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Gov. Scott signs manufacturing tax break into law

Friday, May 17th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A manufacturing tax break, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s two priorities this legislative session, is now law.

Scott signed the measure (HB 7007) on Friday and touted it during a stop at a Tampa manufacturing firm.

Under the new law, manufacturers won’t have to pay sales tax on equipment purchases for three years, beginning in April 2014. Scott had wanted to make the tax break permanent, but lawmakers gave him a three-year window instead.

The new law also creates a new nonprofit corporation to oversee money awarded to the state from lawsuits connected to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The manufacturing tax break was caught up in some late-night maneuvers during the final week of session. Two days before the session ended, Scott had to act on a campaign finance bill and an ethics measure that were priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Scott announced he signed the bills about half an hour after the House gave final passage to his manufacturing tax break.

But House Democrats believe the tax break, tucked into a 96-page economic incentive package, is not official because the bill did not receive a two-third majority vote.

The state constitution requires a two-thirds approval for tax-related items that cause counties or cities to lose revenue or reduce a tax in which the local governments share.

Weatherford insists that the tax break did not require the supermajority vote.

_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Florida House approves election package – again – sends back to Senate

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by Dara Kam

The secretary of state won’t be able to punish elections supervisors under a modified elections package approved by the Florida House and sent to the Senate for final passage.

The Senate is expected to finalize the measure, which requires supervisors instead to post online a report of their preparations three months prior to the election, in one of the last actions before the 2013 session ends later this afternoon.

The Senate had wanted to give the secretary of state, appointed by the governor, the authority to put the locally elected officials on probation and force them to pass a test before being able to be removed from “noncompliant status.”

But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sided with the supervisors, who objected that Detzner already has the authority to review the local officials’ preparedness, give them written directions and take them to court if he believes they aren’t complying with the law.

Before the session began, Gov. Rick Scott, Weatherford, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, pledged to do something to fix the long lines and up to eight-hour waits encountered by many voters last fall.

Under the plan expected to go to Scott for signature, supervisors can choose from between eight and 14 days of early voting and stay open from eight to 12 hours per day. The 2011 law, HB 1355, shrank early voting from 14 to 8 days. GOP insiders said the 2011 law was designed to cut back on Democratic turnout in the 2012 election, a reaction to Florida Democrats’ support for President Obama in 2008 that helped him into the White House.

This year’s proposal also gives supervisors more options for early voting sites, and would allow add civic centers, fairgrounds, courthouses and government-run senior centers to the city halls, public libraries and elections offices they can now use.

“Reform is never final…We should be ready always to come here and make adjustments if we can make things better,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the sponsor of HB 1355.

Democrats applauded the effort but said it didn’t go far enough to reverse a 2011 elections package they blame for many of the problems.

Rep. Janet Cruz, who was the lead Democrat on the elections bill, called the effort “a very, very good big, big first step in solving the difficulties that our voters have faced.”

But, she added, “I want our citizens to know that we are not finished.”

Democrats contend that voters should still be allowed to change their addresses at the polls on election day. Current law, changed in 2011, requires voters who move outside of the county to cast provisional ballots – which have a greater likelihood of being tossed – if they don’t update their address before Election Day. Democrats contend that kept many college students from casting regular ballots in the fall.

The bill takes “solid steps” to “reform the deform that had happened” with HB 1355, incoming House Democratic Leader Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said. The bill isn’t “where we want to be but it’s better than where we are,” he said.

“Some of us feel like the bill hasn’t gone far enough. We want to go back to pre-1355,” Rouson said.

Scott mum on what changed his mind on campaign finance

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott did not say what made him reverse his opposition to a campaign finance measure he signed into law last night that increases contributions from the current $500 cap to $3,000 for statewide candidates like himself and $1,000 for legislative and local candidates.

Scott announced he had signed the measure into law half an hour after lawmakers delivered a modified version of one of the governor’s top priorities, eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment.

As late as this week, Scott said lawmakers hadn’t made their case for lifting the caps.

When asked what changed his mind, Scott responded: “Like everything, you listen to a lot of people and try to make the best decision I can for every citizen in the state. So I made the decision to sign the bill last night.”

When asked if his approval was linked to the manufacturing tax break, Scott still gave no insight.

