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Ouch! Democratic leaders in Nan Rich’s home county reject call for primary debate with Crist

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 by George Bennett

Nan Rich with Hillary Clinton at a 2008 rally at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

In a blow to Nan Rich in her home county, leaders of the Broward County Democratic Executive Committee on Tuesday night voted down a resolution calling for a Democratic governor’s primary debate between Rich and frontrunner Charlie Crist.

Crist, the former Republican governor who became an independent in 2010 and a Democrat in 2012, has become the heavy favorite to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over Rich, a former state Senate Democratic leader from Weston. Crist has rejected Rich’s calls for a primary debate, saying he’s focused only on Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Broward County DEC Chairman Mitch Ceasar said the party’s Management Committee — a group of about 20 officials — voted down a resolution calling for a Crist-Rich debate after “significant and emotional” discussion. Ceasor wouldn’t reveal the vote totals or discuss how he or other individuals voted.

Broward County has more registered Democrats — 563,805 — than any other county in Florida.

Broward County Democratic State Committeewoman Maggie Davidson, a Rich supporter who brought up the resolution, said: “I’m disappointed but they feel as though the bottom line, I guess, was we didn’t want to have any divisiveness.”

Hillsborough County’s Democratic Executive Committee approved a resolution Monday calling for Crist and Rich to debate.

In Palm Beach County, Democratic Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo declined to take a position on whether Crist and Rich should debate, saying “it’s up to the candidates.”

While Dems sense political theater, Scott takes stage to fight for immigrant tuition

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

A few hours after the Senate Appropriations Committee refused to hear an amendment granting in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants, Gov. Rick Scott turned to the media Tuesday to keep the issue alive.

The legislation has already cleared the House. But it has hit a roadblock in the Florida Senate where Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Senate Budget Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart, say they will refuse to schedule it.

On Tuesday, Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, ruled the in-state amendment out of order.

But since Thrasher doubles as Scott’s campaign chairman, the move fed Democratic suspicions that the standoff is mostly political theater — orchestrated to make Scott look heroic among Hispanic voters, with whom polls show he is far behind Democratic rival Charlie Crist.

“This looks like an election year ploy, and that’s pathetic,” House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale earlier told the Palm Beach Post.

Meeting with reporters outside his Capitol office, Scott blamed Crist both for increasing state tuition and for opposing the in-state tuition provision when he was the state’s Republican governor.

“We’re cleaning up his mess,” Scott said. “I call on the Florida Senate…this is the right thing for the students of our state. We have had a dramatic turnaround in our state. We’ve got to give these children the same opportunity as all children. Whatever country you were born in, whatever family or zip code, you have the chance to live the dream. Part of that dream is being able to afford education.”

As a candidate in 2010, Scott vowed to enact tough, Arizona-style sanctions against illegal immigration to Florida, a promise he later abandoned as governor. Tea party groups remain opposed to the in-state tuition bill, seeing it as rewarding those who are in Florida illegally.

Gaetz said last week that he only recently learned of Scott’s support for the tuition bill, and that the governor had not sought to lobby him. But last week, Scott was joined by former Govs. Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez in calling for action on the bill, a day after Negron said he would not hear the measure in Tuesday’s  Appropriations Committee.

Rick Scott to Hispanic voters: ‘Yo sé el valor de un trabajo’

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by George Bennett

Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s Let’s Get To Work committee has released its first Spanish-language TV ad.

Scott himself speaks a sentence in Spanish (Yo no soy un experto en la política pero yo sé el valor de un trabajo — “I’m not an expert in politics, but I know the value of a job”) before professional narrators take over.

According to the Republican Party of Florida, the committee is spending $500,000 for TV and on-line spots that will begin airing Wednesday in the Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Myers markets

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.

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

 

First Amendment Foundation urges Scott veto of warning shot bill

Monday, April 14th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A measure that would allow Floridians to fire a warning shot in self-defense should be vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott because it also closes key criminal records from public oversight, the First Amendment Foundation said Monday.

The foundation, which is financed by Florida news organizations, wrote Scott urging that he veto the legislation (CS/HB 89) he is expected to act on this week.

The bill would give those who threaten to use a firearm in self-defense or fire a warning shot instead of fleeing a dangerous situation the same legal safeguards that the state’s “stand your ground” law gives to people who use deadly force to defend themselves.

The 2005 stand your ground provision is opposed by minority groups which claim it has been used to justify violence against black youth.

The press organization, however, addresses the provision that allows people cleared by judges because they acted in self-defense to petition courts to have their records expunged.

Barbara Petersen, foundation president, told Scott that could “serve as a tool for obscuring law enforcement and prosecutorial misconduct, while also hindering the development of court precedence essential to understanding how and when the proposed use of force applies.”

When the bill cleared the Senate earlier this month, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, a former sheriff, defended the expungement section. “An innocent person is innocent,” Dean told the Senate. “You shouldn’t have to defend your name for the rest of your life.”

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 a year of budget plenty, waiting lists for elderly, disabled trimmed only a little

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Despite a year of plenty for state lawmakers, with overall spending almost certain to hit record levels, relatively meager increases proposed for elderly and disabled programs do little to scale back the massive backlog of Floridians seeking aid.

The state’s waiting lists for elderly long-term health services, community care, Alzheimer’s Disease assistance and help for people with disabilities would shrink by only modest percentages, despite a $1.2 billion surplus of state revenue fueling rival $75 billion House and Senate budget proposals.

