Tuesday, March 27, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST March 27, 2007

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Get rid of term limits, reject notion of raises

By Times editorial
Published March 27, 2007

New Port Richey voters are being asked to consider a pair of referendum questions on the April 10 ballot. Question one asks if term limits should be removed from the city charter so the mayor and council can serve more than three consecutive terms.


The city's ability to progress has been impaired in the past by term limits that forced highly qualified people to depart from office, only to be replaced by new leaders facing a substantial learning curve.

Exchanging former council member Wendy Brenner for Scott Bryant 10 years ago comes to mind as the most egregious example, particularly after Bryant announced his intentions to resign and run for County Commission just months after joining the council.

Over the years Peter Altman, Frank Parker, Robert Prior, Brenner and Virginia Miller have been forced to vacate their seats because of term limits. Some, like Altman, Parker and Miller, returned after a short hiatus. Others, like Prior, did not seek elected office again.


Palm Beach Post


Bill to override county's moratorium on new rock mines advances in House
By Jennifer Sorentrue
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Palm Beach County commissioners would be forced to allow new limestone rock mines, despite a county-imposed moratorium banning the practice, under a plan approved last week by a House committee.

Members of the House Committee on Environmental Protections signed off Wednesday on a bill (PCB ENRC 07-12) that would prevent local governments from blocking a limestone mine on land where the county rules permitted the practice as of March 1.

There is a "critical need" for construction material in the state, and any move that disrupts the supply damages Florida's construction industry, transportation system and "overall health, safety and welfare," the bill states.

But critics, including the Florida Association of Counties, say the bill also would take away local officials' ability to regulate a mine's hours of operations, noise and traffic, and would prevent counties from protecting sensitive wetlands and springs.

In November, Palm Beach County commissioners agreed to block new mining operations until a study showing how blasting affects the Everglades Agricultural Area was complete. The decision, however, allows existing mines to expand if they prove they won't cause long-term damage.

The blasting study is expected to be completed by Dec. 1, 2008.


The Miami Herald


Posted on Tue, Mar. 27, 2007
Judge pulls gun after attack on defendant

(AP) -- A Circuit Court judge pulled a handgun in his courtroom after a man jumped a railing and punched a handcuffed defendant accused of molesting his son.

Bailiffs eventually took control of the attacker during Friday's outburst, and Circuit Judge John Merrett handed his gun to a clerk for safekeeping. The judge met with the father in his chambers and later ordered him released without bail, even though he was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors.

The man is not being named to protect the identity of his son.

Merrett said Monday he never put his finger on the trigger or pointed the gun at anyone.

Because of the way his courtroom is configured, the judge said he couldn't see the fight below his bench. He said he pulled the gun as a precaution.


The Miami Herald


Posted on Tue, Mar. 27, 2007
Can teen curfews curb violence?

Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne is talking about curfews for teenagers as a possible way to combat a recent upsurge in violent crime.

''It is one possible option we are looking at,'' said Jenne, whose office is organizing two town meetings this week to discuss the crime problem and solutions. ``But there are a lot of options we are pursuing and that's why we're holding the meetings.''

Thirty homicides have been reported in Broward so far this year, compared to 22 at this time last year. Jenne said robberies and sexual assaults also are on the rise. Most of the crimes are being committed by people between the ages of 16 and 25, Jenne said.

The first town hall meeting will be hosted by BSO in Pembroke Park and will include agencies from surrounding areas, including Miami-Dade, Miami Gardens, Miramar and Hollywood.

When Washington, D.C., was faced with a surge in violent crime -- 13 homicides in 11 days last summer -- then- police Chief Charles H. Ramsey declared a ``crime emergency.''


The Miami Herald


Posted on Mon, Mar. 26, 2007
S. Florida emergency chief posts aren't filled

Though the hurricane season begins in about two months, both Broward County and Miami-Dade County lack permanent emergency management directors. In Miami-Dade, the key position has been open for 13 months.

Officials hope to fill the vacancies soon and say the posts are temporarily held by competent interim appointees, but experts describe the situation as less than ideal.

''These are critical functions of government, especially when you're dealing with hurricanes,'' said Kate Hale, Miami-Dade's emergency manager during Hurricane Andrew. ``I would hope to see these positions filled with qualified emergency managers as soon as possible.''

The six-month hurricane season begins June 1, though storms can develop earlier and other disasters or emergencies can strike at any time.

''It's not a great situation,'' said Chuck Lanza, who succeeded Hale in Miami-Dade and then worked as an emergency management and homeland security expert for Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne. ``These are two of the biggest counties in the state, and there aren't many people who have been emergency managers for large counties.''


The Miami Herald


Posted on Sat, Mar. 17, 2007
Property taxes: a guide

One of the most important issues the state Legislature is considering this session is cutting property taxes.

After two weeks of debate over how to do it, lawmakers have proposed four solutions, and one more, from the Florida Senate, is expected to roll out this week.

But with every new idea, the issue gets murkier and the explanations more confusing. Even House Speaker Marco Rubio, the West Miami legislator who launched the House's controversial plan, concedes much of the confusion stems from the reality that ``it is a very difficult issue to report and explain.''

To cut through the clutter, here is a Miami Herald property tax primer, with answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. The accompanying chart ompares the four proposals moving through the Legislature.

