Monday, October 29, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST October 29, 2007

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State Senate to toss tax-relief ball back to House on session's last dayTerms disappoint House leaders as time runs out in special session

By Linda Kleindienst
Tallahassee Bureau Chief
October 29, 2007


The Florida Senate is poised today to approve a trimmed down tax reliefpackage that doubles the $25,000 homestead exemption and protects Save OurHomes, and then send it to the House with a simple message: Take it or leaveit.

Worn down by the bickering over how to ease high property tax bills, Senateleaders have cobbled together a proposal they say they think has enoughRepublican and Democratic votes to pass out of their chamber and get on theJan. 29 ballot for voters to have the final say.

Very similar to what the Senate passed nearly two weeks ago, the bipartisanplan echoes an agreement legislative leaders had with Gov. Charlie Cristbefore they started this, their fourth special session of the year, on Oct.12.

Although Tuesday is the deadline for the Legislature to put any amendment onthe ballot, today is the last scheduled day of the special session andSenate leaders do not seem inclined to extend negotiations.

"I firmly believe that we have a proposed constitutional amendment thatprovides tax relief and reform, that minimizes the negative impact oneducation funding, and that will be understandable and acceptable to votersin January," Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said in a memoto all senators Sunday afternoon.

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The Palm Beach Post

Showdown set for property taxes

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 28, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - After an 11-day holdout, the Florida Senate will return towork today to consider one final property tax plan and force one lastshowdown with the House.

The outcome could mean the difference between offering voters aconstitutional amendment in January or starting from scratch next year.

The proposal released Sunday by Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St.Lucie, is nearly identical to what Gov. Charlie Crist campaigned for lastyear and to the deal Republican leaders in both chambers agreed to beforelaunching their fourth special session of the year, which is scheduled toconclude today.

Like the property tax plan the Senate approved earlier this month, the newbill includes portability for Save Our Homes benefits and doubling the$25,000 homestead exemption. The changes include a 10 percent assessment capfor businesses and second homes, but no specific breaks for first-timehomestead owners or low-income seniors.

The plan would cut about $12.4 billion in property taxes over five years.

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Young Muslim women in Broward wearing scarves to express faith

By Jennifer Gollan
October 29, 2007

Fareeza Ghani Ali agonized for more than a year before she began draping anIslamic head scarf over her hair.

Having grown up in Pembroke Pines, Ghani Ali was like many teenagers,frequenting parties and letting slip the occasional curse word. Her faithdeepened soon after graduating from Florida International University, soshetold her family she intended to veil her hair.

"I wasn't sure if they would accept it or understand my decision," the25-year-old Hollywood resident said. "When I first told my mom, she wasafraid of the negative reaction I would get from people. She didn't want meto be a target" in a time of heightened public anxiety about Muslims sincethe Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

To her surprise, her decision earned the respect of friends and strangers.

"The next day, I walked into work and everyone was so receptive," said GhaniAli, an advertising executive. "People are respectful."

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Florida gas stations scramble to install required generators for hurricaneseason

By Mc Nelly Torres
May 23, 2007

Nine days before a new law is to take effect, requiring large gas stationsnear storm-evacuation routes and interstates be pre-wired for backup powergenerators, many South Florida fuel sellers are scrambling to comply whileothers remain confused about the mandates.

The Florida Department of Environment Protection is sending inspectors to1,584 gas stations in Florida -- including more than 100 in South Florida --to ensure that they are in compliance, according to Sarah Williams, a DEPspokeswoman.

"We have 145 inspectors in all 67 counties going to 1,584 stations acrossthe state this week," Williams said.

Gas stations within a half-mile of an interstate, turnpike or designatedevacuation route in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties must installa pre-wired electrical system with a switch to allow the use of an emergencygenerator during major disasters.

The Florida Legislature passed the law last year, after the devastatinghurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005 left many gas stations with fuel, but nopower to get it to pumps and consumers.

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Invest more in railroad system

October 29, 2007
By Michael J. Ward

Our state is growing rapidly. Thirteen Florida counties are listed among thefastest-growing 100 counties in the United States. Within the next 20 years,Georgia and Florida are expected to have more residents than New York andNew Jersey. People want to live in Florida, and millions more visit eachyear.

More people consume more goods. More people and more consumption requiremore transportation. Planning for the transportation needs in a state likeFlorida is critical. Doing it right requires strong cooperation between thepublic and private sectors.

In the next five years, the Florida Department of Transportation will investalmost $40 billion, primarily to build highways and bridges. Even that isnot enough to handle the growth in the state. Less than three percent ofthat planned investment goes for railroads.

Very few people realize that if you care about safety, if you care about theenvironment, and if you care about congestion, you should care about trains.

Trains are the safest way to move goods on the ground. Trains are at leastthree times more fuel efficient than any other ground transportation. Asingle freight train can deliver as many products as 280 trucks. In otherwords, trains take the load off the highways, and offer the safest, mostaffordable, environmentally-friendly way to move the goods we all consumeevery day. No wonder transportation experts around the nation are looking attrains to solve problems.

