting his first business.

Scott’s late mother, Esther, a fixture in his 2010 campaign, also is featured in the spot. She died in late 2012.

“You know, everyone deserves the dignity and the opportunity that comes with a good job,” Scott tells viewers. “That’s what I work on every day.”

Here’s the ad:   bit.ly/1jLhcCN

 

Did Republican Domino spend $42,087 to raise $31,840 in congressional race?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 by George Bennett

Carl Domino (left) and other Republican congressional candidates at a January forum.


UPDATED 5 PM – Former state Rep. Carl Domino, considered the leading Republican candidate to challenge freshman Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, listed $42,087 in fundraising expenses during the first quarter of 2014 while collecting only $31,840 in contributions.

Domino adviser Larry Casey said this morning that the campaign mislabeled some of its expenditures.

“Our fault in descriptions…many of those items listed as fundraising were not fundraising,” Casey said in an e-mail. He said the campaign will amend its Federal Election Commission report.

Late in the day, the Domino camp filed an amended FEC report reclassifying many of the expenditures it previously described as being for fundraising. The campaign now says it spent only $10,492 in the quarter on fundraising.

Murphy raised $674,369 during the quarter and began April with $2.2 million in cash on hand for his re-election bid in Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18.

Domino’s campaign spent a total of $68,301 between Jan. 1 and March 31, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report, with the majority of the expenditures specifically identified as being for “fundraising” in some way.

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Burt Aaronson, recovering from heart surgery, makes appearance at Crist speech

Monday, April 14th, 2014 by George Bennett

Crist and Aaronson at Kravis Center today.


Six weeks after having a heart valve replaced and receiving a pacemaker, former Palm Beach County commissioner Burt Aaronson is slowly returning to the local political scene.

Aaronson, 85, put in an appearance at a Democratic Club of Greater Boynton meeting last week and today was on hand at the Kravis Center for former Gov. Charlie Crist‘s speech to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches.

Former Rep. Ron Klein, State Attorney Dave Aronberg and former Commissioner Burt Aaronson.

Aaronson was term-limited as a commissioner in 2012 but remains an influential figure in south-county Democratic politics. He has been a key supporter of former Republican Crist, vouching for him to Democratic clubs and frequently serving as his chauffeur.

Chauffeur duties have been put on hold, said Aaronson, who said doctors have told him not to drive long distances. He got a ride to the Kravis Center today with Boca Raton Councilman Robert Weinroth.

Aaronson and former state Sen. Steve Geller.

“This is too important of an election for me to only worry about myself,” Aaronson said.

Former Democratic state Sen. Steve Geller, a key Crist ally in Broward County, was also at the Kravis Center for Crist’s speech.

“This is Palm Beach, not Broward. It’s your duty to watch him, not mine,” Geller joked to Aaronson.

Crist to speak at Forum Club, Lopez-Cantera to be on hand for instant comment

Monday, April 14th, 2014 by George Bennett

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, giving a no vote as state House majority leader in 2011, could reprise his thumbs-down role today when he attends Charlie Crist's speech at the Forum Club. (Florida House of Representatives photo)


Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who’s now the leading Democratic contender for the job, will speak to a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch at the Kravis Center today.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s campaign is making sure that whatever Crist says won’t go unanswered.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera will attend “and will be available to reporters following the event,” according to an advisory from Scott’s re-election campaign.

Follow @gbennettpost on Twitter beginning around noon for real-time updates.

In GOP primary to replace cocaine congressman, ‘We need to stop all this negativity’

Friday, April 11th, 2014 by George Bennett

State Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto greets a voter after a Republican congressional debate Wednesday in Fort Myers.

Over on Florida’s west coast, a nasty Republican primary is winding down for the seat of former Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned in January after being busted for cocaine possession.

Among the combatants: state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, who got her start in politics on the Wellington village council and has landed endorsements from Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.

