Friday, January 18, 2008

FLORIDA DIGEST January 18, 2008

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Trucks to be banned from left lane of turnpike in S. Florida

By Michael Turnbell
January 18, 2008

Big rigs will have to stay out of the fast lane of Florida's Turnpike starting Feb. 1.

The restriction will ban trucks from the left lane on a 40-mile stretch of the toll road between the Golden Glades interchange in Miami-Dade County and the Lantana toll plaza west of Lake Worth.

Mike Fender, who takes the turnpike three times a week to drive from Wellington to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, said the restrictions will greatly improve his commute.

Fender said too many trucks clog the left lane and go slower than other traffic.

"With trucks not being able to get into the left lane, I can be more greatly assured that I can have a clear lane, and not need to pass trucks on the right," Fender said.

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Express Gay News

The art of the oratory
Gay Toastmasters get right to the point

Thursday, January 17, 2008

For members of the Toastmasters Proud Speakers Club #2266, there is no such thing as being "fashionably late," using bad grammar or gassing on endlessly without making a point. The opening gavel drops each Monday night at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Fort Lauderdale precisely at 7:15 p.m., and from that moment the emphasis is on elocution, well-mannered protocol and sterling delivery.

The club is part of a nationwide network of Toastmaster clubs that meet each week to practice the fine art of speechmaking. Members work their way up different levels of oratory skill, from newcomer to Able Communicator to Competent Communicator to the black belt of the oratory junkies, Distinguished Toast Master.

One would never suspect longtime toastmaster Ted Verdone, a ranking DTM with 30 years of speechmaking under his belt, was a glossophobe or ever got a case of butterflies. Watching him deliver a speech before the Proud Speakers Monday night, Verdone was masterful. He spoke clearly and with authority, emphasizing operative words and making florid inflections in a six-minute speech titled "Dare to Be Different - Dare to Succeed."

"Challenge the majority," Verdone's voice rang out inspirationally to the eight Proud Speakers assembled in a paneled meeting room. "Dare to try a new hairstyle, dare to be a trendsetter. Lead the parade!"

Verdone wrote the speech 19 years ago. He won a Toastmaster's competition in 1990. He reprised the piece to exhibit to the neophyte Toastmasters what they could achieve.

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Express Gay News

Author to explain gay artists 'conspiracy'
Michael Sherry to discuss new book at Stonewall Library

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Author and historian Michael Sherry will discuss and sign his new book, "Gay Artists in Modern American Culture: An Imagined Conspiracy," on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Stonewall Library and Archives, 1717 N. Andrews Ave. in Fort Lauderdale.

Today, historians generally recognize that gay men played a prominent role in defining the culture of mid-20th century America, with such icons as Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson representing much of what seemed distinctly American on the stage and screen. Even though few gay artists were "out," their sexuality caused significant anxiety during a time of rampant anti-homosexual attitudes. In his new book, Sherry, professor of history at Northwestern University and author of three other books, offers a sophisticated analysis of the tension between the nation's simultaneous dependence on the influence of gay artists and fear of them.

These developments were expressed in the notion that American culture was being taken over by an international homosexual conspiracy, or, as anti-gay observers called it, a "homintern" in the arts. Especially under the influence of Americanized psychoanalytic thinking, many contemporary observers, in print venues as diverse as intellectual commentary and scandal magazines, deplored the allegedly malign and growing influence of gay men in the arts. Their success was what made these figures at once highly valuable in America's cultural empire and dangerously exposed to expanding anti-gay sentiments.

The event will include light refreshments and is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Jack Rutland, executive director of the Archives, at 954-763-8565 or send e-mail to


Express Gay News

Marriage foes still short of signatures
Anti-gay amendment needs 22,000 names as deadline looms

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Although Florida's gay community breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was evealed Jan. 14 that an anti-gay marriage amendment may not qualify for the ovember ballot, GLBT political activists are remaining vigilant.

