Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Doug Tudor to Announce Run in FL-12‏

His status on Facebook two hours ago:

Doug Tudor Has Many Phonecalls to Make on Wednesday Before he Formally Files his Candidacy Paperwork for the U.S. House in FL-12. So C'mon and Get Aboard, or Get Left Behind.

How Does The House Republican Budget Deal With Swine Flu?

From the House Dems:

Amid fears that the world may be entering a global pandemic of swine flu, Florida House Republican leaders are standing behind a proposed state budget that would hinder Florida’s ability to fight public health threats.

Swine flu, which has caused numerous recent deaths in Mexico, normally affects only pigs. Twenty cases of swine flu have been confirmed in the United States. No cases have yet been identified in Florida. However, state and county health departments in Florida have announced that they have boosted surveillance for the virus.

Despite the government’s reaction to this public health emergency, Florida House Republicans are defending a proposed state budget that would cut the salaries of state employees, including public health workers who would be at the front lines of fighting a pandemic.

More than 12,000 Floridians work in county health departments throughout Florida’s 67 counties. They include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, immunologists and other experts.

“The current outbreak of swine flu is a reminder of the important work of public health nurses, doctors and other caregivers who should be applauded for their vigilance in protecting Floridians from serious illnesses,” said House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands. “During the current economic crisis, House Republicans are acting carelessly in threatening pay cuts and job losses for hard-working public health employees.”

Swine flu has many of the same symptoms as the regular flu virus and can be mild, but people may want to seek treatment by a physician if they experience trouble breathing, dizziness or severe vomiting.

For more information about the swine flu, visit the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


House Democrats Support Protectino of Caloosahatchee River

From the House Dems:

Florida House Democrats today voted in support of an amendment sponsored by Representative Martin Kiar (D-Davie) that would have restricted bids and prohibited the issuance of permits to drill in an area five miles north and five miles south of the Caloosahatchee River.

The Caloosahatchee River enters the Gulf of Mexico 10 miles southwest of Fort Myers, near Sanibel Island. It is an important link in the inland waterway system of South Florida and is integral in efforts to restore and preserve the Everglades.

On a voice vote, House Republicans defeated the amendment to a bill, HB1219, that allows oil drilling within three miles of Florida’s coastline.

“I filed this amendment because the river, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades are all connected,” Representative Kiar said. “If drilling occurs in the area of the ocean that my amendment was trying to exempt, and a spill occurs, we are risking devastating the Everglades, our drinking water and severely harming the wildlife and ecosystem of the Everglades.

“I am saddened to see this amendment defeated,” Kiar said. “As I said on the floor of the House, a vote against this amendment could potentially lead to the destruction of Florida’s most valuable lifeline, its most unique treasure, the Everglades.”

Key House Republicans Join Democrats In Vote Against Big Oil

From the House Dems:

The House Democratic Office reminds observers of the vote today of House Rules & Calendar Council Chairman Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, as well as deputy whips James C. Frische, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Ed Hooper.

These House Republicans today joined a majority of House Democrats in opposing House Bill 1219, a Big Oil victory that reverses a ban on drilling in Florida waters.

In addition to these roll call votes, four other House Republicans voted “no” later in the day after missing the roll call. Those Republicans are: Representatives Thomas Anderson (R-Dunedin), Gary Aubuchon (R-Cape Coral), Peter Nehr (R-Tarpon Springs), Julio Robaina (R-Miami), and Ron Schultz (R-Homosassa).

Impact of Obama's First 100 Days on Florida

From the president:

*Jobs created or saved by the Recovery Act: 206,000
*Workers receiving the Making Work Pay Tax Credit: 6,689,000
*Additional children with health care: 290,000
*Students aided by the American Opportunity Tax Credit: 195,000
*Example Recovery Act Project: $20.6 million for job placement assistance programs

Don't Refuse Federal Economic Recovery Funds for Unemployed Families

From the House Dems:

Florida House Democrats today urged House Speaker Larry Cretul and other House Republicans to take immediate action to ensure that Florida doesn’t reject more than $1 billion in federal stimulus aid for out-of-work Floridians.

With the unemployment rate at 9.7 percent, Florida is under extreme economic duress due to the slowdown of the real estate market and the global economic recession. In the midst of this crisis, Florida’s unemployment trust fund is being drained.

Concerned about the thousands of hard working, middle-class Florida families who will suffer due to unexpected job loss, House Democrats are urging immediate legislative approval of two major actions before the end of the 2009 lawmaking session. Democrats are seeking:

· Approval of legislation that would allow the state to use $777 million in federal Recovery Act money for the rest of the year for an estimated 250,000 people whose benefits would otherwise expire.

· Passage of legislation that would implement the Unemployment Compensation Modernization Incentive program that would provide an additional $444 million for unemployed Floridians. This program would offer benefits to individuals who lose their jobs for certain family circumstances, such as the relocation of a spouse, family illness, or domestic violence.

Measures that would implement these changes have been authored by state senators and have been subject to modest review in the Florida House of Representatives. The House should take immediate steps to pass these bills, including CS/SB 810, CS SB 516, and House Bill 1333 by Representative J.G. Rader (D-Delray Beach).

Florida House Democrats appreciate concerns that have been raised about potential future-year expenses associated with adoption of these changes. However, Florida House Democrats have repeatedly noted that the economic recovery dollars that have been provided by Congress and approved by President Barack Obama are urgently needed to help Florida’s economy recover and for families to be able to avoid crushing financial crises due to unemployment during this recession.

Additionally, U.S. Department of Labor officials have again confirmed in a recent correspondence with Representative Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) that “there is no requirement that the state return any money it if later repeals the provisions” of the Unemployment Compensation Modernization Incentive program.

Representative Skidmore offered these remarks:

“Florida’s unemployed and hard-working families should not be denied their full and fair share of economic recovery funds. The Legislature should not penalize people who have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own. These dollars will make a real difference to people who are hungry and need rent money. This money can keep a roof over someone’s head and stimulate Florida’s economy.”

Letter to Attorney General Bill McCollum

From the Senate Dems:

Attorney General Bill McCollum

Re: Senate Bill 2198

Dear General McCollum:

I am writing to seek your input and assistance regarding the cigarette industry’s efforts to seek appellate bond protection from our legislature. Senate Bill 2198 will be debated on the Senate floor today. The bill will relieve the tobacco industry of any obligation to post a full appellate bond in the event they appeal an adverse judgment in one of the thousands of cigarette lawsuits now pending in our state. The tobacco industry claims that absent this relief, the annual payment to the State of Florida required by the Florida Tobacco Settlement Agreement may be jeopardized due to concerns about the solvency of the big tobacco companies.

Based upon my review, there appears to be a discrepancy between the tobacco industry’s representations made to the members of the Florida legislature in an effort to gain passage of this bill and the representations made to their own shareholders in corporate filings with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Your legal analysis of this issue is imperative in order for the members of the legislature to fully understand the circumstances underlying the tobacco industry’s request for this legislative relief.

My concern regarding the industry’s apparent contradictory statements was substantially heightened when I learned that these cigarette companies have been found to have committed a civil conspiracy to defraud the very Floridians who may be adversely affected should the above-referenced bill be passed into law.

Enclosed please find a copy of the July 1999 jury verdict resulting from a year-long trial in Phase I of the “Engle” lawsuits that have prompted this legislation. I direct your attention to question 5(a) wherein the jury determined that the cigarette companies entered into an agreement to conceal or omit information regarding the health effects of cigarette smoking, or the addictive nature of smoking cigarettes, with the intention that smokers and members of the public rely on this misinformation to their detriment. After seven years of post-trial motions and appeals by the cigarette industry, the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 upheld the jury’s verdict that the cigarette companies are civil co-conspirators in a fraudulent enterprise perpetrated on thousands of citizens of the state of Florida.

