Thursday, February 20, 2014

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider "liking" us on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

Scott Court Packer is Back

"Three years ago, former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle tried to remake the Florida Supreme Court, sponsoring a controversial "court reform" plan that ultimately failed amid intense criticism from judges and civic watchdogs."

Now the Orlando Republican wants voters to send him back to Tallahassee, where he hopes to become speaker of the House.

But his opponents in the special election for House District 44 accuse Eisnaugle of trying to undermine the state's highest court and say it is evidence that he shouldn't get a second chance in office.

"Considered in 2011, the legislation would have split the court into criminal and civil divisions. It would have enabled Republican Gov. Rick Scott to immediately appoint three justices by raising the number of seats on the court from seven to 10."
The package also would have given the Republican-controlled Legislature more power over the court by requiring the Senate to confirm the governor's selection of justices and allowing lawmakers to more easily dictate court rules.

The legislation was a priority of Dean Cannon, the former House Speaker from Winter Park who now runs a lobbying firm. But Eisnaugle was its sponsor and chief defender in the House.

Eisnaugle said at the time that the changes would help make the court more efficient. But many lawyers and judges blasted the concept, claiming that Eisnaugle and Cannon were seeking retribution against a Supreme Court that recently had rejected three constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature.

Eisnaugle voted for the court split three times that year.

He said he still supports one element of the 2011 legislation: giving the Legislature more power to set the rules of the court. That was one of the few pieces of the original package to make it through the Florida Senate and onto the November 2012 ballot, where it was rejected by 63 percent of voters.

Eisnaugle said it would make the Legislature a more effective check on the judicial branch.

"Candidate pushed controversial court reform during previous stint in state House".

2014 Session Outlook

"2014 Session Outlook: Children and Family".

West Retreads Ramp Up

"Republicans are starting to ramp up their operations against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., considered by some one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the nation because he represents a swing district. Murphy defeated Republican incumbent Allen West in 2012." "Republican Primary Field Ramping Up Against Patrick Murphy".

Back at the ranch, "Allen West Accuses Obama and Democrats of Pushing 'Radical Transformation of America'".

Ideas, Who Needs 'Em

"Tom Rooney Takes National Stage, Raising Profile and Bashing Obamacare".


"SB 372 would increase from eight to 15 the number of counties where larger developments are exempted from state review as 'developments of regional impact.'" "Development bill clears another committee stop despite counties' opposition".

"A remnant of the Jim Crow era"

The Miami Heraldeditors: "Attorney General Eric Holder, who has become the Obama administration’s leading voice on minorities’ civil rights and criminal-justice reforms, recently championed a group that seldom gets the sympathy of law enforcers — convicted felons. During"

a criminal-justice symposium at Georgetown University last week, Mr. Holder called on 11 states, Florida included, to change their rules or to lift outright bans that prohibit felons who have served their time from voting.

Calling these rules a remnant of the Jim Crow era, when Southern states used all sorts of means to prevent black Americans from voting, Mr. Holder said, “Those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives.”

While the rules regarding if and when ex-inmates in Florida can vote have fluctuated over the years, the rule today is that felons must wait five years after they're released from prison to apply for restoration of their voting rights. The Florida Cabinet adopted this rule in 2011. The arbitrary time of five years makes no sense. In truth, most felons, with the possible exception of violent offenders and those who commit sex-related crimes, should have their voting rights restored automatically when they have done their time.

"They paid their debt".

No tuition increases

"It appears state university students won’t face a tuition increase of any kind next year – not even a rate-of-inflation bump that set back University of South Florida students about $52 this year." "No tuition increase for Florida university students".

"Woop woop . . . You rock!" Actually, you don't

"A day after the debut of Florida’s $63 million unemployment benefits website, the man in charge delivered a sunny appraisal."

"The system was up and running 100 percent of the time," project manager Tom McCullion wrote Oct. 16 to his agency’s top brass. "The two issues that caused claimants to receive an error message have been resolved."

"Woop woop . . . congrats!" wrote one colleague. "You rock!" said another.

Closer to the ground, others warned of a meltdown.

"We have our off-duty police officer now . . . to handle the irate customers," an executive director for a Pensacola job counseling center reported. "It’s going about like we expected — not very well."

"Emails show Florida officials celebrated launch of unemployment website as it failed for claimants".

Common Core Stands

"State stands by Common Core education standards." See also "Board adopts education standards after nearly 3 hours of public testimony".

Rove Front Group Takes On Sink

"Republican-aligned super-PAC American Crossroads announced on Tuesday it was launching a new television ad taking aim at former state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate running in the special congressional election for the seat that had been held for decades by the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla. Sink takes on Republican David Jolly and Libertarian Lucas Overby in the March 11 election."

