News from Tallahassee for 4/24/14

AP Exclusive: Ex-Fla. LG didn't report income posted on 4/23/14


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll failed to report thousands of dollars she earned from a veterans charity that was accused of running an illegal gambling operation, newly released documents show.

Carroll abruptly resigned in March 2013 after state investigators questioned the work she did for Allied Veterans of the World before she ran with Gov. Rick Scott. She denied any wrongdoing, but for more than a year there has been no public explanation of why she was initially interviewed by investigators.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show Carroll's company was paid nearly $100,000 by Allied Veterans in 2009 and 2010 for her work as a public relations consultant. Most of the money was then transferred to her personal banking account.

But Carroll, who was a state legislator at the time, did not report earning that much on either mandatory financial disclosure forms she filed with the state or on her federal income tax filings. She changed them only after she was questioned by state investigators about it.

It was during the investigation that Carroll's attorney turned over her 2010 income tax filing. Investigators noted she reported to the IRS earning $48,000, but Allied Veterans records showed they had paid Carroll's company $72,000 that year.

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Florida budgets put priority on hometown projects over at-risk kids posted on 4/21/14


FL Senate ChamberTALLAHASSEE -- In the wake of a bloody year for Florida youngsters, lawmakers have pledged to repair the state’s frayed safety net for abused and neglected children.

But as the state’s annual legislative session winds toward the final gavel, many children’s advocates say legislative leaders have failed to match their words with action and fear some proposals may create new problems.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed spending $39 million to hire 400 “boots on the ground,” or child abuse investigators who will respond to hotline reports and identify at-risk kids. But investigators typically work with a family for 60 days or less, and then families in need of follow-up help are sent to privately run local agencies.

Those agencies, the governor says, don’t need new money. The agencies counter that if the governor’s plan goes through, their already-backlogged caseloads will swell and families will compete for the services they need to keep children safe. They are asking for $25.4 million more.

“If we get the words right on paper but not do the funding for services, we may actually do some damage,” said Kurt Kelly, president of the Florida Coalition for Children, which represents the state’s community-based-care providers. “There will be such an influx of children in need of services, and we will not have the resources to serve them.”

Florida lawmakers will devote the next two weeks to making choices about how to spend $1.3 billion in new revenue as they craft a record $75 billion state budget. The first drafts show that legislators’ pet projects account for more new money than at-risk kids.

Coalition urges passage of ethics, open government bills posted on 4/17/14


FL Capitol BldgA coalition of open government activists spanning the political spectrum called on the Legislature Wednesday to slow its push for more exemptions to Florida’s “Sunshine” laws and put a high priority on improving public access to meetings and documents.

“Open government matters because open government breeds good governance,” Joel Chandler of Deerfield Beach, executive director of the Citizens Awareness Foundation. “I’m about as liberal as they come. This is a non-partisan issue.”

Joining Chandler in a news conference at the Florida Press Center were Catherine Baer of the Tea Party Network of Florida, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, Brad Ashwell of Common Cause and Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida. They praised the Senate for passing bills tightening state ethics laws and public access to meetings and documents, and urged the House to follow suit in the two working weeks remaining in the 2014 session.

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Guns, sexual risk and "the Field of Dreams" posted on 4/16/14

by GARY FINEOUT | The Fine Print

dollar puzzleThe work is not yet finished on this year's state budget, but details about the origins of spending items in the budget are starting to come out.

In two previous postings here and here there were attempts to look just a little at the behind-the-scenes effort that occurs in pushing items in the state budget.

The Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel both reported on Tuesday some of the details contained in nearly 600 pages of documents obtained in public record requests from the Florida House. Both stories noted that in a year with a substantial budget surplus legislators are putting in a lot of requests for hometown projects.

The AP story pointed out how the records contained emails, letters and sometimes just a message scrawled on paper and that legislators handed over budget information to committee chairman that came from groups or lobbyists pushing the funding request.

The requests covered all areas with legislators asking for funding from everything from health care services, juvenile justice programs to money for hometown economic development projects.

Many requests did not yield funding, especially if it came from Democrats, while Republicans appeared to have a greater level of success.

Among those were Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island and incoming House speaker.

Crisafulli put in a request to aid the city of Palm Bay for a training facility called "The Range."

The initial ask was for $2.15 million and this was included money for a 'burn building," as well as moving targets, turning targets, a shoot house and a tactical tower. The information shared with a House budget chairman touted the fact that the request was supported by local law-enforcement and the National Rifle Association.

In a hand-written message Crisafulli notes that the $1 million eventually included in the House version of the state's roughly $75 billion budget "will get them started."

Crisafulli and Rep. Tom Goodson both put in a request for "The Field of Dreams," a nearly five acre sporting complex that would be used by children with special needs. It will feature fully rubberized playing surfaces for baseball, soccer and basketball. Facilities will be specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility equipment according to a description of the project given to a House budget committee. The House budget currently has $2 million in it for this project.

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Politics make session a sleeper posted on 4/16/14

by News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Tax breaks are in. Gambling? No dice. Lower tuition is OK, but alimony is a no-no.

Blame the GOP-dominated Legislature’s attempt to give Gov. Rick Scott a helping hand for what people are calling one of the most boring sessions in recent history.

But, while they are doing all they can to keep the governor in office, Republicans also have their eyes on a bigger prize — the presidential race two years from now.

“Absolutely it’s important. We want the governor re-elected but it’s clearly important for 2016. No question,” said Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and former head of the Republican Party of Florida who is also chairman of Scott’s re-election effort.

Lawmakers recently put the kibosh on gambling legislation that was sure to split the Republican faithful. And, after Scott vetoed a similar effort last year, they opted to not even consider a prickly overhaul of the alimony system, putting the issue on hold for at least another year.

But they are angling to land on the incumbent Republican’s desk a cornucopia of items that appeal to Hispanics, gun owners, drivers, families footing the bill for university educations and anyone disgusted by revelations that sexual offenders let loose by the state preyed again on children.

The Legislature quickly passed a package of measures aimed at cracking down on child molesters, even after critics complained that the legislation fails to fully address the problem.

And lawmakers handed Scott one of his top priorities, a nearly $400 million rollback of vehicle registration fees increased during economic tough times in 2009, when Charlie Crist — Scott’s leading Democratic opponent — was governor.

With the May 2 end of the session fast approaching, the House and Senate are now wrangling over how to parcel out the remaining $100 million of the $500 million in election-year tax and fee cuts Scott made a top priority.

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