“Look, I look at everything. But I made the right decision for all Floridians with regard to that individual bill,’ Scott said. Asked again, he reiterated: “Look, I review every bill. And I reviewed the bill and decided it was in the best interest for the citizens of the state.”

The manufacturing exemption House with a 68-48 vote, smaller than the two-thirds margin required by the constitution for tax breaks, prompting confusion over whether the tax break can be implemented or not. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and his staff insisted the tax break did not require the 2/3 majority. House Democrats contend it is invalid and does.

When asked if Scott was concerned about the kerfuffle over one of his top two priorities, the governor again gave nothing away.

“I’m excited. I’m excited for our jobs. this is a reduction in our taxes so we get more manufacturing jobs. as I travel the state, people are excited about it. I’ve been traveling the state for the last two or so months just talking about this,” he said.

Senate signs off on Scott manufacturing tax break

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

With less than 72 hours left in the session and two priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz hanging in the balance, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a manufacturing equipment tax break, one of just two items on Gov. Rick Scott’s wishlist.

The modified tax break approved by a 37-3 vote late Wednesday would exempt manufacturers from paying sales tax on manufacturing equipment for three years. Scott’s original proposal would have cost the state about $100 million per year, but the plan approved by the Senate would shrink that to about $18 million, according to the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange. Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale and Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa voted against it.

“(Scott’s) had modest requests this session. I think we need to get behind him,” Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said before the vote.

Lawmakers moved closer to Scott’s other priority – a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for teachers – yesterday.

Meanwhile, Scott has until midnight tonight to act on two of the GOP leaders top priorities: ethics and campaign finance measures.

Scott has repeatedly voiced concerns about the campaign finance changes, pushed by Weatherford, which would increase current $500 campaign contribution limits for statewide candidates like Scott, who is running for reelection, to $3,000 and to $1,000 for legislative and local candidates.

Son of man injured by Palm Beach County school bus calls on lawmakers to approve settlement

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

David Abbott is making a last-ditch effort to get lawmakers to save his father’s life.

Abbott set up easels with photographs of his father, Carl Abbott, on the fourth floor of the Capitol rotunda Wednesday afternoon as the clock winds down until the legislative session ends on Friday.

Abbott says the clock is ticking on his father as well.

Carl Abbott desperately needs the $1.9 million the Palm Beach County School Board agreed to pay him when he was run over by a school bus in 2008, Abbott’s doctor said in a letter to House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz. The money, that the Legislature has withheld for three years, would enable Abbott to get rigorous medical treatment to regain some semblance of a normal life. Without it, “his life expectancy will in all likelihood be reduced,” Dr. Pierre Deltor wrote.

The Senate is refusing to act on any claims until the system is reformed and an attempt by a House committee to revamp the system went nowhere this year.

“Reform is not my issue. Getting my dad the help he needs is the issue. It’s my only concern. Reform is going to take years. My dad doesn’t have the time to wait,” Abbott said Wednesday.

When asked about Abbott’s bill last week, Gaetz said he was unaware of the specifics of his case and called the 72-year-old North Palm Beach man’s condition a perfect example of why reforms are needed.

“That’s tragic. That makes it all the more important that we have a claims bill process that does not rely upon who the lobbyist is or what the emotion is and doesn’t make the Senate into a finder of fact,” Gaetz said.

Under the principle of “sovereign immunity” the state limits the amount people can collect from the government for wrongdoing. The only way around what is now a $200,000 cap is persuading the Legislature to lift it. Critics of the system, including Gaetz, say the system is flawed in part because powerful lobbyists have too much influence – and make too much money – in the process.

David Abbott said he was aware of Gaetz’s opposition to the claims bills process but traveled from Palm Beach County to Tallahassee anyway to make Gaetz and Weatherford aware of his father’s situation.

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he said. “My dad’s a victim here. He was a victim when he was hit by the school bus. And now he’s a victim because he can’t get the help he needs.”

DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz: Scott, Weatherford legacy will be ‘sickness, illness and death’

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

Sen. Maria Sachs, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Florida Senate Democratic Leader Chris SmithDemocratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to use his clout to push the House to approve a Medicaid expansion that could cover 1 million uninsured Floridians.

