Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?


Senate panel wants 4-year degrees put on hold at state colleges

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida Senate budget-writers agreed Thursday to end a decade-long trend of expanding bachelor’s degree options at state colleges, saying the programs have proliferated and the current system no longer works.

Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said lawmakers were only pushing the “pause button” to take stock of how the college and university systems interlock. Under the legislation (CS/SB 1148), only the 175 four-year degree programs now in place at the 25 colleges offering them would continue.

The state Board of Education would be barred from offering any new B.A. degree programs until the Legislature decides differently.

“The Legislature is not getting in the business of deciding who gets a bachelor’s degree program,” Negron said. “We’re just saying we’re going to take a breath.”

The measure cleared the Appropriations Committee 18-1, with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the lone opponent.

“Why should we be shutting the door on higher education?” Latvala said.

The Senate’s push for reining in college degree programs would be a major change of course in Florida and redirect a wave that began with St. Petersburg College offering the first bachelor’s degree programs in 2001 in nursing, education and information technology.

Since then, driven by state lawmakers and Florida’s largest business associations demanding a better trained workforce, 25 of the state’s 28 colleges have begun offering bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees.

Bachelor’s programs are now offered across Florida colleges, largely in career-oriented fields such as nursing, teaching, supply chain management and industrial logistics. Negron, though, pointed out that at least one school is offering degrees in biology, accounting and public administration — which puts them “into the lane of universities.”

Negron said it was time for lawmakers to reassess the trend, given the demands put on higher education spending.

Palm Beach State College offers three bachelor’s degrees, according to state education officials: in nursing, supervision and management, and information management.

St. Johns River State College President Joe Pickens, a former House member, told the committee that he understood its concerns, hinting that the push-back from lawmakers stems from missteps by some colleges.

“There is a failure to communicate,” Pickens said. “I hear you…you’ve got my attention.”

Senate approves toughening state hit-and-run law

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Senate would toughen hit-and-run laws

The Florida Senate agreed Wednesday to toughen penalties for hit-and-run drivers by ending what officials say is a gap in state law that gives drunk drivers an incentive to flee accident scenes.

The 39-0 vote would create the “Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act,” named after a Miami man killed while bicycling on the Rickenbacker Causeway in 2012.

The driver who fatally struck Cohen, Michele Traverso was sentenced to less than a year in jail despite having driven illegally and being on probation for cocaine charges. Cohen was killed after Traverso had spent the night partying at a Coconut Grove bar.

Traverso, though, didn’t turn himself into police until 18 hours after the accident, eliminating any chance that he could be checked for DUI and risk facing the tougher, four-year sentence.

“If you are driving under the influence, there is an incentive to flee right now,” said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, sponsor of the measure (CS/SB 102).

The legislation, which still must clear the House, would create a four-year, minimum-mandatory prison sentence for anyone leaving the scene of an accident involving a death. It would match the current penalty for DUI involving a death.

Supporters of the legislation said that making the penalty for fleeing the scene the same as a DUI fatality might prompt motorists to stick around and call for help, providing aid that can be critical.

The Florida Highway Patrol said in 2012, an average of three people a week were killed on state roadways by a hit-and-run driver. Palm Beach County had more than 3,500 hit-and-run crashes that year.

On one day last December, three hit-and-run accidents left at least five people injured and led to three arrests in the county.

On Senate Reunion Day, Pruitt slapped by former colleagues

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Former Senate President Ken Pruitt's double-duty as lobbyist could be barred.

Former Senate President Ken Pruitt is a loser in new ethics standards for local government officials unanimously approved Wednesday by the Florida Senate.

The legislation (CS/SB 846) sets a new code of conduct for members of quasi-government boards like Enterprise Florida, requires city council members to take four hours of ethics training,  and would force lobbyists working for such special districts as the South Florida Water Management District and Port of Palm Beach to register with the state and submit quarterly financial disclosure reports.

The measure still has to clear the House before going to Gov. Rick Scott. But sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said the legislation was a logical extension of the tougher ethics standards lawmakers adopted for themselves last year.

“There’s no reason for the people who serve on these boards not to have the same code of conduct,” Latvala said.

