Thursday, May 27, 2010

Key Vote: America COMPETES Reauthorization Act

Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass; America COMPETES Reauthorization Act
- Vote Failed (261-148, 22 Not Voting)

The House fell short of the 273 votes needed under suspension rules to pass this bill that would reauthorize science research programs. Republicans argue too many of the $48 billion bill’s programs are duplicative while Democrats argue the bill will increase economic competitiveness.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009

Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act
- Vote Passed (59-39, 2 Not Voting)

The Senate passed this bill that would overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system. The bill must now be reconciled with the House version.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Smoker Wins $8 Million Verdict

A Connecticut smoker who developed larynx cancer has won $8 million in a lawsuit against a tobacco company, the first such jury verdict in New England, her attorney said Thursday.

David Golub, attorney for Barbara Izzarelli of Norwich, said Thursday a federal jury in Bridgeport made the award late Wednesday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. after a two-week trial. He said a judge will decide additional punitive damages next month, which could bring the award to $24 million.

Izzarelli, who is 49 and smoked Salem cigarettes for more than 25 years, underwent surgery at 36 that resulted in the removal of her larynx. She must breath through a hole in her throat and has no sense of smell, and can only eat soft foods, Golub said.

"I'm ecstatic," Izzarelli said. "Now maybe I can go to any doctor I wish."

In February, a judge in Florida reduced $300 million in damages awarded to a smoker against Philip Morris USA to nearly $39 million, concluding a jury was moved by emotion rather than hard evidence. The $300 million had been the highest damage award among thousands of lawsuits filed by Florida smokers against tobacco companies.

The lawsuits were filed after the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion class-action jury award for all Florida smokers, by far the highest punitive damage award in U.S. history. The court said each smoker's case had to be decided individually, but smoker's don't have to individually prove key findings of the original jury, that tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid smoking risks from the public.

"Barbara Izzarelli was targeted by Reynolds when she was 12 years old with a product specifically designed to addict her," Golub said.

Howard denied the company targets youths. He said cigarettes have come with warnings since the 1960s.

The jury found Izzarelli's damages totaled nearly $14 million, but ruled that both Reynolds and Izzarelli bore responsibility for her smoking injuries. The jury allocated responsibility 58 percent to Reynolds and 42 percent to Izzarelli, reducing her award from $13.9 million to $8.0765 million.

Crist Signs FL Bong Ban

Gov. Charlie Crist has signed bills banning bong sales, cracking down on rogue debt collectors and helping lure baseball teams to Florida for spring training.

Another bill Crist signed Thursday would give a tax break to out-of-state aircraft owners who bring planes to Florida for training or maintenance.

The sale of bongs, water pipes and other devices that can be used with illegal drugs as well as tobacco will be banned except at stores that mostly sell tobacco products.

New regulations will make it easier for the state to pursue consumer complaints against abusive debt collectors.

The spring training bill will expand a state incentive program for Florida communities trying to lure teams from Arizona.

Feds grant $1.3M for Cecil lake repairs

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration has awarded Jacksonville $1.32 million in federal funding to repair Lake Fretwell.

The investment will fund repairs and expansion of Lake Fretwell, an existing storm water retention facility located at the former Cecil Field Naval Air Station. The storm water retention lake was damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Fay in 2008.

The improvements to the lake will allow a major expansion of Cecil Commercial Park to create future jobs and attract private investment. The project will also protect residential neighborhoods downstream, prevent roadway and property flooding damage such as occurred in 2008, and stop further erosion of the lake’s levy.

New Law Signed by Governor Charlie Crist Bans Sex Offenders from Parks, Playgrounds, and Schools

A new law bans sex offenders from going within 300 feet of parks and schools, and from loitering in areas where children play.

The law also says those offenders cannot dress up like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny - both costumes that could allow easy access to children.

The former law addressed only nighttime residency for offenders, not where they could spend their days.

UNF buys ADT building for $17.3M

The University of North Florida has acquired the ADT Security Services building near campus for $17.3 million, according to public records.

ADT has a lease on the building through 2021, according to The Spinnaker, but future plans the university is considering after the lease ends include a hotel, expanding the continuing education program or moving administrative offices.

Jack Webb wins 10-9 vote for Jacks

At the end of the day, the election came down to the wire: 10 council members voting for Webb; nine for Joost.

After losing the battle for the presidency, Joost was challenged by Bill Bishop for the vice president position. Joost won on an 11-8 vote.

