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Senate bows to House and OK’s 3 percent tuition hike

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative agenda headed further into the ditch Friday night, as the Senate finally bent to the House’s will and accepted a 3 percent tuition increase for college and university students.

Scott has long opposed a tuition increase. And he had an ally in the Senate for the course of the legislative session, even as the House pushed for a 6 percent hike.

But as the two sides labored into a second weekend on differences in a $74-billion-plus spending plan, the Senate finally offered to meet the House halfway, recommending a 3 percent boost. The House accepted.

Senate Budget Chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and his House counterpart, Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, also agreed to $70 million for Everglades funding, settling on the Senate’s starting position and slightly more than Scott requested in his budget proposal.

Scott also continues to face a challenge from lawmakers on his bid for $2,500-across-the-board teacher pay hikes.

Negron and McKeel agreed to meet Scott’s $480 million pot of money for the raises, but they want the money distributed based on job performance and to include a larger pool of instructional personnel that would shrink what goes directly to teachers.

The two sides plan to continue talks tomorrow.

Senate budget chief: Everglades money coming

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Everglades lovers should probably chill out over the lack of funding for river of grass clean-up in the Senate budget.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander said this morning he’s “seriously considering” matching the House’s $35 million line-item for Everglades restoration. Gov. Rick Scott tucked away $40 million for the clean-up, and the money will almost certainly show up late in negotiations between the two chambers over their spending plans.

“We’re looking at it. We’re trying to figure out if we can afford it this year,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said, adding that he’s supported that and the Florida Forever land-buying program for his 14 years in the legislature soon coming to an end. “So it’s something I’d love to see us be able to do.
I would hope we’d be able to eventually get there…If we can do something it won’t be a lot, but we’d certainly like to provide some funding for preservation of Florida’s ecological needs.”

Alexander said he doesn’t foresee much trouble reconciling the two spending plans. The Senate’s proposal includes deeper health and human services, more spending on schools and road projects and dips into state universities’ reserves.

“There aren’t a lot of differences. It should be fairly easy to get to something we both can agree to,” Alexander said.

No money for Everglades clean-up in Senate budget – yet

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate hasn’t included any money for Everglades restoration in its spending plan, but the money may soon flow to the “River of Grass.”

Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Democrat, questioned Senate General Government Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Hays about the absence of the money during a meeting late Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s definitely in play,” Hays, R-Umatilla, assured him. “It’s an open issue.”

Gov. Rick Scott included $40 million for Everglades restoration in his budget proposal, and the House wants to spend $30 million on clean-up and another $5 million for northern Everglades projects.

The Senate’s plan prompted an outcry from Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham, who urged the Senate to go along with Scott’s $40 million allocation.

“We are disappointed that the Florida Senate has decided to risk the future of Florida’s water supply by refusing to provide any funding for Everglades restoration,” Fordham said in a press release. “This is not the time to delay the vital work that needs to be done. More than 7 million Floridians depend on the Everglades for fresh water. Any delay threatens the welfare of 1 in 3 Floridians and the economic well-being of our state.”

Everglades love-fest blows up over ‘Polluter Pays’

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

An Everglades love-fest turned nasty Tuesday afternoon when Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Everglades Foundation Chairman Paul Tudor Jones sniped about whether the agriculture industry is meeting its obligation to pay for restoring the “River of Grass.”

Everglades Summit moderator Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s national correspondent, launched the dust-up by asking a panel including Gov. Rick Scott, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Putnam and Jones about a constitutional amendment approved by voters more than 15 years ago requiring polluters to pay for the primary costs of Everglades cleanup.

Putnam praised the agriculture industry, including sugar growers, for cutting back on the amount of nutrients flowing into the Everglades by half, more than double what the law calls for.

“We are seeing a much better conversation between agriculture and the environmental community because all of us have watched in the last 10 years watching as development just explodes,” Putnam said.

But Jones wasn’t satisfied, and responded with an off-the-wall reference to a “Saturday Night Live” skit lampooning “60 Minutes” co-hosts Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick.

“Shana, you bitch,” Jones said to Putnam.

Caught off guard until Jones explained his joke, Putnam responded: “Well at least I didn’t say, ‘Jane, you ignorant…”

Turning serious, Jones said the agriculture industry contributes up to 87 percent of the pollution in the Everglades but picks up only about 13 percent of the clean-up costs.

