Sunday, September 21, 2008

FLORIDA DIGEST - September 21, 2008

and we'll be happy to send the full article.


Orlando Sentinel
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-What we think about Florida's amendments
Sure, the sexiest of Florida's constitutional amendments -- tax reform and vouchers -- got yanked from the ballot by the state Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the state's voters will face an array of six questions on the Nov. 4 ballot, the most notable of which is Amendment 2 -- the cleverly labeled "Florida Marriage Protection Amendment." Who wouldn't want to protect marriage? Trouble is, this amendment is about more than matrimony.

**Amendment 2 -Our recommendation: Vote No.
What it would do: Memorialize marriage as a "legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife . . ." But it also declares that "no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized." Good idea or bad idea? Bad idea. This amendment does more than just target homosexual unions. It puts all manner of domestic partnerships at a possible disadvantage. For example, after a similar measure passed in Michigan in 2004, the state's Supreme Court ruled that public institutions could no longer offer health and other benefits to domestic partners of the same sex. Many institutions found a way around the ruling, but why put people in Florida at risk? Besides, state law already restricts marriage to a man and a woman, and Florida doesn't recognize gay unions performed in other states. This measure seems more like a cynical attempt to bring out the conservative base in a presidential election year.

Standing on the Side of Love Concert
A Fundraiser to Defeat the Florida Marriage Amendment #2
Saturday, October 4 - 7pm
UU Church of Fort Lauderdale
3970 21st Avenue - Oakland Park
Performers inclued Katy Peterson, The River of Grass, Bishop S. F. Ma-Hee,
Gary Gonzalez, and Aaron Stang.
Tickets - $25 ($40-family) - contact Marjie Loring - 954-243-3804


Orlando Sentinel
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Here's a look at the other ballot amendments, all of which require a 60 percent "yes" vote to pass.

**Amendment 1 - Our recommendation: Vote Yes.
What it would do: Don't confuse this with last January's tax-cutting measure. This Amendment 1 would strike from the constitution an archaic provision dating back to the early 1900s that allows the Legislature to ban foreigners from owning property. Such laws got their start in California and were aimed at stopping Japanese from buying land. Fortunately, Florida's Legislature never enacted such laws. Good idea or bad idea? Great idea. This is a no-brainer. The Florida Constitution is no place for bigotry.

**Amendment 3 - Our recommendation: Vote Yes.
What it would do: Ensure that people who take steps to harden their homes against hurricanes or install renewable-energy devices don't get hammered by higher property assessments, which translate into higher taxes. This would apply, for example, to people who install storm shutters or who put in solar-energy panels to help power their homes. Good idea or bad idea? Good idea. Florida should encourage homeowners to protect their homes from hurricanes, as it should encourage them to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. It makes no sense for people to take such steps, only to get punished by the tax man. This newspaper often has sided against well-intentioned amendments to the constitution if they can be accomplished through the Legislature. But lawyers say this measure has to go through the constitution.

**Amendment 4 - Our recommendation: Vote Yes.
What it would do: Provide a tax break for property owners who agree to permanently preserve environmentally sensitive land. It has the enthusiastic backing of a wide range of environmental groups. Good idea or bad idea? Good idea. It's gotten more and more expensive for the state and other agencies to outright purchase property for conservation. That's why so-called conservation easements and other preservation deals have become more popular. This gives landowners a powerful incentive. This amendment should not, however, give legislators an excuse to gut state land-buying programs.

**Amendment 6 - Our recommendation: Vote No.
What it would do: Another tax break. This one would make sure that marinas, commercial fish houses, boat-building operations and other "working waterfront" businesses get taxed based on their current use, not for the property's potential use. The goal is to protect these businesses from soaring tax rates based on waterfront real estate's potential for condominiums and resorts. Good idea or bad idea? A good idea, but one that has the potential for abuse. The state's tax exemption for agriculture has long been manipulated by fat cats who put out a few cows or plant some trees to reduce their holding costs. We see this well-intentioned amendment possibly becoming a tax dodge for waterfront developers. The Legislature needs to find another way to help legitimate waterfront businesses.

**Amendment 8 - Our recommendation: Vote No.
What it would do: Pave the way for counties to let voters decide whether they want to impose a sales tax to support community colleges. The sales tax would expire after five years, though voters could authorize it for another five. Good idea or bad idea? Bad idea. Community colleges play a vital role in Florida's communities, and they're a virtual rainbow of people and interests. But we think it's the state's -- not local authorities' -- job to support them. Plus, what happens after a college launches a program based on sales-tax funding, only to see that money vanish after five years? Voters may not be in the mood to renew the tax. This measure has no business in the state constitution anyway.,0,862201.story?track=rss

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-Florida Presidential Poll: Florida's in play
Statewide poll finds race a dead heat with six weeks to go in the campaign Democrat Barack Obama has pulled virtually even with Republican John McCain to create a very competitive presidential race in Florida, a state considered crucial for Republicans to win the nationwide election.,0,7609474.story

Miami Herald
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-Schools chief: An insider on fast track
From science teacher to chief of Miami-Dade schools, Alberto Carvalho has risen swiftly through the ranks of the nation's fourth-largest school district. At a meeting in July, Miami-Dade School Board Chairman Agustín Barrera floated a two-page memo opposing the constitutional amendments cutting public-school funding. But one of Barrera's colleagues suspected a ghostwriter -- Alberto Carvalho.

-REAL ESTATE: Vulture funds may lift real-estate market in South Florida
A week of rapid-fire financial calamities could break an impasse in South Florida's real-estate market, as vulture fund investors send signals that it's OK to buy again. For about a year, so-called vulture funds have circled South Florida's besieged real-estate market, waiting for enough carnage to force deep discounts on large blocks of unsold condominiums. Some think last week's meltdown on Wall Street may herald the arrival of that moment.

-40 Broward students are National Merit Scholarship semifinalists
More than 40 Broward County high school seniors were named semifinalists in the 54th annual National Merit Scholarship program. They will compete next spring with some 16,000 other seniors nationwide to win one of 8,200 National Merit scholarships, worth a total of more than $35 million.

-Obama gets big welcome in Republican Country
To an amped and overflowing crowd in a Republican stronghold, Democrat Barack Obama stepped up his attacks on John McCain, saying Saturday that the Republican in these tough economic times ``wants to do for healthcare what Washington did for banking.''


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