Saturday, February 24, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST February 24, 2007

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The Sun-Sentinel,0,7396592.story?track=rss

Small business group opposes House property tax plan
Associated Press Writer

February 22, 2007, 8:27 PM EST

TALLAHASSEE -- The head of a group representing small Florida businesses opposed the House Republican leadership's plan to exchange lower property taxes for a higher sales tax, in testimony Thursday before the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.

Members of the National Federation of Independent Business are worried such a swap, while providing short-term property tax reductions, in the long run would result in higher levies on commercial property, said NFIB state director Allen Douglas.

House GOP leaders Wednesday unveiled a two-part plan that includes a proposed state constitutional amendment that would abolish taxes on homestead property _ primary homes _ while increasing the state's sales tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent. The increase would go to local governments to partly offset property tax losses.

The proposed amendment would also limit state and local revenue increases to a factor equal to population growth and inflation, starting from 2000-01 budget figures. That cap is expected to also result in significant savings for owners of second homes, rental and commercial property.

Local government bodies, though, would be able to exceed the cap by unanimous vote.


The Florida Times-Union

ebruary 22, 2007

Fla. business leaders to build pressure to break immigration jam

AP Hispanic Affairs Writer

CLEARWATER, Fla. - When it comes to immigration, Florida gets slammed on all sides, business leaders said Thursday, as they laid ground for a statewide industry coalition to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

In many ways, Florida represents a microcosm of all immigration issues facing the U.S. Some state business leaders want access to more skilled workers to feed Florida's booming high tech industry. Some want the U.S. to do more to welcome wealthy foreigners looking to study, retire or invest here. Still others want a temporary worker program and an avenue to legalize unskilled workers.

Those in the tourist industry want changes at both ends.

"Immigration affects both our visitors and our workers," said Candace Rodatz Barners, head of government relations for Universal Orlando Resort.She said the company is worried both about ensuring it hires only legal workers and about ensuring foreigners who want to visit the resort can obtain visas.


The New York Times

February 24, 2007

Panel Cites Voter Error, Not Software, in Loss of Votes

Florida election officials announced yesterday that an examination of votingsoftware did not find any malfunctions that could have caused up to 18,000votes to be lost in a disputed Congressional race in Sarasota County, andthey suggested that voter confusion over a poor ballot design was mainly toblame.

The finding, reached unanimously by a team of computer experts from severaluniversities, could finally settle last fall’s closest federal election. TheRepublican candidate, Vern Buchanan, was declared the winner by 369 votes,but the Democrat, Christine Jennings, formally contested the results,claiming that the touch-screen voting machines must have malfunctioned.Legal precedents make it difficult to win a lawsuit over ballot design, buta substantial error in the software might have been grounds for a newelection.

The questions about the electronic machines arose because many voterscomplained that they had had trouble getting their votes to register for Ms.Jennings, and the machines did not have a back-up paper trail that mighthave provided clues about any problems. The report said some voters mighthave accidentally touched the screen twice, thus negating their votes, whilemost of the others probably overlooked the race on the flawed ballot.


The Sun-Sentinel,0,1682505,print.story?coll=sfla-news-broward

Minority organization forced out of Lauderdale neighborhood
By Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

February 24, 2007

Francois Leconte knew he would have to move his social service agency from its dilapidated quarters in northwest Fort Lauderdale one day.

But he was hoping to hang around until Minority Development Empowerment Inc., an organization serving South Florida's Caribbean population, completed a building project in 2009.

Such hopes vanished this week as plans for a new condo development forced the agency from its 10,000-square-foot office space at 1703 N. Andrews Ave.

The office was the last remaining tenant at the soon-to-be-demolished strip mall. On Friday, movers trucked the organization's belongings to a smaller location in Wilton Manors. As employees withdrew from the neighborhood, they left behind a block of boarded-up buildings, some encircled with fences that featured drawings of the coming condos against a soft blue sky.