“Really the question is what is fair. What should be the actual cost that they’re going to pay?” Jones said. “When it comes to enforcing the will of the people of the state and the constitution what kind of leadership are we going to get from the executive department?”

Read the rest of the story here.

Snakes alive! Scott supports Salazar snake sanction

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott supports U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar‘s ban on the importation of Burmese pythons and three other non-native constrictive snakes, the governor said this afternoon.

MSNBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd asked Scott and Salazar about the snake ban at an Everglades Summit in Tallahassee this afternoon.

“People laugh about this but…it’s crazy,” said Todd, a Miami native. “This issue of my idiot old neighbors in South Florida. They import these pets then get scared of them and dump them in the Everglades.”

The pythons are “injurious and they are dangerous,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the python ban is part of a comprehensive approach to cleaning up the Everglades.

“We need to make sure the investments that we’re making…that they’re not for naught,” he said.

The invasive snakes are killing native habitat and wildlife, Salazar said.

“We need to make sure that what we are doing is comprehensive,” he said. “We need to look at the Everglades as an entire ecosystem.”

Critics said Salazar’s ban doesn’t go far enough because he only targeted four of nine dangerous snakes.

“We tailored our regulation to go after the present danger that we have in the Everglades and right now it’s the Burmese python, which is making up habitat with tens of thousands of Burmese pythons that are out there,” Salazar said after the meeting.

Salazar said his agency his “going after those species that present the greatest threat right now” and that five other species are being scrutinized scientifically and for the economic implications of banning those as well.

“But these four are the first step and we have the other five under consideration,” he said.

Scott said he supports the new federal rule, especially because Congress has failed for three years to pass U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s legislation that would have outlawed pythons.

Nelson praised Salazar and blasted critics for trying to “delay and obstruct” the new rule.

“These giant constrictor snakes do not belong in the Everglades and they do not belong in people’s back yards. Not only are they upsetting the ecological balance because they’re at the top of the food chain. They even attack alligators and consume them,” Nelson said.

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Graham blasts water ‘privatization’

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham cautioned lawmakers and environmentalists this morning that “privatizing” state waters would cause “considerable damage” to the Everglades and cause Floridians to lose control of thousands of acres of wetlands.

“There’s no project in Florida that would be more adversely affected,” said Graham, who was a member of the legislature more than four decades ago and then governor when some of the state’s water and conservation policies were first created.

Graham was in town as environmentalists, government officials – including U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Gov. Rick Scott – and others gathered nearby for a day-long Everglades Water Supply Summit.

Speaking to the Florida Legislative Everglades Caucus, Graham called on them to reject two water measures he called “not just the camel’s nose but the camel’s neck and shoulders under the tent of privatization of water.

The first (HB 639) would allow utilities to have permanent ownership of water they have used and treated. The other (HB 1103) would change the definition of the “high water line” that determines where private property ends and state-owned waters begin. Critics, including Graham, say the measure would cause the state to lose hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands after years of litigation determining what the water line means.

“When we privatize ownership of Florida’s water resources, it takes water away from the Everglades. It’s just pure and simple. You can spend a bunch of money trying to get water into the Everglades but if somebody owns it, you’ll never get it there,” said Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper.

Graham also urged lawmakers to undo a move that gave the legislature more control over the state’s five water management districts, to boost money to the state’s land conservation program Florida Forever.

But the biggest threat to the River of Grass would be an end to the cooperation between state and federal officials to restore the state’s ecological treasure, the former governor advised. The protracted Everglades restoration projects have caused fear that the effort is unraveling.

“The thing that would be the most fatal to Everglades restoration is if this marriage between the state of Florida and the federal government were to be broken. Neither partner alone either has the financial or legal capabilities of carrying this off,” Graham said.

A poll released this morning found that 64 percent of voters surveyed favored increased spending on Everglades restoration, up from 51 percent who supported increased funding in a February 2011 survey.

Graham tries to fire-up enviros before session begins

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has sent out an end-of-year call from the newly created Florida Conservation Coalition, urging environmental activists to buttonhole their legislators before the Jan. 10 session begins.

The coalition was unveiled last month, with plans to lobby Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature to revive state funding for water quality programs, the Florida Forever land-buying program and Everglades restoration, which supporters say have been staggered by budget cuts since 2007.

