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News from Tallahassee for 5/24/13
Five things to look for in Friday’s Legislative session posted on 3/8/13
by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE -- A legislative week marked by the Senate's fast passage of an ethics reform bill will end with a senator formally answering ethics charges. Here are five things to watch on Friday:
• The case of Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, will come before the Commission on Ethics. He's accused of not including his checking account on a financial disclosure form. The ethics bill (SB 2) that cleared the Senate on the session's first day would allow elected officials a 60-day grace period to make changes to their financial disclosure forms. The senator's lawyers have asked that the case be dismissed.
• The House Finance & Tax Subcommittee considers a proposed sales tax rebate that would pay for football-friendly improvements to the stadium where the Miami Dolphins play. The bill (HB 165) is sponsored by Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah.
• Gov. Rick Scott hits the road for an event in Orlando at which he will promote an item in his proposed budget seeking to reduce the waiting list for people with developmental disabilities.
• The House Appropriations Ccommittee takes up proposed changes to public employees' pension plans in HB 7011, a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford.
• Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is the guest of the Capital Tiger Bay Club, meeting in Tallahassee.
Committee OKs bill to squeeze tax money from natural gas posted on 3/6/13
by Matt Dixon | Florida Times-Union
Legislation intended to help Florida bag additional gas tax revenue flew out of its first House committee stop Tuesday on a unanimous vote.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, puts in place a more traditional tax structure for vehicles that use natural gas, many of which are currently fleets of trucks. Those vehicles currently pay an annual fee to the Department of Revenue but don’t pay taxes on a per-gallon basis, like other vehicles.
Ray said the legislation is needed because a growing number of natural gas-powered trucks are coming into Florida and paying no taxes.
“The primary thing is they are using our road structure and if we don’t have a structure in place to put a tax on that moving forward we are going to miss road tax dollars,” he told members of the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee.
The truck traffic is from goods being shipped into Florida from ports outside of the state, Ray said.
In place of the annual fee, the bill (HB 579) places a 4-cent tax on each “motor fuel equivalent gallon” of natural gas, which equals the energy content of one gallon of traditional fuel. It’s the same structure that currently applies to diesel fuel.
To incentivize companies use more natural gas, the legislation also gives a five-year fuel tax exemption to freight trucks that are converted to natural gas. Ray said it’s a move in the right direction because the Environmental Protection Agency is considering cracking down further on traditional fuel sources, which are more harmful to air quality.
“It was natural for us as a policy … to make that migration into that,” he said.
Brent Batten: Working through the Legislature's agenda posted on 3/5/13
by Brent Batten | Naples Daily News
They’re calling it “Work Plan Florida.”
It’s the Florida Legislature’s list of priorities for the 2013 session, which officially starts today.
But the so-called work plan only highlights five priorities, ethics reform, campaign finance reform, higher education reform, pension reform and elections review. Lawmakers have 60 whole days to get it done. That doesn’t really sound like work.
So to round out their days and to justify the “work” part of their plan, legislators will look at more than 1,500 other bills introduced this year.
Here is a list of some of the lesser-known measures they’ll be discussing, along with sarcastic commentary worked up just for the occasion.
House Bill 163 takes up the issue of ticketholders’ rights. Among other things, it guarantees fans the right to storm the court anytime a Florida team beats Duke.
House Bill 59 asks legislators to support the Fair Tax Act of 2011. Sometimes it takes the Legislature a while to get to around to things.
Senate Bill 334 would establish a Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. A long, long while.
Senate Bill 366 would create the honorary position of State Poet Laureate. I’d like to apply for the post. “There was a young man from Kissimmee...”
House Bill 699 would establish a Florida Salutes Veterans specialty license plate.
House Bill 911 would establish a Fallen Law Enforcement specialty license plate.
House Bill 487 would establish a Freemasonry specialty license plate.
House Bill 427 would establish a Sun, Sea and Smiles specialty license plate.
House Bill 265 would establish a Florida Wildflower specialty license plate. That’s it! Florida is officially out of ideas for specialty license plates.
House Bill 511 covers assault on a utility worker. The law carves out a special exemption for whacking the cable guy when he tells you he’ll be there between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. then shows up at 6 and tells you he doesn’t have the adapter he needs to start your service so you’ll have to reschedule.
House Bill 669 would encourage photographic enforcement on school buses. Smile, you’re on wedgie camera.
House Bill 105 would alter the allocation of revenue from the Florida Lottery. Lottery officials say they will use the money to buy Mega Millions tickets in Georgia.
House Bill 1127 takes up the matter of United Nations Agenda 21. Ignore those black helicopters circling overhead.
House Bill 1087 addresses the U.S. 65th Infantry Regiment, the Borinqueneers. The bill seeks to have the regiment renamed the Raiders or the Lancers or something more intimidating than the Borinqueneers.
House Bill 763 advocates for term limits for U.S. Congress. It’s also known by its other name, the “I’m Getting Term Limited Out of My Seat and Need Something Else to Run For” law.
Senate Bill 650 would make it illegal to artificially color any animal or fowl. The bill is sure to meet opposition from the pro-artificially coloring animals and fowl lobby.
Senate Bill 1706 urges Congress to ban the use of pink slime on meat products. Other shades of slime would still be permitted.
A consumer's guide to the Florida Legislature posted on 3/4/13
by TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA | HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
TALLAHASSEE -- As lawmakers convene Tuesday to iron out Florida's budget during the 60-day legislative session, their decisions will have a major impact on the budgets of families across the Sunshine State.
From property insurance to housing to taxes to energy costs, the issues lawmakers take on during session — and those they opt not to — will hit consumer pocketbooks.
With unemployment declining and the economy slowly improving, lawmakers are becoming more open to business-backed measures that could push up the cost of living in Florida.
That could mean higher insurance rates, faster foreclosures, taxes on Internet purchases and other cost drivers.
Florida's Republican-led Legislature is staunchly against raising taxes, so standard tax hikes are generally off the table. And a budget surplus has allowed lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to push for more government spending, including $2,500 raises for schoolteachers and restored social programs. On other measures — including college tuition — lawmakers are holding the line on costs, as Scott has pledged to protect family budgets.
But the average consumer could still see his or her expenses increase under many of the proposed bills, even as wages stagnate in Florida's slow recovery from a deep recession that many believe is still not over.
The higher costs come at a tough time: In addition to shrinking wages, the average household will see payroll taxes increase by more than $900 this year, because in January the tax jumped back up to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent after it had been lowered to stimulate the economy.
"With increases in the payroll taxes and the general economic uncertainty, (cost-driving legislation) is going to hurt those at the lower income (levels) more," said Dr. Howard Frank, a professor at Florida International University's Metropolitan Center.
All pocketbook issues could face higher hurdles this year, as Scott eyes re-election and looks to rebrand himself around more populist themes.
"In everything we do in government, I ask, 'How will this impact a family making less than $50,000 a year?' " Scott said as he unveiled his $74.2 billion proposed budget in January. "That is around half of the families living in Florida today, and that was also my family growing up."
Here is a look at some of the top pocketbook issues that lawmakers will face when the 60-day legislative session kicks off on Tuesday.
Florida's Legislative Preview posted on 2/27/13
by Amy Keller | Florida Trend
A roundup of what interest groups, lawmakers and the governor are seeking this year.
Corporate Tax Cut — Gov. Rick Scott has proposed raising the exemption on corporate income taxes from $50,000 to $75,000, a move that he says would help cut taxes for another 2,000 businesses. The cut, which would cost the state about $8 million in forgone revenue, would be another step toward Scott’s pledge of eliminating the state’s corporate income tax altogether.
Higher Ed — The Board of Governors is seeking $118 million — equivalent to a 15% tuition increase — that will be tied to performance goals for the state’s 12 public universities. The schools say the funding would help them avoid raising tuition, something the governor opposes. The board is also asking for $50 million for maintenance and wants the Legislature to deregulate university construction to allow greater flexibility in funding, including the promotion of public-private partnerships. The board is also promoting an expansion of higher education online.
K-12 — Gov. Rick Scott’s budget calls for $100 million for digital learning, $75 million for school safety and $2,500 teacher raises. Meanwhile, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is calling for an expansion of virtual and charter schools along with legislation that would provide employment options and legal representation for teachers who don’t want to join a union, and funding to implement the teacher merit pay program, which gives additional compensation or bonuses to high-performing teachers.
ENERGY / ENVIRONMENT
Everglades — The Everglades Coalition is asking the Legislature to allocate $100 million for the state’s recently approved Everglades water quality plan and advance construction of “vital” Everglades projects. The Everglades Foundation, meanwhile, is seeking funding for restoration projects in excess of $28 million. Gov. Scott has requested $60 million for Everglades restoration.
PENSION / EDUCATION REFORM
House Speaker Will Weatherford wants to eliminate the state’s defined benefit pension plan for new government employees and offer them instead a defined contribution, 401(k)-like investment plan. Pension reform, to the chagrin of employee unions, is also a top priority for many cash-strapped cities and counties that are finding it difficult to keep pace with their growing benefit obligations for police officers, firefighters and other public employees. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, which supports a hybrid system for public-sector pensions that incorporates both a defined benefit and defined contribution plan, has a long laundry list of public-sector pension and benefits reforms, including:
• Establishing uniform health care premium contribution amounts for all state employees and implementing a defined contribution model for state employee pension health insurance benefits;
• Eliminating the ability of public employees to cash in large amounts of vacation and sick time they’ve accrued;
• Placing caps on the average salary used for calculating pension benefits...
Read the entire preview of the upcoming session here.
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