In an effort to determine the validity of the cigarette companies’ claims that posting full appellate bonds in the Engle lawsuits would pose a risk to their annual Florida Tobacco Settlement Agreement payments, I reviewed the 2008 year-end Form 10-K filings of Altria Group, Inc. (Phillip Morris) and Reynolds American, Inc. These documents are enclosed for your review. Although the companies’ 10-K Forms discuss both the Florida Engle class lawsuits and the annual payments to the State of Florida resulting from the Florida Tobacco Settlement Agreement, neither Phillip Morris nor Reynolds American have disclosed in these SEC filings that the Engle Class lawsuits pose any material risk either to their financial solvency or to their annual payments to the State of Florida.

As you know, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 requires a corporation to disclose to its shareholders in a Form 10-K all material facts that pose financial risk to the corporation and its shareholders. Will you, in your capacity of Attorney General, please review these documents to ensure the accuracy of the testimony presented by Keith Teel on behalf of Phillip Morris, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company and Lorillard Tobacco Company, before the House Finance and Tax Committee on April 20, 2009, a copy of which is attached to my letter? In his testimony, Mr. Teel stated, “We are very concerned that we be able to continue to make payments to the states.” He also referred to the Engle cases as a threat that “would make it difficult to continue making the payments.” I do not believe that there is anything in the 10-K statements that states that payments required to be made to the State of Florida are in jeopardy.

General McCollum, your prompt investigation of the tobacco industry’s assertions that their payments to Florida will be at risk without this legislation is necessary to help the Florida Senate sort out these seemingly contradictory claims. The attorney general’s office has the resources to help the members of the Senate determine where the truth lies in this matter, and I ask that you utilize those resources to their fullest.

Sincerely yours,
Ted Deutch

Statement by Representative Alan Williams on State Employee Pay and Benefits

From the House Dems:

State Representative Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) issued the following statement in response to House Speaker Larry Cretul’s announcement today about House-Senate budget conferences:

“In establishing ground rules for budget talks that are underway between the House and Senate, House Speaker Larry Cretul stated today that the topic of state employee pay and benefits will be discussed at the highest levels of legislative leadership.

“With more than 26,000 state employees residing in the Tallahassee area and many more workers throughout Florida, it is of critical importance to the local and state economies to ensure that these jobs are protected and these dedicated workers continue drawing competitive salaries.

“Florida’s economy is in duress and the services of these fine Floridians are crucial. It would be foolish to cut our public employees’ salaries during the recession just as we are trying to take extraordinary steps to rebuild our economy. State workers are deserving of our praise and their work must be recognized.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Democratic Black Caucus of Florida to Hold Convention in Gainesville

From Lizzie Jenkins:

The Democratic Black Caucus of Florida is holding its Annual Convention in Gainesville, Florida at the University of Florida Hilton Hotel on May 22nd and May 23rd, 2009. Using the theme, “Only the Strong Survive,” the annual convention of black Democratic leaders in Florida will emphasize strengthening and deepening African-American participation in and influence on the Florida Democratic Party, while recruiting and training new candidates for leadership roles in Florida public offices. Hosted by the Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus, this annual gathering provides many opportunities for potential candidates to enlist support, for organizers to exchange information and techniques, and for vendors and advertisers to reach out to the African-American community of Alachua County.

Speaking to Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus Members, State President Liz Jenkins said, “The theme of our Convention is ‘Only the Strong Survive.’ This underlines the moral courage and perseverance our elders and leaders needed in order to bring us to where we are today both nationally and in Florida. There is still so much farther to go. This is the lesson and the legacy we want to leave to future generations of African-Americans citizens, voters and candidates.”

Persons wishing to register for the conference may contact

State President Liz Jenkins at her phone, (352) 495-2917, her e-mail, lizzieprj@aol.com , or may download the registration form at: http://www.democraticblackcaucusfl.org/BC%20Conference%202009.pdf .

Those wishing to reserve a hotel room at the Hilton may call them at (352) 371-3600, or may do so online at: http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/GVNCCHF-Hilton-University-of-Florida-Conference-Center-Gainesville-Florida/index.do;jsessionid=F0D778CA3F60FC9A11F860DF78991A3C.etc23?brand_id=HI&brand_directory=/en/hi/&xch=356385630,NXSTP0T5OL2XKCSGBIV2VCQ.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Kendrick B. Meek (D-FL) Urges Lawmakers to Pass Legislation Putting Florida in Compliance with Unemployment Insurance Modernization Provision of the E

Congressman Kendrick B. Meek (D-FL) wrote Florida Governor Charlie Crist urging him to work with the Florida legislature to enact legislation putting Florida in compliance with the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Provision of the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the economic recovery package).

“The economic recovery bill was meant to jumpstart Florida’s economy by providing critical federal dollars to state and local governments. These funds will only be available to Florida if the state is in compliance with the federal government’s guidelines. Leaving money that is due to Florida on the table cannot happen and leaders in the state must act now to reap the full benefits of the economic recovery package,” said Congressman Kendrick Meek.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides up to $7 billion in modernization grants for states that already have enacted or will enact legislation implementing specific reforms to increase access to Unemployment Insurance benefits for jobless workers. This provision in the ARRA will provide approximately $444.3 million to Florida to boost their unemployment programs.

In order to be compliant, the State must implement two of a possible four reforms: (1) Extended UI while in Training; (2) Part-Time Worker Coverage; (3) Weekly $15 Dependent Allowance; (4) Compelling Family Reasons for Leaving Work (includes ALL 3 of the following provisions: Domestic Violence, Spouse Relocation; and Illness & Disability) and affirmatively take these steps:

(1) To receive 1/3 of the funding, the State must enact an alternative base period, which ensures that the last completed quarter of a worker’s employment is counted when determining eligibility for unemployment benefits. The Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation estimates that this will cost $51.3 million per year

(2) To receive the remainder of the funding, a State must enact 2 of 4 other provisions. The Florida bills SB 516/HB 1333 reflect that Florida has chosen

(1) The provision to permit former part-time workers to seek part-time work. This is estimated to cost nothing.

(2) The provision to permit voluntary separations from employment for compelling family reasons. The estimate for this is $22.4 million per year.

SB 516/HB 133 cost estimates are $74 million per year estimates the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.

The $444.3 million grant would cover more than 6 years of these costs

During a Ways and Means Committee hearing held in Congress yesterday, Congress Meek asked Ray Uhalde, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the US Dept of Labor if these provisions can later be repealed by the state. Mr. Uhalde testified that states are expected to make a good faith effort to comply with UI provisions. Florida can repeal these provisions if they would like and would not have to pay back the $444.3 million.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) calculates that the added UI Modernization funding could have the effect of slashing the potential tax increase on impacted employers by $105.6 million. This is a 20% reduction from the expected $528 million increase in taxes. According to the National Employment Law Project, the projected infusion of federal money into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund would lower expected increases to UI taxes by $105.6 million.

To date, 27 States have adopted these modifications and the Department of Labor expects that these states will soon complete the process and become fully compliant. Florida is not one of these 27 States, despite its high unemployment rate.

Fact Sheet on Minority Vote Suppression Under Republican Elections Legislation

From the House Dems:

Representative Joe Gibbons (D-Pembroke Park) and Representative Luis Garcia (D-Miami) issued the following fact sheet today about House PCB-EDCA 09-08, a Republican-sponsored measure to suppress the minority vote in Florida.

The bill is a partisan power grab by Republican legislative leaders that aims to suppress voting turnout and registration drives among African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

Over the past several election cycles, a clear pattern has emerged in which minority communities show a preference for in person voting, while Florida’s non-Hispanic white voters are increasingly voting by mail.

Because Republicans are adding impediments to voter registration efforts, Early Voting, Election Day voting, and election protection efforts to ensure that minority voters can exercise their right to vote without intimidation, this is a clear effort to suppress minority voters who increasing lean Democratic.

Specifically this legislation would:

· Expand the “no-solicitation zone,” restricting voters’ ability to receive important voting rights information at the polling place;

· Further limit acceptable IDs, without proposing acceptable alternatives, preventing eligible citizens from registering to vote, and properly registered voters from exercising their right to vote;

· Force more voters to vote by provisional ballots, which disproportionately effects minority voters and have a higher rate of rejection;

· Increase the frequency of “list maintenance programs” causing more validly registered voters to be removed from the voter rolls;

· Impose unnecessary and onerous restrictions on third-party voter registration groups. This would have the direct effect of decreasing electoral participation by Floridians who are significantly more likely to register through these drives, especially eligible African American and Hispanic voters.