But an amendment added Wednesday and sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, also toughened the bill by prohibiting local officials from lobbying the Legislature for other special interests. The measure would affect state attorneys, county commissioners, constitutional officers, school superintendents, school board members and others.

Although not specifically named, a target of the prohibition is Pruitt, who as St. Lucie County Property Appraiser also has built a large and lucrative lobbying practice.

Pruitt, who was not immediately available following the Senate vote, works the halls in Tallahassee while on temporary leave from his St. Lucie post but represents 15 clients, including the city of Boca Raton, sugar giant Florida Crystals and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Pruitt was Senate President from 2006-08 and represented parts of Palm Beach County in the Legislature for most of two decades. His lobbying practice has rankled some senators. The bill would prohibit these officers from lobbying after their next election.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, unsuccessfully sought to have Sobel’s amendment softened by shielding any local officers currently lobbying — making it only apply to those who seek double-duty in the future. She said only three officials — presumably Pruitt among them — would be protected by the measure.

But it was a no sale with fellow senators.

The legislation was approved 39-0 by the Senate, about two hours before the chamber ended its day early and paused to honor its past members on Senate Reunion Day.




Weatherford’s “massive expansion” of school choice faces double-trouble

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate dealt House Speaker Will Weatherford another setback Tuesday, dramatically scaling-back legislation aimed at fostering the growth of more charter schools in the state.

The action by the Senate Education Committee came only days after senators withdrew plans to consider a bill eventually doubling the 60,000 students now receiving taxpayer-funded private school vouchers in Florida.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, promised a “massive expansion” of school choice by lawmakers this spring. But with lawmakers nearing the midpoint of the two-month session, the choice push has gotten beat back – at the hands of fellow Republicans in the Senate.

“This is a plan that is just not yet ready for prime time,” said Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, who said that he is a “charter fan.”

Legg is business manager for a charter school co-founded by his wife. But he said the House-backed proposal favored by charter school advocates went too far.

The legislation backed by charter advocates would have required school districts statewide to use a standard contract that would apply to all charter school governing boards. Districts also would be required to make available under-used buildings and classrooms for lease to charter operators.

Also, the pro-charter proposal would make it easier for “high-performing” charter school companies operating out-of-state to enter the Florida market and expand at-will once they are here.

While voucher expansion languishes, House gives charter schools more heft

Monday, March 24th, 2014 by John Kennedy

While efforts to expand private-school vouchers in Florida have stalled, a push by Republican leaders to help charter schools spread in the state continued to gain traction Monday.

The legislation, opposed by Palm Beach County and other school districts, cleared the House education-budget subcommittee in a party-line vote, with Democrats voting against the measure.

The charter school bill (HB 7083) is seen as a key part of a “massive expansion” of school choice promised this session by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

“We’re trying to streamline the process so that we can get more quality educational opportunities available for our children across the state,” said Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, sponsor of the measure.

But another proposal endorsed by Weatherford, aimed at doubling the 60,000 students now getting taxpayer money to attend private schools, looks endangered. The Senate last week withdrew its version of the legislation in a dispute over what kind of standardized tests these voucher students would take.

Last week’s blow-up heightens the stakes for reaching agreement this spring on the charter school proposal.

Full story here:

House and Senate budgets roll out — topping Scott’s blueprint

Friday, March 21st, 2014 by John Kennedy

The House unveiled it’s 2014-15 state budget proposal Friday, following the Senate’s release a day earlier and setting the legislative session on course for the homestretch haggling.

Both proposals top the $74.2 billion blueprint Gov. Rick Scott rolled out in January. The Senate would spend $74.8 billion, while the House weighs in at $75.3 billion. Each would prove the largest spending plans in state history.

In an election year, lawmakers usually look favorably on school spending and this year’s no different. Still, neither hit the $1 billion increases that marked the last two years of state spending following a $1.3 billion cut for schools during Scott’s first year as governor.

While Scott earlier recommended a $542 million boost for K-12, the Senate is calling for a $651 million boost and the House $740.8 million more. The Legislature has been helped by new revenue projections, which fattened the state’s budget surplus to $1.2 billion.