The following council members voted for Webb and Bishop: Webb, Bishop, John Crescimbeni, Ronnie Fussell, Daniel Davis, Clay Yarborough, Glorious Johnson and E. Denise Lee.

Voting for Joost both times were Joost, Clark, Art Graham, Art Shad, Kevin Hyde, Michael Corrigan, Reggie Brown, Johnny Gaffney and Warren Jones.

Don Redman and Ray Holt voted Webb for president and Joost for vice president.

Millions in Fines at Jacksonville Public Library

It's a staggering stat: unpaid library fines in Jacksonville total $13.2 million. In just the first seven months of this fiscal year, fines total more than $2.1 million.

For First Time, More US Troops in Afghanistan than Iraq

For the first time ever, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is larger than the number of American forces in Iraq. Pentagon figures show that there are now 94,000 U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan and 92,000 serving in Iraq.

The crossover point for American force levels in both countries was expected to take place this Summer as the Obama administration surges 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan this year and draws down the number of forces in Iraq.

The drawdown plan in Iraq calls for reducing the number of American forces to 50,000 by September 1, a move that will require a major logistical effort over the next three months.

The number of American forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2001 numbered 2,500. For the next two years force levels remained around 10,000 and continued to rise slowly to 17,000 in 2004 . Troop levels averaged around 22,000 for much of 2006 and 2007, but force levels continued to rise after that as the Bush administration began to provide the additional troops requested by military commanders on the ground as the security situation worsened. By comparison, the number of troops in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 peaked at almost 170,000.

FCAT anxiety: Can students handle even tougher tests?

Now, Florida high-school students must pass the reading and math sections of the 10th-grade FCAT to graduate. Most seniors who have the credits and grade-point average do manage to pass FCAT. And the number of students who miss out on a diploma solely because of FCAT has dropped in recent years. Last year, more than 151,000 seniors earned diplomas, while about 4,700 failed to because of low FCAT scores.

But thousands of students do have to take the exam several times, particularly to pass reading. In the class of 2010, 43 percent of the students failed the reading FCAT the first time they took it.

Students who struggle repeatedly on FCAT can use the state's test-waiver option, substituting acceptable scores on the two national college-admission exams, ACT or SAT, for a passing score on Florida's test. And an increasing number of Florida students have used that waiver in recent years.

White House: Oil Spill Isn't Our Katrina

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Bob Schieffer Sunday that the United States government is doing "everything humanly and technologically possible" to stop the oil leak in the Gulf - despite criticism that it has left too much responsibility to oil company BP and needs to do more.

"The Coast Guard was on the scene moments after the rig exploded in April, Gibbs said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "It certainly has been weeks, and the government is doing everything humanly and technologically possible to plug the hole 5,000 feet below the ocean, and to do everything we can to contain its spread and to deal with its environmental and its economic impacts.

"The president has told the team to spare nothing in trying to cap this well," he said, later adding: "Every bit of government has been activated to try to plug this hole."

"I don't think anybody could credibly say … that the government has 'stood around, done nothing and hoped for the best,'" Gibbs said. "We were activated the moment that this oil rig exploded. This has been on the president's agenda ever since that happened."

Asked Schieffer: "Do you think this could be your administration's Katrina?"

"If you look back at what happened in Katrina, the government wasn't there to respond to what was happening," Gibbs replied. "That quite frankly was the problem. Even tracking the hurricane for days and knowing fairly precisely where it was going to hit.

"I think the difference in this case is we were there immediately. We have been there ever since."

Teachers unions contracts available online

The Duval Teachers United collective bargaining agreement with the school district is available online at the web site of Teachers Rules, Roles and Rights. So are contracts for more than 100 teachers' unions for various large districts throughout the country.

Here's the link for Duval's contract:

Or you can visit to search for other contracts.

Peyton to use $5.6 million in reserves to balance the current budget

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton received the City Council’s blessing to use $5.6 million in reserves to balance the current fiscal year’s budget.

The city faces a $22 million deficit, mainly because of lower-than-projected revenue from the state and because unions haven’t approved salary cuts. Roughly $9.5 million in reserves was already built into the budget but that still leaves a $12.5 million gap.

Mickey Miller, the city’s director of finance, told council members Thursday that the deficit will be addressed through a three-pronged approach: about $2 million in budget cuts, $5 million that will be recovered from excess risk management premiums the city paid, and the rest from reserves.