The U.S. congresswoman from Weston also accused House Speaker Will Weatherford and the GOP-dominated House of “slavishness ideological dogma” behind their rejection of the Senate plan crafted by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“Sickness, illness and death…will be their legacy,” Wasserman Schultz told the Senate Democratic Caucus this morning.

Wasserman Schultz, a one-time Florida legislator who served in both the state House and Senate, also blamed Scott for “having a deathbed conversion” about the Medicaid expansion and failing to use his bully pulpit to push the House to pass it.

With three work days left until the legislative ends on Friday, Scott has focused primarily on his two priorities – $2,500 across-the-board pay raises for teachers and a manufacturing equipment tax break – and is scheduled to work from 8 a.m until 2:30 p.m. today, including photo opportunity for the last half hour of the day.

The final week is “the most frenzied, intense time of the entire legislative session,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“The governor and his staff should be in the trenches working the phones, working the halls, doing everything they can to pass their priorities,” she said. “It’s just demonstrative repeatedly of his utter lack of leadership.”

Scott, who is running for reelection, is “trying to have his cake and eat it, too” by publicly supporting the proposal to provide health insurance for the poor, which has broad support from voters, but doing nothing to force the House to act, Wasserman Schultz said.

“Leaders take the initiative. They don’t wait to be asked. We’ll need to elect somebody else.”

She sidestepped a question about whether former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, would be a better replacement.

“I have no idea and I’m not here to talk about that,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz also praised Florida House Democrats for “rightfully” slowing down the session with a procedural maneuver forcing all legislation to be read in full in retaliation for the GOP’s refusal to support the Senate Medicaid plan.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who also served as governor, also appeared at the Senate Dems meeting this morning.

He congratulated them for joining with several GOP lawmakers to defeat a controversial “parent trigger” bill and a pension overhaul for state workers.

Ethics commissioner urges lawmakers to act on reform

Friday, April 12th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Commission on Ethics member Matt Carlucci is asking the Legislature to move forward on legislation that would strengthen the panel’s ability to collect fines and probe possible wrongdoing by elected officials.

The ethics proposal is a priority of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. But it’s caught up in horsetrading over a campaign finance measure that’s the priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. And Gov. Rick Scott’s opposition to the campaign finance changes may doom both measures.

Carlucci penned an editorial today urging lawmakers to act on the ethics proposal.

“As a member of the Florida Commission on Ethics, I am grateful and encouraged that we are on the cusp of dramatic and necessary ethics reform. The Senate, under the leadership of Senate President Gaetz and Senator Latvala, created a strong base on which the House, with the leadership of Speaker Weatherford and subcommittee Chair Boyd, built further improvements. The result, House Bill 7131, is a good work product that with a few changes, could be a great work product.
News reports suggest that the House, Senate, and Governor have disagreements over changes to the elections laws, and that those disagreements are putting HB 7131 in jeopardy. On behalf of the Commission, I urge all the parties not to let differences in philosophy in one arena stand in the way of progress on things we all can agree on. I would also ask that the Legislature make the following changes that would make HB 7131 a true and lasting achievement:
• Restore the language that would allow the Commission to record its final order as a lien in cases where there are unpaid fines for failing to file financial disclosure;
• Delete the language that allows officials the opportunity to re-do their financial disclosure after a complaint has been filed, or at least make allowing such a second chance discretionary with the Commission;
• Give the Commission the ability to investigate complaints on its own initiative, subject to a vote of seven of its nine members.
These three changes will move HB 7131 from good to outstanding. A great deal of hard work by the House and Senate has been poured into ethics reform this year. I encourage the parties to make these three changes, and then make it the law.
Sincerely,
Matt Carlucci

Will Rick Scott’s opposition to campaign reform doom ethics overhaul?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s opposition to proposed campaign finance changes will also doom an ethics reform, the two top priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, according to the lead GOP senator on both issues.

The campaign finance proposal, a priority of Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, approved by his chamber last month would boost individual contribution limits from $500 to $3,000 for local and legislative candidates and to $5,000 for statewide candidates.

Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers on Monday told The Associated Press that the governor “can’t imagine signing a bill” that would raise contributions by any amount.

The Senate proposal, approved by the Rules Committee Tuesday, would keep the contribution levels but impose more frequent reporting requirements for political committees.

