Saturday, November 24, 2012

You should consider giving newspaper subscriptions as gift and/or buying one or more subscriptions for delivery to your workplace; whenever you visit a newspaper site online, please click on one or more of the advertisements and make an effort to patronize newspaper advertisers. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Tax Dodge Funds Private Schools
"On Election Day, voters turned down a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution that critics said could have cleared the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers for religious schools."
What many voters likely didn't know is that millions of tax dollars already are being funneled to those schools. . . .
Schools run by Baptist, Lutheran, Seventh-day Adventist, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic religious organizations are among those accepting scholarship students in Central Florida and across the state. The scholarships are paid with money that certain businesses can contribute to the scholarship organization instead of paying state taxes.
"The state prescribes what students learn in public schools — including, for example, instruction on evolution theory — and carefully measures results. Performance of students and schools has been appraised by student test scores for several years, and this year for the first time public-school teachers will be evaluated based in part on those test scores as well."
But the state has no control over the curriculum at private schools. Critics complain that the state is sending students to private religious schools at taxpayer expense without adequately assessing how students or schools perform.
The state requires that scholarship students in grades three to 10 take a standardized test each year but only takes a broad look at the results to see whether the scholarship students overall appear to be relatively on par with public-school students.
"That is one of the cruelest tricks we are playing on children in education today," said Kathleen Oropeza, one of the founders of Fund Education Now, an Orlando-based parents' group critical of Florida lawmakers' push for school choice.
Oropeza and other critics say that accountability standards for scholarship students attending the private schools lack the teeth of those for public schools, such as holding back students, denying diplomas, firing teachers or closing low-performing schools. Without penalties for poor performance, there is no real accountability, they say.
But despite such criticism, the scholarship fund continues to grow as businesses such as Walgreens, Winn-Dixie and United Healthcare of Florida contribute in lieu of paying state taxes.
"Florida already funnels millions in tax dollars to religious schools".  Meanwhile, we are told by that "Charters underperform public schools".

In a related matter, Florida rolls over in a lawsuit, and "state education officials will allow students at a Central Florida Christian college to be eligible for a popular grant program." "State, Christian College Settle Constitutional Fight".

Grifter soaked unemployment system, now leads it
"Hunting Deutsch, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, received more than $25,000 of unemployment benefits for 91 weeks between 2009 and 2011 -- eight weeks shy of the maximum at the time of 99 weeks of benefits. The Panhandle banker who owns two homes in Florida worth more than $1.1 million, traveled to Europe often while he was receiving benefits and told The Florida Current this month that he 'didn’t need to work.'" "Deutsch nearly maxed out unemployment benefits".

Scott needs to own this
The Miami Herald editorial board: " A child in a casket is any parent’s worst moment and greatest loss. A child behind bars is any parent’s fear. And now there are two South Florida families facing those devastating scenarios. All because a loaded gun seems to have been left accessible to a 15-year-old boy."
We can look for scapegoats, sure, but the truth is everyone should claim responsibility, starting in the home all the way up to the governor’s office.
Yes, Gov. Rick Scott. Why?
Because his administration continues to defend the Republican-led Legislature’s new law that would ban pediatricians and other doctors from even asking their patients the simple safety question: Do you own a gun and do you keep it locked away from your kids?
In July, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke blocked the state from enforcing that onerous law. The judge noted in her decision that the state law “aims to restrict a practitioner’s ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to patient.” One truth: If you own a gun and have children in the home you should store it where it would not be accessible, and even if found, the bullets should be stashed somewhere else so that it couldn’t misfire.
Investigators will determine the facts of this case, and it may well be that Jordyn’s parents did exactly what they should have done and yet the boy managed to load the pistol with bullets.
But one fact remains clear: Fining physicians $10,000 for asking a patient about gun access (and that’s just the penalty for the first violation) — with a minimum of $100,000 for any health professional who asks about gun safety more than twice — criminalizes doctor-patient conversations.
The law, as we’ve said before, is a stunning example of heavy-handed government intrusion from a Legislature that has been bellowing “small government” for years. In doing the bidding of the NRA, for whom gun control is the spawn of the devil, lawmakers and the governor foolishly trampled the First Amendment on its way to elevating the Second. (It also would keep those campaign donations flowing from the right-to-bear-arms crowd.) Unfortunately, the governor is fighting the federal judge’s ruling. The state’s appeal continues.
"Guns and children".

"Dorworth was handed an unfathomable defeat"
"Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, is a fourth-generation Brevard County resident with a political lineage that leads to the Governor's Office and state Supreme Court. But until last week, the 41-year-old lawmaker had kept a low profile in the Capitol, overseeing few controversial bills, technical or low-key agricultural issues, and the often solitary duty of trying to defend Florida's withering space industry."