The race features a big-spending outsider, Curt Clawson, who made a splash by spending $200,000 to run ads during the Super Bowl that showed him draining three-pointers (he’s a former Purdue basketball player) and challenging President Barack Obama to a shooting contest.

Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and businessman Michael Dreikorn are also running in the April 22 prmary, which this week featured a rare three-candidate news conference to discuss a Utah sex offender.

“We need to stop all this negativity,” said Dreikorn (who, coincidentally, is the only candidate who can’t afford TV ads).

Subscribers to MyPalmBeachPost.com can read more about it by clicking here.

Dems target Domino and Turnquest with web ads, robocalls blasting Ryan budget

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by George Bennett

With House Republicans expected to vote this week on Budget Chairman Paul Ryan‘s spending blueprint, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is paying for web ads and robocalls that single out two of the six Republicans running for the nationally targeted Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18 seat of freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

Former state Rep. Carl Domino and former Tequesta councilman Calvin Turnquest are the targets of “Don’t Sell Out The Middle Class” web ads that launched last week and automated phone calls beginning today.

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Gov. Scott, former Gov. Martinez, 2006 Dem governor nominee Davis all on hand for business confab

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by George Bennett

Not the Blue Man Group at Palm Beach County Convention Center but Gov. Rick Scott in odd lighting at a business gathering.


WEST PALM BEACH — After failing to persuade Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson to enter the governor’s race this year, former U.S. Rep. and 2006 Democratic nominee for governor Jim Davis says he’s not ready to endorse either of the leading Democrats vying to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist — who defeated Davis in the 2006 election — is favored to win the Democratic primary over former state Sen. Nan Rich.

“I spent a lot of time talking with Sen. Nelson because we need a strong governor to lead this state and unite this state,” Davis, a Tampa attorney, said while attending the Palm Beach Strategic Forum at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

Davis said he hasn’t endorsed Crist or Rich because “I’m still coming off the Sen. Nelson effort.”

Former Rep. Ron Klein (left) and former Gov. Bob Martinez (center) repping Holland & Knight at the convention center.

Davis, former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and former Democratic Rep. Ron Klein — all members of the Holland & Knight law firm — were on hand for the international business gathering.

Scott spoke briefly in the morning, touting job growth and a drop in unemployment in the state since he took office.

Martinez, who was governor from 1987 to 1991, said the economy should be a plus for Scott.

“The state’s doing real well economically. We weathered the storm as well and without incurring operational deficits. So basically speaking he’s got a real good platform to run from,” Martinez said.

Martinez, Florida’s only governor of Hispanic descent, was asked about the GOP’s poor standing with Hispanic voters.

“It’s sometimes a matter of communication,” Martinez said. “I don’t think there’s that much difference in policy. Sometimes it’s how you communicate policy. Sometimes it’s how you express your views. And I think there the party can do better in terms of explaining what we stand for and when there’s a difference of opinion not to be using hot-button words to describe differences, which too often, unfortunately, that’s done.”

Deadline mix-up: Congressional candidate falls 521 signatures short but says she had 700 more in car

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by George Bennett

Enright

Port of Palm Beach Commissioner Jean Enright, who has launched a Democratic primary challenge against 11-term U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, will have to pay a $10,440 filing fee to get on the ballot after falling 521 signatures short of qualifying by petition last week.

A “devastated” Enright said she thought the deadline to submit signatures was 5 p.m. last Monday. In fact, the deadline was noon. Enright said Friday that she had about 700 unsubmitted signatures in her car when the deadline passed and other campaign volunteers also had more signatures that didn’t get turned in on time.

Enright needed 4,046 signatures from registered voters in District 20 to qualify. She submitted 4,599 to the Palm Beach County elections office, but only 3,525 were valid. Given the 77 percent validity rate on the petitions Enright turned in on time, the additional 700 might have been just enough for Enright to qualify.

