Written by The News Service of Florida Wednesday, 31 March 2010 16:00
State Capitol Briefs (Evening Edition) - Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The News Service of Florida
DMS BREAKUP PASSES SENATE
The Department of Management Services would be broken up and its duties scattered across a handful of other state agencies under legislation that breezed Wednesday through the Senate. Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee, who represents a large swath of state workers, fought the measure advanced by fellow Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate. But Ring, who defended the legislation as "logical," prevailed on a 35-2 Senate vote. The only senators voting against the measure were Lawson, and Republican Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, a candidate for governor and frequent antagonist of Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who was a leading proponent of the breakup. DMS crossed Alexander on several issues, the most public being the agency's inability to produce a master list of state properties that he demanded. "What does it take to get these folks to do what they're supposed to do?" Alexander said. "Tens of millions of dollars are going down the drain." Lawson said dividing DMS should not be done without a cost analysis of the move, which he said could cost tens of millions of dollars more. Supporters said a $3.1 million savings has been forecast by some analysts. The legislation's fate, however, hinges on the House, which so far has shown no interest in taking on DMS. The House, however, has supported revamping duties of the state's Department of Health - making it likely the future of the two agencies will be intertwined in negotiations between the two sides.
BILL FREEZES LAWMAKER PAY
The Legislature would do its part toward helping offset the state’s $3.2 billion budget shortfall, under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate. Lawmakers’ annual salaries would be kept at the current $29,697, with a provision included in the budget implementing bill (SB 2702) that reaffirms the 7 percent salary reduction approved last year. The Senate, which approved the measure 37-0, is already looking to make public employees contribute a portion of their pay for pension coverage and would require lawmakers and 27,000 now-exempt state workers pay for health coverage. The House so far has advanced a 3 percent payroll reduction for state agencies – but would leave it to department administrators to determine how to achieve the reductions.
RESIDENCY MANDATE FOR AGENCY HEADS EKED OUT OF BUDGET
House language that would have required that state agency heads and other bureaucrats live within 50 miles of Tallahassee was stripped from legislation (HB 5713) on a squeaker vote of 58-57 on Wednesday. House Budget Chairman Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, had pushed for the requirement following some high profile scandals in which agency heads were found to have traveled to and from their homes on the state dime. Most recently, Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman repaid the state for travel he took at taxpayer expense to his home in the Tampa area. Rivera said it was a matter of taxpayer trust. But several House members on Wednesday argued that the Legislature shouldn't limit where government employees live, but rather to make sure that if they commute, they do so at their own expense. An amendment by Rep. Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami, to remove the language was debated at length on Wednesday, with Llorente saying he thought the requirement was “overkill.” The amendment came up for a voice vote that was inconclusive, and was approved 58-57. The bill is expected to come up for a vote in the House on Thursday.
STATE WORKER PENSION BILL MOVES
The Senate approved a measure that requires public employees to begin contributing to their pension plans to offset a looming $15 billion shortfall in the fund. The 26-7 vote on the legislation (SB 2022) would make workers pay one-quarter of 1 percent of their gross income into the pension fund, which is running its first deficit in a dozen years after investments took a beating with the economic downturn. "It's an unfortunate, but necessary step," said sponsor, Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, the Senate's chief budget-writer, who added that the measure would bring state public pensioners in line with those of other states.
HOUSE SQUABBLES OVER CLASS SIZE CAMPAIGN
A controversial part of the state budget would force school boards to publish two plans regarding what would happen if voters approve a change to the class size provision to the Constitution in November, and what happens if they don't. A proposed constitutional amendment would roll back hard classroom size caps that were approved by voters in 2002 so that class sizes are calculated at a grade-wide average, not by individual classroom. Democrats railed against the proposal saying it was akin to campaigning for it, something that was deemed illegal in a law passed last year. The bill specifically says campaigning is not allowed, but some lawmakers said the entire proposal equaled a campaign. Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie, who sits on the education appropriations and policy committees asked Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the chair of the House school budget committee what if the schools choose not to include both sides in their information. “How is that not campaigning for the joint resolution?” Kiar asked. Flores said that school districts would be required to publish the information the same way they publish notices such as the budget or a five year capital outlay plan. “We are not talking about campaigning, we're talking about plans,” Flores said.