Council President Richard Clark said he approves of tapping into the operating reserves account, which has about a $37 million balance.

A separate emergency reserve fund has roughly $44 million. That fund is not being touched.

Peyton already has announced he will cut library hours, let nearly an entire firefighter recruit class go, and cut 14 more jobs from various departments.

He also wants to remove fire engines from two stations. However, to avoid another union fight, he will ask the council to sign off on that plan before it is implemented.

Clark said he will support the mayor’s fire department cuts. He said reserves should be tapped as a last resort and encouraged the mayor to seek additional cuts in expenses, including more layoffs if possible.

Councilwoman E. Denise Lee had a much different stance. She said she would rather see the city use more reserves if it could keep people from losing work during this recession.

Oil Spill Won't Hurt National Economy: Report

As big as the Gulf of Mexico oil slick is, it won't have a major impact on the national economy, according to a new report by Moody's

The oil spill caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last month is hurting businesses in areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida -- but those places represent only 1 percent of the gross domestic product and national employment "so broad macroeconomic effects are unlikely, at least in the near term," the report said.

BP, the owner of the oil well where the rig was based, has said it has spent $350 million in cleanup costs so far. Exxon spent a total of roughly 11 times that much on its cleanup of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

Border 'Mayhem'? An Illegal Immigration Fact Check Shows Violence Declining

By numbers alone, the border region appears, as Department of Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano put it, is as "secure now as it has ever been."

More than 646 miles of the border are protected by fence, according to Customs and Border Protection.

More than 20,000 border patrol agents serve on the front lines -- an 80 percent increase over 2004 and the largest number in history.

The number of illegal immigrants apprehended along the border, which CBP uses to gauge the flow of migrants, is down nearly 55 percent from 2005. The agency captured 540,865 last year.

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained and deported a record 387,790 unauthorized immigrants across the U.S. in 2009, and is on pace to set a new record in 2010.

And the growing number of deportations comes as the overall size of the U.S. illegall immigrant population -- 62 percent of which hails from Mexico -- continues to decline. The U.S. unauthorized population in 2009 was 10.8 million, down from a peak of 11.8 million in 2007.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Key Vote: Motion to Recommit; America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010

Motion to Recommit; America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010
- Vote Passed (292-126, 12 Not Voting)

The House voted to send this bill that would reauthorize science and technology research programs back to the House Science committee with instructions to freeze funding at fiscal 2010 levels and to only fund the bill for three years, rather than the original five. House leaders are planning to bring the measure to a vote again this week.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Durbin Amendment; Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010

Durbin Amendment; Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010
- Vote Agreed to (64-33, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate adopted this amendment to the financial reform bill that would require the Federal Reserve to establish rules for "reasonable and proportional" fees that credit card networks, such as Visa and Mastercard, charge to merchants. The Senate continues work on the bill this week.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted Not Voting......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: McCain Amendment; Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010

McCain Amendment; Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010
- Vote Rejected (43-56, 1 Not Voting)

The Senate rejected this amendment to the financial reform bill that would have established a time frame for ending the government’s support of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Senate continues work on the bill this week.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Home Star Energy Retrofit Act

Home Star Energy Retrofit Act
- Vote Passed (246-161, 23 Not Voting)

The House passed this measure that would authorize a $6.6 billion rebate program for energy-efficient home renovations for households with incomes up to $250,000. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Shelby-Dodd Amendment; Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010

Shelby-Dodd Amendment; Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010
- Vote Agreed to (93-5, 2 Not Voting)

The Senate voted to remove a part of the financial reform bill that would have created a $50 billion fund for the FDIC to cover the cost of liquidating failing financial companies. The Senate voted on several other amendments, and will continue its work on the bill this week.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Puerto Rico Democracy Act

Puerto Rico Democracy Act
- Vote Passed (223-169, 1 Present, 37 Not Voting)

The House approved this bill to establish a two-stage process to determine Puerto Rico's political status. The first step would be a referendum on the question of whether to maintain or change Puerto Rico's current status as a commonwealth. If a majority of Puerto Ricans were to vote for a new status, then a second vote would be held to ask residents whether they favor statehood, full independence, independence with a special political association with the United States, or to retain the current commonwealth status. The legislation goes to the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: IMPROVE Acquisition Act of 2010

IMPROVE Acquisition Act of 2010
- Vote Passed (417-3, 10 Not Voting)

