Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.

"Scott is in re-election campaign mode"

"If there was any question, Gov. Rick Scott is in re-election campaign mode."

Scott released his first campaign ad this week, though he put it up only on YouTube, and on Tuesday while talking with reporters laid out what is expected to be the main mantra of his campaign -- that he has been at the helm as the economy has come back.
"Rick Scott Beginning to Campaign for Re-election".

Wal-Mart goes to court

The Huffington Post had this a few days ago, "Walmart Sues Grocery Workers Union, Others Who Have Protested At Florida Stores".

The Orlando Sentinel catches up today: "Wal-Mart asks court to stop protesters" "Wal-Mart asks court to stop protesters".

Where's Charlie?

"Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, who pleaded guilty on the eve of a potentially politically salacious trial that could have aired the laundry of the state GOP and former Gov. Charlie Crist, will find out his prison fate Wednesday.

"Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer’s pretrial guilty plea in February allowed him to avert the possibility of up to 75 years in prison for fraud, money laundering and theft." "Ex-RPOF chairman Jim Greer faces sentencing hearing". "He raised funds for gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in 2006 and worked his way into Crist's inner circle." "Former Florida GOP chairman to be sentenced today".

"The latest fight"

"The latest fight over the state’s congressional redistricting map came before a Tallahassee appeals court Tuesday as lawyers for the state argued that legislators and their political consultants should not have to testify about how they made their decisions."

Last month, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the legislature’s leaders must turn over their emails from political consultants and testify under oath as part of the lawsuit.

Before that could happen, however, lawyers for the House and Senate filed an appeal.

"In 2010, voters approved the Fair Districts constitutional amendments, which required lawmakers to draw restricting lines without favoring incumbents or political parties. Voters groups have latched onto the two amendments as grounds to sue the Legislature, alleging that both the congressional and state senate maps were intentionally drawn to favor Republicans."
Lawyers for the voters groups, representing the seven citizens as well as the Florida League of Women Voters and the National Council of La Raza, argued that if they can’t depose legislators to determine whether they purposely drew maps that favored Republicans, the court would “render meaningless” the constitutional amendments.
"Legislators ask court to shield them from having to testify over maps". See also "Redistricting challenge seeks to question lawmakers under oath". See also "Redistricting: Judges Skeptical of Liberals Forcing Legislators to Testify".

"To Raise or Not to Raise Tuition?"

"To Raise or Not to Raise Tuition: Now That's a Question".

1.7 million Floridians eligible for health care coverage subsidies

"Having trouble finding affordable health insurance? You may be one of 1.7 million low- to middle-income Floridians eligible for tax-credit subsidies worth thousands of dollars a year to help you pay for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, starting in 2014." "You may be eligible for health-care tax credits".

It musta been those education cuts

"Home prices rise 8.1%, most since June 2008".

"Firearms lobby pushes for guns on campuses"

Beth Kassab: "As UCF students were still grappling with how close they might have come to mass murder, a gun-rights group was in a Jacksonville courtroom arguing that Florida universities have no right to ban guns from campus." "As UCF reels, firearms lobby pushes for guns on campuses".

Weatherford to "exchange one money pipeline for another"

Regarding the "the state’s loophole-ridden campaign finance laws", the Miami Herald editors write that, "if the ultimate goal of this effort is to reduce the influence of money in politics — as it should be — lawmakers seem to be heading in the wrong direction."

Instead of reducing the allowable amount of contributions to political campaigns, legislators are increasing the limits. In some cases, the rule would be no limit at all — just back the dump truck full of money up to the door and let the pols have it.
"This is not reform."
Florida has some dandy campaign finance laws. A candidate may not accept more than $500 from any single contributor. Another law, approved in 2005, bans gifts from lobbyists.

But never mind all that. Florida law also establishes what is known as a Committee of Continuous Existence, a fancy name for a legal slush fund that can receive virtually unlimited amounts of cash. The money can be used for a variety of questionable purposes that may or may not be related to actual campaigning.