"It's an all-hands-on-deck moment," said Nadine Smith executive director of Equality Florida, one of the state's leading GLBT rights organizations. "The most important job is not to celebrate early, but to understand that they have the time to get enough petition signatures.", also known as the Florida Marriage Protection Coalition, the group that is sponsoring a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, appeared to be successful when it announced in earlyDecember that it had gathered 611,009 petition signatures - enough to qualify for the November general election. But revised numbers by state election officials revealed that the petition actually fell about 22,000 signatures short of the required number.

According to state elections rules, the organization has until Feb. 1 to submit the correct amount.

On Tuesday, an unidentified staff member of said volunteers were working around the clock in a "last-ditch effort" to gather the remaining signatures.

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Express Gay News

My amazing gay moms made me a good person
Stifled at Miami adoption hearing, our voices will still be heard

By JESSICA Cohn-kleinberg
Thursday, January 17, 2008

There comes a time when we are asked to raise our voices in order to stop the injustices of the world. Some stay silent, and some rise to the occasion. On Monday, Dec. 3, 2007, Miami's sounds of protest rose to a deafening roar. The only question is did anyone hear?

The Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs held a public hearing in Miami to discuss foster care and adoption issues. The one issue on everyone's mind was Florida's ban on gay adoption - a law that hurts many and helps none.

The hearing itself was somewhat of a disappointment to me personally. I had arrived over an hour early to sign up to speak and never got a chance to share my story. Right from the start, I was aware that some people were missing. The fact is that only three committee members showed up. I guess the welfare of our children isn't as important as we thought. The evening did have some very touching stories, but many voices never had a chance to be heard because the evening was set up in a way that prevented many families and coalition members from speaking.

Sen. Ronda Storms created a system that lined up adoptive parents, foster parents and agencies to speak first, which seemed logical until one realized that this system left out most of our supporters: the gay parents who want to adopt as well as agencies such as SAVE Dade, Safe Schools South Florida and others.

I had my story all ready, annotated and everything. But I never got a chance to tell it. I never got a chance to tell those people with the stoic faces, just how amazing my gay moms are; that I am a good person - not despite the fact that my parents are gay but because my parents are gay. Growing up in a family that is a little different from normal has allowed me to be so much more tolerant and open minded. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. I just wish that I could have related that to the state Senate members. But I wasn't able to speak along with about 20 other people.

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Property tax referendum confusing Florida voters

By Scott Wyman
January 18, 2008

Confusion is swirling around the upcoming vote on property tax relief over whether the proposal would end the state's coveted Save Our Homes exemption.

The answer is Save Our Homes remains unchanged. Just as it does today, Save Our Homes would cap how much the taxable value of a home can increase each year at 3 percent.

Leaving that basic tenet alone, the proposal would allow homeowners to take their tax breaks with them when they move. They could transfer up to $500,000 in property value sheltered on their old house and apply it to their new tax bill.

Both supporters and opponents of the Jan. 29 constitutional amendment say the fate of Save Our Homes is one of the questions they most frequently are asked by voters.

"People want to know Save Our Homes won't change because they rely on it to prevent them from being priced out of their house," said Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish, an amendment supporter. "Save Our Homes stays exactly the same - whether this passes or not doesn't matter."

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Orlando Sentinel,0,4924354.story?track=rss

Poll: Clinton, McCain ahead in Florida as primaries near

William Gibson
3:46 PM EST, January 17, 2008

John McCain has surged into the lead in the Republican presidential primary campaign in Florida, while Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken command of the emocratic race, according to a statewide poll released Thursday.

The poll of 500 Republican and 500 Democratic likely primary voters -- conducted for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union --found that the economy has become a major concern to Florida voters, just as important as the war in Iraq.

Economic distress and voter worries about gaps in the health-care system gave a boost to Clinton, who drew support from 50 percent of Democrats. Barack Obama, who is running as an anti-war candidate, got 28 percent, followed by John Edwards with 13 percent.

McCain has rebounded in Florida since his dramatic victory in the New Hampshire primary. The poll, however, shows a close four-way race, with McCain's lead just within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

McCain got 26 percent in the Florida poll, followed by former front-runner Rudy Giuliani with 22 percent, Mike Huckabee 17 percent, Mitt Romney 16 percent, Fred Thompson 7 percent and Ron Paul 5 percent.