“My feeling is that the governor has probably sapped the energy out of campaign any campaign fiannce bill this session,” Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. told reporters Tuesday.

The House hasn’t moved on the ethics package, a priority of Gaetz, R-Niceville, since receiving it from the Senate, which passed it on the first day of the legislative session 31 days ago.

“Unfortunately, the House is tying their campaign finance bill to our ethics bill, which we passed as our first order of business on the first day of session and has now been over there for 31 days, just sitting,” he said. “They wanted these changes in campaign finance in return for doing some fairly sensible, easy to understand things on ethics. That’s a shame. What I’ve been told is they had to have campaign finance to pass our ethics package.”

Speaker Weatherford tells black caucus House will release alternative to Medicaid expansion

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Will Weatherford told the Florida Legislative Black Caucus last night that the House will offer its own alternative to expanding Medicaid, a move the Senate is considering to cover 1 million Floridians who lack health insurance.

Weatherford, who has rejected the Medicaid expansion, did not give any details about the plan but said that it would be “targeted” to vulnerable citizens such as the severely disabled on wait lists for services.

But he said the House plan will not be as broad as a Senate proposal crafted by budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that would broaden Medicaid coverage to about 1 million low-income Floridians through a privatized plan using money available under the federal health care law.

“We will have a plan in the House. We’re not just sitting on our hands and saying we’re not going to do that. But whatever we do do is something that’s sustained if the government can’t continue to pay its share, something that we can afford without having to do a massive tax increase on our citizens,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told about a dozen black lawmakers Monday night.

“Florida should blaze its own path and do it its way,” he said.

Black caucus chairwoman Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, brought up the issue during her introduction of Weatherford. She pointed out that the Senate has an alternative to the expansion and that Gov. Rick Scott, once a fierce opponent of “Obamacare,” reversed his opposition to the expansion and now supports it.

“We want to hear from you on this…All of the folks that we represent who are disproportionately affected by the lack of quality care. It’s on you, Mr. Speaker,” Joyner said.

Weatherford said he wants to make sure that the neediest Floridians who currently lack health insurance get it. He said thousands of children and adult who can’t take care of themselves are waiting for services. The Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law would cover individuals at up to 138 percent of the poverty level, about “600,000 of them that are able-bodied adults that don’t have children” in Florida, he said.

“We’re going to give all 600,000 of them free health care through the federal government while somebody else waits in line with a real disability. I’ve got a problem with that,” Weatherford said.

When pressed by reporters for details after the meeting, Weatherford said he was not sure which committee would offer the House proposal, or when. The legislature is at the mid-point in the 60-day session that ends on May 3.

“We still have time. We want to make sure it’s a fully-baked plan, not half-baked. The all-or-nothing approach that’s been suggested by Washington, D.C., the inflexible nature of it is not good for Florida,” he said. “Whatever our approach is, I think it will be one that is more targeted and less shotgun.”

Gov. Rick Scott reversed his position on the issue and now supports the Medicaid expansion, but committees in both chambers rejected that idea. And Weatherford has refused to budget on the issue.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, has come up with another plan in which the state would subsidize health insurance costs for low-income Floridians. That proposal has not yet had a hearing. The Senate is moving forward with a plan by Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that would allow the state to draw down federal funds to cover about 1 million uninsured Floridians through privatized health care plans.

Weatherford said House leaders are “looking at all the alternatives that are out there.”

But, he said, “before we put something out there for public consumption we want to make sure it’s well thought out and it addresses the safety net needs of the state,” he said. “We don’t have a drop-dead date but we’re working on it and it’s forthcoming.”

New Florida House smart phone app coming soon

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Will Weatherford gave reporters a sneak peek at a new House app that he said he hopes will “set a national standard” for citizens to interact with their government.

“I did not wear my black turtleneck to roll this out,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, joked, referring to the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ signature attire.

The mobile app, available for iPhones and iPads as well as android devices, was developed by Orlando-based Echo. Twelve companies bid on the project, which was supposed to cost about $130,000 but has run a bit over, Weatherford said.

“This is the way that people are communicating. It’s the way they want to learn. It’s the way they access information,” Weatherford, 33, said. “As a young Speaker and a person who uses apps every day, all the time, this is a way that people are accessing information today. It’s just another example of government entering the 21st century. We’re happy to be on the front edge of that.”

