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News from Tallahassee for 3/9/14
Senate could push for quicker stadium incentive review posted on 3/7/14
by Aaron Deslatte | Orlando Sentinel
TALLAHASSEE – Central Florida senators are working on a deal to allow Orlando’s soccer stadium to compete for state dollars as soon as this summer without requiring the Legislature to later sign off on the $2 million annual tax break.
The House has already started advancing a plan to require stadium tax-subsidies to go through a competition for public dollars based on their economic boon.
The Senate plans to go along, provided the projects selected don’t have to make a return visit to the Legislature for final approval.
The time difference is critical for Orlando’s $85 million Major League Soccer stadium which is slated to be under construction by 2015.
“As soon as we set the parameters and setting the methodology for getting this done, there’s no reason for it to come back to the Legislature,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who is pushing a package to provide incentives for the Orlando City Soccer stadium planned for downtown.
Fla. lawmakers to kick off session posted on 3/4/14
by GARY FINEOUT | AP
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida legislators return to the state Capitol on Tuesday for a 60-day session that will likely focus on tax cuts, spending and school vouchers, but avoid many of the contentious issues that sparked partisan rancor and fierce debate in the last few years.
The tone for the session will likely be set by Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to ask the Republican-controlled Legislature to back his election-year agenda of tax cuts and keeping tuition rates at their current levels.
Florida lawmakers between now and early May are expected to cover everything from guns to gambling and whether or not to overhaul the state's massive pension system for state workers.
While the first day is usually long on ceremony, the Florida Senate plans to pass bills intended to crack down on sex offenders. The main goal of the proposed laws will be to strengthen the Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows for the civil commitment of sexual predators once they finish their prison terms.
Still legislators may wind up pushing off some items to avoid controversies that could harm Scott's bid for re-election. Scott, who had never run for office before 2010, is seeking a second term though battling consistently low poll numbers.
Scott has yet to weigh in publically this year on whether he favors any of the gambling proposals under consideration, or if he is willing to back a push by legislative leaders to limiting the type of retirement benefits that future public employees can receive.
House Speaker Will Weatherford said he was comfortable with Scott's cautious approach.
"We would love to have the governor's public support, but I think we respect the fact he wants to sit back and wait to see what the bills actually look like," Weatherford said.
Dueling rallies in Tallahassee show divide on state’s priorities posted on 3/4/14
by Matt Dixon | Florida Times-Union
TALLAHASSEE — A day before the start of the 2014 legislative session, the state Capitol played host to a set of competing rallies, one chiding Gov. Rick Scott and GOP lawmakers and another giving them credit for Florida’s turnaround.
Hundreds of protesters filled the plaza of the state Capitol on Monday morning to blast Scott’s so-called “voter purge,” the controversial Stand Your Ground gun law, and Florida’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The event, dubbed “Moral Monday,” was organized in large part by the NAACP, which had protesters bused in from all corners of the state.
“We have come to have our voices heard,” Adam Jefferson Richardson, who leads a region of the African Methodist Episcopal Church that includes Florida, told the energetic crowd.
An afternoon rally, which was smaller but enthusiastic, was organized by Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit that generally supports the agenda of Scott and GOP lawmakers. That event carried an almost opposite tune, at one point criticizing the morning rally.
“If you were to listen to some of the speeches earlier today, I think you would have been shocked to hear so-called civic leaders actually pontificating … a culture of dependency,” said Slade O’Brien, the group’s Florida director.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told the crowd the state decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act because President Barack Obama’s administration “will not fulfill its promises.”
“They wanted us to trust them to deliver billions of dollars forever, when we knew we would get stuck on the hook,” he said.
Lawmaking Session Could Start Earlier In Election Years posted on 3/4/14
by STAN JASTRZEBSKI | WFSU
A pair of Miami lawmakers want Florida’s legislative session to start earlier during election years.
In odd-numbered years, the session would still begin in March and run through early May. But in years where lawmakers have to stand for election, it would begin about six weeks earlier – officially the first Tuesday after the second Monday in January. Rep. Jeanette Nunez (R-Miami) is the bill’s House sponsor. She talked it up Monday, reminding lawmakers that in years past when the session started earlier to accommodate redistricting, the advanced schedule caused few problems.
Special interests pay their way onto Florida's legislative agenda posted on 3/3/14
by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE -- When Florida legislators open their annual 60-day session Tuesday, many of the decisions about what issues make it onto the agenda have already been made -- thanks in large part to the powerful special interest groups and a torrent of cash flowing into the coffers of legislative political committees.
It's all about buying in on the legislative agenda.
The Florida Senate, for example, has offered up a bill to create two new resort casinos, one each in Miami-Dade and Broward. The proposal comes after a year of study and $400,000 in fees to consultants. The biggest beneficiaries: three casino giants -- Genting Resorts World, Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe -- the largest gaming contributors to political campaigns this cycle.
Another example: a bill to preserve a dental care contract for Miami-based MCNA. It failed last year. This year's bill, which would remove $200 million in dental care from the state's Medicaid reform, has rocketed through House and Senate committees even before the start of session. The juice? Proponents say it's the hard-work and persuasion skills of the bill sponsors, Miami Republicans Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. It doesn't hurt that MCNA gave more than $355,000 to the political committees of Republican legislators and the Republican Party in the last seven months.
And then there's billionaire Coral Gables executive Miguel "Mike" Fernandez, who is pushing a bill to allow Miami-Dade College and Florida International University to reap the revenue from a proposed a half-penny sales tax. After years of legislative resistance, the bill is all set for a vote on the House floor. Who's Fernandez? He's co-finance chair of Gov. Rick Scott's campaign and has given legislators more than $250,000 this cycle, and is the governor's biggest backer -- donating $2.4 million in the last four years.
To be sure, money has long commanded attention in the Legislature. Businesses hire teams of lobbyists to mount a full court press on major issues and seed the debate with campaign cash. Lawmakers depend heavily on the special interest money to underwrite their campaigns. But over the past year, the amount of money flowing into political committees is unprecedented and has ignited an arms race for cash.
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