Written by The News Service of Florida Tuesday, 23 March 2010 16:27
State Capitol Briefs (Evening Edition - Tuesday, March 23, 2010)
The News Service of Florida
PRE-K CUTS BLUNTED IN LATEST HOUSE PLAN
After walking a gauntlet of advocates with signs urging them to reconsider cuts to the state-funded voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program, the House Appropriations Council did exactly that on Tuesday. The House's top budget committee restored some of the cuts made in earlier budget drafts for the program. The committee approved an amendment to keep a 10-1 teacher-student raio and limited cuts to the program to about 1 percent. The original measure had called for classes of up to 24 students per teacher and a cut of 15 percent, or $400 per student.
BILL REQUIRES AGENCY HEADS TO LIVE IN TALLAHASSEE
A budget conforming bill approved by the House Full Appropriations Council on Tuesday would require that all state agency heads and many other top officials live within 50 miles of Leon County. The measure (PCB CEED 10-09) is a reaction to reports in the last year about agency heads who have flown home on weekends to other Florida cities on the state plane at taxpayer expense because they kept their homes and families outside of Tallahassee after their appointments. “I think its important to restore confidence in our state government,” said the bill's sponsor, Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, who said it's long been an open secret in Tallahassee that some agency heads seem to have meetings in their hometowns on Fridays and Mondays. Most recently, state Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman reimbursed the state for nearly $27,000 in taxpayer-funded travel between Tallahassee and Tampa after newspapers reported that he was flying back and forth to spend long weekends at home. In addition to agency heads, the bill would require parole commissioners, public service commissioners, and the head of the Fish and Wildife Conservation Commission to live in or near Tallahassee. The measure also requires that the heads of state agencies and the other officials file quarterly travel expense forms with the Legislature including how much they spent on things like hotels and why they were traveling.
AUDITOR GENERAL, OPPAGA MERGER ADVANCES
The state auditor general's office and the Legislature's Office of Program and Policy Analysis and Government Accountability would be merged while the Legislature's Joint Committee on Everglades Oversight would be taken out of the statutes under a budget-related bill approved Tuesday by the House's top appropriations committee. The sponsor of the bill (PCB CEED 10-08), Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said the measure would remove duplication and enhance the state's ability to conduct audits. Weatherford said the Joint Everglades Oversight Committee would be taken out of state law, but would continue to exist in joint rules of the Senate and House. The measure was approved Tuesday in the House Full Appropriations Council and now goes to the House floor.
HOUSE BILL ELIMINATES SUBSIDY FOR RETIREES
Legislation that would eliminate a subsidy for state retirees meant to help them with insurance costs was approved by the House's budget committee Tuesday as part of its appropriations package. Currently, state retirees get an extra $5 a month for every five years of service up to $150 a month on top of their pension. The state's group health insurance plan costs just over $1000 a month for a family plan and state worker unions argue that pension benefits can be wiped out by those costs. The bill (PCB CEED 10-04), approved by the House Full Appropriations Council, would save the state about $200 million, said its sponsor, Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami. “This has always been an optional benefit,” Rivera said. He also noted that not all state employees even use the money for health costs because it is a direct cash payment to them. Advocates for retirees told the panel that many state workers take low pay in return for benefits like the subsidy and losing it will make it hard for them to afford health care.
STATE AIR POOL SURVIVES IN HOUSE BUDGET
An amendment to the budget that would call for abolishing the state executive aircraft pool was withdrawn in the House budget committee Tuesday. Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, had sought to eliminate the program by which a pool of state aircraft is provided to top state officials, and sometimes lawmakers, for traveling around the state and shift $1.8 million in general revenue to the child support enforcement program. Wood said having state officials fly around Florida on non-commercial planes made them out of touch. “We should travel like any other citizen to reflect our status as the people's representatives,” said Wood. The amendment to the House's main proposed budget bill was likely to fail, and he withdrew it. The underlying budget bill passed the House committee Tuesday and is now ready for the floor.
HOUSE REJECTS EFFORT TO STOP LAUDERDALE RUNWAY
A longshot effort to try to stop a long-debated extension of a runway at Fort Lauderdale International Airport failed Tuesday in the House. Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, tried to insert language into the House budget bill that would prevent state Transportation Trust fund money from going to the runway project. Jenne said he was trying to help the people who live near the airport, because the project is “basically rendering these homes un-livable.” Ron Book, lobbying for Broward County, said the idea has been long debated in the area, and should be a local decision, not one made in Tallahassee. “The project is already in contract phase, it's long litigated in the community, long debated in the community,” Book said. “It's been debated eight years.” The proposed amendment to the budget failed in the House Appropriations Council on a voice vote that sounded unanimous.
ELECTRIC RELIABILITY STANDARDS GET A SPARK
As lawmakers eye drastic changes to the Florida Public Service Commission, a Senate panel unanimously approved a bill that would require the reformed panel to establish reliability standards for publicly-regulated power companies. The measure (SB 1104), which would create penalties for violating the standards in addition to repaying to customers, is one of several bill moving this year that are aimed at making the beleaguered PSC more consumer-friendly. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, also carried legislation to ban off-the-record ex parte communications between PSC staffers and utility employees (SB 1034), which the Senate has already approved. The House appears set to move a bill that would even more drastically change the PSC, moving the advisory functions of its staff into a new legislative office. Having been approved by the Senate Communications, Energy & Utilities Committee Tuesday, the reliability standards bill goes next to General Government Appropriations before it can be voted on by the full Senate.
FROM WATER SKIS TO LEGOS
Florida's governor and Cabinet on Tuesday approved an easement of two acres in the historic Cypress Gardens parcel to Merlin Entertainments for its Legoland attraction on 120 adjacent acres purchased from the state in January. Merlin plans an additional attraction on the new parcel that would extend into approximately 2 acres of the 29-acre protected parcel that contains the gardens and area formerly used for the famed water ski show. "This comes at a very good time for the state," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said in response to the development, which is expected to create 1,000 jobs.
HOMES SALES UP 21 PERCENT
Florida's existing home sales rose 21 percent in February compared to a year ago, the 18th consecutive month of year to year gains, the Florida Realtors reported Tuesday. The median sales price for a home was $131,300; down 7 percent from a year ago. Seventeen of 19 Florida's metropolitan statistical areas reported increased existing home sales. Nationally, February home sales grew 7 percent from a year ago while the median price fell 1.8 percent to $165100.
This information originally published on March 23, 2010.
Tell them you saw it on Wakulla.com!
Click here to discuss this topic in our Online Discussion
Per Wakulla.com policy, all reader comments (submitted below) must include a valid first and last name.
|< Prev||Next >|
You need to login or register to post comments.
Discuss this item on the forums. (0 posts)