The per-pupil increase of 3 percent in the House surpasses the 2.5 percent Scott called for, and the 2.6 percent emerging from the Senate.

Still, the per-pupil amount next year still looks certain to be a couple hundred dollars below the record $7,126 achieved in 2007-08, before the state’s economy tanked with the recession.

Charlotte’s Web marijuana bill advances in House, despite questions

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Although several lawmakers said they were deeply troubled by the bill, the House budget committee Thursday unanimously approved legislation aimed at barring prosecutors from charging those who have low-grade marijuana for use in treating seizures.

The so-called Charlotte’s Web measure (CS/HB 843) is getting the blessing of Republican leaders in the Legislature, with many seeing it as potentially blunting a ballot measure in November that would legalize medical marijuana in Florida.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, a sponsor of the proposal, said parents of children with severe epilepsy have gained relief treating them with a liquid form of a marijuana strain rich in cannabidiol or CBD, effective in treating seizure disorders. The pot is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound which produces a “high.”

The legislation also sets aside $1 million for research into cannibidiol and its effect on childhood epilepsy.

“There is no high, but it has had a remarkable effect on these children,” Gaetz told the committee. “We’ve got kids who are 6-, 7-, 8-years-old, who are no longer on feeding tubes…They are now able to ride their bikes, play on the streets, and tell their parents they love them for the first time.”

Some lawmakers, though, said they were willing to go along with the bill Thursday. But that they remained concerned about opening the door to broader marijuana use. Even the cultivation of non-euphoric pot, which the bill would authorize, could be a problem, they said.

“It’s a real challenge for law enforcement,” said Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. “I don’t want to see bad actors who are going to…sell marijuana for purposes not in this bill.”

Former Gov. Askew lies in state at Old Capitol, remembered as transformational leader

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Honor guard brings former Gov. Reubin Askew's casket into Old Capitol.

Late former Gov. Reubin Askew lay in state Tuesday at Florida’s Old Capitol, as three former governors, Gov. Rick Scott and current Cabinet members and legislative leaders filed past, mourning a man many credited with guiding the state from political backwater to modern megastate.

Askew, governor from 1971 to 1979 and a state senator from Pensacola the previous 12 years, died last week at age 85.

“Gov. Askew would be on the Mount Rushmore of Florida,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “He ushered Florida into the modern era, kicking and screaming at times. But he had the vision and boldness to do it.”

An honor guard brought Askew’s flag-draped casket into the historic Capitol building past a row of dignitaries, including Gov. Rick Scott and former Govs. Bob Martinez, Bob Graham and Wayne Mixson.  Inside the portico of the building, Askew’s widow, former First Lady Donna Lou Askew and family members greeted visitors.

On top of Askew’s casket was single white rose.

“He changed the direction of history in Florida,” Graham said.

“It was also a time when people began to change their attitudes about Florida,” he added. “Up until the the 1960s, Florida was frequently a commodity, something of no particular value, you were free to do whatever you wanted.

“But he recognized that Florida was a very special place and deserved to be treated as such,” Graham said.

Florida students to say goodbye to FCAT, hello to new, unnamed test

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A so-far-unnamed test to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) next spring was selected Monday by state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who said it will help make students ready for “college and careers.”

The nonprofit American Institutes for Research (AIR) will develop the test. It is currently being field-tested only in Utah which, although bearing few similarities to Florida, should still be enough to gauge its quality, Stewart said.

For security reasons, school districts won’t get a chance to review the new assessment, she added.

“Sample items will be available later this spring to let parents and students see what kind of questions will be on the test,” Stewart said in a conference call Monday.

The FCAT, used since the 2001-02 school year, was set for elimination as Florida continues on course to embrace the new Common Core Standards next year, the new initiative being phased in across more than 40 states.

Still, controversy has engulfed Common Core. Critics, many tea party conservatives, condemn Common Core as a big government takeover of education. Others on the political left blast it as more teaching-to-the-test.

Gov. Rick Scott last year tried to cool criticism, saying the state would not use the standardized test accompanying Common Core, the so-called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

But while Florida began shopping around for a replacement test, the state’s Board of Education last month also approved almost 100 modifications to the Common Core Standards. Some question whether the now-adapted Florida standards undermines the purpose of Common Core, and whether state students can be compared with others elsewhere.

