News from Tallahassee for 4/18/14

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

by BILL COTTERELL | Current

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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Lawmakers ‘chipping away’ at state’s sunshine laws posted on 4/15/14

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tampa Tribune

FL Senate chamberTALLAHASSEE — With two work weeks left in Florida’s legislative session, lawmakers have passed just one measure related to creating or widening loopholes in the state’s “sunshine” laws but they are close to passing more than a dozen others.

The bill approved so far (HB 177) expands an existing exemption for phone card providers’ “confidential business information” when given for state tax purposes.

Several others have been passed by one chamber and are awaiting approval in another.

One would make secret any email addresses used by tax collectors to send paperless tax notices (SB 538). Another would shroud the identities of people applying to be president, provost or dean of a state university or college (HB 135)...

The Legislature is taking a break this week for Passover and Holy Week and will resume business, including work on the state budget, next week through the end of the session on May 2.

Meantime, lawmakers have advanced bills that would put more information into the public domain.

The Senate unanimously passed a measure (SB 1194) that would create new reporting and transparency requirements for outside organizations, such as the Florida Beef Council, that support the work of state government.

But a major open-government overhaul (HB 1151) has stalled in the House, while a companion (SB 1648) passed the Senate.

Here are highlights of what the measure would do.

♦ Allow a public records request to be made over the phone unless there’s a specific requirement already in law that it be written for certain kinds of records.

♦ Provide that a fee charged for “a voluminous or complicated public records request” be limited to the cost of the lowest-paid workers who can fulfill the request.

♦ Require state agencies to train their employees on Florida’s public records laws.

Florida Local Governments Try To Stave Off State Interference posted on 4/15/14

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

Every year Florida lawmakers come to Tallahassee armed with bills they hope, will become laws. And every year, local governments gear up in the hopes of staving off what they see as efforts to usurp their authority.

The battles between state and local governments happen every year, and this session is no different. Proposals on everything from spiny lobsters to regulating paper or plastic in supermarkets have been filed, along with recurring fights over how local governments handle their pension obligations.

“Everything is going to have a different type impact," says Leon County Commissioner and President of the Florida Association of Counties, Brian Desloge. "Most of the time we try to measure it on the fiscal impact, and the legislature, although they have a specific job to do, most of the time we find one size doesn’t fit all.”

Desloge advocates for a middle ground, with the state allowing counties flexibility on issues like water ordinances, and gun laws. That didn’t happen a year ago when the state came in and mandated local governments do away with most of their gun ordinances that were deemed too restrictive. Desloge, a gun owner himself pushes for a balance:

“We said no guns in county parks—[now we] can’t do that. Think about someone showing up to a county park at the ball games and having a gun on the sidelines. It’s just some common sense things but there needs to be some balance there. It can’t be all or nothing, or my way or the highway. There has to be some reasonableness there," he says.

But some argue cities and counties go too far and need to be reined in.

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