"The upside of the current reform effort is the elimination of these CCEs. These accounting gimmicks allow influence peddlers to funnel cash to lawmakers by another route, thus undermining the positive effect of other legislative limits."
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has made elimination of the CCEs a priority, but the bill he shepherded to passage in the House last week is fatally flawed.

In exchange for eliminating CCEs, the measure raises the cap on contributions to candidates’ political committees from $500 to unlimited amounts, though it requires that all expenses be related to the campaign.

Under the bill, contributions for statewide candidates (as opposed to campaign committees) would increase from $500 per election to $5,000 for statewide candidates and $3,000 for everyone else. Candidates would also be able to carry over up to $10,000 in excess campaign contributions to their next campaign.

"The result, by and large, is to exchange one money pipeline for another without making a practical improvement in campaign financing." "Eliminate slush funds".

Charter madness

"Scott’s pitch to lift enrollment limits on charter schools is drawing lukewarm support from fellow Republicans in the Florida Legislature, with many saying they are cautious about giving a green light to expansion. " "Latest proposals let only best Florida charter schools set own enrollment numbers".

"Proponents and opponents of the policy that would allow parents to demand conversion of a failing public school into a charter school ratchet up their language as a parent-trigger bill advances to the House floor." "Debate intensifies in parent-trigger debate". See also "Hope for charter school 'trigger' bill", "Policy Note: Parent Empowerment Act" and "Pinellas officials fighting charter school legislation".

"Legislative ping-pong"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editors: "In the past, Florida required absentee voters to include a witness' signature and address on the envelope. But the requirement -- which made it harder to vote but did little to prevent fraud -- was eliminated in 2004."

Now, a measure moving through state Senate committees (CS SB 600) would reinstate the witness-signature requirement.

The proposed change smacks of legislative ping-pong, confusing voters and likely increasing the number of invalid ballots.

Elections supervisors aren't in favor of the witness requirement, a spokesman said at a recent meeting of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. Presumably, supervisors' staff would be the ones checking the witness signatures and addresses -- a workload issue during busy election seasons.

Current rules do require that an absentee ballot certificate bear the valid signature of the voter (not a witness). Unfortunately, a substantial number of absentee voters forget to sign before sending in their ballot -- automatically invalidating it. Some voters also fail to update their on-file signatures, leading to more invalidated absentee votes.

"An elections bill in the state House would ease these problems by requiring that voters be notified of signature flaws."
The voters would then be allowed to go to the elections office, correct the error and ultimately have their vote count once everything is in order.

The House change makes sense, and the Senate would be wise to adopt it.

"Wrong way on election reform".

Court upholds praying before Lakeland City Commission meetings

"A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of prayers before meetings of the Lakeland City Commission, rejecting atheists’ arguments that the practice promotes Christianity." "Court upholds prayers at Lakeland meetings".


"Rep. Ray Rodrigues says his concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking,' led him to propose legislation creating a registry for fracking chemicals." "Policy Note: Oil and Gas Production".

"A controversial question"

"A controversial question has spurred an emotional debate in Tallahassee: Who should have the final say over a special needs child’s education?" "Lawmakers grapple with future of special needs students".

Streamlined-permitting bill

"The HB 999 permitting bill by Rep. Jimmy Patronis is on the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee agenda for March 27. HB 357/SB 582 reduce from 90 to 60 days the time allowed for reviewing a completed application. HB 7019 is a committee bill that requires a disclaimer for permits to address concerns raised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the 2012 streamlined-permitting bill HB 503." "Policy Note: Environmental Regulation & Permitting".

Legislature briefs

"Florida Legislature briefs". See also "Policy Note: Correctional Re-entry Treatment Facilities", "Policy Note: Wind Mitigation Inspections" and "Policy Note: Workers' Comp Insurance/Drug Repackaging".

PIP repeal?

"Senate to pitch repeal of PIP coverage".