But the new FCAT replacement will be cheaper to administer than PARCC, Stewart said. She also said the unnamed assessment will allow students to use pencil-and-paper in part, unlike the online-only PARCC test.

“This assessment supports our new standards, which emphasize flexibility for teachers to make their own decisions in classrooms while preparing our students to analyze and think,” Stewart said.



Third week of session brings third round of anti-GOP protests

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Sara Hutchinson of Catholics for Choice and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, at Monday's rally.

The opening of the third week of the legislative session brought its third wave of protests Monday, this time featuring organizations attacking what speakers call a continuing attack on women’s health issues by the state’s Republican leaders.

Led by Planned Parenthood and Catholics for Choice, about 50 demonstrators crowded the Capitol Rotunda to condemn the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and also for advancing a half-dozen bills which they say undermine abortion rights in Florida.

The abortion bills, which include an outright ban and other measures aimed at raising the standard for fetal viability, have been around for a few years in Florida. Republican leaders have not made the legislation a priority, and it seems unlikely they will become a flashpoint this session.

But the bills remain a rallying point for Democrats looking to ignite voters this fall.

Monday’s rally followed similar events by organized by the NAACP of Florida and other groups the first two weeks of the session, which attacked Republican policies in general and specifically called for repeal of the state’s stand your ground self-defense law.

“We keep seeing the same bills filed and we keep seeing the same bills move,” said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, among those speaking at Monday’s rally. “The public outside this building is not aware of where Republicans stand when it comes to women’s health care. I think they need a wake-up call.

“We have one more election this year where people might finally get that wake-up call,” he added.


Voucher bill strengthens what critics call taxpayer-funded monopoly for GOP-connected nonprofit

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A proposal expanding private school vouchers in Florida could pour millions of dollars into a politically connected nonprofit, creating what a rising chorus of Democrats, public school officials and business rivals are condemning as a taxpayer-financed monopoly.

Step Up for Students, which administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program created under former Gov. Jeb Bush, could more than triple the amount of money it collects under voucher legislation that Republican leaders are terming a priority this session.

The bill makes the scholarship program eligible for sales tax money for the first time in its 12-year history. With the new cash, the 60,000 students now getting private-school scholarships could double in four years, rivaling the size of larger public school districts in Florida.

While Republicans are rallying around the expansion, the proposal also is drawing fierce critics.

“The issue is not simply an argument between public schools and private schools and vouchers,” said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. “It’s an outrageous amount of taxpayer money that is involved here.”

Read full story here:

Try the Palm Beach Post premium site for free for limited time.

Legislature’s budget work begins, flush with cash and kumbaya

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida House took the first step toward crafting the 2014-15 state budget Thursday by allocating lump-sum dollars to various subcommittees who soon will start making line-by-line spending recommendations.

There are few surprises.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, hinted that his chamber was closely aligned with Rick Scott’s push for at least $500 million in tax-and-fee reductions and virtually the same $542 million increase in school spending sought by the governor. The $1.2 billion in budget reserves set aside also is about the same as the current year.

“Due to improved economic conditions and the continued fiscal constraint of the Legislature, our state is well on the road to financial recovery,” Weatherford said in a statement accompanying the budget allocations.

“It remains vitally important to maintain the disciplined fiscal principles that led us to where we are today but also recognize that the state can now afford to return revenues to the taxpayer in addition to funding state priorities,” he added.

Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, have acknowledged they are seeking to avoid political drama this session, just months before a pivotal election in which the Republican Party’s 16-year command of the governor’s office could be in jeopardy.

Spending decisions also were made easier Wednesday when state economists increased by $150 million the amount of projected revenue that is available to dole out next year.

Finally, the kumbaya was complete when both sides Thursday came to virtual agreement on a $400 million reduction in motorist fees first recommended by Scott. The Senate had been promoting a smaller cut — about $230 million — but, like the House and governor, came around to the higher figure.

“I’m pleased that as the bill moved through the committee process, we gained support within the Senate to increase the amount and scope of this needed reduction in fees,” said Senate Budget Chair Joe Negron, R-Stuart. ” I’m grateful to Gov. Scott and our colleagues in the House for their leadership on this important issue.”