Q.What is the problem with the property tax system in Florida?

A. Supporters of overhauling the system -- Gov. Charlie Crist among them -- say that property taxes have become onerous for many Floridians. They say:


The Miami Herald


Posted on Sat, Mar. 24, 2007
Gun bill seeks to clarify property rights

The business lobby and gun-rights advocates are set to clash in the Legislature over private property rights -- a fight many Florida Republicans likely want part of because it splits their core supporters.

A legislative hero to Second Amendment backers has filed a bill that would prevent companies from prohibiting employees from keeping firearms locked in their cars in company parking lots.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, expanded a measure he filed last year that died under pressure from Florida's business lobby, which believes its property rights enable it to place conditions on employees, such as banning guns in parked cars, if there's a safety risk.

Baxley said the central aim of his bill is to prohibit companies from searching employee vehicles. But businesses say the bill is far more expansive, challenging the basic rights of property owners to determine what should and should not be allowed on their property.

''It's contractual, it's voluntary,'' said Jennifer Krell Davis, spokeswoman for the Associated Industries of Florida. ``When you decide to take a job, you agree to those terms. This isn't addressing something that is a problem.''


The Miami Herald


Posted on Sat, Mar. 24, 2007
Property tax cuts are facing Senate silence

After weeks of debate and three different proposals, a key House committee approved an ambitious Republican plan Friday to cut $15 billion in property taxes and raise state and local sales taxes by as much as $9.2 billion instead.

But as the Republican-controlled House Policy and Budget Council raced headlong into a party-line vote, the Florida Senate remained silent. Senate leaders say there is no support for the House plan, but they are not compelled to bring an alternative forward.

The strategy? The Senate is lying low, ready to strike at the last minute and reduce the options for the House, which has single-mindedly pursued a rollback in property taxes that would force deep cuts in county and city budgets and eliminate all property taxes on primary homes.

Senate President Ken Pruitt, a Port St. Lucie Republican, said this week that the property tax debate remained the Senate's top priority but that it as ''sucked the air out of the room'' this legislative session.

The Senate is not in a hurry, Pruitt said. ``We're going to do it right. We're not going to have competing press conferences and we're not going to just bring out a plan for the sake of just having a plan.''


The Miami Herald


Posted on Fri, Mar. 23, 2007
Districts gain more say over teacher bonuses

Calling it a big mess that needed to be cleaned up, Florida lawmakers on Thursday repealed a controversial merit pay plan for public school teachers and replaced it with a program that gives more power to local school boards.The measure now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist, who said the previous merit pay plan needed to be fixed because it based teacher bonuses on how students performed on standardized tests.

''This is a great first step in recognizing the value our teachers have in shaping the future of our children,'' Crist said in a statement. ``Teacher erformance bonuses provide incentive for our teachers to remain in the classroom.''

The quick turnabout on merit pay during this year's session represents a rejection of ideas first pushed by the administration of former Gov. Jeb Bush. A year ago lawmakers set aside $147.5 million for a merit pay plan that required school districts to give bonuses to 25 percent of their teachers. Lawmakers tied the bonuses primarily to how students fared on exams such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Teachers angrily responded to the program, called Special Teachers are Rewarded, or STAR, saying it didn't reward enough teachers and that bonuses should not be solely based on test results. Some school districts, including roward's, refused to carry out the merit pay plan, a move that could cost the districts millions in state money.


Officials to crack down on water restriction violators beginning April 15

By Andy Reid
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

March 27, 2007

Warnings and polite reminders for South Floridians caught breaking new water restrictions will end April 15, to be replaced by fines or even notices to appear in court, water managers announced Monday.

After months of calling on the public to conserve and following the well-publicized decision to start imposing mandatory restrictions last week, the "I didn't know" argument can only work for so long, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

"Lack of awareness is no excuse for noncompliance," district spokesman Jesus Rodriguez said.

Police, sheriff and code enforcement representatives from throughout the region met Monday to start coordinating plans to issue citations to people who don't follow three-day-a-week watering rules and other restrictions intended to preserve strained water supplies. More meetings are planned Wednesday in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Warnings are still most likely for first-time violators during the next few weeks, but that grace period ends April 15, district officials said. Repeat offenders can expect a ticket before April 15.




Snowbirds carp while rest of us hardly afford one home

Stacey Ray
Delray Beach

March 27, 2007

Oh, woe is the snowbird. Enough already! For the privilege of owning a vacation home, they are being "forced to subsidize" our high cost of living here in Florida. Give me a break!

I doubt the seniors who are barely subsisting on their meager Social Security checks would agree since many are no longer able to live independently because of the outrageous increases in property taxes on the only home they have.

I'm sure the teachers, firefighters, police officers and civil servants would not agree either, as they are increasingly forced to relocate out of the state because they cannot afford the property taxes on the only home they have.

Of course, there's also the working poor, those unskilled enough to only qualify for the minimum wage we offer here, but who are welcomed into the homes of the snowbirds to do manual labor such as cleaning, lawn work and repairs for a pittance of the true wage they deserve.

Perhaps snowbirds should remember that the increased tax dollars on their homes are because they do not support the community the rest of the year. If you can afford to own two homes, then you must take your lumps. That's the beauty of our capitalistic system.


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