NURSING HOME BLENDED STAFF RATIO PASSES SENATE
A bill that would allow nursing homes some flexibility in calculating staffing ratios passed the Senate Wednesday after Republicans rejected efforts by Democrats to keep current staffing rules the same, or to have new rules be temporary. The bill (SB 1464), which still needs House approval, would keep a requirement that nursing home residents much get 2.9 hours per day of hands-on care. But currently, that care is all required to be done by certified nursing assistants. Under the bill, homes could count time spent on the floor by registered nurses, who are often present in supervisory roles anyway. The measure is backed by the industry, but opposed by the union that represents CNAs. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said the homes have had to comply with increasingly smaller staff ratios while seeing their Medicaid reimbursement rates lowered by the state. “Let's give them some flexibility,” said Bennett. “They want to have the ability to manage their staff with limited resources.” Amendments to keep staffing at current levels and to return to the current level in 2012 were defeated. The bill then passed 25-9.
GREER: PROBE IS PART OF VENDETTA
Former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer blamed a "political vendetta" Wednesday for what has turned into a criminal investigation of his role in a secret company that siphoned-off a share of GOP campaign contributions. An internal audit released Wednesday by his successor, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, showed Greer was a majority owner of a company, Victory Strategies, that he set up with former Florida Republican Party executive director Delmar Johnson. Johnson received 10 percent of major contributions coming into the party under the arrangement, helping boost his compensation to more than $400,000. Greer's 60-percent share in the company was not known until the audit was completed, party officials said. Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, has sent the findings to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate for possible criminal wrongdoing. "Mr. Thrasher's accusations are a heavy-handed attempt to avoid the party's formally documented financial and legal obligation to Mr. Greer, who has not committed any criminal activity," said Gregory Miller, a former U.S. attorney for North Florida, who is representing Greer. Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman has called for a special prosecutor to lead the probe by FDLE, to assure the investigation is not influenced by party leaders. She also said it should be expanded to include credit-card use at the party by top elected officials
DC NEWSPAPER MOVES FLA SENATE RACE TO 'TOSS UP'
Saying that former House Speaker Marco Rubio would likely defeat Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican U.S. nomination this summer, a Washington, D.C. newspaper that rates political races moved the race to replace Republican Sen. George LeMieux from "leans Republican" to "toss up." "The open seat in Florida…is looking more and more like a potential Democratic pickup opportunity," The Hill newspaper wrote Wednesday. "As the race stands now, Marco Rubio is likely to be the GOP nominee. And Rep. Kendrick Meek, unlike in early polls against Gov. Charlie Crist (R), is polling close to Rubio in some cases." The paper said that the already contentious primary between Rubio and Crist could damage either man's general election standing, especially Rubio because of Crist's fundraising edge. "Rubio has also begun to take his bumps over some personal financial issues, and it's hard to see him coming out of the primary against Crist's $7.6 million bankroll without some bruises," the paper said. Miami Democrat Meek's campaign trumpeted The Hill's new classification, E-mailing the article to supporters.
Continued consideration of bills on the House Special Order Calendar:
-HB 5309 dealing with the Statewide Tobacco Education and Use Prevention Program. The bill was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5311, a conforming bill that requires some fees collected for motor vehicle infractions to go to the EMS Trust Fund rather than the Administrative Trust Fund. The bill removes authority for provisional trauma centers to receive funds from the EMS Trust Fund. It was rolled to the third reading.