Leconte said his organization is now feeling what many of its clients experience as they are displaced by upscale developments.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

Gays tap into spirituality


Nan Van Den Bergh grew up in a religious household: born Baptist, raised Protestant, baptized at 12. ''I was pretty involved as a youth,'' Van Den Bergh recalls. ``I had a minister who was very intellectual. He gave me a lot of validation and feedback .''

As a teenage feminist, Van Den Bergh felt less and less comfortable at church and abandoned organized religion.

Then, in the 1970s on the beach of San Diego, Van Den Bergh was writing poetry: ``I felt something was working through me, a voice through me. It made me feel I could reconnect with organized religion.''

Van Den Bergh eventually came out as a lesbian and found Dignity, an Episcopal ''welcoming and affirming congregation.'' She attended services and took communion for the first time in years.

Now 59 and a professor at FIU's School of Social Work, Van Den Bergh wants to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth reconnect with their spiritual sides. She and university co-workers have organized ''Spirituality LGBT Style,'' an FIU fair supported by many of South Florida's gay-friendly congregations.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

Bombshell shook lawyer's life

Lawyer Richard Milstein, who has looked into Anna Nicole Smith's private life in the past week, says the public might be surprised to know she was generous and good-hearted.


Richard Milstein, a respected arts patron, civic activist and family-law attorney, didn't know much until last week about bombastic sex symbol Anna Nicole Smith.

''I heard she was this generation's Marilyn Monroe,'' Milstein, 60, said Friday. ``I didn't follow her. I didn't know she had a reality show. I didn't see her in the tabloids or Playboy.''

Milstein quickly got up to speed on the world-famous centerfold who died suddenly Feb. 8 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood.

As Smith's mother, her boyfriend and her ex-lover battled over where she would ultimately spend eternity, Broward Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin asked Milstein to represent someone in the case who can't yet speak for herself: Smith's 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn.


''The judge called me,'' said Milstein, father of two adult children and longtime guardian ad litem. 'I was in front of him two weeks ago in a case involving a child. He called early in the morning and said, `Richard, can you do me a favor?' I said, 'Whatever you need,' and he told me what it was.''


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

A cautious Hillary comes to town


Sen. Hillary Clinton came to town the other day, and if I had to choose one word to describe her visit -- at least the part we in the media were allowed to see -- it would be: cautious.

To be sure, it was professionally produced, beautifully staged and nicely executed, but cautious. Twenty-one months before the election, that's probably a good strategy. And possibly a winning one. But not very exciting.

Barack Obama was in L.A. and exciting the heck out of people. ''Inspirational'' is how Hollywood mogul and one time Bill Clinton buddy David Geffen described him to The New York Times' Maureen Dowd. ``. . . he's not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I'm tired of hearing James Carville on

Well, who isn't? Mary Matalin, too. Obama may produce a new punditocracy worthy of his Kansas-Kenyan heritage and Harvard Law education, but part of the fun is that columnists are having to find new adjectives to describe him. Beyond ''inexperienced,'' anyway.

Hillary's handlers, however, had no trouble at all describing Obama, and it wasn't pretty. Obama Embraces Slash & Burn Politics read the headline of the press release sent out by the Clinton campaign the day after her Miami visit. In it the New York senator's chief spokesman excoriated Obama for having denounced ''slash & burn politics'' in a speech, but refusing to disavow a personal attack on Hillary by one of Obama's ``biggest fundraisers.''


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

Oscars raise profile of local arts program

An Oscar-nominated documentary is bringing national attention to a little-known annual workshop for young artists that takes place in Miami.

The presentation of the Best Documentary Short award during the Oscar telecast is usually an excellent cue for a bathroom break or a refill of the popcorn bowl.

But Sunday night, when the 79th Academy Awards are handed out, South Florida viewers will have a stake in the race. One of this year's nominees, Rehearsing a Dream, tells the story of youngARTS week, an intensive seven-day retreat for arts-oriented teenagers from around the country that takes place every winter in Miami.