Tributes to Askew recall his legacy, tone of leadership

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy


Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, dead at 85

Tributes have been pouring in following the death early Thursday of former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, remembered for having brought what one termed “moral leadership” to the state during his years in office.

Askew, a Democrat who served from 1971 to 1979, was 85. He died in Tallahassee.

“Gov. Askew served our nation as a veteran, he served Florida’s families as an elected officeholder, and he served our children as an educator,” said Gov. Rick Scott. “He helped lead Florida to enormous growth and was a trailblazer for good government. His advocacy for Florida’s sunshine laws was a landmark moment for ethics and transparency in government, and that legacy continues to endure.”

Scott ordered flags at public buildings to be placed at half-staff Thursday in Askew’s honor.

Florida Democratic Chair Allison Tant called Askew “a giant of Florida history, whose unparalleled accomplishments for the people of Florida set the example all Floridians elected to public office strive to meet. We will miss his wisdom, his friendship, and his leadership in difficult times.”

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat challenging Scott, said, “Gov. Askew opened up government to the people, allowing our state to be progressive on critical issues like civil rights, education, and ethics. He was a public servant, a teacher of students, and now a lesson of hope and progress forever sketched into the history of our beautiful state. “

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, also said that Askew set a tone that still resonates for today’s state leaders.

“In Governor Askew, Florida has lost a leader who embodied what it means to be a true public servant,” Weatherford said. “Governor Askew leaves behind a legacy of public service that has set the standard for all individuals in elected office today. His tenure includes opening up government and creating new reporting standards for elected officials, which still serve Florida well.”

Florida Republican Chairman Lenny Curry added, “Gov. Askew was an outstanding public servant, upon whose shoulders others have stood to carry on his legacy of good and transparent government.

“He was a family man, an educator, a veteran of our armed forces, and a man of unmatched integrity. We mourn the passing of this great leader, but more importantly, celebrate his life and the way in which he committed it to public service,” Curry said.



Scott up with first TV spot in re-elect campaign

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Rick Scott is up with his first TV ad in his re-election campaign, a $2.2 million buy that attempts to show the governor’s softer side and the emphasizes the personal themes he unleashed in his State of the State address last week.

The spot uses a slightly blurred focus and takes side-angle shots of Scott talking about his father having his car repossessed, his adoptive father having a 6th grade education and his struggles coming up from a hardscrabble boyhood. Scott says those experiences now influence his push for getting jobs for all Floridians.

He concludes the spot saying, “I want people to have the same shot I had.”

No surprise, the Florida Democratic Party isn’t buying the Republican governor’s opening salvo.

“Rick Scott wants Floridians to think he’s on their side, when in fact he has spent his whole career rigging the system so that only he and his special interest friends will profit,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp.

Scott’s ad is here:



Florida GI Bill, with tuition breaks for vets, sent to Scott

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 by John Kennedy

With senators saying they hoped it gives Florida prominence among military veterans, the state Senate approved Tuesday a new Florida GI Bill, which makes veterans eligible for in-state tuition and also provide scholarships for members of the state’s National Guard.

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, an Army veteran who won a Bronze Star in Vietnam, said the legislation (CS/HB 7015) will help draw military retirees and keep freshly discharged veterans to Florida, bringing fresh skills to the state economy.

“We want to encourage them to make Florida their home over any other state,” Richter said.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Merritt Island, said, “Let’s all continue…to meet the needs of those who serve our freedom.”

The legislation was unanimously approved last week in the House. The Senate followed suit Tuesday on a 38-0 vote, sending the measure to Gov. Rick Scott  who is expected to sign it into law.

The legislation carries a $21.7 million price tag for the coming year. Most of the cost, $12.5 million, is for renovating armories around the state. The remaining $7.5 million is for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to acquire land needed near military bases around the state to prevent the encroachment of other businesses or industry.

The DEP dollars are largely aimed at maintaining Florida’s place as a prime state for military installations, supporters of the bill said.

The in-state tuition breaks granted veterans is expected to cost taxpayers $11.7 million in 2013-14.