The app will be available to users on Tuesday, the opening day of the 2013 legislative session, and will allow users to live stream House committee meetings and floor sessions as well as view archived meetings and track bills.

But the app doesn’t include any information about the Florida Senate. Weatherford said he didn’t ask the “upper chamber” whether they wanted to participate in the project. That means that tech-hungry Senate snoops will have to continue to use their computers to follow what’s going on.

Coy Speaker Weatherford doesn’t rule out run for guv

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Will Weatherford did not rule out a possible run against Gov. Rick Scott in a primary next year but laughed when asked about the rumors of a primary against the incumbent.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, fueled the rumors when he criticized Scott’s announcement last week that he supports the expansion of Medicaid, part of the federal health care law pushed by President Obama. Conservative Republicans have lined up against the expansion, saying they fear it will ultimately cost the state much more than the 10 percent the federal government promises to pay after picking up 100 percent of the tab for three years.

“I think people who are saying those things must not know me very well. I’m busy enough trying to be the speaker of the House. And I think the governor’s doing a good job. The state of Florida is moving in a positive direction. We’re working closely with him to solve the problems of the state of Florida. I’m not thinking about any of that stuff right now. I’m thinking about the agenda we have for the next 60 days and trying to pass some significant policy out of the Florida House,” Weatherford told reporters in the Capitol today after announcing a new House smartphone app.

But Weatherford did not commit to not running against Scott when pressed about ruling it out.

“I just said I don’t have any plans to do anything like that. I think it’s funny that I’m being asked it. The governor’s a friend. I think he’s doing a good job. We’re working very closely with him. Like I said, we agree on a whole lot more than we disagree on. The Medicaid expansion is a very small example of something we haven’t been on the same page on. But I think we’re moving forward. I think there’s some exciting times for the Florida House,” he said.

No details yet on how bulk of $334 million foreclosure settlement will be spent

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 by Dara Kam

GOP legislative leaders vowed that $200 million from a mortgage foreclosure settlement will be spent on helping homeowners but said they do not know yet how they will divvy up the money.

“We’re not going to be spending this money on members’ favorite projects that have nothing to do with the crisis. The idea is to focus the resources on helping the people who are in the greatest needs,” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said at a press conference Thursday with Attorney General Pam Bondi and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Weatherford pledged to work with Bondi, who wrangled with the legislative leaders for months over control of Florida’s $334 million settlement made in March as part of a national agreement between attorneys general and the nation’s five largest banks.

“You’ll be hearing from us,” Bondi, standing beside Weatherford, promised.

A legislative committee last week finalized Bondi’s request for $60 million of the settlement. More than half of the money will go to first-time homebuyers for down no-interest payment assistance. The rest is earmarked for housing counseling, legal aid and the courts to help a backlog of foreclosure cases.

Bondi and lawmakers struck a deal in November that handed her control of the $60 million and put the legislature in charge of the bulk of the funds – $200 million – to be spent on “housing-related programs.” They won’t finalize their spending plan until the end of the legislative session in May, more than a year after the settlement was reached.

Bondi, praised by both legislative leaders for her office’s work in reaching the settlement with the banks, said she’d like to see the money spent on:
_ Foreclosure prevention;
_ Neighborhood revitalization;
_ Affordable housing;
_ Home buyer or renter assistance;
_ Additional legal assistance;
_ Counseling.

Flanked by Bondi, Weatherford told reporters on Thursday that the money will not be used to replace funding already spent on housing-related items.

“There’s no intention to do a bait-and-switch on this,” Weatherford said, adding that the leaders and Bondi had developed a trust “to use these funds to help the people who were actually harmed.”

Lake Worth freshman Democrat sponsors first bill passed by committee in 2013 session

Thursday, January 17th, 2013 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Dave Kerner, a Democrat in a GOP-controlled legislature, was spared the typical freshman hazing and instead tapped to sponsor a bill aimed at cracking down on human trafficking, one of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s top priorities.

Kerner’s measure (PCB CRJS13-01) would bar massage parlors from operating between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and prohibit them from being used as a principle domicile, with some exceptions. Law enforcement officials have targeted massage parlors in some regions because they say some unscrupulous operators are using the storefronts as a cover for human trafficking or other illegal acts.