The 40-minute film captures the experiences of the 150 participants of last January's event -- gifted photographers, actors, musicians, painters, writers and dancers -- as they work with professionals such as New World Symphony artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas and ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov; put on a nightly talent showcase for their peers; and feed on the enthusiasm and energy of being surrounded by like-minded young adults.

Although the program is in its 26th year, many don't even know it exists.

''One of the challenges we've had as an organization based in Miami with a national scope is attaining visibility,'' said William H. Banchs, president of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the nonprofit organization that sponsors the program and provides cash grants and scholarships to young artists. ``The most painful thing I hear on a regular basis from teachers and students is I had never heard of this program before.''


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

Fate of merit-pay plan for Broward teachers is in doubt

It is unclear whether the Broward School Board will give final approval to an unpopular merit pay plan Tuesday, two weeks after members voted 5-4 for it.

Teachers in Broward might get a chance to claim victory next week in their battle against a controversial pay-for-performance plan -- even though victory, in this case, would mean bonuses for fewer educators.

Broward Teachers Union and school district officials have been meeting to try to come up with an alternative to the Special Teachers Are Rewarded plan, which School Board members tentatively approved 5-4 on Feb. 13.

And at least two board members who voted for the STAR plan then, Robin Bartleman and Stephanie Kraft, say they may change their votes.

'I'm really tempted to say: `OK, fine, this is what you want, then this is what you're going to get,' '' Kraft said.

School districts must implement a performance pay plan this school year. The state would give Broward $15 million to pay for bonuses if the board forces teachers to go along with STAR. But if board members decide to create a plan that the union agrees with, the district would have to come up with its own pot of money -- which would likely be much smaller.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

$2 million in tax breaks mulled to keep pro teams

Several bills have been drafted that aim to keep professional sports in Florida by offering money to build or upgrade stadiums.

TALLAHASSEE - (AP) -- In an effort to keep pro sports in Florida, lawmakers are considering offering stadium operators yearly tax breaks to upgrade facilities if the teams that play in them promise not to move.

One team that might benefit is the Florida Marlins baseball team.

The Marlins want to build a new stadium instead of continuing to share a home with the NFL Dolphins.

A bill drafted by a Senate committee would give up to nine existing sports facilities in the state a $2 million a year tax break if the teams that call the facilities home commit to remaining in Florida for 15 years.

The money would have to be used for construction or renovation.


Cities lament property tax relief plan
By Michael C. Bender
Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
Saturday, February 24, 2007

TALLAHASSEE — Florida cities and counties that have grown the fastest would be hit the hardest under a plan by Republican leaders in the Florida House to rewrite property tax laws, according to documents released Friday.

In Wellington, the plan would cut the property tax rate almost in half. But in Belle Glade, the tax rate could increase by 12 percent.

"It means firing a lot of people," said West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, whose city's property taxes would take a 38 percent hit in the House plan.

"It's not going to be good for the people if you have to cut the services closest to the people," she said. "It hurts the very people you're trying to help."

While local government budgets include more revenue sources than just property taxes, local government officials in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast threw up their arms in frustration Friday after figures released by the House showed some of their property tax rates being slashed by more than twice the state average.


'Paper trail' printer jams can gum up vote recounts

By George Bennett
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 24, 2007

It may seem as straightforward as giving a customer a receipt at a gas pump or ATM, but some elections experts say adding a "paper trail" to electronic voting machines could create new headaches in close races.

Gov. Charlie Crist has proposed adding printers to previously paperless electronic voting machines as one component of his $32.5 million election reform plan. If Florida legislators agree, they'll also have to decide how to count votes in a tight election if a piece of high-tech voting equipment experiences a low-tech paper jam.

"It does not happen often. But the point is, it does happen," says Larry Lomax, the top elections official in Nevada's Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. The county has used touch-screen machines with printers since 2004.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning calls paper-jam fears overblown but says Crist's proposal will address them.

