Wednesday, December 26, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST December 26, 2007

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From Palm Beach Human Rights Council


(Tallahassee, Florida) Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's Office hasimplemented a policy that allows his employees to use sick leave to care fortheir domestic partners.

"With this pro-family policy, Attorney General McCollum has become thesecond constitutional officer in Florida history to recognize the needs ofnon-traditional families," said Rand Hoch, President of the Palm BeachCounty Human Rights Council.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is a non-profit organization thathas been in the forefront of domestic partnership issues in Florida for morethan 15 years.

At the Council's request, Florida CFO Alex Sink instituted a policypermitting her office's employees to use sick leave to care for domesticpartners.

On October 17, shortly after Sink's policy went into effect, Hoch wrote toAttorney General McCollum asking him to consider implementing a similarpolicy.

"By doing so, in times of family emergencies, all of your employees willhave the same opportunities to care for their family members," Hoch wrote.

By letter dated December 17, Cathy Christensen, McCollum's Human ResourcesAdministrator, notified the Hoch that the Attorney General's sick leavepolicy would would not specifically address domestic partners per se, itwould "provide enough latitude" for employees to use their sick leave tocare for their domestic partners.

"While CFO Sink's policy specifically addressed domestic partnerships,Attorney General McCollum's policy is more circumspect," said Hoch.

"Since the Office of the Attorney General is, in effect, the state's lawfirm, I can understand his reluctance to formally recognize domesticpartnerships," said Hoch.

"Still, the effect of both pro-family policies is the same," said Hoch."Employees working for two of our state's constitutional officers now mayuse sick leave to care for their domestic partners in times of emergency,

Currently, the University of Florida, Florida International University,Broward Community College, Florida Keys Community College, HillsboroughCommunity College and Miami-Dade College are the only state employersoffering the full range of domestic partner benefits. Those benefits includehealth insurance, as well as sick leave and bereavement leave.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has not yet heard fromAgriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson, who also wasasked to revise his office's policy.

Early next year, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council intends to askGovernor Crist to direct Department of Management Services Secretary LindaSouth to investigate the possibility of offering domestic partner benefitsto all state employees.


Miami Herald

By foot, by bus, by Tri-Rail

Posted on Wed, Dec. 26, 2007

Recently, I decided to give Tri-Rail a try. I live in Hollywood and work inBoca Raton, so my daily commute by car is about 45 minutes in the morning,with traffic. I rarely have time to read the paper anymore, so I figured, atleast I could let someone else do the driving while I catch up on my currentevents. I knew that I would have to take a shuttle bus from the BocaTri-Rail station, which is on Yamato Road, to my office, which is on Glades,so I took some time to map out my route and coordinate the train and busschedules.

My plan was to catch the 7:32 a.m. train from the Fort Lauderdale/DaniaBeach station, arrive in Boca at 8:04, and catch the BR1 Shuttle Bus at 8:07to arrive at Commercial Trail North at 8:19 and be at my office by 8:30.Seeing how this was my first trip, I built in some flex-time and decided toleave my house at 7:00.

I arrived at the train station around 7:12, had an easy time parking, andheaded over to the ticket window to purchase my ticket. I had expected topay $4 based upon my prior day's research, but soon learned that $4 was justthe one-way fare, and a round-trip would cost me $6.75. Not a big deal, Ithought. If I can afford $3-plus gas, I can afford a $6.75 train ticket.

The train ride itself was quite pleasant. A fairly short and smooth32-minute jaunt to Boca Raton with stops at Broward Boulevard, CypressCreek, Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach along the way. When I arrived inBoca, I promptly departed the train and headed toward the bus stop. The buswas right there waiting, but started to pull away as I approached. I had tobreak into a run and flag it down to stop, which it did, or else I wouldhave had to wait another 30 minutes for the next bus. I arrived a few blocksfrom my office about 15 minutes later.

For my return home, I left the office at 5:45 p.m. and made my way back tothe bus stop to catch the 6:05 bus. To my surprise, even though the transferwas free from Tri-Rail to the bus, and I had purchased a round-trip ticket,the bus ride back to the Tri-Rail station cost me another 50 cents!

I made my way back to the train station, caught the 6:32 train home withoutincident and walked back to my car in Dania around 7:03 p.m. I was home by7:15.

So where did my Tri-Rail adventure take me?

Well, for a total cost of $7.25 and an hour-and-a-half of commute time eachway, I got to read my newspaper and catch up on a little leisure reading aswell. How much would it have cost me to drive myself? Even at $3-plus forgas, my total commute is about 27 miles each way, and my car averages 23miles per gallon. At $3.09 per gallon, I'm just breaking even.

Hmmm, for the same price, I can spend three hours of my day taking trains,buses, walking and driving to/from the train station, or I can spend 45minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the evening driving my own carpoint-to-point.

I think I'll drive.