Confirming trends from previous elections, data from the 2008 General Election shows that the Republican efforts to target in person voting (Early Vote & Election Day Voting) would disproportionately harm minorities.

Out of all ballots cast in the 2008 General Election, 75.5% of Floridians voted in person and 24.5% voted by mail. Of the votes cast, 82.8% of African Americans and 80.4% of Hispanics who voted did so in person, while only 73.1% of Caucasian voting did the same.

Additionally, the restrictions on voter registration drives are designed to hurt minority communities. While only 12.9% of Florida’s voters are African American, in the months leading up to the 2008 election 19.8% of the newly registering voters were black.

Similarly, while just 11.9% of voters are Hispanic, 19.4% of the newly registered voters during that same time were Hispanic. (While 69.2% of Florida’s voters are white, just 46.5% of these new voters were the same.) Because these restrictions are aimed at hurting efforts to register minority voters, these restrictions dilute the African American and Hispanic communities’ access to the ballot box.

Where we stand‏

From the FDP:

It's been a great few weeks here. We not only reached our goal of 500 donors standing up last week, but over 512 people reached into their wallets for the first time to make a stand to help Floridians get the help they need and President Obama fought to get us.

Your support of our party in Florida is overwhelming, and we let the Republicans in Tallahassee know where you stand. In the last week of the legislative session, our Democratic legislators are:

* Working to get all of the recovery money to Florida, so we don't let Republicans block President Obama's efforts to jumpstart our economy.
* Protecting our right to vote from a last minute partisan assault, because the Republican Leaders are trying to make it harder for Floridians to vote and end the type of voter registration drives that helped President Obama win Florida.
* Fighting to end the Republican waste, fraud and abuse in government and balance the budget without hurting Florida's working families.
* Blocking Republican plans to drill for crude oil just 3 miles off Florida's coasts, which further endangers Florida's tourism economy and risks polluting our precious beaches.

Your support is helping us fight back - thank you.

While the state faces a dramatic budget deficit and 11th hour bills are being pushed through with almost no debate or transparency, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and our Democratic Legislators are working hard every day to protect taxpayers' dollars and hold government more accountable.

Senator Bill Nelson and our congressional Democrats are fighting for us in Washington - and now that Senator Martinez has announced his retirement, we are working to make sure that another Florida Democrat will join Nelson to serve in the Senate.

This next election in November of 2010 is going to be a great opportunity for us to build on our victory in 2008. With an open US Senate seat, legislative races, and the possibility of more open seats in the next few weeks, we could have a once in a generation opportunity to change Florida and turn it blue for years to come.

I know we are going to win in 2010. We are going to do it the same way we won Florida for President Obama 2008 - with the hard work of thousands of Floridians like you. I know from what you've done in the last few weeks - from standing up to Attorney General Bill McCollum to helping President Obama pass his budget by writing letters to the editors of Florida's newspapers - we will be able to count on you for help as we we're gearing up for the mid-term elections by recruiting candidates, training activist, developing our message, and registering new voters.

Thank you for everything you've done for Florida- standing with us and creating change in Tallahassee. I promise to keep you up to date as the legislative session ends and as we get ready for our annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Miami at the end of May.

Congresswoman Karen L. Thurman
Chair, Florida Democratic Party

Representative Porth's Bill Gives Hope to Victims' Families

From the House Dems:

Legislation sponsored by Representative Ari Abraham Porth (D-Coral Springs) to lift the statute of limitations for wrongful death actions won tentative approval in the Florida House today.

House Bill 111 creates the Jeffrey Klee Memorial Act, which would allow civil claims to be filed by families of victims of murder or manslaughter regardless of when the crimes occurred.

The legislation stems from the case of Jeffrey Klee, whose family waited three decades for answers about the Broward County man’s disappearance. While the legislation is not retroactive and won’t benefit the Klee family, it is expected to bring hope to other victims’ families.

In 1977, Jeffrey Klee, then 18, graduated from high school. The former football quarterback and basketball center was expected to take over his father’s lawn service. On July 12, 1977, he disappeared. Thirty-one years passed before the Coral Springs Police Department found his remains at the bottom of a canal. David Cusanelli, the man who allegedly killed and buried Klee, lives free today – and free from prosecution and civil justice.

“It is my hope that this law will give families the opportunity for justice that the Klee family never received,” said Representative Porth. “It is tragic what happened to Jeffrey Klee, and no family should be barred or delayed the opportunity to pursue justice in the way that the Klee family has endured.”

Federal Stimulus Dollars

From the Senate Dems:

Dear Governor Crist:

It is with rising alarm that myself and the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus are following the news chronicles of the apparent paralysis gripping the head of your Education Department. We are stunned that with less than a week to go in the 2009 Legislative Session, Commissioner Eric Smith has yet to submit the necessary paperwork to draw down federal stimulus dollars Florida desperately needs and on which our final budget depends.

Governor, Commissioner Smith may liken the application process to reportedly “buying a car,” but I can assure you vehicle shopping is not our top priority. With $2 billion in federal education dollars hanging in the balance, we are quickly running out of time.

As you will recall, just last month we highlighted the need to get the state’s act together in order to jump start the application process for the federal stimulus funds for Florida. Your office was delinquent not only in creating the mandatory tracking website, but your own Department of Transportation had not moved past the “draft” stage in project recommendations.

We were heartened to see a quick response once we outlined these concerns to the Senate leadership and the press, but fear the lethargy we spotted then has reared its head once again.

This letter is to urge you, as head of this state and these agencies, including the Department of Education, to remind Commissioner Smith that the contract details with which he should be concerned are not on a new car purchase, but the one he presides over with the children in Florida and the duty to maintain their education.

We look forward to your leadership in expediting the necessary paperwork, with or without the waiver supplemental details, so that we may conclude the people’s business without additional and unnecessary delay.

The U.S. Department of Education has publicly assured Florida that postponing our application pending the receipt of some obscure supplemental details is totally unnecessary.

We could not agree more.


Senator Al Lawson
Senate Democratic Leader

Education Dollars for Florida

From the House Dems:

Dear Governor Crist:

Florida House Democratic Caucus members are concerned by the state Department of Education’s failure to submit the necessary paperwork to the U.S. Department of Education for our state to receive Florida’s fair share of federal economic recovery dollars for schools.

Only a few days remain in the 2009 legislative session and federal monies are needed to balance the Fiscal year 2009-10 state budget. It is imperative that no time be wasted in accessing the $2 billion in federal education dollars that members of Congress and President Barack Obama helped to secure for our state’s students, teachers and other school personnel and programs.

While our caucus is pleased by your administration’s embrace of using federal economic recovery monies, we now urge you to remind Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith to expedite the necessary paperwork so that the Florida Legislature can conclude the people’s business without additional and unnecessary delay.

Thank you for your urgent consideration of this matter.


Franklin Sands
Democratic Leader

Dan Gelber on the Legislative Session

State Senator Dan Gelber says the 2009 legislative session is in absolute meltdown and it's unlikely that the Republicans in Tallahassee will be able to accomplish the only requirement of the annual session -- passing the budget.

After the downfall of corrupt Republican House leader Ray Sansom, Gelber said that the Republicans have no reliable leadership and that they don't really know what they are doing in terms of this year's session. At a time when Florida faces deep challenges, the majority party lacks the capacity to do much to meet those needs and it's likely the session will end next week with no budget deal in place.

Floridians are facing an economic crisis that is deeper than the national crisis -- and likely to last quite a bit longer -- and neither the Republicans in the legislature nor Governor Charlie Crist is providing us with the leadership we need to tackle the problems. Gelber said he remembers the big fight under Governor Jeb Bush was that Bush was too hands-on and it was difficult to keep him from doing damage. Under Crist, though, we have the opposite problem -- the governor doesn't want to come out and say what his plans are on any issue, leaving lawmakers without guidance as to how he'll react when legislation hits his desk. Gelber says Crist is like a movie critic -- he tells you how he feels about an issue without offering any solutions. The vacuum of leadership from the Republicans in Tallahassee means there is no good news from the session.