The House overwhelmingly passed this measure that would require the Defense Department to develop a system with specific metrics, including targeted schedules and cost objectives, for the acquisition of weapons, information technology and services. It would also direct Defense Department officials to set up a system by 2017 to reward organizations that meet objectives and penalize those that do not. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010

Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010
- Vote Rejected (56-42, 2 Not Voting)

The Senate failed for a third time last week to approve this procedural motion and begin floor debate on this legislation to overhaul financial regulations. However, it appears the Senate will proceed to floor debate this week and begin voting on amendments to the bill.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted NO......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act

Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act
- Vote Passed (403-11, 3 Present, 13 Not Voting)

The House voted to move forward with a bill to sanction Iran by approving this motion to appoint House members to a conference committee with the Senate. The House version of this bill focuses on imposing sanctions on multinational companies that deal with Iran's petroleum sector, while the Senate's broader version would prohibit the U.S. government from purchasing goods from companies that are subject to sanctions under existing law and expand sanctions on foreign companies investing more than $20 million in Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Rep. Ander Crensh aw voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Key Vote: Confirmation Lael Brainard, of D.C., to be an Under Secretary of the Treasury

Lael Brainard to be an Under Secretary of the Treasury
- Vote Confirmed (78-19, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate confirmed Lael Brainard as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for international affairs. Her nomination had been held up over concerns that she allegedly failed to pay property taxes on time.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Sen. George LeMieux voted YES......send e-mail
or see bio

Court limits harsh terms for youths

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole for crimes other than murder, in a significant 5-4 decision that says imposing such sentences violates the Constitution's prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishment.

The court's 5-4 decision — which says that an automatic life sentence for a young offender who has not committed murder violates the Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment — wipes out laws in 37 states.

It means that the 129 juveniles now serving time under such laws will, at some point, have an opportunity to make a case for parole.

Most significantly, the decision — signed by the nine-member court's four more liberal justices and Anthony Kennedy, the conservative who votes with the liberals the most — emphasizes that young criminals are different from adults. And not just when it comes to the death penalty, which the court made off-limits for juveniles in 2005.

"A life without parole sentence improperly denies the juvenile offender a chance to demonstrate growth and maturity," Kennedy wrote for the majority in the decision that found life without parole disproportionally harsh.

Supreme Court Rules 'Sexually Dangerous' Can Be Held Longer Than Sentences

A 7-to-2 majority of the Supreme Court ruled today that Congress has the authority to pass a law allowing federal prisoners who have been deemed "sexually dangerous" to be held beyond the date of their original sentence.

The law, a provision of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, was passed in 2006. A lower court had ruled that Congress overstepped its boundaries in passing the law.

But Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, found that the Constitution grants Congress the authority to enact the law.

"The statute is a necessary and proper means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others," he wrote.

Breyer wrote, "Congress routinely exercises its authority to enact criminal laws in furtherance of, for example, its enumerated powers to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, to enforce civil rights, to spend funds for the general welfare, to establish federal courts, to establish post office, to regulate bankruptcy, to regulate naturalization and so forth."

Gov. Charlie Crist Signs New Unemployment Benefit Legislation

With the state's unemployment rate still over 12 percent, Gov. Charlie Crist today signed into law Senate Bill 1736 to extends eligibility for the Extended Benefits (EB) program.

The EB program is for job seekers who have exhausted all other benefits and qualify for the extension.

"As Florida's economy continues to recover, these federally-funded benefits will provide critical financial assistance to job seekers and their families," said Crist. "These funds will also provide a significant impact to Florida's economy, infusing millions of dollars to our local communities."

The new law provides for payment to individuals through June 5, and was funded through the federal stimulus package. It's value is estimated at $128 million.

"These Extended Benefits will provide financial support to more than 100,000 Floridians in need," said Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia Lorenzo. "This new law will also strengthen the reemployment focus of Florida's workforce system by allowing our agency to better link unemployment compensation beneficiaries with job opportunities."

Garden Helps Jacksonville City Leaders Provide Dignity, Respect to the Dead

Last fiscal year, 241 people were ultimately approved for the program and became indigents of the city. That included 213 adults and 28 infants.

Once indigents are cremated, their names are held for at least four months to allow family members to claim them.

It costs Jacksonville more than $1,100 for each indigent cremation and another $35 if the remains have to be scattered. The money comes from the city's general fund. They also take care of final respects for many veterans, but their family has the choice of having them buried or cremated.