Victor Olshansky, a financial analyst at the Situs Companies in Boca Raton,lives in Hollywood.


St. Petersburg Times

Stingy Florida rules hurt needy families

Published December 26, 2007

The Florida Department of Revenue collected child support payments this yearfor more than 55,000 parents who are on welfare. But more than 9 of every 10dollars never reached those parents. The child support was sent back to thestate and federal governments to offset the cost of the welfare checks. Thatis unfair to poor families struggling to survive, and the FloridaLegislature and Congress ought to do something about it.

Florida is not alone. The New York Times reported this month that nearlyhalf of the states do not send along any of the child support they collectto families on welfare. The only exception in this state is when the amountof child support exceeds the welfare check, the custodial parent gets theadditional money along with the public assistance. That doesn't happen toooften: During 2006-07 the Department collected $17.6-million in childsupport for Floridian parents on welfare, but the parents received only$1.5-million. The rest went back to the state and federal governments.

In Florida and elsewhere, politicians in recent years have emphasizedstepped-up efforts to collect child support payments and talked about usinggovernment policy to strengthen families. But siphoning off child support tocover the cost of welfare is at odds with the overall goal. It givesnoncustodial parents, usually the father, little incentive to meet hisfinancial obligations. It forces custodial parents, usually the mother, torely more heavily on public assistance when the idea is to help them get offwelfare and become self-sufficient.

There is a flicker of hope. A 2006 federal law will permit states in 2009 tosend child support of up to $100 for one child and $200 for two or morechildren to custodial parents on welfare instead of back to state andfederal governments. But Congress also cut federal money sent to the statesfor child support enforcement, which cost Florida millions. In tight budgettimes many state legislators will be reluctant to give up any money -- evento families in the most desperate need. But helping families survivecontributes more to the public good than off-setting bureaucratic expenses.

For several years in the Jeb Bush era, the Department of Revenue triedunsuccessfully to persuade the Legislature to phase-in changes that wouldpass through some child support money to families on welfare. Gov. CharlieCrist and the Legislature should give that idea another look. Times aretough in Tallahassee, but they are even tougher for divided familiesstruggling to make ends meet on welfare.

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Miami Herald

Two cities brace for enlarging of casinos

Posted on Wed, Dec. 26, 2007

Two South Florida cities are preparing for the growth that Las Vegas-stylegambling likely will bring if the federal government and the courts give thenod to the state's gambling pact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

If the tribe moves to take dozens of acres surrounding its Broward casinosinto a federal trust -- which would allow for expanding the Tribe's gamingcomplexes while being exempt from local taxes and regulation -- both CoconutCreek and Hollywood have lobbyists in Washington waiting to fight.

Since 2004, the Seminole Tribe has had to get approval from Coconut Creek orHollywood to build hotels, parking garages and expand casinos -- and itoften had to negotiate down on the size and scope of its projects.

Tribe-city relations have been amicable in both cities -- though at times,residents have complained of clogged roads, the prospect of high-rise hotelsadjacent to established neighborhoods and general concerns about quality oflife and property values.

Now, though, the tribe, which has been buying up land near its reservationfor years in both cities -- and plans to buy more next year -- is seekingthe U.S. Department of Interior's approval to have that land designated afederal trust. Even so, the Seminoles concede a trust is a long shot.

The Bush administration's Interior Department has allowed few Indian-ownedlands to go into annexation.

more . . . . .


St. Petersburg Times

He's Obama's political muscle in Florida
A brassy Miami lawyer wrings $4.5-million from Floridians.

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 26, 2007

MIAMI -- In any conversation of more than a few minutes, Barack Obama's topadvocate in Florida is apt to bellow, "I'll kick your a--," becomeagonizingly corny about the greatness of America, make an off-color ethnicjoke, and predict that Republicans will nominate John McCain "because he'slike the last chick left in the bar."

Suffice to say, Miami lawyer Kirk Wagar, Obama's roguish Florida chairman,has not mastered the soaring rhetoric of the politics of hope.

But at 38, this cocky, born-again son of an arctic ship captain has emergedas one of the most important and courted Democratic players in America'sbiggest battleground state. Beneath Wagar's legendary politicalincorrectness is a ferociously loyal and idealistic champion who, notincidentally, can reel in reams of campaign checks.

"Lord knows I've spent enough time in cars, buses and planes with him thelast eight years to have accumulated my list of Wagarisms. He's funny, he'stough, he's fun, he's relentless. He's cocky in the very best way,"said Sen.John Kerry, for whom Wagar raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and in2004.

"He's just an unceasingly optimistic guy who doesn't know the meaning of theword 'quit,'" the 2004 Democratic nominee for president said. "In thedarkest days before the Iowa caucuses, this guy was just a horse calling inevery favor and chit he had to keep our doors open because he was absolutelyconvinced we were going to win."

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