In his email blast to activists, Graham condemns last spring’s policy changes and spending reductions.

“In three short months of 2011, the Governor and Legislature set Florida’s once proud conservation laws and programs back four decades. In so doing they have handed us a very heavy lift. But what choices do we have? We surrender, or we fight back,”  Graham said.

He concluded, “Our immediate job is to convince the Legislature that they went too far and must correct and reverse its misguided actions of 2011.”

The coalition includes Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Nature Conservancy, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Trust for Public Land and League of Women Voters.

 

Rumberger, longtime Everglades champion, dead at age 79

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Thom Rumberger, a Tallahassee lawyer whose environmental activism and skills as a political strategist cast him in a central role in many of Florida’s milestone events of the past half-century, died Wednesday night. He was 79.

Rumberger was an advisor to former Republican Gov. Claude Kirk and was the GOP candidate for Attorney General in 1970, a time when the party which now controls Florida government was a minority, vastly overwhelmed by ruling Democrats.

Rumberger, though, proved pivotal to the party’s emergence.

As a lawyer representing the Republican Party during 1992 redistricting, Rumberger helped GOP legislators forge a deal with another political minority — black Democrats –resulting in the drawing of legislative and congressional boundaries that gave both interests the opportunity to win seats.

Four years later, Rumberger looked on as then-Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, was sworn-in as Florida’s first Republican House speaker in 122 years.

Rumberger’s legal career began with the firm of Maguire, Voorhis and Wells in Orlando.  He later served as an acting sheriff, judge and county attorney for Seminole County before becoming a founding member of the law firm, Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell.

Among his passions was the Everglades. He  was general counsel for Save Our Everglades, a movement that placed a ballot initiative on the 1996 ballot that would have imposed a penny-per-pound tax on sugar to help restore the ecosystem polluted by farm runoff.

The tax was rejected by voters. But Floridians did endorse other amendments requiring that polluters pay for Everglades cleanup and that a trust fund  be created to finance restoration. The ballot action set the stage for more ambitious state and federal Everglades initiatives in later years.

Rumberger was lead counsel for the Everglades Foundation since 1989.

Mary Barley, president of the Everglades Trust, called Rumberger “one of a kind.”

“Thom Rumberger has been a courageous, vigilant guardian of the bountiful treasures and gragile nature of Florida’s — and America’s — most unique Everglades ecosystem,” Barley said. “His legal brilliance, political wisdom, and unflinching commitment to preserve and protect our precious Everglades place him among the greatest Floridians.”

West says Bachmann made ‘incredible faux pas’ on Everglades drilling

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 by George Bennett

PALM BEACH GARDENS — U.S. Rep. Allen West told a town hall audience today that Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann made “an incredible faux pas” when she said she is open to allowing drilling for oil and natural gas in the Everglades if it can be done safely.

“When I see her next week, I’ll straighten her out about that,” West said of the Minnesota congresswoman.

West is a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, which Bachmann chairs.

For complete coverage of West’s town hall, click here.

Budget negotiators OK water management district tax cuts sought by Scott

Sunday, May 1st, 2011 by John Kennedy

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Sunday night to give Gov. Rick Scott one of his tax-cutting proposals — a roughly 25 percent reduction in water management district property taxes.

House budget chief Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, advanced the offer — which was similar to an even deeper property tax cut and takeover of water management district budgets that had been pushed by her Senate counterpart, J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Florida’s five water management districts collect over $1 billion in property taxes, with the South Florida Water Management District collecting $411 million, alone. But SFWMD’s collections would be capped at $285 million under the deal reached Sunday, roughly a $126 million reduction in the district’s dollars.

Alexander, a citrus grower whose district includes Okeechobee and Glades counties,  has been pushing to more tightly restrict water management district spending for months.  He’s said districts have been sitting on reserves that could be used to cover existing costs and make room for the property tax break.

The South Florida district has $346 million in reserves, according to Alexander.

Environmentalists have said they feared the tax-cut package could threaten Everglades restoration, whose final dollar level is still being negotiated. The Senate has proposed $20 million, and the House $25 million to continue the ambitious state-federal Everglades project.