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Managed lanes project should concern drivers

By John P. Reilly
October 22, 2007

I have been in transportation for 27 years in South Florida. I have watchedthe growth of South Florida for 42 years and until this last year, I thoughtthe Florida Department of Transportation was doing the best things forFlorida with respect to the movement of people and goods. Now, I am not sosure. My concern is the new I-95 Managed Lanes Project, which I feel isbeing crammed down our throats. It is one of the fastest moving projects Ihave seen, and its scope of this project is changing daily.

This project is being promoted, from what I have read, as a way for peopleto pay to avoid congestion, and not for what it really is intended, which isa three or more carpool and express bus lanes which will be constructedusing the existing pavement . This means they will have to reduce lanewidths to 11 feet. On any limited access roadway, where speeds are 50 mph orgreater lane width is critical to driver comfort. Existing lanes on mostlimited access roadways are 12 to14 foot, with 10 feet shoulders. One of thereasons for this is the large trucks, and the side mirrors that stick out,in some case more than two feet.

One other critical design feature for a limited access facility is theshoulder area, where cars and trucks can stop if there is a breakdown orcrash. The proposed shoulder, under this plan will vary from zero to sevenfeet. This does not allow enough area for a person to open their door safelyto exit the vehicle to change a tire. Even at its widest, it does not allowenough area for larger cars and trucks to exit the roadway.

I am not sure if the designers are hoping there will be no more breakdownsor crashes, but now, traffic has room to maneuver around these obstacles.With the new plan, there will be nowhere for you to go. They promise the additon of three more Road Rangers and one more Highway Patrol position tomanage this new system. What they do not tell you is how Road Rangers andHighway Patrol plan to get to the breakdowns and crashes with no shoulders.It will be impossible not to close at least one lane for most breakdowns orcrashes.

Each minute a roadway like this is closed adds five minutes to the delay.Delay equals dollars, and I am pretty sure it will be more than the dollarscollected from these new tolls. I know you are aware of what happens to I-95when one lane closes now. Imagine plastic flex posts separating these twonew Lexus /HOV lanes from the already over-capacity four lanes. If there isa breakdown, I can not see how these flex posts will stop the drivers fromgetting around the closure. If this happens, they will be spending amajority of the tolls replacing the flex posts. Will the Lexus just sitthere and wait when the BCT breaks down?

I am really concerned. The people of South Florida who will have to use I-95in Broward and Miami-Dade counties after this change should be concerned.The interstate system was paid for with federal tax dollars and was alwaysintended to be a free roadway or freeway. The federal and state authoritieshave slowly, but surely, looked for ways to make up for the shortfalls anddeficits in our transportation budgets.User fees seems to be the new fad,with a disguise of moving people and goods more efficiently. With growth ofSouth Florida spiraling out of control and our transportation budgetscovering just one-third of the cost of new trips being added to ourovercrowded- roadway system, and the other two-thirds being added tocongestion each year, there are no easy solutions to our transportationproblems. I am not sure this is a good solution.

John P. Reilly is a transportation analyst from Boca Raton.


The Miami Herald

Pelosi in Miami for kids' care

Posted on Mon, Oct. 29, 2007

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi comes to Miami on Monday as part of theDemocratic Party's campaign to expand a popular children's health insuranceprogram.

The House failed for a second time in a row to muster enough votes tooverride a presidential veto on the bill, but Democrats have saidRepublicans are making a huge mis-take by opposing it.

Pelosi, along with Democratic Reps. Kendrick Meek of Miami and DebbieWasserman Schultz of Weston, are to meet with healthcare advocates andothers at the Jessie Trice Economic Opportunity Health Center.

A ''press availability'' session will follow.

Sure to come under fire: Miami's three Republican members of Congress whosay the latest plan will raise taxes.


The Miami Herald

A reliable source of electricity

Posted on Mon, Oct. 29, 2007

A powerful magnet for new residents, Florida ranks as one of the nation'sfastest-growing states and is set to replace New York as the third largestby 2030, according to U.S. Census projections.

As our population swells, so does our need for electricity -- and foradditional sources of clean energy like nuclear power. Florida Power & Lighttoday supplies electricity to about 4.5 million customer accounts -- that'smore than eight million people -- and we expect to have 1.4 million newaccounts by 2022.

FPL has saved energy over the years through its successful conservation andenergy efficiency programs, considered models for the electric utilityindustry. The company's demand reduction initiatives, for example, haveavoided the need to build 11 generating plants, saving money for ourcustomers and simultaneously reducing our impact on the environment. Butaggressive, additional conservation programs, while an essential part of ourstrategy, are not by themselves enough.