-HB 5401 repealing the changes made to the Clerks of Courts budgetary process last year removing them from the state budgetary process. Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R- Fort Lauderdale, offered several amendments to the bill. The changes would tighten up budget procedural reporting, provide legislative oversight, and require the budget provided to the legislative budget commission include information bonuses and salary increases for employees. The bill was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5403 a technical conforming bill for the criminal and civil justice budget, aligning specific funding sources to specific trust funds. It directs that specified filing fees be placed in the State Court Revenue Trust Fund rather than the State Court's Operating Trust Fund. It was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5501, moving the issuance of driver's licenses to the county tax collectors office. It was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5503, which would reinstate the general service revenue charge on the transportation trust fund – which redirects a certain amount of money from the trust fund to general revenue. The bill did get tied up for a while on an amendment that would put more money up front to Sun Rail rather than other projects statewide. Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, said her amendment was “not parochial,” but maintained the Legislature's commitment to rail. Hukill's amendment passed 57-49. The bill was then rolled over to third reading.
-HB 5505, lowering the reinstatement application for supplemental corporate fees was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5601 which eliminates the requirement of the Department of Revenue to provide counties with 25,000 or fewer residents aerial photos at DOR's expense. It was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5603 moving the Office of Fiscal Integrity to the Division of Insurance Fraud. It was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5605 requires the Public Employee Relations Commission to comprised of a full time chair and then two part-time members. It rolled to third reading.
-HB 5607 establishes required payroll contribution rates for employers within the Florida Retirement System. It rolled to the third reading.
-HB 5611 requires that the vendor transaction fees collected by the Department of Management Services for the statewide electronic procurement and information services system in excess of what is needed will be directed to the general revenue fund. It was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5701 eliminating the Retiree Health Insurance Subsidy and ending further contributions on July 1, 2010. “This is one area where we can find savings to protect many other priorities,” said House Budget Chief David Rivera. The bill was rolled over to third reading.
-HB 5703 suspends for three years the requirements for public retirement plans to pay the full contribution rates. The bill was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5705 directs the resolution of the economic collective bargaining issues at impasse for the 2010-2011 fiscal year regarding state employees. It was quickly rolled to third reading.
-HB 5705 creates the Florida Savings Fund, which will be paid for with a portion of unappropriated general revenue. It was rolled to third reading.
-HB 5709 creates the legislative accountability office, which combines the functions of OPPAGA the auditor general under one office. “Let's be very clear, we are not getting rid of OPPAGA. We're creating a super-charged OPPAGA,” said Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, who is sponsoring the bill. It was rolled to third reading.
-HCR 5711 creates a select joint committee to ensure an orderly transition under the changes created in HB 5709 on OPPAGA and the auditor general. It was rolled to third reading.
AGENCY HEAD RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS
The House then took up HB 5713, which requires agency heads and other specified state officials to establish permanent residency within 50 miles of Leon County within 90 days of appointment. It also requires each agency head to submit quarterly reports to the Senate President or House Speaker related to job expenses. “Florida's taxpayers want to know Florida officials are not using public funds for personal travel,” said Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami. Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg asked whether the bill was creating more bureaucracy because lawmakers already had to fill out forms about their travel. “It seems to me this is double bureaucracy,” he said. The bill does not provide any allocation for officials to relocate to the capital. Rivera said the standard between the way business does things and the way government should do things is different. Rep. Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami, offered an amendment deleting the 50 mile requirement. “I believe it's overkill...” Llorente said. The amendment passed 58-57 and the bill was rolled to third reading.
The House then took up HB 5801, which creates a structured state tax amnesty program allowing taxpayers to pay overdue taxes without late penalties. An amendment created a payment plan for delinquent taxpayers. The bill was rolled to third reading.
TRUST FUNDS TERMINATED
The House then took up SB 1644, which terminates the Library Services Trust Fund and the Fine Arts Trust Fund and transfers the balance to the Grants and Donations Trust Fund in the Department of State. The measure, already passed by the Senate unanimously, was rolled to third reading and could come up for a House vote on Thursday.
The House went back to HCR 5711, which creates a select joint committee to ensure an orderly transition under the changes created in HB 5709, a bill that creates the legislative accountability office. It was adopted by voice vote.
ADJOURN: The House adjourned at 7:34 p.m. to return Thursday at 10 a.m.
This information originally published on March 31, 2010.
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