Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?

Jeb Bush says undocumented immigrants commit “acts of love” not felonies

by John Lantigua | April 7th, 2014

Speaking to Fox News Sunday, former Florida GOP governor Jeb Bush, who is being mentioned increasingly as a presidential candidate in 2016, said political rhetoric that reviles illegal immigrants needs to stop.
“Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony,” Bush said at George Bush Presidential Library Center in College Station, Texas. “It’s an act of love; it’s an act of commitment to your family.”
Bush said people who come to the United States illegally are often fleeing poverty in their home countries, looking to provide for their families.
“I honestly think that is a different kind of crime, that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families,” he said.”I think we need to kind of get beyond the harsh political rhetoric to a better place.”
Bush is among those Republicans who have been calling on his party to adopt policies more friendly to Hispanics after President Barack Obama won the Hispanic vote 71-27 in the 2012 election. Some GOP leaders have warned that the party will have no chance to win back the White House until those numbers improve.
Bush said he would decide whether to run by year’s end. Politics, he said, are “pretty crazy right now,” suggesting too much time is spent strategizing how a candidate can “win the Muscatine pork roast straw poll.”
Bush said two principal factors will guide his decision. First: “Can a candidate run with a hopeful, optimistic message? In my case, that means can one do it joyfully without being tied to all the convention of the here and now?”
Second: Family considerations will play a large role in his decision.
Bush said the GOP must choose candidates who can beat Democrats in general elections.
“I think maybe the answer is that we need to elect candidates that have a vision that is bigger and broader and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making a point,” he said.

Anti-smoking groups condemn bill limiting cities, counties on e-cigs

by John Kennedy | April 7th, 2014

Brenda Olsen of American Lung Association, Florida, leads rally against e-cigarette measure

Anti-smoking groups called on lawmakers to kill legislation banning e-cigarette sales to minors because the proposal also eliminates more than 50 local regulations limiting their sale, including those in Palm Beach County.

Brenda Olsen, chief operating officer for the American Lung Association in Florida, said the controversial House measure is designed to help the tobacco industry gain a new foothold with the nicotine delivery devices.

“It’s a page out of Big Tobacco’s old playbook,” Olsen said of the legislation (HB 169) advancing in the House.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, has said that eliminating local ordinances was designed to provide a state standard when it comes to sales. The Florida Retail Federation is among those backing the change.

A similar bill (SB 224) has already unanimously cleared the Senate without the preemption of local regulations. Olsen said her group along with the American Cancer Society and local government associations could endorse that approach.

Palm Beach County is among 28 counties and 28 Florida cities which have adopted some kind of e-cigarette regulation that could be affected by the House proposal. Still, the fate of these ordinances could be troubled even without Artiles’ bill.

Florida’s Clean Indoor Air law includes a provision that bars local  governments from approving anti-smoking measures that are more strict than state law. The statewide preemption has tripped up local efforts to ban smoking on beaches and this year led to a push for legislation to allow a smoking ban on playgrounds, which also looks unlikely to win approval.

 

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

by George Bennett | April 7th, 2014

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.”

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

by George Bennett | April 7th, 2014

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.

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

by George Bennett | April 7th, 2014

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.

Bill stemming from decades-old Richardson case to be heard by House panel

by John Kennedy | April 4th, 2014

With some nudging from the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, legislation will be heard by a House panel next week aimed at compensating an elderly, former fruit picker wrongfully accused of one of the worst mass murders in state history.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, has called a special meeting Tuesday of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee he chairs to hear the bill (HB 227) sponsored by Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth. The bill would expand the state’s wrongful incarceration law to consider the case of James Richardson, now of Wichita, Kansas.

Richardson, now 77, lived in Arcadia in 1967 when he was accused on poisoning his seven children. Richardson pent more than two decades behind bars, including four years on Death Row, before he was freed in 1989 amid allegations of misconduct and perjury by prosecutors and investigators.

Although the crime remains unsolved, evidence points to a vengeful neighbor as the likely killer. She is long dead.

Gaetz told the Palm Beach Post that he was reluctant to consider the bill because it effectively would change state law for one individual. Kerner, Senate sponsor Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, and members of the black caucus met this week with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, to make the case for the measure being heard.

Thompson’s bill is almost ready to be heard by the full Senate, but would not likely be considered in the House unless it cleared at least Gaetz’s panel.

The legislation would broaden the state’s wrongful incarceration law to include someone who has received a nolle prosequi declaration from a special prosecutor.

That declaration by then-Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno closed Richardson’s case to further action by the state. But it also has contributed to Richardson being barred from compensation under current Florida law.

Those eligible for wrongful incarceration claims must be effectively declared innocent by a court — usually based on DNA evidence. Richardson has never been found innocent, evidence in the case has been lost or destroyed, and it long precedes the advances of DNA science.

House Republicans float late-hour pension overhaul

by John Kennedy | April 4th, 2014

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

by George Bennett | April 4th, 2014

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.

8 quotes that probably will be edited out of later editions of Allen West’s new book

by George Bennett | April 4th, 2014

Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are among the famous figures misquoted in former Rep. Allen West's new book.