The primary purpose of the annual legislative session is to come up with the state's budget. Because of the national economic crisis and the more extreme state economic crisis, budget revenue has been in a freefall in recent months.

Gelber says that he's happy that the Senate budget plan has some significant increases in revenue. He's upset that the House isn't increasing revenue, but rather is relying on cuts that damage education, health care and other essential services. He hopes that the final budget deal doesn't strip out the revenue gains.

New revenue comes from several sources. The increase in the tobacco tax helps a lot, and is recurring, but diminishes over time. The stimulus money, while hugely important in the short term, only applies to a 25-month period and the revenue stream is gone. Without it, though, Gelber warns that the state could lose its bond rating and face even more serious cuts to basic services. In 2011, there will be a huge problem if more revenue isn't found, because the stimulus money will be gone. It could even lead to problems in 2010 if the economy doesn't rebound quick enough.

The real source for new revenue that should be pursued are the tax loopholes that have been widely discussed. Eliminating some of the more egregious loopholes could generate close to a billion in revenue each year.

Gelber had a lot to say about the importance of education and says that we need to be investing in the future, not cutting it. With the news yesterday that Jefferson County (immediately to the East of Tallahassee) has no money left in its education budget and will be taken over by the state, the issue is even more visible. The same crisis was almost faced by Dade schools. Dade avoided going under by cutting important programs and firing popular teachers in "nonessential" areas such as drama. Gelber stresses the importance of those other programs, saying they are essential to educating Florida's children. Florida is already a state that spends very little on education and in the last year or so, we've cut spending by about $500 per student. This is why the state is having trouble getting federal education stimulus funds and have had to ask for a waiver. Gelber thinks we'll get that waiver, though, which is good news since we're not sure what'll happen without it. He notes that, unlike himself, most of the legislature doesn't have children in public schools, so they don't see the direct effects their policies are having on our school system.

He also notes that while all of Florida's Republican representatives to Congress voted to reject stimulus funds, Republicans in the state legislature -- those who actually have to pass a budget and get things done -- are overwhelmingly for the stimulus plan and are asking for more. In Congress, he says, Republicans are a minority and have no responsibility and nothing to answer for. At the state level, they're actually in charge and have to show results, so they're doing the common sense thing and taking the money that Florida needs during this time of crisis.

Floridians can help spread the news on the budget cuts and other problems created by Republican policies by telling the personal stories of how government programs are affecting people's lives. Write letters to the editor, blog, tell your friends and neighbors how cuts hurt real people and maybe enough people will hear the story and can convince legislators to do the right thing.

Gelber condemned Dean Cannon's push for oil drilling and dismissed the recent talk of combining the drilling proposal with the "clean energy" bill being pushed for by Senator Jim King. Gelber doesn't think that compromise will go forward, although Gelber warns that every time he thinks something is too crazy for the Republicans to pursue, they do it anyway.

Luckily for Floridians, Gelber said he thinks the most extreme things floating around the legislature this year will die because of the dysfunction of the Republican leaders. It's unlikely that the elections bill, CSX bill, and offshore drilling proposals will make it to the governor's desk.

(Gelber recently reached out to bloggers by offering to do a series of conference calls with them to discuss the legislative session and provide us with the latest information on what's happening at the capitol. I, and several other bloggers, jumped at the opportunity. Our first conference call was last night.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

House Republicans Violate No-tax Pledge At Expense of Middle Class Floridians

From the House Dems:

After voting to cut education and healthcare and draining state funds for housing and transportation, several Florida House Republicans on Friday also violated their pledge to vote against increasing taxes.

Twenty-one Republican members of the Florida House signed a pledge to taxpayers created by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and in an act of hypocrisy on Friday, those same members voted for almost a $1-billion in tax increases.

Norquist’s organization has repeatedly stated that any increase in a fee that goes into a general fund rather than the cost of providing a specific service is a tax increase.

Floridians will not be fooled by House Republican attempts to disguise their tax-hike votes. The House Republicans who violated their so-called “no new taxes” Norquist pledge include:

· House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala;

· Representative Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach;

· Representative Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park;

· Representative Jennifer Carroll, R-Jacksonville;

· Representative Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island;

· Representative Clay Ford, R-Pensacola;

· Representative Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City;

· Representative Doug Holder, R-Sarasota;

· Representative Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda;

· Representative Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami;

· Representative Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland;

· Representative Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake;

· Representative Steve Precourt, R-Winter Garden;

· Representative Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine;

· Representative David Rivera, R-Miami;

· Representative Julio Robaina, R-Miami;

· Representative Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte;

· Representative William Snyder, R-Stuart;

· Representative Baxter Troutman, R-Winter Haven;

· Representative Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka;

· Representative John Wood, R-Haines City.

While Florida House Republican have raised taxes on working Floridians, House Democrats have proposed alternatives that would have balanced the state’s budget without making radical and reckless policy changes.

These Democratic proposals, which Republican leaders have blocked from being debated in the Florida House, include closing tax loopholes for the rich, collecting sales taxes on purchases made over the Internet, and deleting certain outdated sales tax exemptions.

“Republicans apparently think that balancing the state budget by taking money from the pockets of hard-working Floridians is preferable to having an open and honest discussion about alternative revenue sources,” said Representative Ron Saunders (D-Key West), the House Democratic Ranking Member on the Full Appropriations Council on Education and Economic Development.

Letter to House Speaker Larry Cretul regarding elections legislation

From the House Dems:

Dear Speaker Cretul:

On behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, I strongly urge you to halt any action in the Florida House of Representatives pertaining to PCB-EDCA 09-08 (a bill to amend election laws) other than to return this measure to committees and councils for more thorough analysis, public testimony and debate.

In its current form, this legislation will create new barriers to the voting process and drastically limit citizen involvement in elections and government.

The bill has been developed in near secrecy and was rushed through the legislative committee process in a manner that dishonors our stated efforts to conduct the people’s business in a fair and transparent manner.

As you know, there is nothing more sacred than the right to vote – and any legislation pertaining to this right deserves to be treated with extraordinary care and caution. Therefore, there is no need for this legislation to be rushed to the House floor without adequate review and public testimony.

As for the merits of the legislation, members of the House Democratic Caucus and numerous voter-advocacy and public interest groups see no justification for the radical changes entailed in this measure. Among other things, this bill would:

- Hurt third-party voter registration efforts;

- Make it much harder for grassroots groups to use the citizens’ initiative process;

- Restrict nonpartisan election protection programs;

- Weaken campaign finance laws and make lawmakers less accountable to the public;

- Reduce transparency in the funding of political advertisements;

- Eliminate voters’ ability to vote a regular ballot on Election Day;

- Restrict the list of accepted forms of identification for voter registration and identification at the polls; and

- Restrict the ability of the governor to extend early voting.

On behalf of our constituents throughout Florida, I respectfully request your urgent consideration of this matter.


Franklin Sands
House Democratic Leader

Sands Says Eearth Day Is Right Time To Approve Renewable Energy Bill

From the House Dems:

Amid today’s Earth Day celebrations, Florida House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands (D-Weston) called on House Republican leaders to take urgent action on important environmental legislation and to halt their controversial oil-drilling proposal.

“Earth Day is an opportunity for all citizens to reflect on our shared responsibility of being cautious stewards of Florida’s precious natural resources,” said Leader Sands. “To honor this occasion, it is appropriate for legislative leaders to announce their intention of approving much-needed environmental protections and to expand our state’s opportunities to create a large-scale renewable energy market.

“Instead of allowing oil drilling closer to Florida’s shores as House Republican leaders have proposed, Florida should be a leader in the production and use of renewable energy,” added Leader Sands. “I am deeply concerned by House Republican efforts to lift the state’s decades-old ban on drilling, which could bring working oil rigs to within 3 miles of our shoreline in the Atlantic Ocean and 9 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Florida’s economy relies heavily on beach-going tourists, and we cannot afford the inherent risks associated with this near-shore drilling proposal,” said Sands. “There’s not enough oil in this region worth the risk of deeply injuring our state’s economy. We should consider that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a 2000 “Coastal and Oceans Report” that found tourists spent $42 billion visiting Florida’s beaches, bringing in roughly $700 million that year in states sales tax revenue.