Enright says she plans to pay the $10,440 fee by May 2 to continue her challenge of Hastings.

Subscribers to MyPalmBeachPost.com can read about the congressional candidates who qualified by petition and those who didn’t in this week’s Politics column.

House Republicans float late-hour pension overhaul

Friday, April 4th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The state’s traditional pension plan would be closed to senior managers and other new workers would have to wait longer to be eligible for the plan under legislation that cleared a House panel Friday on a partyline vote.

With a more aggressive overhaul of the Florida Retirement System looking dead this session, the House State Affairs Committee floated a more modest approach as the Legislature lurches into the session’s final month.

While ruling Republicans in recent years demanded changes because they viewed the $144.4 billion pension as financially unstable, the rhetoric has changed with the new proposal. The proposal’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said the new approach is a “modernization” of the FRS.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, endorsed the change while acknowledging the current pension is on solid financial footing.

“Pensions are a 20th century dinosaur in a 21st century world,” Caldwell said. “We may have the strongest dinosaur out there, but it’s still a dinosaur.”

Democrats and public employees’ unions, however,  joined in opposing the change, saying it is unwarranted.

“We are playing fast and loose with public policy,” said Rich Templin of the AFL-CIO.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, have made changing the FRS one of their priority proposals this spring.

But an earlier proposed change centered on offering new employees a so-called ‘cash balance’ option instead of the traditional pension barely cleared a Senate committee and stalled in the House while a financial study was being prepared.

The late-hour plan taking shape Friday is similar to a proposal backed by the Senate last year. So there is some possibility that it may gain strength. But it looms as a potentially divisive homestretch issue in a session where ruling Republicans appear uninterested in conflicts that could damage Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election prospects this fall.

Supporters of the proposal say that a majority of public employees currently fail to stay in the system long enough to qualify for the traditional pension. They also said that the current 622,000 active members of the FRS and 348,000 retirees wouldn’t be affected by the change in the plan.

Opponents disagreed, saying that limiting some new employees from joining the traditional pension will hurt it financially in coming years.

“The defined benefit plan is going to be weaker,” said Ron Silver, a former legislator now representing the Teamsters Joint Council, whose union includes state correctional officers. “It’ll be less than what it is today.”

Murphy raises another $675,000, widens money advantage over potential GOP challengers

Friday, April 4th, 2014 by George Bennett

Freshman Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy began April with $2.2 million in his campaign account.

Freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, raised more than $675,000 for his re-election bid in the first quarter of 2014, widening his money advantage over the Republicans vying to unseat him.

Murphy’s campaign says the incumbent began April with $2.2 million in cash on hand.

Republicans hold a slight registration edge in Murphy’s Palm Beach-Treasure Coast District 18. Six Republicans have opened campaigns for the seat, which the national GOP has called a top target. Former state Rep. Carl Domino of Jupiter has been the GOP money leader, raising $121,464 from contributors adding $275,000 of his own money through the end of December.

Domino told PostOnPolitics.com that he added another $150,000 of his own money during the quarter that ended March 31 and raised less than that from contributors.

Former Tequesta councilman Calvin Turnquest raised “significantly less” than Domino’s personal contribution during the first quarter, campaign manager Jacob Perry said.

Fundraising reports for the first quarter are due April 15.

Gambling expansion “not in the cards,” Senate told

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Senate Gaming Chairman Garrett Richter addressed the Senate Thursday, telling his colleagues that proposals to revamp gambling in Florida are dead for this session.

Although the session has just passed its midpoint, Richter said what had become increasingly clear: There are just too many moving parts to the issue.

“Comprehensive reform is not in the cards this session,” Richter, R-Naples, told the Senate.

In an election year, keeping alive prospects for opening new casino resorts in South Florida, additional card rooms at pari-mutuel facilities, and other sweeteners, has been a surefire way to assure that campaign contributions flow from gambling companies to lawmakers and the state’s political parties.