The water districts tax cut drew resistence earlier this spring from the state House Select Committee on Water Policy, whose chairman, Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, is a former South Florida district governing board member.

She questioned whether the agency could carry out its flood control and maintenance responsibilities with a steep reduction in revenues. Because of slumping property-tax values across the region, tax revenue collected by the district has already dropped about $150 million, from $549 million in 2007-08.

AIF pushes back, slowly, on Glades study

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

One of Florida’s biggest business lobbies fired back Wednesday at the Everglades Foundation — disputing a four-month-old report by the environmental group which touted the economic benefits of restoring its namesake, fabled swamp.

“This report is nothing more than wishful thinking with no credible basis for the claims made by the foundation,” said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of AIF. “It is impossible to support the foundation’s assertion that the state will see $4 for every $1 invested in Everglades restoration. Further, it is impossible to even prove the economic benefits will ever cover the costs of the federal Everglades Restoration Plan.”

The foundation in October released a report by Mather Economics which said construction, hydrology and other environmental work tied to the Everglades project was creating jobs and would continue to add value to the South Florida region for years to come.

The foundation aired a similar theme Monday when it released results of a statewide poll showing most Floridians want Everglades restoration to continue, despite Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation to reduce this year’s funding form $50 million to $17 million.

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Survey: Floridians want dollars for Everglades

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With environmental spending under fire in Tallahassee and Washington, a survey Monday showed two-thirds of Floridians support Everglades restoration, with a majority also opposed to reducing dollars flowing to the effort.

The Everglades Foundation released the survey, saying it supports the organization’s push for state lawmakers to steer clear of Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to reduce restoration funding from $50 million to $17 million. Scott also wants water managers, including the South Florida Water Management District, to reduce property taxes by 25 percent, which environmentalists say could further drain dollars needed for Everglades work.

“Our message to the governor is that he can partner with the conservation community to create jobs and protect our water supply at the same time,” said Kirk Fordham, the foundation’s chief executive officer. “If we want to grow that supply of fresh water, the only solution out there is Everglades restoration.”

President Obama’s budget blueprint increases spending on restoration. But the Republican-led U.S. House has proposed sharp cuts in environmental programs and funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for much of the Everglades work.

The Everglades survey was conducted by the Tarrance Group, which does polling for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, other Republican senators, and GOP members of the Florida congressional delegation.

The survey showed that 84 percent of voters rank maintaining Florida’s fresh water drinking supply as “very important.”  Seventy-nine percent agreed that to attract new business and industries to the state, access to a stable water supply is necessary.

The survey of 607 voters was taken Feb. 13-14. It has a 4.1 percent margin-of-error.

Former Florida Supreme Court justice Wade Hopping dies

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

hoppingProminent lobbyist and former Florida Supreme Court justice Wade Hopping died today from complications from a stroke and esophageal cancer.

Hopping died a day before his 78th birthday and on the 30th anniversary of founding the Tallahassee law firm Hopping Green and Sams.

Hopping served as a Cabinet aide to Gov. Claude Kirk, who appointed him to fill an opening on the Supreme Court in 1968 but he lost reelection the following year. Supreme Court justices are now appointed by the governor and remain in on the bench by a merit vote.

Kirk, the first Republican governor elected since Reconstruction, credited Hopping and environmentalist Nathaniel Reed with helping to create both the state and national environmental regulatory agencies.

“I didn’t know how to spell conservation or environment but we learned about it,” Kirk, who lives in West Palm Beach, said. “Wade was in the middle of all of that with Nat Reed. With Wade’s help and Nat’s help we got (former President) Nixon to create the President’s Council on the Environment.” The council was the basis of what later became the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Kirk said.

The white-haired, white-bearded lobbyist was an institution in the halls of the Florida Capitol throughout his thirty years of working on behalf of businesses including Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida and the Florida Marine Industries Association.

Recently, Hopping was instrumental in the state’s $310 million purchase of the 74,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preservation Area in Southwest Florida. The 2006 deal was the largest conservation lands purchase in Florida history.

He frequently drew swords with environmentalists but was a willing and capable compromiser, said Audubon of Florida policy director Eric Draper, who frequently worked against Hopping in issues before the legislature.