Lawmakers are touting this year’s plan to spend roughly $37 million to reduce the number of elderly Floridians awaiting services. But legislators acknowledge the line won’t really be shortened by much.

With the nation’s largest number of people over age 65, Florida has a 9,000-person waiting list for community care services that help keep the elderly in their homes. Advocates say the number of people seeking services could actually be more than three times that.

But in its budget, House is looking to take 751 people off the waiting list; the Senate would add 601 Floridians for care.

Either way, less than 10 percent of those seeking coverage will gain services.

“This is penny-wise and pound-foolish not to spend more,” said David Bruns, spokesman for AARP-Florida. “The cost of people going into nursing homes is so much more. But (legislators) are taking such a small step.”

Full story here:  bit.ly/1kUJURa

 

Scott announces $8.4 mil in school-recognition awards to Palm Beach County

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by George Bennett

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent (left) and Gov. Rick Scott at Palm Beach Strategic Forum in West Palm Beach this morning.

WEST PALM BEACH — Gov. Rick Scott announced this morning that the state has awarded $8.4 million to more than 80 Palm Beach County schools as part of Florida’s School Recognition Program.

Scott made the announcement with schools Superintendent Wayne Gent and school board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri on hand at the Palm Beach Strategic Forum, an international business gathering at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

Scott said businesses who consider relocating to Florida like the state’s low taxes and regulatory and permitting environment and “they also care about our education system. We have a great education system.”

The School Recognition Program, according to a state press release, “acknowledges the quality of public schools by giving financial rewards based on sustained or significantly improved student achievement in reading, mathematics, science and writing. Schools eligible for recognition awards include those receiving an ‘A’ school grade, improving at least one letter grade from the previous year, or improving more than one letter grade and sustaining the improvement the following school year.”

Schools can use the money for faculty or staff bonuses, to purchase educational equipment or materials, or hire temporary staff to help maintain or improve student performance.

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.”

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.

In wake of preventable veteran deaths, Rubio touts legislation to hold top VA officials accountable

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by George Bennett

Sen. Marco Rubio joined House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola, today to tout legislation that would allow the Veterans Affairs secretary more authority to fire or demote senior VA employees based on performance.

The bill was introduced in February in response to reports of a persistent disability benefits backlog and preventable veteran deaths at VA medical centers across the country due to delays in basic diagnostic testing.

The issue has received renewed attention over the last week after the Tampa Tribune reported that VA officials wouldn’t reveal details on five veteran deaths in the region that includes Florida. Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson have pressed VA officials to provide more information.

Senate OK’s beefing up stand your ground with ‘warning shot’ provision

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Senate approved legislation expanding Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law Thursday, giving new legal safeguards to people who threaten to use a firearm in self-defense or fire a warning shot instead of fleeing.

The measure (CS/HB 89) was OK’d 32-7.  While opponents said expanding Florida’s controversial self-defense law risks the spread of gun violence in Florida, supporters said it gave judges a chance to consider more issues that led to a violent encounter.

“This is just one more step forward for citizens to protect themselves,” said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, the Senate sponsor.

The legislation, approved last week by the House, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who hasn’t indicated whether he would sign it.

Stand your ground, which authorizes people to fight back instead of retreating when threatened, became Florida law in 2005. But it has come under intense scrutiny following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin two years ago and more recently Jordan Davis, a Jacksonville youth shot dead following a confrontation over loud music.

Still, calls for a warning shot exemption emerged with the Marissa Alexander case, a Jacksonville woman awaiting a July retrial on an aggravated assault charge, which she received after alleging she fired a warning shot to protect herself from a violent husband. Aggravated assault with a weapon carryiesa minimum mandatory prison sentence under Florida’s 10-20-Life law.

“This bill will allow a judge to look at extenuating circumstances,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. “I may not like some of the components in this bill, but it allows judges to look at several circumstances to make a correct ruling.”

But Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, warned, “this is the wrong message to send.”

“There are communities around Florida where gun violence is too prevalent,” he added.

The legislation also allows added legal protection when force is threatened. People cleared by the courts because they acted in self-defense would be authorized to petition courts to have their records expunged.

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 blasts feds on veteran deaths, wants state to inspect VA hospitals

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 by George Bennett

With Riviera Beach VA Hospital in background, Gov. Rick Scott is flanked by Air Force Brigadier Gen. Chip Diehl (left) and Col. Chris Hart

RIVIERA BEACH — Accusing the federal government of “outrageous” stonewalling on deaths at Veterans Affairs hospitals, Gov. Rick Scott this morning said he’s asking the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to inspect veterans hospitals in the state.

The Tampa Tribune reported that delays in diagnostic testing contributed to the deaths of 19 veterans nationwide, including five in the VA region that includes Florida. But the VA has not provided further details.

“The federal government’s not answering the questions: Where did these deaths happen? What facility? What caused it? What’s the process to improve it? We deserve those answers,” Scott said during a brief appearance with the Riviera Beach VA Hospital in the background. “It’s outrageous that the federal government is not giving us those answers.”

Scott’s office released a letter to AHCA Secretary Elizabeth Dudek asking her agency to inspect VA hospitals in the state and “publicly report these findings and ultimately drive the high-quality care Florida veterans deserve.”

Click here to read Scott’s letter.

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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