“Legislation sponsored by Representative Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, and supported by other House Democrats, would help our state create a robust and secure renewable energy market. It is appropriate that we don’t waste the final crucial days of the 2009 legislation session without adequately discussing and approving House Bill 1317, which creates the Florida Renewable Energy Freedom Act.

“House Bill 1317 would put Florida in a position to be a national leader in the production and use of renewable energy. This legislation would be good for Florida’s economy, our environment, and provides the appropriate incentive to encourage homeowners and small businesses to invest in renewable energy, including solar and power, that would reduce our dependence on oil.”

Earlier today, Leader Sands joined Governor Charlie Crist and other state officials and area children at a Florida Capitol commemoration of the 39th celebration of Earth Day. The first official Earth Day was held in 1970.

On Earth Day Crist Looks To Fuel Lavish Lifestyle By Endangering Florida's Tourism Economy

From the FDP:

With Gov. Charlie Crist being "intrigued" by the Republican proposal to drill for crude oil just three miles off of Florida's beaches according to the Palm Beach Post, Crist once again shows that he cares more about playing politics and his political ambition rather than doing what is right for Florida, as we celebrate Earth Day today.

"While it takes a lot of gas for Crist to jet-set on his cronies' private jets and fuel his lavish lifestyle, the fact that Governor Crist would support drilling for crude oil just three miles off Florida's beaches is shocking. On this Earth Day, Crist should be leading the Sunshine State rather than following the Republicans in the Legislature down a path that will endanger Florida's economy and pollute our precious beaches," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff.

Thurman Applauds Pres. Obama's Leadership As Floridians Celebrate Earth Day

From FDP:

"Nearly four decades ago, the first Earth Day marked the birth of a new national environmental consciousness paving the way for landmark policies that protect public health and preserve our environment for future generations.

"We have made important gains. But for too long Washington has been held captive by the special interests and has turned a blind eye to the energy crises and the gathering threat of climate change that is affecting folks here in Florida.

"President Obama has given us a new reason to celebrate this Earth Day: his Administration has committed to a comprehensive energy plan that will generate millions of new clean energy jobs, break our dependence on foreign oil, reduce deadly pollution and finally tackle global warming and its potentially catastrophic effects. These jobs will stay here in Florida and can't be shipped overseas.

"Democrats have been leaders on these issues, and we continue to push for change in Washington and Tallahassee.

"April 22nd will always be a day to recommit ourselves to a healthier, cleaner planet; but this year, in the throes of some very difficult economic times, Earth Day has a renewed sense of purpose. President Obama and his team have made plain the direct connection between repairing our economy and making the bold investments in renewable energy sources that are healthier for our planet. Today is a reminder of the opportunity we have to reinvest in the American worker, make the United States a leader in the global energy industry, and increase our energy independence."

On Earth Day, Republican Party of Florida Recycles Old Candidate

From FDP:

This year’s Earth Day brings little for Florida conservationists to celebrate. During a contentious Legislative Session where state Republicans are cutting funding from critical services, including important environmental conservation programs, Senate Republicans think they have found the answer. Instead of taking action on preserving the Everglades or reducing our dependence on foreign oil, the Senate GOP is now recycling one of its old commodities – Bush-era politician and political hack Jack Latvala.

Jack Latvala, who last served during Jeb Bush’s first term as governor, left public office in 2002 but refused to leave politics. Latvala is regarded as a partisan attack dog in the mold of Karl Rove who makes his living playing partisan politics bankrolled by Republican special interests.

The selection of Latvala indicates a larger problem for the Republican Party of Florida – they lack new talent or fresh ideas to solve Florida’s problems. During a time when the national leaders of the Republican Party consist of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist – all relics of the 1990s, a Latvala candidacy simply indicates more of the same for Florida Republicans. Instead of finding new leaders who can bring positive change to Florida, the GOP reaches back to old politicians who represent failed policies.

On this Earth Day, Florida needs real solutions to real challenges. All Floridians want to do more to protect our environment, but unfortunately for Senate Republicans, recycling old candidates isn’t fooling anyone.

House Republicans To Block Public Testimony on Massive Election Rewrite

From the House Dems:

At today’s House Rules & Calendar Council meeting, Florida House Republicans signaled intent to trample on the public’s right to participate in the legislative process with a partisan refusal to allow public testimony in House committees about their sweeping election law changes.

House Republican Leader Adam Hasner said today that House PCB-EDCA -09-08, a partisan power grab aimed at suppressing minority voters’ turnout and registration drives, will be brought to the House floor on Friday --- a move that advances the legislation without having received adequate review.

In recent days, House Democrats and a wide array of public interest and advocacy groups have repeatedly requested that the proposal be analyzed thoroughly and transparently in House committees, including extensive public testimony.

Today, House Democratic members’ request for the elections bill to be returned to committees for analysis and testimony was thwarted by Republicans on a party-line vote.

The 80-plus page proposed rewrite of the state election code surfaced in the Legislature for the first time last week and would drastically undo Florida’s progress at improving public confidence in our election system.

U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meek (D-FL) Commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day

“Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, is special day where we mourn the millions of Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis. This day has special significance for Jews, the main target of Nazi atrocities. I represent many constituents who are Holocaust survivors and many more that lost friends, relatives and loved ones. We mourn their loss, honor their memory, and unite in opposition to acts of bigotry and intolerance.

“It is unfortunate that in today’s day and age summits such as the Durban Review Conference are used to promote racism and anti-Semitism. I stand entirely and completely with the President Barack Obama’s decision as well as with Israel, Canada and other nations who boycotted the Durban Review Conference. At this conference, the ugliest anti-Semitic libels and most revolting anti-Israel lies are tossed around. This gathering is far from the appropriate venue to discuss the issues the summit purports to tackle.

“Fighting racism is something I have done my entire life and throughout my public service career. I am proud to be one of Israel’s staunchest allies in Congress. Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us to continue to understand and contemplate the consequences of man’s inhumanity to man which occurred in Europe prior to and during World War II. May the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust be blessed for all eternity."

U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meek (D-FL) Letter to Governor Charlie Crist Regarding Stimulus Education Funding

Dear Governor Crist,

Yesterday, Joanne McCall, Vice President of the Florida Education Association and I met with U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan to discuss the issue of Florida’s education stimulus dollars and the waiver Florida is expected to need to be eligible for those dollars. I shared with him the understanding that had been relayed to me through numerous conversations and news articles; that Florida was awaiting guidelines and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education in order to apply for that waiver. Secretary Duncan surprised me by saying that the Department of Education was awaiting Florida’s initial application for the stimulus dollars.

California, a state in even worse economic straights than Florida, has not only completed and submitted its application, but it has been reviewed and they have received $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars for their education programs. South Dakota and Illinois have also completed the process and received their funding.

High ranking members of the Secretary’s staff who sat in on the meeting, as well as the Secretary himself, are anxiously awaiting Florida’s application, have had several conversations with members of your office and the Florida Department of Education, and are sympathetic to the challenges that Florida is facing in terms of budget shortfalls and cuts. They are inviting Florida to not only submit a DRAFT application, but are standing by to walk state education officials through the process before the application is finalized, as they have offered every state that has been awarded money thus far.

I voted for the passage of the stimulus bill based in part on the education dollars that Florida would receive. I know that Florida schools are in dire need of these monies, and that schools’ reserve funds are depleted. Without these dollars, the educational gains that Florida has made over the last few years will be lost to us as teachers are laid off, programs cut, and schools closed. Every moment that is lost to inaction in the waning days of the legislative session further ties the hands of school district administrators.

In order to ensure that Florida receives the full benefit of education funds in the stimulus package, I strongly urge you to direct the Florida Department of Education to immediately begin preparation of Florida’s Application for Initial Funding under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Program. I would also strongly advise that the State accept the Secretary’s offer of counsel throughout the application process. No determination can be made on Florida’s needs until the application is received in some form by the Department. I can tell you without equivocation that Secretary Duncan and his staff are eagerly awaiting Florida’s application as there is no desire to exclude any state from economic stimulus. I understand that thousands of educators could be laid off in Florida without these dollars, and thus the sense of urgency is great.