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 some 758,000 jobs and represents the third largest piece of the state’s economy, following agriculture and tourism, officials said.


Capitol protesters target Scott, stand your ground

Monday, March 10th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Capitol marchers demand repeal of stand your ground

The Rev. Al Sharpton was joined Monday by Trayvon Martin’s parents and more than 1,000 protesters who marched Monday a few blocks to the Florida Capitol demanding repeal of the state’s stand your ground self-defense law.

Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leaders who helped pass the 2005 law were targeted for defeat this fall by many speakers, who said it was important for Florida to undo the controversial law that has been since embraced by some two-dozen states.

“Florida is the first state to enact the law in 2005,” Sharpton said. “We came back to where it started to begin where it will end.”

Without a repeal, organizers said a boycott against a pair of Florida symbols, Tropicana Orange Juice and Walt Disney World, would be revived. The boycott was first attempted last summer after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of the 17-year-old Martin in Sanford.

Along with Martin’s parents, attending the protest was the mother of Jordan Davis, black, 17-year-old shot dead in Jacksonville by a white man following an argument over loud music. While stand your ground wasn’t used by Michael Dunn, Davis’ shooter, or Zimmerman, both men argued that they fired in self-defense.

Stand your ground allows residents to use deadly force to protect themselves. Before these new laws emerged, people who felt threatened outside their homes were required to flee an attacker if they could, before using force to defend themselves.

But the hot-button Martin and Davis cases have stirred emotions and were cited Monday as examples of new form of racial discrimination against black citizens, particularly youth.

Underscoring the historical context the stand your ground law has gained among many, at least one family member of slain civil rights icon Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth murdered in 1955 in Mississippi, was among those at Monday’s rally.

“The time is now,” said Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father. “We’ve got to show up, we’ve got to show out, we’ve got to vote.”

Bishop Victor Curry of Miami said that if Scott and the Republican-led Legislature continue in their support of stand your ground, “then in November, we should remove or repeal Rick Scott.”



Common Core opponents to crash Scott Hobe Sound fund-raiser

Friday, March 7th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Opponents of the Common Core Standards set to govern Florida classrooms next fall plan to rally outside a fund-raiser Gov. Rick Scott has planned for Sunday in Hobe Sound.

Scott will be collecting campaign cash at the home of Amin Khoury, CEO of B/E Aerospace, Inc., of Wellington. The $500-a-ticket barbecue, $3,000 if you want to share a roundtable discussion with the governor, will help fuel the governor’s re-election campaign.

But also on hand plan to be a handful of demonstrators from Florida Parents Against Common Core and other groups, urging Scott to “pause” the state’s participation in the nationwide testing standard.

Common Core critics also are frustrated by how Republican leaders in the Legislature have also stalled action on legislation (HB 25, SB 1316) aimed at stopping the standards from being used at least until a host of conditions are met, including statewide public hearings.

Common Core has been condemned as a government takeover of education by tea party groups, but opponents also have gained support from some on the left who see it as setting the stage for more teaching-to-the-test.

“Parents and Republicans want Common Core ‘paused’ for further review,” said organizers Laura Zorc of Vero Beach and Allison Rampersad, a Lynn University business professor and leaders of the FPACC.

“It was never voted on the way it stands now. It was implemented without parent say or representation from our local representatives,” they added.


Bush-era school voucher plan poised for expansion in House

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A private school voucher program launched under former Gov. Jeb Bush could be dramatically expanded under legislation getting its first review today in a House subcommittee — and facing stiff opposition from Palm Beach and other school districts.

A priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, expansion of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program looms as a sharp political dividing point this election year. Along with another proposal aimed at beefing-up the charter school industry, the push is part of what Weatherford has promised to be a “massive” expansion of school choice options.

The program, created in 2002, gives corporations dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations they make to a private, non-profit group, which then passes the money to low-income parents for private school tuition.

Under legislation sponsored by Weatherford in 2010, the program’s funding was allowed to grow annually and will reach $357.8 million in scholarship money next year.

Legislation going before the House Finance and Taxation subcommittee today would allow sales tax dollars — the state’s prime source of revenue — to be directed into the program by corporations and expand the eligibility pool of students, setting the program on pace to spend $873.6 million by 2018.