The ad from American Crossroads, which has ties to prominent [Karl] Rove, slams Sink’s record in Tallahassee. The ad will be running over the next three weeks as American Crossroads spent $357,000 to run it in the Tampa Bay market.
"Karl Rove's PAC Doubles Down on David Jolly Over Alex Sink".

Latvala Lone GOP Voice Against Trashing FRS

"In a 5-4 vote, a Senate committee agreed Tuesday to pursue its chairman's plan for overhauling the Florida Retirement System by making new employees join a 'cash-balance' pension plan."

The Senate Community Affairs Committee also agreed to introduce Sen. Wilton Simpson's bill allowing the state to match up to 2 percent of earnings that employees stash in defined-compensation accounts. Those earning more than $60,000 a year would have their contribution capped at $1,200 -- the same 2 percent lower-paid workers accrue -- which Simpson said would encourage employees to save for retirement. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, joined three committee Democrats in voting against Simpson's cash-balance bill. The proposal (SPB 7046) would not affect current employees in the FRS, but those hired after July 1, 2015, would not be able to join the traditional "defined benefit" pension plan -- which calculates their monthly payout as a percentage of peak earnings, multiplied by years of service.
The cops and firefighters are standing with teachers and AFSCME against this attack on public employees:
The current bill exempts special-risk retirees such as police, firefighters and other first responders, who could remain in the defined benefit system. That potentially removes one political obstacle, because it could neutralize opposition from police and fire unions. Currently, however, the firefighters union opposed the bill and the Florida Police Benevolent Association said it will wait for an actuarial study of retirement options, due late next month or in early April.
"Senate committee proposes state pension bills".

MJ bill

"Rep. Bracy plans to propose legislation legalizing recreational pot".

College sales tax

"The half-penny sales tax, which must be eventually approved by voters, could generate $224 million to support Miami Dade College and Florida International University." "College sales tax gains support in House".

"Scott is still short-changing public schools"

"Two freshmen Democratic senators say even though the governor has proposed increased in education spending the past two years that Scott is still short-changing public schools. They note Florida is 45th in the nation in per pupil spending and teacher salaries are ranked 42nd in the country, $9,000 below the national average." "Bullard, Thompson don't like Scott's math on education".

Session Outlook

"Session Outlook 2014: Insurance".

"Get ready for more gambling"

Scott Maxwell writes, "Get ready for more gambling. The latest news out of Tallahassee has legislators preparing to unveil plans next week to bring big new casinos to Florida."

A side note:

When casinos and poker rooms flourished a few years back, many were allowed only at racing tracks and jai alai frontons. But now the casinos and poker make far more money than the tracks. So many track owners want to scale back or close their racing venues. They should be allowed to do so. Documents recently obtained by the Miami Herald, showed that 74 greyhounds died in the last seven months of 2013 on racetrack property — one every three days. If these companies don't want to race, they shouldn't be forced to, simply so they can keep dealing cards.
"Casinos coming; dogs dying – the real deal on Florida gambling". See also Fred Grimm, "Florida’s outdated gambling laws must be updated" (subscription).

5 Things to Know

"5 Things to Know in Florida for Feb. 20".

"Minimum Wage Fog"

Ralph Nader writes that "both sides of the aisle are spinning the report to claim victory, creating a fog around minimum wage policy that may further discourage a Walmart-influenced Congress from taking any action. Given the miserly state of the minimum wage today, such a can't-do attitude is unacceptable. Here are five key observations about the minimum wage to help members of Congress see through the "something for everyone" fog generated by the report: "Seeing Through the CBO's Minimum Wage Fog". Meanwhile, "Governor race unmoved by latest congressional minimum wage hike report".

Brown begins ahead

"Alvin Brown Begins 2015 Jacksonville Mayoral Race in the Lead".

Residency Requirements

"Senate Panel Passes Residency Requirements". Meanwhile, Bill Cotterell writes that "Residence, districts need not be linked".

Shaw the favorite

Jeff Henderson: "Democrat Sean Shaw is increasing his advantage in the battle to pick up a Florida House seat in Hillsborough County currently held by the term-limited Betty Reed."

Shaw, an attorney best known for his time as Florida’s insurance consumer advocate and for being the son of former Chief Justice Leander Shaw, has emerged as the favorite for the open House seat.
"Sean Shaw in Pole Position for Open Florida House Seat". Nancy Smith writes, "Anybody but Sean Shaw".

CD 19

"GOP Candidates Fight for the Right in CD 19".