Monday, October 15, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST October 15, 2007

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Fort Lauderdale will pursue putting power lines underground

City seeks help of utility consultant
By Brittany Wallman
October 14, 2007

Fort Lauderdale

Imagine a city with no power lines, no power poles, and with trees free togrow into a thick canopy. In this city, if a strong wind blew, a Category 1hurricane, for example, the lights in the homes wouldn't go out. Thegenerator would not be needed. Life would go on, with electricity poweringit.

This is the dream city that Fort Lauderdale's elected officials are talkingabout, as they discuss the possibility of moving power lines underground.

The cost to homeowners is unknown. Officials from Florida Power & Light Co.estimated the city would spend $300 million putting its lines underground.But the city would also have to work with Comcast and AT&T to have theirlines buried as well.

The City Commission voted 4-1 at the Oct. 2 meeting, with Mayor Jim Naugledissenting, to go back out for competitive bids for a utility consultant tohelp the city move forward. Only one qualified bidder responded the firsttime, and commissioners want to try again. Commissioners also agreed thecity should start negotiating with FPL about the utility's franchiseagreement, which ends in 2009.

Commissioners hope a consultant can help them decide how to go about buryingthe lines from FPL, Comcast and AT&T, and also assess the value of FPL'ssystem in Fort Lauderdale, in case the city opts to purchase it and hire adifferent company to run it. Commissioners also want to know whether theutility boxes could be buried underground.

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FAU tries to help struggling students pass math courses

By Scott Travis
October 15, 2007

FAU is trying to solve a tricky math problem.

Only half of all students pass freshman-level math courses. That's lowerthan the state's passing rate, which is about 62 percent.

"It's not an easy problem to tackle," said Ed Pratt, dean of undergraduatestudies at Florida Atlantic University. "At FAU, we have a large number ofnontraditional students who have not taken mathematics in two decades."

It doesn't help when many college algebra classes have 75 to 125 people inthem, FAU officials and students said.

So the university has started two pilot programs this year to boost its mathsuccess rates.

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Lauderdale switches parties one more time

Posted on Mon, Oct. 15, 2007

City Commissioner Cindi Hutchinson ditched the Republicans for the Democratslast week, changing her party affiliation -- again.

Hutchinson said she's always been a liberal, pro-choice Republican andopposes the Iraq war.

''For the last eight months or so, I have not aligned myself with theRepublican Party and the decisions they have been making at the federallevel and state level,'' she said.

Hutchinson cast her party switch as ``strictly personal.''

But she faces term limits in 18 months, so the time is ripe to positionherself to bid for another elected office. That's a lot easier as a Democratin Broward.

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Sunrise police, firefighters prepare for crowd of 25,000 at Ikea opening

Police, firefighters prepare for 25,000 1st-day shoppers
By Jennifer Gollan
October 15, 2007


Off-duty police officers will be called in to direct traffic, andfirefighter/paramedics will be at the ready in case of pandemonium andstampedes.

It's not every day a furniture store opens in Sunrise.

Not like this one, anyway.

Shoppers worldwide swarm the grand openings of Ikea stores like they wereretail Woodstock festivals, drawn by the relatively inexpensive and moderncouches, desks, beds and other items.

The Wednesday opening of the 293,000-square-foot store at the corner ofState Road 84 and 136th Avenue is expected to attract up to 25,000 people,with many lining up beginning today. A Sunrise ordinance prohibits shoppersfrom pitching tents, but sleeping bags and chairs will be allowed.

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Florida's minority students shifting to private colleges

By Scott Travis
October 15, 2007

Florida's private colleges are outpacing the public university system whenit comes to attracting minority students.

A new report shows that 44 percent of Florida's private collegeundergraduate students are minorities. That's more than in the state publicuniversity system, where minority students account for about 40 percent ofall undergraduates. The statistics come from 2006 federal data in a reportby Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, an association thatrepresents private, nonprofit institutions.

Private-college students also tend to come from less affluent families thantheir public-college counterparts, data show. At private schools, 36 percentare from families with incomes less than $60,000, compared with 31 percentat public schools.

The figures are surprising, given that Florida public universities haveamong the nation's lowest tuition, about $3,200 for undergraduate classes.Private universities charge at least four times that.

"I've never seen one of our universities say, 'Can they afford it?' whendeciding whether to admit a student," said Ed Moore, executive director ofthe state independent colleges association.