The House Criminal Justice Committee gave the measure a unanimous thumbs-up and forewent the typical freshman drubbing of first voting against the bill and then taking it back up for reconsideration and passing it. It’s the first bill passed by a legislative committee so far this year.

“It’s very, very personal to me,” Kerner said. A native of Lake Worth, Kerner said that more than 50 percent of the residents of District 87 which he represents are Hispanic and many of them are in the country illegally.

“They don’t vote. They don’t speak the language. It’s fertile ground for the human trafficking trade. They don’t reach out to law enforcement. They don’t have any contacts here. This is a big issue in my district. They ought to be protected by the state and it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I ma passionate about it. Because it goes on right her ein my district.”

Kerner, a Lake Worth lawyer and one-time Alachua police officer, said he was approached about sponsoring the bill by committee chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and also personally got the blessing of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. It’s unusual for a freshman Democrat to have the opportunity to sponsor a high-profile measure, Kerner quickly learned.

“The Speaker was more than willing to have that bipartisan effort. And I think that’s awesome,” Kerner said.

New House, Senate leaders take over

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, officially took the gavels in their respective chambers this morning, launching their two-year terms as presiding officers and welcoming a slew of newly elected lawmakers.

Weatherford’s ceremony had the added bonus of being led by former House Speaker Allan Bense, Weatherford’s father-in-law.

Both Weatherford and Gaetz gave speeches outlining their plans for the next two years.

Fifteen of the 40 senators are new to the chamber. Several of them – including Palm Beach County Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington – previously served in the state House.

Gaetz praised Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, and emphasized that the two parties have to work together, unlike lawmakers in Washington.

“You want to know who lost the 2012 election. Congress. Congress, both parties, has an approval rating of 11 percent. Muammar Gaddafi had an approval rating of 14 percent and his people killed him,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz said he and Weatherford agreed to make ethics reform a top priority.

“In my medium-sized north Florida county, a commissioner was just removed for official misconduct, the tourism director committed suicide after he stole bed tax and BP money, the Speaker of the House was forced to resign, the tax collector was run out of office, our college president was fired and our sheriff is in federal prison. That’s just my county,” said Gaetz, who lives in Okaloosa County.

And Gaetz also pledged to do something about the state’s prolonged election, certified this morning by Gov. Rick Scott and two other members of the Election Canvassing Commission, saying Florida is not a “third world country.”

“Floridians should never again have to stand in lines for six and seven hours to vote. Floridians should never again have to wonder if their ballots were miscoded or misprinted or miscounted. Floridians shouldn’t be embarrassed that while most counties in our state run flawless elections, some counties keep running flawed elections,” Gaetz said. “This isn’t a third world country. America shouldn’t have to wait for five days after the polls close to find out how Florida voted.”

Music aficionado alert! $25K fundraiser – 3 Florida House speakers plus Nola Jazzfest

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

High-rolling music lovers can unfold their wallets and get off the chain in the Big Easy while supporting Florida House races at a Republican Party of Florida fundraiser later this month.

The event? The first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of the country’s most rollicking music jubilees. It’s being hosted by the Republican Party of Florida on behalf of three future House Speakers – Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary; and Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity – to round up cash for Florida GOP House races.

The cost? $25,000.

That might seem like a lot of dough to trudge in the gnat-infested, dusty New Orleans fairgrounds in what can be withering heat – if it’s not raining, in which the multi-stage venue turns into a mudfest. (Note to donors who plan to attend: Wear close-toed shoes.)

But the headliners during the three-day fundraiser on April 27-29 include Bruce Springsteen, Florida homegrown rocker Tom Petty and Al Green (With apologies to the GOP, if you haven’t heard President Obama singing Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” check it out here. Plus there’s dozens of other bands featuring just about every music genre including gospel, zydeco, klezmer, R & B, jazz and Americana. And there’s sure to be a VIP tent with plenty of water and other libations and cooling stations where fans can chill.

Supporters can stay at The Saint, a swank Canal Street hotel in the French Quarter.

The 2012 session’s early finish in March this year due to redistricting is a plus, because the first weekend of Jazzfest usually collides with the last week of the regular legislative session.

Some might view the New Orleans locale as a surprise, however, given lawmakers’ concerns about helping boost the Sunshine State’s economy.