“Wade has been a fixture at the capitol for as long as I can remember. He was always pushing firmly with his clients’ agenda but always in a friendly and good-humored way. He was one of the business lobbyists that conservationists were most willing to work,” said Draper, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner. “It’s hard to imagine working on environmental issues without him on the other side.”

Hopping is survived by his wife of 38 years, Mary Hopping of Tallahassee. He is also survived by children Hank and Margaret Hopping of Chattanooga, Jud and Jackie Hopping of Fort Lauderdale, Kiff and Lynn Mendoza of Tallahassee, and Beth Mendoza and Maureen Murphy of Atlanta.

A funeral service is scheduled Thursday at the Faith Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee.

Pythons coming soon to a bridge near you?

Monday, July 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

python1Florida counties are suggesting something that sounds like a scarlet letter to warn innocents away from households with scary serpents.

It’s the latest twist in the tale of the python-induced paranoia that’s wound up with bounty hunters seeking the critters in throughout Palm Beach County on lands abutting the Everglades.

The July 1 death of a two-year-old girl who was strangled by a pet python in Central Florida set off demands for an open-season on the snakes, which have overrun the national park. Gov. Charlie Crist gladly complied and ordered the bounty hunt for the pests last week. (U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has had the Burmese python infestation in his sights for some time).nelson-python

Now, the Florida Association of Counties wants state wildlife officials to give them more control over dangerous animals. The association sent a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last week asking them to let counties notify neighbors where perilous pythons and other classified creatures reside.

Perhaps the counties have something like the sex offender registry on the Internet where neighbors can see where perpetrators live.

Will the pythons be forced to take up residence under bridges like sex offenders banned from living near schools, parks or other places where children congregate?

Game on: Crist orders python purge

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A python posse armed with clubs and machetes will start combing the Everglades for the supersized serpents this weekend.

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the python bounty hunt Wednesday at the urging of two Florida congressmen who were in an uproar after one of the exotic snakes strangled a 2-year-old girl July 1 near Ocala.

That python was a pet and didn’t live in the Everglades. But the case called new attention to the plague of the oversized reptiles that have spread throughout South Florida’s marshes, gobbling wading birds and posing a danger to native wildlife.

Estimates of the python population in the Everglades range between 10,000 and 150,000. They can reach up to 20 feet in length and have long, curved teeth, along with the ability to squeeze their prey to death.

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Snakes alive! Rooney joins python posse push

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney has filed a bill to blacklist Burmese pythons and other unwelcome animal immigrants from entering the country.

The Tequesta Republican has joined the movement, led by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, to rid the River of Grass of the perilous pests after a pet python strangled to death a two-year-old Florida girl.

python1About 150,000 pythons, not native to Florida, have taken up residence in the Everglades, threatening other endangered wildlife there, including Florida panthers and wood storks.

Rooney’s backing two bills to crack down on bringing invasive animals into the country.

One McCarthy-esque proposal would create a black list of nonnative species would create a black list of nonnative species barred from being brought into the United States and a green list of creatures that would be welcome.
The other would add Burmese pythons to the list of dangerous animals, similar to a measure Nelson filed several months ago.

Rooney’s hunting proposal is similar to a Nelson made today asking U.S. Department of the Interior Ken Salazar to approve a python-killing season in the ‘Glades to rid the national treasure of the invaders.

Read Rooney’s press release here.

Nelson: Kill those snakes in the grass!

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking federal officials for a posse.

A python posse, that is.

Nelson sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to approve a python-kill because the slithering beasts are taking over the River of Grass.

nelson-pythonNelson earlier this year introduced a bill to ban imports of Burmese pythons and classifying them as “injurious animals.”

Two weeks ago, a pet python strangled to death a two-year-old Florida girl, creating an uproar about the invasive predators.

Police remove a Burmese python from a home in Oxford, Fla. on July 1 after it killed a young girl.

Police remove a Burmese python from a home in Oxford, Fla. on July 1 after it killed a young girl.

Officials “need to get a grip on pythons invading America’s Everglades,” Nelson wrote.

“They are threatening endangered wildlife there – and, Lord forbid, a visitor in the Everglades ever encounters one,” he wrote.

Nelson’s proposing an organized hunt to diminish the ever-growing python population in the ‘Glades. The posse could consist of park rangers or deputies and volunteers, Nelson suggested.

Read Nelson’s letter after the jump.

Photos Fatal python attack

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