But central to any idea is Gov. Rick Scott reaching agreement on renewing the Seminole Tribe compact that is set to expire next year. Scott has been talking to the tribe. But the status of the talks have been closely guarded.

Richter fed into that murkiness Thursday.

“We can reasonable expect an agreement soon,” Richter said, although not offering any further details.

But for now, all bets are off.

“This is nothing that’s going to be accomplished by one committee in one session,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, vice-chair of the Senate’s gambling plan.

Democratic dudgeon: Nelson, House members blast Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 by George Bennett

In this photo provided by Rep. Ted Deutch's office, the congressman criticizes the McCutcheon ruling while People For the American Way field director Diallo Brooks holds the electronic bullhorn outside the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down limits on the total amount of federal campaign contributions a donor can give, prompting criticism from Democrats.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and three Democratic members of Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation slammed the McCutcheon vs. FEC ruling. Donors still cannot give more than $5,200 to a federal candidate ($2,600 for a primary and $2,600 for a general election), but today’s ruling eliminates a federal law that capped overall donations to candidates at $48,600 and limited aggregate donations to political parties and committees at $74,600.

The Democratic dudgeon begins after the jump…

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Bill signing or pep rally, Scott signs auto fee cut into law

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Motorist fee cut by Gov. Rick Scott freighted with election-year politics

In an event with overtones of a campaign pep-rally, Rick Scott signed into law Wednesday legislation rolling back motorist fees by almost $400 million, reversing a 2009 increase the governor tied to his predecessor and likely re-election opponent, Charlie Crist.

Scott, who made the fee-cut the top item on his wish list to lawmakers this spring, blamed Crist for the “tax increase” and said the bill would “right the wrong” of the hike.

The legislation will save motorists between $20 and $25, depending on the size of their vehicles. The fee hikes were signed into law by Crist in 2009, part of a $2.2 billion package of tax and fee increases designed to plug holes in a recession-strapped state budget.

Joining Scott at the bill-signing were House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and leaders of three statewide business associations, whose statements all pivoted around crediting the governor for re-igniting the state’s economy.

While all found a way to condemn the fee hike, most critics have a checkered history with the boost. Scott’s own lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, was a House member who, like all but one Republican member of the Legislature, voted for the tax-and-fee increases that year. But on Wednesday, he called it “just another burden approved by the previous administration.”

Senate Democrats in 2009 supported the fee increase, but seven — including Nan Rich, Crist’s rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination — later voted against the budget. All 43 House Democrats that year voted against the fee increase.

“It’s about time,” Crist said of Scott’s bill-signing. “When these fees were passed by Rick Scott’s colleagues and signed into law they were never meant to be permanent. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for Governor Scott to realize that it’s time to roll these fees back – better late than never.”

Scott, though, defended his timing.

“We’ve been turning around our economy,” Scott said. “Look at the investments we’ve made in education: A billion-dollars two years in a row, we gave the teachers an opportunity for a pay raise last year, and we continue to fund education this year…look at the money we’re putting into the environment….transportation. This state is heading in the right direction. There’s still more work to do every day.”

The legislation (CS/SB 156) reduces many of the myriad of fees Floridians face when registering a vehicle or motor home, or seek duplicate documents or transfers. The changes would take effect Sept. 1, and would remove $309 million from the state treasury next year and $395 million-a-year after that.

Democrat Crist to speak and sign books at Forum Club; appeared as Republican non-author in 2009

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 by George Bennett

Crist

Former Gov. Charlie Crist will speak and sign books at an April 14 Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch at the Kravis Center.

Crist has appeared at the Forum Club before, but this will be his first time as a Democrat. He’s the Democratic frontrunner for the nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November.

Crist spoke to the nonpartisan luncheon society in January 2009 as Florida’s Republican governor. Foreshadowing his eventual split with the GOP, Crist in that appearance expressed optimism about the Democratic stimulus package taking shape in Washington under recently inaugurated President Barack Obama.