Please do not hesitate to call me if you have any questions about the meeting.

Member of Congress

Dems Oppose Elections Bill

From the House Dems:

Dear Governor Crist:

In recent years, Florida has revamped its election system and regained the confidence of voters. The benefits of these improvements were seen last November when record numbers of our citizens participated in the presidential election.

You took action last fall to bolster our election system and laws by signing an executive order that extended the hours of early voting and eliminated problematic touch-screen machines.

It would be a travesty for the Florida Legislature to take actions now that would reverse our state’s progress toward making our elections more open and accessible.

Unfortunately, legislation has been proposed -- without justification -- that would disenfranchise voters and reverse much of the progress that has been made toward reforming elections in our state.

On behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, we strongly urge you to make known your opposition to House PCB-EDCA 09-08 and its Senate companion, SB956. Also, should either bill pass the Legislature in any manner similar to its current form, we would further request that you veto the legislation.

There is nothing more sacred than the right to vote and any legislation pertaining to this right deserves to be treated with extraordinary care and caution. As this bill currently reads, members of the House Democratic Caucus and numerous voter-advocacy and public interest groups find absolutely no justification for the radical changes entailed in this measure.

The flaws in this legislation are too numerous to identify completely in this correspondence, but some of the troubling impacts are that it would:

· Weaken campaign finance laws and make lawmakers less accountable to the public;
· Reduce transparency in the funding of political advertisements;
· Restrict the list of accepted forms of identification for voter registration and identification at the polls;
· Discourage voter protection efforts;
· Eliminate many voters’ ability to vote a regular ballot on Election Day;
· Hurt third-party voter registration efforts;
· Make it much harder for grassroots groups to use the citizens’ initiative process;
· Restrict nonpartisan election protection programs; and
· Limit the ability to extend early voting.

On behalf of our constituents throughout Florida, we sincerely request your urgent consideration of this matter.


Franklin Sands
Democratic Leader

Geraldine F. Thompson
Democratic Leader Pro Tempore

Also signed by:
Representative Joseph Abruzzo
Representative Leonard Bembry
Representative Debbie Boyd
Representative Mary Brandenburg
Representative Oscar Braynon, II
Representative Ronald Brisé
Representative Dwight Bullard
Representative James Bush, III
Representative Charles Chestnut, IV
Representative Gwyndolen Clark-Reed
Representative Adam Feterman
Representative Keith Fitzgerald
Representative Luis R. Garcia, Jr
Representative Joseph Gibbons
Representative Audrey Gibson
Representative Bill Heller
Representative Evan Jenne
Representative Mia Jones
Representative Martin David Kiar
Representative Rick Kriseman
Representative Janet C. Long
Representative Mark Pafford
Representative Ari Porth
Representative Kevin J.G. Rader
Representative Scott Randolph
Representative Betty Reed
Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda
Representative Yolly Roberson
Representative Hazelle Rogers
Representative Daryl Rouson
Representative Maria Lorts Sachs
Representative Ron Saunders
Representative Elaine Schwartz
Representative Michael Scionti
Representative Kelly Skidmore
Representative Darren Soto
Representative Richard Steinberg
Representative Dwayne Taylor
Representative Priscilla Taylor
Representative Perry E. Thurston, Jr.
Representative Jim Waldman
Representative Alan Williams

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Senate Democrats Call on Republican Backers of $1.6 Billion CSX Deal To Pull the Emergency Brake On Choo Choo To Nowhere

From the Senate Dems:

Alarmed by the determination of some Republican leaders to push ahead with the controversial $1.6 billion CSX deal despite Florida’s increasing job losses, Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich (D-Weston) on Monday called on the legislature to reverse course on the project and return the money to whence it came.

“More than $600 million was siphoned from shovel-ready transportation and infrastructure projects in towns and communities thoughout Florida in order to deliver a sweetheart deal to a multi-billion dollar private company championing a train even Mickey Mouse can’t use,” said Senator Lawson. “This money needs to be returned to the districts to immediately begin those road and infrastructure projects derailed by the CSX deal. And the money needs to be used to offset skyrocketing hikes in “fees” Floridians are facing for basic motor vehicle services.”

The Democrats’ alternative plan is twofold. It calls for slamming the brakes on the $159 million Republicans are proposing to raise on title renewals, drivers’ licenses and ID cards, and registration fees to offset the state’s budget hole. And it advocates using the remaining amount, more than $480 million to launch the many transportation and infrastructure projects throughout Florida indefinitely delayed by the state Department of Transportation as it quietly diverted the money to obscure accounts earmarked for CSX.

“This money was railroaded out of the state’s general revenue fund four years ago,” said Senator Rich, noting the disingenious arguments by some lawmakers that trust fund dollars earmarked for transportation couldn’t be directed away from the CSX project. “Other than a private corporation with well paid lobbyists, there is nothing in law or the constitution to stop this

legislature from returning the money to where it found it. If it found the will to divert the funds from the districts in the first place, it can find the will to return the dollars to Florida’s communities to fund the rebuilding of our infrastructure and create jobs.”

The call by the Democrats comes as Florida, along with the rest of nation, continues to reel from the latest unemployment numbers. Nationally, the unemployment rate rose to a 26-year high of 8.5%, with 660,000 Americans losing their jobs in March alone.

Florida’s latest job losses are expected to be disclosed April 17th. In February, however, the state unemployment rate stood at a staggering 9.4 percent.

“Subsidizing a private railroad corporation on the backs of our motorists and those desperately seeking jobs is unconscionable,” said Senator Lawson. “With almost one million Floridians out of work and the number rising, let them explain to the people whose money they’re spending, just what’s more important? New jobs or a choo choo to nowhere?”

A summary of the Senate Democratic Leaders’ proposal follows.

The Senate Democratic Leaders’ Proposal calls for a halt to committing the $641 million dedicated to CSX, and redirecting those dollars to:

A) Local transportation work projects statewide previously deferred by DOT which could include:

· Lee County: Adding lanes to I-75 - $29.9 million

· Collier County: Adding lanes to SR 84 - $29.7 million

· Orange County: Widen Turnpike - $62.6 million

· Duval County: SR 212 Lane Addition - $20 million

· Madison County: County Roads, Resurfacing - $3 million

B) Reversing the proposal (PCS/SB1778) to increase by $159 million fees on Florida motorists for certain services. These are:

Proposed Increase Fees on Floridians

Motor Vehicle Registration Fees: from $1 to $5 $60,681,793

Original or Duplicate Titles: from $24.00 to $40.00 $57,452,666

Driver’s License/ID Cards variable, pending legislation $41,138,456

Senator Justice Passes Bill to Continue My Safe Florida Home Program

From the Senate Dems:

Legislation sponsored by Senator Charlie Justice (D-St. Petersburg) which not only helps Floridians fortify their homes against storm damage, but fortifies their wallets by lowering property insurance won unanimous passage today in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

Senate Bill 2078 continues the My Safe Florida Home Program, first begun as a pilot program three years ago.

“The My Safe Florida Home program has succeeded in being one of the most effective tools in decreasing property insurance,” Senator Justice said. “This legislation will allow the program to continue to provide important mitigation opportunities for homeowners looking to keep their families safe in a storm.”

First passed by the Legislature in 2006, the My Safe Florida Home pilot program allows homeowners to apply for matching grants of up to $5,000 to purchase hurricane safe windows and doors. To date, the program has awarded over forty thousand grants in sixty-seven counties. The legislation adds a no interest loan program for condominiums that allows participants to go to home improvement stores and purchase approved mitigation materials at zero interest.

“I am proud to be part of ensuring this program stays afloat and helps as many homeowners as possible,” Senator Justice said.

The bill is now waiting to be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice committee.

FDP Jefferson-Jackson May 30

From Eric Jotkoff:

Just a quick heads up that the FDP JJ Dinner will be on May 30th at the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach. More details including ticket information, press credentialing, and speakers will be announced in the coming weeks.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda Supports the Florida Motor Vehicle Emission Standards Bill

Her comment (via e-mail): "Thank you for your e-mail, please know that I strongly support this

More on the legislation:

Please support SB 1994 and HB 1309, the Motor Vehicle Emission Standards Bill. Vehicles will achieve greater fuel economy, reduce carbon emissions and save business and consumers money at the fuel pump.