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The Miami Herald

Unrighteous verdict in Anderson case

Posted on Mon, Oct. 15, 2007

Martin Lee Anderson is still waiting for justice. On Friday, a jury inPanama City took only 90 minutes to acquit eight former boot-camp workers ofany responsibility for the death of this 14-year-old boy. Yet it isimpossible to square the most basic notion of justice with an unrighteousverdict that allows the defendants to walk away from his death without anyconsequences.

Punched, kicked

The boy died one day after a 30-minute confrontation with guards in which hewas punched, kicked and dragged after collapsing while running laps. No onecould watch that videotaped confrontation without wincing. Even by thetough-love standards of juvenile boot camps, the guards gave their youngcharge exceedingly harsh treatment. One of the defendants, a nurse, stood byand watched without raising a peep. She, too, gets to walk away.

The workers, in their defense, claim that there was no ''knowing''mistreatment of the teenager because they had not been told he had sicklecell trait, a normally benign condition. But that does not change the factthat the boy was in their custody, he was beaten and later died. Testimonyshowed he did not die from the beating but from suffocation, but it defiescommon sense to separate one event from the other and hold harmless thosewho were involved.

The workers were not charged with murder, which would have been excessive,but with aggravated manslaughter of a child. The jury could also haveconvicted them of lesser charges such as child neglect and culpablenegligence. Instead, the jurors needed only 90 minutes to clear them of allcharges.

Surely, serious consideration of the prosecution's case and sorting throughthe evidence and testimony following a three-week trial involving eightdefendants would have required more time. As a referendum on the value ofone person's life, the jury's rush to judgment in the case of Martin LeeAnderson is an insult to him, to his family and to anyone who cares aboutjustice in Florida.

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Palm Beach Post

Coverup to acquittal, it's Panhandle 'justice'

Palm Beach Post Editorial
Monday, October 15, 2007

Friday's acquittal of seven Panama City boot camp guards who beat a14-year-old boy until he fell limp and later died was as predictable as itwas outrageous.

Outrageous because a video recorded the guards on Jan. 5, 2006, undeniablykicking, hitting and shoving Martin Lee Anderson against a fence and to theground, even after he had fallen.

Outrageous because a nurse, also acquitted Friday, stood by, calling 911only after the boy had been abused for 40 minutes.

Outrageous because the coverup of Martin Lee Anderson's killing was soblatant that then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Hillsborough County State AttorneyMark Ober to handle the investigation.

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St. Petersburg Times

Latest tax plan makes a bad situation worse

Published October 14, 2007

Once again, Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature are gripped bytax-cut fever. Once again, they are poised to embrace a quick fix to adifficult problem without regard to long-term consequences.

Let's recap: In January, legislators approved a property insurance fix thatleft the state financially vulnerable and has not significantly reducedpremiums. In June, they approved a constitutional amendment on propertytaxes that no one loved and was so poorly worded a judge threw it off theballot. Now they plan to approve another tax-cut amendment this week thatincludes Crist's simplistic campaign pledges they previously rejected.

If the governor and the Legislature don't have the vision or the courage tocreate a fairer property tax system, they should leave the job to theTaxation and Budget Reform Commission that is meeting now and has the powerto put amendments on the ballot in November 2008. Instead, they aredetermined to make a bad situation worse. Their constitutional amendment todouble the $25,000 homestead exemption and allow homeowners to take a SaveOur Homes tax break of up to $1-million with them when they move wouldextend and exacerbate the unfairness of the current system. It would requirefurther cuts in services by cities and counties already grappling with newlyrequired tax rate rollbacks and revenue caps, and it would not providesignificant relief to businesses and other nonhomesteaded property.

This amendment has none of the benefits of the now-abandoned super homesteadamendment, which eventually would have phased out Save Our Homes and put allhomesteaded property owners on equal footing. It has none of thethoughtfulness behind a plan the Senate approved earlier this year, whichwould have allowed homeowners to take a smaller Save Our Homes tax breakwith them to be phased out over time. It does protect public education fromlosing property tax money, but even the way it accomplishes that willconfuse voters.

The additional $25,000 homestead exemption and the Save Our Homesportability would not apply to school property taxes, which represent about40 percent of the overall property tax bill. So the savings are not going tobe nearly what voters might expect. A better way to protect schools wouldhave been to raise state revenue to offset straight-forward tax cuts, butthat would have required forward-thinking.

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