Former U.S. Rep. Allen West‘s new book is brimming with quotations from famous figures on the virtues of small government, the need for the Second Amendment, the importance of honoring veterans and the perils of redistributing wealth.

Several of the quotes in Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom are familiar — but have been flagged by historians as erroneous.

West joins President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain in being duped by one George Washington quote that is widely circulated but, according to historians, wasn’t said by America’s first president.

Four quotes that West attributes to Thomas Jefferson have been branded “spurious” by researchers at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. West’s book also attributes words to Abraham Lincoln, Alexis de Tocqueville and Patrick Henry that have been debunked by historians.

Read the full article here.

See the bogus quotes after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry »

Turf war escalates as 2 Florida health care inspectors ‘escorted out’ of VA hospital, official says

by George Bennett | April 3rd, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott speaking outside Riviera Beach VA hospital on Tuesday.

Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Sec. Liz Dudek accused the federal Department of Veterans Affairs of a “lack of transparency” today after she said two AHCA inspectors were denied access to records at the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach.

Responding to reports of veteran deaths and injuries caused by delays in diagnostic testing in the VA region that includes Florida, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday asked AHCA to inspect VA hospitals in the state. Dudek said AHCA sent two surveyors to the the hospital in Riviera Beach to conduct an onsite review.

“This morning, two surveyors went to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center at 10:15 a.m. and were escorted out around 11:15 after being declined the opportunity to review any records at that time,” a statement from Dudek said. “They were told an official response would be provided from the VA’s national office in Washington D.C.”

VA spokeswoman Mary Goodman said the agency will cooperate with AHCA, but could not do so today.

“VA is working with Governor Scott’s office to address his concerns. This was an unannounced inspection. Due to federal guidelines and the Privacy Act considerations, we cannot disclose patient information,” Goodman said.

The Riviera Beach visit was the only one AHCA attempted today.

“All of our inspections are unannounced so I cannot say whether there will be any other visits,” AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said.

CNN reported last year that delays in simple gastrointestinal procedures, such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy, were causing veterans to die from cancer that was detected too late. Last week, The Tampa Tribune reported that five of those deaths occurred between 2009 and 2011 in the VA region that includes Florida, southern Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson have criticized VA officials for not providing more specific information on where the deaths occurred. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced legislation in February making it easier for the VA secretary to fire any senior officials who are deemed responsible.

Dudek added her voice to the criticism today.

“Florida’s veterans who have so bravely fought to defend and protect our nation deserve quality health care, and I am disappointed in the federal government’s lack of transparency to this point. We look forward to hearing back from the VA very soon so we can continue the dialogue about how the Agency can review their processes so any shortcomings can be promptly identified and addressed,” Dudek said.

Gambling expansion “not in the cards,” Senate told

by John Kennedy | April 3rd, 2014

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

by George Bennett | April 3rd, 2014

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

by John Kennedy | April 3rd, 2014

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.

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

by George Bennett | April 2nd, 2014

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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

by John Kennedy | April 2nd, 2014

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

by George Bennett | April 2nd, 2014

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

by John Kennedy | April 1st, 2014

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

by George Bennett | April 1st, 2014

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.

Black caucus urges Weatherford to take action on Richardson case

by John Kennedy | March 31st, 2014

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus agreed Monday night to urge House Speaker Will Weatherford to let legislation be heard aimed at compensating an elderly man convicted but later absolved of one of the most infamous mass murders in state history.

The measure amounts to a state apology to James Richardson, a migrant farmworker from Arcadia accused in 1967 of poisoning his seven children.

Richardson spent more than two decades behind bars, including four years on Death Row, before he was freed in 1989 amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and perjury.

Caucus Chairman Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said he will draft a letter to Weatherford bearing the signatures of caucus members, asking that he order the legislation (HB 227) heard in Chairman Matt Gaetz’s House Criminal Justice Subcommittee or redirect it to another panel.

The subcommittee is scheduled to conclude its work next week and Gaetz, R-Shalimar, has not scheduled the bill for a hearing.

Without any movement in the House, the effort for Richardson is likely doomed even though a similar bill (CS/SB 326) has cleared three Senate panels on unanimous votes and could soon go to the full Senate.

“We’re really at a loss here,” Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, told the caucus Monday night in seeking their support.

Under the narrowly drawn measure Richardson could qualify for a $1.2 million state payment under the state’s wrongful incarceration law. It would affect only someone sentenced to life in prison or death before Jan. 1, 1980 and would be automatically repealed in two years, presumably after Richardson could gain compensation.

Richardson, now age 77, is in frail health and living in Wichita, Kansas.

The legislation would broaden the state’s wrongful incarceration law to include someone who has received a nolle prosequi declaration from a special prosecutor.

That declaration by then-Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno closed the case to further action by the state, but it also has contributed to Richardson being barred from compensation under current Florida law.

Those eligible for wrongful incarceration claims must be effectively declared innocent by a court — usually based on DNA evidence. Richardson has never been found innocent, evidence in the case has been lost or destroyed, and it long precedes the advances of DNA science.

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

by John Kennedy | March 31st, 2014

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.

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories
Categories
Archives