This bill makes sense for Florida, because it means we can preserve our clean air, our environment, and create jobs for Florida's energy future.

Bill Nelson is All About the New Media

You can follow him on Twitter and YouTube.

Thurman Calls For Investigation Into Crist & Kottkamp's Jet-Setting Ways

From FDP:

Reacting to a series of South Florida Sun-Sentinel articles, exposing Gov. Charlie Crist's cover-up of his private jet use and Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp's jaunts on Florida Highway Patrol planes for family vacations, Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman released the following statement demanding investigations into these matters:

"Only 13 years after then-Senator Charlie Crist made a name for himself by investigating the late Governor Lawton Chiles' use of private jets and state planes, power seems to have corrupted Charlie Crist and his administration. To echo a quote from Charlie Crist made over a decade ago, 'The whole thing smells. I think this whole thing is begging for inquiry.'

"In 1996, then-Senator Crist demanded that the Attorney General investigate Governor Chiles. Following Crist's precedent, we today demand that Attorney General Bill McCollum immediately order an investigation into the legality of Governor Crist and Lt. Governor Kottkamp's travels, including Crist's refusal to disclose his use of donors' private jets and Kottkamp's use of Florida Highway Patrol planes for vacations.

"If McCollum either refuses to investigate or is preoccupied, it is then incumbent on Florida's Legislature to hold hearings looking into this matter, similar to the hearings lead by Crist in the 1990s.

"Republican excess, abuse, and corruption is running rampant in Florida. Crist is jet-setting on his cronies' private jets. Crist's Lt. Governor is endangering public safety by diverting law enforcement resources for his personal convenience. Attorney General Bill McCollum is wasting over $2 million for no-bid TV ads that promote himself rather than promoting public safety. And the House is still reeling from the resignation of former Speaker Ray Sansom, the first Speaker in Florida history to resign in disgrace.

"Power corrupts, and absolute power has absolutely corrupted Florida's Republicans. Democrats are fighting against politics as usual in Tallahassee and demanding accountability.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Medicaid Funding Cuts Threaten Quality Care for Nearly 80,000 Frail, Elderly Floridians Living in Nursing Homes‏

From the Senate Dems:

The quality of care and life for nursing home residents and the financial stability of Florida's 700 nursing homes are at risk as Florida legislators discuss cuts to Medicaid funding that supports nursing home care. Today Senator Nan Rich (D-Weston) joined Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) Chair Deborah Franklin and other elder care advocates to urge legislators to use federal stimulus dollars as they were intended – for health and human services – and not cut funds for nursing home care. While the Senate has proposed $81 million and the House has proposed $69 million in funding cuts to the Medicaid program, at the same time they are taking over $780 million of federal stimulus dollars designated for health care and redirecting them into other areas.

“Nursing homes cannot be treated as just another line item in the state budget,” said Deborah Franklin, FHCA Chair. “Washington has provided the much-needed relief…we cannot allow these millions of dollars in cuts to nursing home care.”

Franklin noted the solution that passed in the January 2009 special session to help the state fund nursing home care. The passage of SB 8-A created the Quality Assessment Program, whereby providers began self-imposing a 5.5 percent assessment on April 1, 2009 to allow the state to draw down more than $390 million in federal money. This is in addition to the $4.2 billion that Florida Medicaid will receive in federal stimulus dollars over the next 27 months.

“Florida legislators have no reason to impose these cuts when the funding is available through the federal stimulus package. They are simply unnecessary and unacceptable and threaten to undo relief from the Quality Assessment Program, as well, which has barely begun to take effect,” Franklin said.

Long term care facilities support nearly 272,800 jobs in Florida. Two-thirds of nursing home costs pay for staff salaries and benefits. Funding cuts could result in thousands of layoffs to workers who provide quality of life services to residents. Remaining staff would have more to do, leading to stress, burn-out and staff turnover.

“We have witnessed a dramatic improvement in nursing home care, and that’s a credit to the hard work of the nurses and CNAs who do health care’s toughest job,” said Senator Rich. “Our state is in a fiscal crisis that is soon to turn into a moral crisis if we continue cutting critical services for our most vulnerable citizens.”

Franklin noted that the elder care reform (SB 1202) that passed in 2001 that required increased minimum staffing standards has resulted in dramatic improvements to nursing home quality. Florida hired over 12,000 nurses and CNA positions over the past eight years, and today has among the highest ratio of staff-to-resident care in the nation. Maintaining steady quality improvements for resident care is a goal strongly supported by elder care advocates including AARP, Florida Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, Florida Catholic Conference, Florida CHAIN and the Service Employees International Union, among others.

The proposed cuts also include the permanent elimination of price level increases, which will invalidate the current State Plan approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services which provides for annual inflationary increases.

“Nursing homes cannot control our rising fuel, utility or insurance costs,” Franklin urged. “The burden these cuts will impose will go back on people – the frail elderly who live in nursing homes and the people who do the work of long term care.”

Medicaid payments are insufficient to cover the costs associated with providing quality care to a nursing home resident. Along with 24-hour skilled nursing care, facilities also provide food, shelter and a wide variety of social and quality of life services. Florida’s nursing homes are required to take a certain percentage of Medicaid patients as a condition of license.

“Facilities need resources to do the important job of taking care of our state’s frail elders,” Franklin said. “Legislators must develop long-term solutions to provide a stable funding source that covers the health care needs of these individuals.”

State Representative Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) is drawing national attention in her fight to implement an electronic prescription drug monitoring

From the House Dems:

Today’s Lexington (Kentucky)Herald Leader describes Representative Skidmore as a leader in the fight to close a multi-state pain-pill pipeline that is responsible for abuse, fraud and deaths.
Representative Skidmore is the sponsor of HB 583 and HB 585 that would create program for tracking the dispensing of controlled substances to help physicians and law enforcement officials prevent abuse, misuse, and illegal sale of prescription drugs.

The illegal sale of prescription drugs is a regional problem and Representative Skidmore has repeatedly said that the lack of a monitoring program makes Florida a target for obtaining controlled substances that are sold illegally.

House Bills 583 and 585 demand the public’s attention and the Legislature’s support.

“I have seen firsthand the countless cars with Kentucky license plates lined up outside Florida pain clinics waiting their turn to pick up handfuls of pill bottles as easy as picking up a Big Mac at a fast-food drive-through,” said Skidmore. “We need to work with our friends in Kentucky and elsewhere to put a stop to this problem once and for all.”

Read more

Hothead Hasner becomes Spokesman for Florida's Party of No; Turns Back on Stimulus Money‏

From FDP:

Republican House Leader Adam Hasner has become Florida's pied piper for the "Party of No." In his most recent dance with the radical right-wing fringe of his party - also known as the Limbaugh/Hasner-wing - hothead Hasner wants to reject $1.1 billion in federal recovery assistance. While Hasner is turning his back on economic recovery funds, Florida's unemployment has risen to 9.4 percent.

Last week, Hasner was flooded by calls from angry constituents looking for answers, forcing him to distribute talking points to House Republicans about how to respond to their pleas for help.

"While Florida's families face economic hard times, hothead Adam Hasner would give them talking points instead of substance," said Eric Jotkoff, Florida Democratic Party spokesman. "With Florida's unemployment rate at the highest level in 33 years and federal recovery funds on the way, it's hard to understand why Adam Hasner is turning his back on working families. Maybe Hasner doesn't answer to the people of South Florida and instead takes his cues from the 'Party of No' crowd."

"With Floridians across the state, economists and constituents all supporting the adoption of federal recovery funds, Adam Hasner needs to explain why he is obstructing President Barack Obama's efforts to jumpstart Florida's economy and create jobs. Hasner should also tell us exactly who supports him in this effort, and where he is getting his facts, because anybody who knows Florida can tell you that his ultra-conservative rhetoric is standing in the way of our economic recovery," Jotkoff added.