More than 90 percent of voters from each party said they would be willing to vote for a woman or an African-American for president. But many said they were not so sure their friends would be willing. The results indicate that race and gender may be a small but significant factor in a close general-election campaign if Clinton or Obama become the nominee.

The Florida primaries are Jan. 29.


Florida Red and Blue

We know that, sooner or later, we'll all be celebrating the defeat of the "marriage protection" amendment. While we hope for one, we have to prepare for the other.

You may have heard that the state Division of Elections notified those pushing the "marriage protection" amendment that they were 22,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot.

It came as a surprise because last month John Stemberger, the head of the group pushing the amendment, held a grand press conference in Tallahassee and declared, "The people have spoken."

He claimed, at the time, that he had submitted the necessary 611,000 signatures to place the harmful amendment on the ballot in November. Turns out, he was just using his words in place of ours.

There's no question: their shortfall is good news - but it's only temporary. It's still possible that they could still get the required number of signatures by February 1st. Even if they don't, it's likely the opposition will seek judicial help to get the amendment on the ballot.

What are we doing about it?

Aside from watching the process closely, we can't let their error distract us. We're continuing to build the most impressive campaign Florida has ever seen and whether the process takes days, weeks or months, Florida Red and Blue will be ready.

We've relied on you for nearly a year to build our campaign, and that cannot change.

We've always expected to fight this battle throughout the year, right until Election Day. Today, it's possible that fight could make take an unexpected turn or two, but our plan is to be ready either way.

We cannot let up now. We can't turn their errors into our mistake by getting distracted now. Just like we can't afford to wait and "see what happens." If ever, now is the time to prepare more, work more and give more.

We'll continue to keep you updated on developments as they occur. Right now, we're still reaching out, building our campaign, and preparing for the fight of our lives in November.

The Red and Blue Team


Miami Herald

State extends Allstate penalty

Posted on Fri, Jan. 18, 2008

A day after telling Allstate to stop writing new car insurance policies in Florida, state regulators told the company to stop writing any new business in the state -- including life and home insurance.

Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty had planned to clamp down on just the company's auto business and its four companies doing business in Florida for its failure to fully comply with a state subpoena. But McCarty expanded the suspension Thursday to include 10 Allstate companies doing business in Florida and all of their insurance lines.

"The commissioner is steadfastly committed to getting to the bottom of this issue and ensuring that all requested documents are produced by Allstate," said Ed Domansky, spokesman for the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Also on Thursday, Allstate filed a motion for an immediate stay with the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, Allstate spokesman Adam Shores said. No date has been set yet to hear its appeal. The company believes it in compliance with state laws, he said.

"We're in the business of protecting homes, protecting automobiles and that's what we want to do because that's the role we play in this economy, in this marketplace," Shores said. "And we want to continue to do that."

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Palm Beach Post

Study: Save Our Homes aids rich most

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 18, 2008

Florida's Save Our Homes amendment has helped the state's wealthiest homeowners the most, and voter approval of a property tax amendment on Jan. 29 would magnify the benefits for owners of expensive homes, two university professors conclude in a new study.

"Higher-value properties receive a greater benefit of the (Save Our Homes) tax shield relative to lower-value properties," Florida Atlantic University's Tim Allen and Oklahoma State University's Bill Dare write in their 16-page report.

Their findings - which will be published in the Journal of Real Estate Research, a scholarly publication - don't qualify as a shock. While proponents of Save Our Homes pushed the measure in 1992 as a way to keep little old ladies from being taxed out of their houses, critics long have argued that the biggest benefits accrue to the wealthy.

"This was no surprise to anybody," Allen said of his study. "But this is evidence that the effect that people predicted is true, and to a measurable degree."

Because this is an academic paper, that measurable degree is expressed as a "coefficient" that Allen acknowledges only statisticians will understand. The bottom line: Owners of the priciest homes are enjoying the biggest benefits - and shifting the tax burden to everyone else.