Crist signs red light camera bill

Gov. Charlie Crist signed a red light camera bill into law on Thursday that will allow Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford to install red light cameras at some of the most dangerous intersections in the city.

Crist's decision to sign the law was never really in doubt. Groups like AAA Auto Club South opposed the bill, arguing that it was more of a revenue grab than a safety issue. The state will get at least 50 percent of the revenue from people fined, it's more on a state road, even though the local governments will actually be installing the cameras and enforcing the law.

Rep. Corrine Brown Introduces Legislation to Ban Offshore Drilling Near Florida

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., on Wednesday introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives to "permanently prohibit the conduct of offshore drilling on the outer Continental Shelf of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico."

The "East Coast and Gulf Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010" comes on the heels of a massive oil spill spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf near Louisiana each day.

Personal conflicts biggest cause of murders in U.S.

Guns are the most commonly used weapons in both murders and suicides, according to the analysis of data from 2007 released on Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The pattern that stands out the most is we see a lot of intimate partner violence, mental health problems and substance abuse," said the CDC's Debra Karch, who led the study.

Some of the findings from the report:

* Firearms were used in more than 50 percent of suicides, with hanging or suffocation accounting for 23 percent and poisoning 18 percent.

* Firearms were used in 66 percent of homicides and 80 percent of murder-suicides.

* Suicide rates were higher among people aged 45 to 54 -- a shift from previous years when the highest rates of suicide were among those over 80.

* Murder rates were more than three times higher among males than females. One third of women who were murdered were killed by a current or former spouse or partner, compared to five percent of men killed by intimate partners.

* Blacks made up the majority of homicide deaths and had the highest rate of homicide of any racial or ethnic group.

* Military suicides were frequently linked to a physical health problem.

Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950

Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman's presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found.

Individual tax rates vary widely based on how much a taxpayer earns, where the person lives and other factors. On average, though, the tax rate paid by all Americans — rich and poor, combined — has fallen 26% since the recession began in 2007. That means a $3,400 annual tax savings for a household paying the average national rate and earning the average national household income of $102,000.

Wal-Mart Gives $2 Billion to Fight Hunger

The Wal-Mart Corporation announced plans Wednesday to contribute $2 billion in cash and food to the nation’s food banks, one of the largest corporate gifts on record.

Over the next five years, the giant retail company will distribute some 1.1 billion pounds of food to food banks and provide $250 million to help them buy refrigerated trucks, improve storage and develop better logistics.

Study: 1 in 7 U.S. Babies Born to Moms 35+

While most women giving birth are doing it within the context of marriage, researchers said a record 41 percent of births were to unmarried women in 2008. That's up from 28 percent in 1990, according to the study, "The New Demography of American Motherhood." The trend crossed major racial and ethnic groups.

Nearly 14 percent of mothers of newborns were 35 or older two years ago - and only about 10 percent were in their teens. The age trend was reversed in 1990, when teens had a 13 percent share of births.

Today, one in seven babies is born to a mother at least 35 years old. In 1990, one in 11 had a mother in that age group.

Most mothers of newborns (54 percent) had at least some college education in 2008, an increase from 41 percent in 1990. Among mothers 35 or older, 71 percent had at least some college education.

32,000 Duval properties owe $65 million in taxes

Jacksonville's 2009 property taxes came due April 1, and a month later, the owners of some 32,000 properties still hadn't paid. That means there's a 3 percent penalty on their tax bills, and if they don't pay by May 26, their tax debts can be sold as "certificates" to investors. Here are the top 10 biggest delinquent tax bills:

Owners of more than 32,000 Duval County properties fell into delinquency when they missed the April 1 deadline to pay a combined $64.8 million in property taxes.

The delinquent bills ranged between $17 and $516,000, according to records obtained by the Times-Union.

The top 10 in delinquent Duval County property taxes owes $2.9 million for the 2009 tax year. Of the 10, six are apartment complexes.

Ranked by who owes most, developer Jay McGarvey's Old San Jose on the River project is No. 1, with $561,109 in overdue property tax.

Jacksonville may hire private company for building inspections

About 85 Jacksonville building inspectors could be the next group of city employees replaced by private contractors.

A city committee will decide Thursday whether to send out proposals to see if any businesses could provide the same service at a lower cost to taxpayers.

The proposal is part of a sweeping look at city services that Chief Administrative Officer Kerri Stewart has said could result in hundreds of city jobs being outsourced.

The building inspection division has about 100 employees and a budget of just more than $10 million, Skipper said.