Crist wants to end paperless voting in Florida and eliminate the kinds of concerns that engulfed a Sarasota-area congressional race in November. The race was decided by 369 votes, with paperless electronic machines registering more than 18,000 blank ballots.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

Bill aims to curb underage drinking in college culture

A bill approved by a Florida Senate committee takes aim at underage college drinking by tightening laws against it.

It's a well-known trick to underage college students: When a cop walks into a keg party, put the beer down.

It's illegal in Florida for a minor to buy or possess alcohol -- but not to consume it. So if police don't see a beer in hand, they can't arrest an underage drinker.

That loophole would disappear under a bill approved by a Florida Senate committee this week to toughen underage drinking laws.

Instigated by the deaths of two University of Florida students in Jacksonville in 2004 and 2005, the proposed legislation is aimed at the heart of underage drinking -- college campuses, where according to a legislative survey about 40 percent of students are under 21.

The bill would:

• Outlaw the consumption of alcohol by minors, allowing police to arrest underage drinkers who fail breath tests or show other signs of intoxication. Thirty-one states have passed similar laws.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Feb. 24, 2007

Questions of equity and tax fairness


Below are excerpts from a statement by Dominic M. Calabro, President of Florida TaxWatch (www.florida, on the state House property-tax plan.

This is a bold and ambitious effort that has a lot of good elements, some of which Florida TaxWatch has recommended. This plan contains ideas that are healthy to discuss and needs more analysis. We should review and vet these proposals with an eye toward evolution, not revolution, of Florida's tax system.

Increasing Florida's sales tax to eliminate property taxes for homesteaded owners raises the question of whether it is equitable and wise to exempt one large class of taxpayer from such a significant source of government income, while increasing another tax that everyone pays to replace it. We would be replacing a proportional tax with one that is more regressive. Issues of equity and tax fairness will have to be resolved.

It will cut the cost at one end for homesteaded homeowners, but this tax shift will add tremendous costs to business inputs, increase the cost of doing business in Florida and make us far less economically competitive with our neighboring states.

There are questions as to whether it is a good idea to have the highest sales-tax rate in the nation. This could create competitive problems, increase taxes for anyone who doesn't currently pay property taxes, make Florida more expensive (and less desirable) for tourists and create some major enforcement issues. With sales taxes that high, people will search for ways to avoid them. It could also hasten the eroding of Florida's sales-tax collections from Internet and other remote sales.

In trying to achieve needed results, Florida must make sure there are no unintended consequences that could kill the goose that that laid the golden egg of economic vitality.


National Center for Lesbian Rights

In less than a month, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR),Securing Our Children’s Rights (SOCR), Equality Florida and other alliesfrom the Coalition for Fair Adoption will come together in Tallahassee forour Second Annual Fair Adoption Lobby Days.

Please Join Us!

Register today to join us in Tallahassee on March 14th and 15th as familiesfrom around the state come together to share their stories with Floridalawmakers. No prior lobbying experience is needed – your personal storiesare more powerful than any professional lobbyist! We will provide trainingand will have materials available that you can give to lawmakers. Bring yourkids, your partner and your non- gay family and friends with you! Let ourlawmakers know why repealing Florida’s shameful gay adoption ban isimportant to you.

To Register: E-mail Tracy Powell and let us know whether you will be joiningus on both Wednesday March 14th and Thursday March 15th, or whether you canonly come for one day; tell us your name; address; phone number; and howmany people will be joining us. Also, please let us know if you needtransportation or housing assistance. NCLR will be renting vans around thestate and a limited number of hotel rooms will be made available through thegenerosity of special lobby day donors who are committed to ensuring thatanyone who would like to attend is able to do so!

If you are unable to travel to Tallahassee on March 14th and 15th, but wouldlike to sponsor another family’s travel to Tallahassee, please contact Tracy.

We look forward to seeing you in Tallahassee on March 14th and 15th!

Thank You,

Karen Doering, Senior Counsel
National Center for Lesbian Rights
phone: 415.392.6257

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