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St. Petersburg Times

Amendment 1 makes unfair tax system worse

By Times Editorial
Published January 17, 2008

This is a tough time to argue against property tax cuts for Floridians. Unemployment is rising, home sales are plummeting and the state is flirting with an economic recession. But Amendment 1 is not the answer, and voters should reject it and send a strong message to Tallahassee that they want property tax reform that is thoughtful and fair.

Amendment 1 is neither. Legislators hastily placed it on the Jan. 29 ballot after their first attempt was thrown out by a judge and they were running short of time and patience in a special session. The amendment's key components, increasing the homestead exemption and enabling homeowners to transfer Save Our Homes benefits to another house, are simplistic leftovers from Gov. Charlie Crist's 2006 campaign. They provide the largest breaks to taxpayers who need the least help, and they add more unfairness to a property tax system that already is unfair. The politicians and real estate agents who suggest the amendment magically would revive Florida's economy are fooling themselves.

The property tax system already favors longtime homeowners over more recent home buyers, business owners and the owners of second homes and investment roperties. That is a direct result of Save Our Homes, which limits annual increases in assessed value to 3 percent or inflation, whichever is lower. As property values soared, homeowners who stayed put saw the gap widen between the market value of their house and the assessed value for tax purposes.

Last year, 37 percent of the market value of all homesteads in Florida was protected from property taxes by Save Our Homes. For many individual homeowners, the portion of their house's value shielded from property taxes by Save Our Homes is far higher. As a result, the property tax burden has shifted to businesses and other nonhomestead properties that aren't protected. And the owners of similar homes on the same street pay wildly different property tax bills depending upon how long they have lived there, because the assessed value resets to market value when the houses are sold.

That is a grossly unfair system, but the solution is not to extend the unfairness. Amendment 1 would enable owners of homesteaded property to take with them up to $500,000 in value shielded from property taxes by Save Our Homes when they buy another house. That means the most relief would go to homeowners in the most affluent neighborhoods or areas with the fastest-rising property values. It means the taxable value of similar homes in the same neighborhood always would be wildly different, depending upon who moved in with what tax break. And it means first-time home buyers and those moving in from outside Florida still would get no break and have to build their Save Our Homes benefit from scratch. No wonder the Legislature's own lawyers warned this change would be susceptible to constitutional challenge.

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Palm Beach Post

Democrats' likely snub of debate hurting them at FAU

By Kimberly Miller
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008

BOCA RATON - Florida Atlantic University's student Democrats have been on top for a long time at the Boca Raton campus where the consensus is liberals outnumber conservatives.

But this year, with primary debates coming to FAU and students more aware than ever of presidential politics, it's the Republicans who may have the upper hand.

Some students are taking the Democrats' likely snub of the FAU debates more personally because it's their school that's being stood up.

The Democrats' absence is punishment for Florida for holding an earlier primary than national party rules allow, although they'll continue to attend fund-raisers here.

"I work really hard on promoting these candidates and their ideals and then they don't come," said Sapna Talati, 19, who won a ticket to the debates for her essay on student apathy. "I put a lot of effort into the essay and now I feel like it was just a wasted effort."

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Crist stumps in Broward County for tax relief referendum
Governor asks for vote favoring Amendment 1

By Jamie Malernee
January 18, 2008

Floridians will have a simple but important choice to make in less than two weeks, Gov. Charlie Crist told a crowd of about 1,000 seniors who gathered to hear him speak about the proposed property tax amendment in Coconut Creek on Thursday.

"If you want your property taxes cut, vote yes on Amendment 1. If you don't, don't," he said.

Then he added confidently, "I don't know many Floridians who don't want their taxes cut."

The governor's brief stop at the Wynmoor Community Theater - a Democratic stronghold - was part of the Republican governor's ongoing campaign to promote a Jan. 29 ballot measure that would double the $25,000 homestead exemption for permanent Florida residents and, as part of a concept known as portability, let homeowners take up to $500,000 of their existing Save Our Homes tax-cap benefit if they move.

It was also part of a town hall meeting called by state Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, and attended by various local officials who oppose the amendment.

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St. Petersburg Times

Panel backs proposal to slash home taxes
State property taxes would be cut up to 40 percent by ending some exemptions and taxing services.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Tallahassee Bureau Chief
Published January 18, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - Despite strong opposition from businesses, a powerful tax panel Thursday supported a historic tax shift, potentially saving homeowners millions of dollars a year by taxing services.