Representative Audrey Gibson Says Time Is Right For Workplace Safety Legislation

From the House Dems:

Legislation sponsored by Representative Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) that would protect employees from accidents in their workplace and give them new tools for reporting unsafe conditions is under consideration in the Florida House of Representatives.

House Bill 1029 implements vital recommendations of the Florida Public Task Force on Workplace Safety and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Board. The House Governmental Affairs Policy Committee unanimously approved the legislation, which now awaits action in the House Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Policy Committee.

“This very important bill will protect employees from accidents at their job sites,” said Representative Gibson. “This legislation is vital and will prevent accidents like the one that cost a worker his life in Daytona Beach in January 2006. Had earlier measures and safeguards been in place, this incident may have been prevented.”

On January 11, 2006, an explosion and fire killed a worker at a public wastewater treatment plant operated by the City of Daytona Beach. In response to the 2006 accident and similar incidents, Representative Gibson in 2008 won approval for legislation that created the Florida Public Task Force on Workplace Safety.

House Bill 1029, implements several of the task force recommendations, such as the establishment of a toll-free telephone number for public employees to obtain information and report unsafe workplace conditions.

Perspective on House PreK-12 Appropriations Committee Chair Anitere Flores' Proposed Education Budget

From the House Dems:

Representative Anitere Flores, R-Miami, introduced budget recommendations today that acknowledge the importance of Florida’s Class Size Amendment and the prudence of using federal economic recovery dollars approved by Congress and President Barack Obama.

Here are a few points to remember:

*Despite a last-minute infusion of $865 million in federal economic recovery funds for Florida schools, the proposed PreK-12 spending plan would put state spending for classrooms at roughly the same as it was three years ago under the 2006-07 budget.

*Recent-year increases in per-student funding for K-12 students is owed primarily to voters’ insistence upon smaller class sizes. Under the Class Size Amendment that Florida House Republicans have proposed to unravel, the Legislature has been forced to put more than $16 billion into overcrowded schools.

*Florida still ranks among the lowest states in per-capita funding of education. Average per-student funding has been cut by $445 in the last two years.

The “Flores” budget proposal also would:

*Force all future National Board Certified teachers to work exclusively in low performing schools if they want to receive the same bonuses current national board teachers get no matter where they teach;

*Delay implementation of the class size amendment another year in the hopes that Republicans can stop any further advances in reducing overcrowding in our schools;

*Give school districts the authority to ignore long-standing teacher tenure laws by allowing them to continue giving teachers a one-year contract even after they have completed their 3-year probationary period.

Florida Democratic Party Calls Congressional GOP Budget More of the Same Policies That Got Florida Into this Mess to Begin With

From the FDP:

House Republicans today unveiled a budget outline, one day before the full House votes on the budget and more than a month after President Obama first proposed his plan. Florida Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff released the following statement in response to the GOP budget plan:

"The House GOP budget would be just an April Fool's day joke if it didn't actually reflect the true priorities of House Republicans and what they would do if they had the votes in Congress to pass their own plan. Their budget relies on the failed economic policies that drove the U.S. economy into its deepest spiral in decades.

"If Florida's Republican Members of Congress had their way and the budget House Republicans outlined today were adopted, President Obama's economic recovery program, which is already saving and creating jobs throughout Florida, would be gutted, Medicare as we know it would all but be all but eliminated, Social Security checks would be slashed and a proposed spending freeze on discretionary programs would cut essential services - from health care and support for veterans to education to job training - that Florida most depends on when the economy is in crisis.

"Not surprisingly, while Republicans are proposing to cut essential initiatives in the areas of health care, education, energy, medical research and economic recovery, they are proposing to make permanent the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans and expand those tax breaks even further. It's just these types of failed, trickle down economic policies that led to the current economic downturn and led Florida to vote for change last November.

"Gutting the President's economic recovery program and slashing spending and investments that are critical to help Florida survive these tough times and turn the economy around is a prescription for economic disaster - something the Republicans know a thing or two about. Thankfully, President Obama has proposed a budget that makes both the tough and right choices we need to turn our economy around and cut the deficit in half over the next four year. While the President continues to lead, the 'Party of No' has become the 'Party of No New Ideas."

"Combined Reporting" Unanimously Passes First Committee Stop

From the Senate Dems:

The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed SB 2270, the so-called "Combined Reporting" bill sponsored by Senator Dan Gelber (D-Miami).

The bill closes a loophole in state law that allows multi-state corporations who do business in Florida to avoid paying corporate taxes that Florida-only corporations must pay. More than half the states that impose corporate taxes have already closed the loophole. According to recent reports, closing the loophole would generate $365 million in new revenue.

"In a fiscal crisis we cannot afford the luxury of loopholes that don't enhance our economy,” said Senator Gelber, who supports directing the recovered money to public education. “In fact, Florida's current tax structure creates an unfair advantage for multi-state companies who are able to avoid paying the taxes that companies based only in Florida must pay. I am especially proud that this tax fairness bill passed out of committee on a unanimous, bipartisan vote."

The bill is expected to be next heard in the Senate’s Finance & Tax Committee.

Look Who's Raising Taxes on the Middle Class

From the House Dems:

There they go again! Florida House Republicans are saying one thing and doing another.

Amid rising unemployment rates and deep consumer frustration, House Republican leaders are failing to provide any responsible ideas for resolving Florida’s economic crisis and are, instead, increasing taxes on working families.

This week, Florida House Republican leaders departed sharply from their no-new-taxes rhetoric by proposing nearly a billion dollars in new tax hikes, including major fees on Florida families, tourists and industry.

Among new fees House Republicans propose are a new rental car surcharge, a so-called “reflectorization fee” for license plates, fees for driver history records, higher charges for obtaining or renewing a driver licenses, vehicle registrations, and license plates.

House Republican Leader Adam Hasner is fond of saying that “challenging and uncertain economic times” require “lowering the tax burden on Floridians.” But this week’s first attempt by House Republicans to write a new state budget fails Hasner’s own test of leadership.

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Florida Democratic Party Congratulates Congress On The Passage Of President Obama's Budget Plan

From the FDP:

lorida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff commended the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives today on the passage of President Obama's budget which takes a responsible approach to cutting the deficit and makes critical investments in infrastructure, health care, renewable energy, and education.

"The budgets passed last night by the United States Congress represent a clear shift from the failed Republican policies of the past that helped create the current economic crisis," said Jotkoff. "President Obama's budget offers tax breaks for middle class families, lowers the cost and improves the quality of health care, drives growth and innovation in the renewable energy sector, and expands education opportunities for all students in the Sunshine State. We are grateful that there were budgets to vote on at all, no thanks to the obstructionist Republican members of Florida's Congressional Delegation, who once again refused to engage in an important national debate on issues critical to the American people."

"While Republicans such as Bill Young, Tom Rooney, Vern Buchanan, the Diaz-Balarts, Adam Putnam and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen continue to cling to the failed policies of the past that created the current economic crisis, President Obama and Democrats have taken bold steps to restore stability and prosperity for all Americans. Yesterday's vote affirms that the Republican Party of No is more interested in playing politics than working with the Democrats and the President to solve our nation's problems on a bipartisan basis."

Obama set to ease Cuban ban on travel, money‏

From the AP:

The Obama administration intends to allow Americans to visit relatives in Cuba and send money back to their families on the communist island nation, senior U.S. officials said Saturday.

President Barack Obama plans to announce the policy change before the Summit of the Americas April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made.

Although some restrictions have been eased temporarily in legislation Obama signed last month, lifting the bans would meet a pledge he made during the presidential campaign and could signal a new openness with Cuba.

"The intent is to try to test the waters and see if we can get Cuba to move in another direction," one official said. "One way of getting the regime to open up may be to let people travel, increase exchanges and get money flowing to the island."

The official said there is no plan to lift the decades-old embargo on the island and that the move "is just the president fulfilling a campaign promise."

As a candidate, Obama promised to allow unlimited family travel and remittances to Cuba. "It's time to let Cuban-Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and their brothers," he said in a speech last May in Miami. "It's time to let Cuban-American money make their families less dependent on the Castro regime."

There are growing calls in Congress to repeal restrictions on Cuba.