Meanwhile, the Step Up for Students, private non-profit which oversees the program, would see its 3 percent take for administrative costs swell from its current $8.6 million this year to $26.2 million when the scholarship program fills out.

While almost 60,000 students received scholarships this year, almost 94,000 applications were begun by families, who  Step up for Students says earn on average about $25,000 annually.

Step Up for Students Chairman John Kirtley is close to Weatherford and has called him the “poster child” for school choice, with the speaker having been home-schooled until his first year of high school.

Kirtley also is an adept political player on the Republican side. He chairs the Florida Federation for Children, a political committee that spent almost $1.5 million in the 2012 election season.

That political committee has collected contributions from Charter Schools USA, a Fort Lauderdale-based company that operates dozens of charter schools across Florida, including Renaissance Charter School in West Palm Beach.

Scott uses State of the State to sound his campaign themes

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 by John Kennedy

In a State of the State speech colored by themes from his re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Scott opened the 2014 Legislature telling lawmakers that the state has clawed back from the depths of the recession but plenty of rebuilding lies ahead.

Scott’s 31-minute address to a joint session of the Legislature reflected on the skyrocketing unemployment, multi-billion dollar budget shortfall and housing crisis he faced when taking office three years ago.

He didn’t directly blame his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist. But Scott made it clear that Crist, now a Democrat challenging Scott for re-election, played a central role in the state’s economic demise.

“They say it doesn’t matter who was running our state – that anyone would have been just a victim of the times. I disagree,” Scott told lawmakers crowded into a House chamber amid desks overflowing with floral arrangements.

“Our leaders especially – and every person in our state – are not simply bystanders in the arena of life, where the hard battles are fought and history is made,” Scott added.

Scott touted a range of policy initiatives for the 60-day session ahead, using invited business leaders, veterans and a Delray Beach teacher seated in the House public gallery to help make his points.

Ruthie Santiago, from Spady Elementary School, continued teaching even while battling breast cancer she has since overcome, Scott said.

“Teachers like Ruthie make Florida schools some of the best in the country,” Scott said.

The governor then urged lawmakers to use the session to continue working on firing the state’s economy, especially the signature $500 million tax and fee cut package he is proposing.

“I am asking you to join with me this session to say to all the people of Florida, we have more work left to do, so let’s keep working,” Scott said.

Weatherford opens House saying tax cuts are a ‘real stimulus plan’

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Will Weatherford convened the House on Tuesday, the opening day of the 2014 session, urging lawmakers to put election-year campaigning on hold for the next couple months while tackling an “ambitious and far-reaching” work plan.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, ridiculed Washington for passing “far more blame than bills.” But he said Florida lawmakers could be different — starting with a $500 million tax and fee cut that’s become the signature goal of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

“It’s our version of a real stimulus plan – one that is good for Florida’s families and Florida’s economy,” Weatherford said.

Weatherford also highlighted major portions of the work plan he and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, put together, saying efforts to strengthen ethics laws, expanding jobs and dramatically boosting charter and voucher schools will be priorities. Although the charter and voucher proposals are fiercely opposed by Democrats and most school districts, Weatherford suggested that support for the push should be simple.

“No child’s future success should be dictated by their zip code,” Weatherford said. “In my opinion, no other issue today personifies freedom, opportunity and the God-given “right to rise” for our children better than the school choice movement.”

He said, “Let us agree not to fight each other and instead fight for them.”

Weatherford also promoted allowing children of undocumented aliens living in Florida to qualify for in-state tuition. For years, most Republicans have fought such tuition breaks and the issue remains bitterly opposed within many in the party’s tea party wing.

He accused Washington of ducking the immigration issue, leaving states to deal with such issues.

“There are children, through no fault of their own, who live in our state, are educated in our public schools, and yet after investing tens of thousands of dollars to educate them, we shut the door on their future,” Weatherford said. “We no longer treat them as Floridians.

“It makes no sense fiscally. It makes no sense economically,” he added. “And it makes no sense morally – because we should never punish a child for the mistakes of their parents.”



Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories