Today's news -- February 15, 2012




Prison privatization dies in Senate 21-19

A massive expansion of private prisons in Florida collapsed in the Senate on Tuesday as nine Republicans joined a dozen Democrats in handing a setback to Senate leaders and a victory to state workers. As a result, the state will not undertake what would have been the single greatest expansion of prison privatization in U.S. history, affecting 27 prisons and work camps in 18 counties and displacing more than 3,500 correctional officers. Senate leaders immediately said they would have to cut education and health care programs by $16.5 million, the amount supporters had said privatization would save in the first year. The 21-19 Senate vote reinforced the chamber's long-standing reputation for independence, as it has shown over the years on many issues, from abortion rights to immigration to the Terri Schiavo case. Tuesday's vote was a triumph for a rebellious group of Republicans who rejected supporters' arguments that for-profit prisons would save tax dollars and increase efficiency. All 12 Democrats also voted no, putting the minority party in the unaccustomed role of being on the winning side. Senators debated privatization for nearly three hours, and opponents' floor speeches often showed more passion. Rather than talk about numbers, they talked about people, such as the treatment of correctional officers, whose starting salary is $34,000 a year and who have not received an across-the-board pay raise for the past six years. "What's wrong with state employees?" said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole. "We should be taking care of them, rather than kicking them under the bus." Opposition from two GOP senators proved to be pivotal: Charlie Dean of Inverness and Steve Oelrich of Gainesville, both conservative former sheriffs who ran county jails. Both men resisted personal lobbying by Gov. Rick Scott and said it was wrong to privatize public safety in an entire region of the state. "I'm scared about the whole idea of private companies being responsible for taking away someone's freedom and keeping them there," Oelrich said. For weeks, labor unions rallied opposition to privatization. They included the Teamsters, who now represent correctional officers, the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and the Florida Education Association. Explaining a rare defeat for the Senate GOP leadership, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a long-time nemesis of organized labor, said: "The unions have a strong presence here and that was shown today again. A lot of members relate to that.",0,5523497.story


Republican senators stand up to defeat a bad idea


Private prison corporation offers cash in exchange for state prisons


Funding measure fails to get on charter school bill

An effort to funnel more money for maintenance and construction projects to charter schools was left off legislation that would increase the number of charter schools that can be built. The amendment failed Tuesday when members of the House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted it down. The measure, offered as an amendment to HB 903, would have sent 80 percent of money collected by school districts from their 1.5 millage property tax levy to charter schools for capital improvements, minus money the charter schools received from Public Education Capital Outlay funds and other funding sources. Money used by the school districts to pay down bond debt obligations would not be factored into the formula. Important Republicans on the panel, including committee Chairwoman Marti Coley of Marianna, joined Democrats in voting against the measure, and the amendment died on a 7-7 tie vote. Coley said that although she wanted equal funding for charter and traditional public schools both, the amendment came down too harshly on public schools. “If this amendment is added and [the bill] somehow stays the way it is, we have some concern for some of our districts. We have some districts that don’t even have charter schools,” Coley said.


Dress code for Volusia teachers may be in the offing (Andrew Spar quoted)


Florida School for Deaf and Blind legislation advances


ACLU, Christian group both oppose school prayer bill


$5 billion in federal grants offered to revisit teacher policies

The Obama administration will propose a $5 billion competitive grant program to encourage states to overhaul the teaching profession, federal education officials said Tuesday, using its Race to the Top school improvement competition as a model. The new program, which needs congressional approval, is part of President Obama’s budget proposal and expands upon a call in his State of the Union address last month to give schools more resources “to keep good teachers on the job and reward the best ones.” Federal education officials said the program would seek to bring together state and district officials, union leaders, teachers and other educators to address a range of issues, among them tightening tenure rules, increasing salaries and improving professional development. The secretary of education, Arne Duncan, will formally unveil the proposal at a meeting with teachers today in Washington. He plans to enlist teachers from an Education Department fellowship program to help promote the proposal, called the Respect (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) Project. “Our goal is to work with teachers in rebuilding their profession and to elevate the teacher voice in federal, state and local education policy,” Duncan said. The new program would follow the general format of Race to the Top, with states designing their own proposals for teacher improvement and the federal Education Department selecting the most promising ones for multiyear funding. It would focus only on teaching, though, while the Race to the Top program had a broader agenda for kindergarten to 12th-grade education. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union of teachers and education professionals with more than three million members, said he supported the Obama administration’s wide-ranging approach to a systemic problem. He said he had long emphasized the need for attracting top-tier teaching candidates, maintaining competitive salaries and promoting professional development. “It incorporates what we believe is necessary to transform the system,” Van Roekel said. “We need to do all of these things.”


Study: State university degree can mean huge boost in earnings

A new economic study suggests that having a degree from one of Florida’s 11 state universities can be a financial lifesaver -- equivalent to more than $1 million in a worker’s lifetime earnings. The State University System’s Board of Governors requested the economic study to update earlier figures, said Alan Hodges, an extension scientist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The team included economists from UF and Florida State University. “The value of a university degree is, in some cases, worth millions of dollars over a person’s working lifetime,” Hodges said. “And not only does it mean higher earnings, but also a greater likelihood of employment -- so all of this has real meaning for the current employment crisis.” The study found that the 11 public universities had nearly a $52 billion value-added economic impact on the state’s economy during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which ended in June 2010. That represents a little more than 7.25 percent of the state’s total economic activity and includes regional multiplier effects produced by government and household spending by those who work for, attend or conduct business related to the State University System. The economists estimated that the universities and related businesses are responsible directly and indirectly for 771,000 jobs in the state, or 7.9 percent of the state’s workforce. The study did not include spending on college sports events, nor did it include spending by university technology “spinoff” companies.

Battle cry to save USF pours out in wake of proposed budget cuts

Cuts could doom USF pharmacy school


Senate plans would cripple USF

SCF joins USF in objecting to proposed budget cuts

FIU expansion plan hinges on controversial land swap

Tax cut package ready for House vote after partisan tangle

A series of tax breaks for Florida businesses will get a vote on the House floor today after Republicans fended off about a dozen amendments aimed at imposing more requirements for businesses to qualify for the exemptions. The extra tax cuts in HB 7087 include provisions that:

  • Increase the corporate income tax exemption from $25,000 to $50,000.
  • Exempts packing houses from the sales tax on electricity usage.
  • expands the number of airplanes eligible for exemptions of sales taxes on maintenance and repair.
  • Removes sales taxes on chemicals and machinery used in the production of airplane and gas turbines
  • Lowers the requirement for industrial output from 10 percent to 5 percent to receive a sales tax exemption on new equipment and machinery.

Democrats tried to place further requirements on businesses to qualify for the tax cuts, offering amendments to offer the cuts to businesses only if they provide benefits for employees in domestic partnerships, use E-Verify to screen for illegal immigrants, and provide equal compensation for all employees regardless of gender. Republicans, however, thwarted up-or-down votes on all of the amendments offered by Democrats. They stripped the Democrats' amendments and inserted their own provisions requiring businesses to certify that they do not employ union members in order to get the tax cuts. House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami tacked the exact same amendment on each unwanted amendment pushed by Democrats. Although the amendment was repeatedly put on the bill multiple times, Lopez-Cantera said he was asserting his prerogative. “There’s nothing in the rules that says I can’t do this,” Lopez-Cantera said, noting that Democrats approved the House rules.


Senate plan includes big cuts to mental health programs


Do surgery on Medicaid


Senate to take up $70.8 billion budget


Details on where Choose Life license plate money now goes are tough to track


Bill to allow the sale of state trail naming rights scaled back before passing committee


Lawmakers' ethics bill fails amid complaints it was media-driven (Tom Auxter quoted in the first link),0,7628673.story


Senate approves right to speak at public meetings


Judicial system needs reliable funding


Florida, Alabama appeal ruling in water rights case to U.S. Supreme Court


Environmental groups sue state conservation panel on open-meetings issue


Florida Conservation Coalition rallies opposition to water districts spending bill

Tentative deal reached to preserve cut in payroll tax

Twenty-Two Faces of an American Uprising


Never before have gas prices risen so high so early in the year



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