The company already buys about one-third of all the renewable energyavailable in Florida and, despite many challenges, is actively pursuingadditional sources. For example, FPL is working on plans for a 300-megawattsolar thermal energy project in Florida and has just completed the state'slargest photovoltaic facility in Sarasota County. We are committed to doingeverything we can to meet or exceed Gov. Charlie Crist's renewable energytargets. These efforts, however, will still not be enough to meet thestate's energy needs.

A clean-energy company

We recently announced a plan designed to satisfy a major share of Florida'sburgeoning energy demand by increasing our nuclear generating capacity. FPLasked the Public Service Commission to approve proposals to build two newnuclear power plants at our Turkey Point complex and expand the generatingcapacity of our existing nuclear units at Turkey Point and St. Lucie.

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Los Angeles Times,1,7207014.story?coll=la-news-politics-national&track=crosspromo

Florida Democratic convention a bust

All the presidential candidates but one (Mike who?) skip the event becauseof the state's rift with the national party over primary scheduling.

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

October 29, 2007

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - It was every host's worst nightmare: a big, lavishparty and not a single invited A-lister showed up.

The Florida Democratic Party's annual convention here got snubbed by all butthe longest shot among the eight Democratic presidential contenders becauseof a feud between the state party and the Democratic National Committee overthe Florida Legislature's decision to move up the state primary from Marchto Jan. 29.

In an effort to prevent big, influential states from overshadowingtraditional early votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, the national committeehas vowed to strip Florida of its 210 delegates to the national conventionin Denver next year for leapfrogging its primary ahead of more than 20 othercontests scheduled for Feb. 5.

The national party hierarchy has authorized only four states to vote beforethat Super Tuesday: Iowa and New Hampshire, in a bow to tradition; Nevada,for its Western view; and South Carolina, to give black voters a greaterrole in the process.

The national committee strong-armed the Democratic hopefuls into signingpledges not to campaign in states that violate the early-primaryrestrictions -- hence most candidates' absence from the weekend party herein the fourth most populous state.

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Florida Times-Union

In Politics: Presidential poll: State in flux

By J. Taylor Rushing,
Capital Bureau Chief
October 29, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Florida remains up for grabs in the latest statewidepresidential poll, with a seesaw race reported last week between RepublicanRudolph Giuliani and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

A Quinnipiac University poll of 1,025 voters, conducted Oct. 17-22 andreleased Thursday, shows Giulini with a 46-43 percent edge over Clinton,reversing a Clinton lead by the same margin two weeks ago.

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, still leads Republicans at 30percent, with Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Fred Thompson tied at 14percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 12 percent.

Clinton captures the Democratic lead easily, at 43 percent compared with 18percent for Sen. Barack Obama and 12 percent for former Sen. John Edwards.Clinton's lead has been whittled down - she was at 51 percent in an Oct. 10Quinnipiac poll - while Giuliani had risen from 27 percent in the Oct. 10poll.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The poll also showed continuing disapproval of President Bush, withFloridians disliking his job performance by a 60-34 margin.

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The Miami Herald

Auto insurance basics
Posted on Mon, Oct. 29, 2007

The no-fault auto insurance law signed by Gov. Charlie Crist earlier thismonth will once again require drivers to buy personal injury protection, orPIP, starting Jan. 1. Here is a primer on basic coverages.

. PIP -- pays 80 percent of medical expenses and 60 percent of lost wages upto the limit of coverage regardless of fault in an accident. A minimum of$10,000 will be required after Jan. 1.

. Property damage liability -- covers damage caused to another person'sproperty, including building, fence or animal. A minimum of $10,000 isrequired.


. Bodily injury liability -- covers medical expenses beyond the $10,000 PIPbenefits for people injured in an accident the driver causes.

. Collision -- pays for repairs to vehicles caused by accidents; can electdeductibles of $250, $500 or $1,000.

. Comprehensive -- pays for other damage, such as fire, theft, windstorm,vandalism or flood; can elect deductibles of $250, $500 or $1,000.

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Florida Today

Florida fight vs. insurers floods nation: Resistance to hikes rises amongstates

October 29, 2007

Coastal residents across the nation have a stake in Florida's ferociousproperty insurance war, where regulators and the industry are goinghead-to-head over sky-high home premiums.

"Realize what's at stake here," Gov. Charlie Crist said. "I guarantee you,if we can take care of business here in Florida . . . we'll change it acrossthe country, and it'll be a wildfire."

That is exactly what has insurers worried.

As Florida demands lower rates and harasses those insurers that won't complywith political rhetoric, investigative subpoenas and straight-oncompetition, the nation's insurers are trying to find ways to quell thehostility.

"Florida's always been a big part of what insurers are concerned about,"said Bob Hartwig, president of the industry's Insurance InformationInstitute, a group that helps set industry strategy and delivers the messageto policymakers and the press. "Basically, the general view is thatFlorida's approach to handling catastrophic risk is not one viable in otherstates, and in the long run, it's not viable in Florida."

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