A plan advanced by a committee of the Taxation & Budget Reform Commission would cut property taxes by as much as 40 percent, the share that pays for public schools, which is $8-billion this year.

In return, the Legislature, which sets the school property tax rate, would have to close some sales tax exemptions and tax some services that are now tax-free. That could include legal and accounting services, dry cleaning and charter fishing trips.

It marked the first time in years that any state body has gone on record as favoring elimination of sales tax exemptions or taxing services.

The 1987 Legislature repealed a broad services tax six months after adopting it, amid overwhelming business opposition.

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Orlando Sentinel,0,272374.story

EDITORIAL: Our position: Cracking down on Allstate should be only first step in insurance fight

January 18, 2008

The dance that property insurers have been doing on the backs of their policyholders finally may be coming to an end. Good.

State officials turned down the music last year, announcing they'd expanded a cheap fund that insurers could use to help them pay claims after catastrophic storms -- only they'd have to pass savings they got from using the fund on to their customers.

But many of the insurers kept tapping away anyway, keeping the savings and hiking customers' rates.

Now, state regulators are kicking the feet out from under the insurers. That just might stop their romp.

The property insurers scored record profits last year. But executives with Allstate Insurance looked like poor little rich kids this week after state Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty scolded them for not providing records his department subpoenaed that could justify -- or fail to justify -- the company's requested rate increases.

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Florida Today

State educators set to vote on evolution

January 18, 2008

It all comes down to one word: evolution.

Some Brevard residents think including the word in the state science curriculum is needed to prove that Florida, home of the space industry, is at the forefront of scientific thought.

Others argue that there is room for alternative ideas such as intelligent design and that students must be exposed to all theories in order to understand the complexities of the world.

The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote Feb. 19 on proposed changes to state science standards that would embrace Charles Darwin's twist on the evolution theory as the foundation of modern biology. The revision calls for using the word "evolution" instead of "biological changes over time." The new standards also include instructions on how evolution should be taught, from kindergarten through 12th grade. If the board approves the standards, students will be tested on the subject in 2009.

Superintendent Richard DiPatri said the change wouldn't make a difference in Brevard Public Schools, where evolution already is taught and the curriculum is aligned with national science education standards.

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Orlando Sentinel

Should each district decide about teaching evolution?

posted by Susan Jacobson on Jan 17, 2008 11:28:00 AM

School districts across Northeast Florida are weighing in on the polarizing debate on evolution by pressuring the state to reject new science standards requiring the theory to be taught in public schools.

Baker County Superintendent Paula Barton was quoted in a newspaper as saying her area is strongly Christian, and people there oppose the exclusive teaching of evolution. Baker and St. Johns counties have passed resolutions opposing the new standard.

Should local School Boards have autonomy on this issue? Or is it important for the state to have one standard? Do you think creationism and/or intelligent design be taught in public schools, or are those views best left to churches and Sunday schools?

The Florida Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the matter Feb. 19.


Palm Beach Post

Crist proposes $1 billion more for state education spending

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau
Friday, January 18, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - In a bid to boost voter support for the property tax amendment, Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday proposed an increase in education spending of more than $1 billion in a year when the overall budget is expected to be about $2 billion less than the previous year's budget.

"By announcing this portion of the budget first, hopefully it does give some eassurance for people who may be concerned about the amendment. I don't think they need to be," Crist told reporters and editors at a meeting sponsored by The Associated Press, where he rolled out his proposal for the education budget.

"I wanted to reassure the students and the teachers of Florida that this administration is committed to not only fully fund education but to enhance it by over $1 billion more this year over last and these are tight budget times. So, I think that shows clearly our resolve, our sincerity as it relates to funding for education," Crist said.

Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller of Cooper City reacted to the governor's proposal with laughter. He said he also would like to put more money into education, although "I have no idea where it will come from."

Said House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach: "It's a phantom budget. It just simply doesn't add up. You can't take $2.5 billion out of a budget and claim a $1 billion increase."

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