Florida House keeps it brief, shines spotlight on FSU b-ballers

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida House members straggled back to Tallahassee after just four days off for a brief kick-off to an “extraordinary” special session followed by an update from their lawyer about the Senate’s faulty legislative maps.

The Florida Supreme Court signed off on the House’s newly drawn maps but rejected eight of the Senate’s proposed 40 districts, meaning the upper chamber will have to do the heavy lifting for the next 10 days.

House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, told happy House members they won’t have to return to the Capitol next week but to be prepared to come back on March 26-28 to finalize the Senate’s new plan.

The House’s redistricting lawyer George Meros will give the redistricting committee an update on what the court found wrong with the Senate maps this afternoon.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Will Weatherford said he’s working with his Senate counterpart Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and trusts the Senate to abide by the court’s directions on how to fix the maps.

“I am confident in the Senate’s ability,” incoming House Speaker Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said. “We’re working with them. We have a good conversation going with them. We’re showing deference to them but certainly we have opinions about how the Senate maps should look…. But I think the court gave some pretty specific recommendations. It’s my understanding that they’re taking those recommendations seriously.”

A visit from Florida State University basketball coach Leonard Hamilton provided the highlight of the 11-minute floor session. Hamilton stuck around for photos with members after being introduced by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, the “Seminole Caucus” cheerleader-in-chief.

The Seminoles won the ACC championship this week, and Hamilton, in his tenth year as head coach at FSU, was recently named the ACC coach of the year.

“Today we proudly send our Seminoles to Nashville for the first rounds of the NCAA tournament and wish them the best against St. Bonaventure, wherever that is,” Patronis said.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, also took a moment on the floor to give his legislative aide Jacquet a shout-out. Jacquet yesterday defeated three other candidates to win a seat on the Delray Beach City Commission.

An early redistricting deal: House to follow Senate approach on maps

Friday, December 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has reached an accord with Senate counterpart Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, on redrawing political boundaries for the Legislature.

The Senate this week unveiled plans only for the Senate and Congress. And the House next week will follow suit with proposals that rework lines only for Florida’s congressional seats and the House.

 In other words, the House will accept senators’ proposals for redrawing their own boundaries — and the House expects the Senate to accept its proposal for reshaping those districts. Only the state’s congressional lines would be subject to competing plans from the two chambers, under this approach.

Weatherford made the deal known Friday in a letter to members of the House’s redistricting panels. The House proposals are slated to be showcased Tuesday.

Should class size limits be watered down?

Monday, February 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Legislative leaders-in-waiting Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Will Weatherford are heading up a GOP initiative to water down constitutional class size limits approved by voters.

Gaetz, R-Destin, and Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sponsored a constitutional amendment lawmakers are expected to put on the ballot this year that would undo some of the class size restrictions voters approved in 2002.

Floridians have already spent $16 billion to shrink class sizes but plummeting property tax collections – which pay for public schools – have sent lawmakers scrambling to foot the $22 billion-a-year tab for education.

Gaetz and Weatherford, who are expected to lead their chambers in 2012, will reveal details of their proposal at a press conference tomorrow morning.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, recently said that he supports undoing the class size restrictions, which have been been introduced gradually and which school officials say costs too much and doesn’t benefit student achievement.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat is also running for the U.S. Senate seat Crist seeks, was the force behind the class size amendment in 2002 while he was in the state Senate.

He isn’t backing down from the limits, which are set to go into full effect by the end of this year.

“Eight years later, Tallahassee officials have not relented in trying to water down hard-fought class size limits while refusing to tackle the special interest bidding that is alive and well in the state capital, ” said Kendrick Meek, who served as Chairman of Florida’s Coalition to Reduce Class Size in 2002.

“Florida families cannot be shortchanged. They simply ask that their children not be packed into overcrowded classrooms. Instead of focusing on misguided priorities, Florida needs a long-term perspective to secure a better future for our children. Implementing the class size limits without delay is critical so our teachers can teach in classrooms where our students can learn. Moreover, it is important to note that our state needs to invest now in its human capital in order to reverse the tide of joblessness for tomorrow’s workers,” Meek said in press release.

Do you think the constitutional limits on class sizes should be lowered?

  • No (71%, 52 Votes)
  • Yes (29%, 21 Votes)

Total Voters: 73

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