Crist was also scheduled to speak to the club in 2010 as a no-party candidate for U.S. Senate in a debate with Democratic Senate nominee Kendrick Meek. But Crist pulled out the day before because of a union picket of the Kravis Center. Meek also canceled.

Tickets for Crist’s speech are $35 for Forum Club members; $45 for guest tickets ordered by members; $45 for club applicant; and $60 for the general public. For tickets, call Forum Club Administrator Wendy Norris: (561) 881-9977. Mail checks to: P.O. Box 14877, North Palm Beach, FL 33408.

After the speech, Barnes & Noble will hold a book sale and signing of Crist’s book The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.

With election looming, Republicans rally around in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida Senate Republicans rallied Tuesday around a proposal that would grant in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants, risking the wrath of tea party conservatives in a bid to woo Hispanic voters to their side this election year.

The Judiciary Committee approved the measure (SB 1400) on a 7-2 vote. The House last month OK’d similar legislation with the support of Democrats and more than half the Republican caucus, with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel spearheading the change.

The Senate still looms as a wild card. But sponsor Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said after Tuesday’s vote, ”We’ve still got a ways to go. But I feel very good about this.”

While differences remain, Latvala said he will propose recasting the Senate version so it matches the House proposal. That would require that students complete four years of high school in Florida — up from a three-year standard that remains in the Senate proposal.

Other provisions of the bill eliminate an annual cost-of-living increase which currently can boost tuition even when the Legislature and colleges and universities seek to hold the line. While the Senate proposal also would erase the ability of state universities to increase tuition by as much as 15 percent annually, Latvala said he plans to go along with the House approach that rolls that potential hike back to a maximum of six percent.

The measure also would assure that undocumented students are “residents for tuition purposes,” making them ineligible for state-financed scholarships. Students could pay the in-state rate if they enroll in a Florida college or university within two years of graduating from secondary school. Average nonresident tuition is $21,434 annually, compared with the in-state average of $6,318.

While Gov. Rick Scott supports the proposal, testimony Tuesday before the Senate panel showed how divisive the proposal remains within the state GOP.

James Calkins, a Republican activist from Santa Rosa County, urged Senate Republicans to oppose the legislation, saying it would “clearly damage our get-out-the-vote effort for 2014.”

“The issue will divide the Republican Party at a time when the party needs to stay united,” Calkins said.

Similar legislation has been around since at least 2001 — promoted chiefly by Miami-Dade County Republicans and most Democrats.

But Florida’s shifting demographics have caught the attention of strategists for both parties. With a bruising governor’s race underway, the tuition bill may emerge as a GOP peace offering to Hispanics, increasingly siding with Democratic candidates.

Scott signs G.I. Bill in military-rich Panhandle

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida’s Republican-ruled Legislature made a priority of approving the state’s so-called G.I. Bill this spring, and Gov. Rick Scott followed suit Monday by signing the measure into law in Panama City, the heart of the military-rich Panhandle.

“We are working to be the most military-friendly state in the nation, and this is another step to support our brave men and women who serve our nation,” Scott said.

The legislation (HB 7015) makes veterans eligible for in-state tuition and also provides scholarships for members of the state’s National Guard. Scott was joined by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and several GOP lawmakers in the bill-signing.

The in-state tuition breaks granted veterans are expected to cost taxpayers $11.7 million in 2014-15.

More than 1.5 million veterans live in Florida, including 61,000 active duty personnel, state officials said. The Florida National Guard has 12,000 active members.

Florida’s military presence has a $73 billion annual economic impact, accounting for 758,000 jobs, and represents the third largest piece of the state’s economy, following agriculture and tourism, officials said.

The bill also provides $12.5 million for renovating armories around the state. Another $7.5 million is set aside for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to acquire land needed near military bases around the state to prevent the encroachment of other industries.

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