"That changed in an instant when the powerful but controversial Lake Mary Rep. Chris Dorworth was handed an unfathomable defeat by Seminole County voters. One by one, House Republicans who had pledged to support Dorworth's speakership started calling Crisafulli. Within a day of Dorworth's recount, Crisafulli found himself in line to become House speaker in 2014." "Crisafulli called a 'servant-leader' in replacing Dorworth".

Christian Family Coalition behind reinstating Miami-Dade commission prayer
"The Miami-Dade County Commission is poised next month to reinstate nondenominational prayers to kick off their meetings, after a group of commissioners approved the policy shift last week."
But the change was not spontaneous: The conservative Christian group pushing to restore prayer has been laying the groundwork for nearly a year and a half.
The Christian Family Coalition saw an opportunity to promote its agenda after Commissioner Katy Sorenson retired in late 2010, according Anthony Verdugo, the group’s executive director. Sorenson had been one of two board members who years earlier — in 2004, Verdugo said — changed the county’s practice to begin meetings with a moment of silence instead of a prayer.
"Sorenson was replaced by the more conservative Lynda Bell, whom the Coalition had endorsed. There was other commission turnover as well."
The ordinance stipulates that no one be allowed to give the invocation more than three times a year. The opening prayer would be open to leaders of all faiths.
But while the ordinance says the invocation will be nondenominational, there’s no way for the county to know in advance what a speaker plans to say, said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
That’s what happened before commissioners did away with the invocation, former Commissioner Sorenson said. The prayers were supposed to be nondenominational, but that often wasn’t the case.
"Conservative Christian group pushed reinstating Miami-Dade commission prayer".

Republicans silent
"The number of Cubans attempting to enter the U.S. has spiked in the last year, U.S. officials say, as are the ways they are getting here. As the U.S. Coast Guard deals with a rising tide of those trying to enter the country by sea, U.S. officials and resettlement agencies report they are seeing more Cubans coming across the borders from Mexico and Canada and arriving by air from other countries." "Florida sees spike in undocumented Cubans arriving".

Save Money, Live Better, Get Shot at Walmart
"Police: Disagreement over parking space led to Tallahassee Walmart shooting".

Panhandle luvs "Ocean Enemy #1"
"Southerland defeated former state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, 53 to 47 percent despite billboards calling him a 'Dirty Air Villain' and an opposition campaign calling him 'Ocean Enemy #1.'" "U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland says he was targeted by environmental groups over fishing issues".

First bills roll in
"First bills of the session filed". See also "Senate bills start rolling in". Background: "Florida lawmakers sworn in, face daunting work".

Scott filling campaign coffer
"While most Floridians were riveted on the presidential race, cash continued to flow Election Day into a political spending committee run by Gov. Rick Scott and focused on his re-election two years away. Scott, who a recent poll shows remains dogged by poor approval ratings, has pulled in about $4.5 million this year for the 2014 governor’s race, even as President Barack Obama’s victory and Democratic gains in the legislature and congressional delegation are emboldening potential rivals." "Scott already filling reelection war chest, as potential rivals fire warning shots". The Palm Beach Post editorial board wonder, "Will Rick Scott be re-elected in 2014?"

A Jax thing
"A Jacksonville police officer has quit after admitting he told colleagues that he would volunteer to assassinate President Barack Obama." "Police officer quits after comments about Obama".

Rubio's "pandering denial of scientific fact"
"Florida's junior U.S. senator lost no time after the election in making his way to Iowa to burnish his 2016 presidential prospects. But a GQ magazine interview released this week shows Sen. Marco Rubio has some growing to do if he wants to be seriously considered. Rubio refused to be pinned down on the simplest of questions: 'How old do you think the Earth is?'"
He bobbed and weaved around the subject, disingenuously insisting he wasn't a scientist. A pandering denial of scientific fact may appeal to factions of the Republican Party, but it hardly establishes Rubio as a thoughtful future leader of the GOP, much less the country.
"For Rubio, determining the age of the planet remains 'one of the great mysteries.'"
Actually the greater mystery is how an ambitious political figure, with an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, a law degree with the University of Miami and a father of four children, could decline to take a stand on a basic elementary school science question. It's especially troubling from a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
"Rubio shouldn't pander to ignorance".

"Florida Democrats far exceeded expectations"
Aaron Deslatte: "Florida Democrats far exceeded expectations – winning the state for President Barack Obama, beating a future House speaker in Chris Dorworth, gaining legislative seats and apparently ousting two congressional Republicans in David Rivera and Allen West. Chicago-based Snyder Pickerill Media Group, a political advertising spin-off of Obama's political machine, grossed $4.3 million from Florida Democrats this year." "Political insiders have much to be thankful for".