The Information Technology contract, Dix says, will be $200,000 a year more expensive. City officials say they’ll save $300,000 the first year.

Eight Business-Busting Oil Spills

Damages from the spill, Kotok said, could run between tens of billions to hundreds of billions of dollars.

At least some of the cleanup costs should be covered by the $1.6 billion Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a fund created in 1986 and funded through a tax on oil companies since 1990, following the Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster.

Only two were in the US.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bills that passed in 2010 Florida Legislature

Legislation that passed during the 2010 session of the Florida Legislature, which ended Friday, would:


- Require women seeking an abortion in the first trimester to pay for an ultrasound exam and view the live image unless they can prove they are victims of rape, incest or domestic abuse.


- Place on the ballot a state constitutional amendment to loosen class size limits by requiring them on a school average basis.

- Place on the ballot a state constitutional amendment sponsors say will clarify, but opponents argue would undermine, a pair of citizen initiatives that would curtail gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts.

- Place on the ballot a state constitutional amendment that would bar Floridians from being forced to obtain insurance coverage, a measure inspired by the new federal health care overhaul although legal experts say it cannot override federal law.

- Place on the ballot a nonbinding straw poll asking if the federal government should balance its budget without raising taxes.


- Exempt from sales tax books, clothing, shoes, wallets and bags costing less than $50 and school supplies costing less than $10 during a three-day back-to-school sales tax "holiday" Aug. 13-15.

- Roll back an increase in the unemployment compensation tax paid by employers, though that will mean borrowing millions from the federal government to cover jobless workers - money that will have to be paid back in the future.

- Give financial aid to the ailing space industry and tax breaks to the film and entertainment industry and buyers of yachts, aircraft and machinery; offer a tax credit to businesses for hiring jobless workers.

- Reinstate parental waivers that exempt theme parks, go-cart tracks and other businesses from liability if their children are inured after the Florida Supreme Court had prohibited the waivers because there was no law allowing them.

- Make it harder to win slip-and-fall lawsuits by requiring a victim to prove a business knew or should have known a dangerous condition had existed for a sufficient time to have it fixed or removed - or that it was a foreseeable hazard.

- Crack down on rogue debt collectors by making it easier to regulate the industry and increasing punishments.


- Bar sex offenders from coming within 300 feet of schools, day care centers, parks and playgrounds and prohibit them from wearing Santa Claus suits or other costumes attractive to children while preventing the state from labeling someone a sex offenders for having consensual sex with a minor if there was less than a four-year age difference between perpetrator and victim.

- Tighten screening of caregivers who work with children, the elderly and disabled to weed out convicted criminals.

- Add homeless people to the list of victims covered by Florida's hate crimes law that can result in increased penalties for attacks.

- Require youth sports coaches to undergo criminal background checks.


- Require retailers to track over-the-counter sales of ephedrine, which can be used to make methamphetamine.

- Require commercial pain management clinics to register with the state and let only doctors with special training dispense controlled substances.

- Ban the sale of smoking pipes, bongs and other paraphernalia commonly used for smoking illegal drugs as well as tobacco except at stores that mostly sell tobacco products.


- Expand a private school voucher program for low-income students supported through business tax credits by increasing its annual spending cap, adding more revenue sources and increasing the value of each scholarship.

- Expand eligibility for private school vouchers for disabled students.

- Require middle school students to take a civics class and pass an end-of-course test.

- Increase high school graduation standards by requiring more math and science and replacing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, for those subjects with end-of-course exams.

- Encourage, but not require, school districts to hold ceremonies, assemblies or other academic scholarship signing day events to match the hoopla that surrounds the signing of college scholarships by football players and other athletes

- Bar schools from infringing on religious freedoms of teachers, staff and students.

- Prohibit schools from using mechanical or manual restraints on disabled students that restrict their breathing or secluding them in rooms that don't meet fire marshal's rules.


- Revive and repair a law ruled unconstitutional last year that required certain nonpolitical organizations to register with the state and comply with financial reporting requirements if they simply mentioned a candidate or an issue.


- Ban the personal ownership of Burmese pythons and six other species of nonnative giant reptiles.


- Prevent adoption agencies from asking prospective parents if they have firearms in the house.

- Prohibit lawmakers from raiding a trust fund for the state's concealed weapons permitting program.


- Endorse a 20-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida that guarantees the state about $1.3 billion over the first five years and more later in exchange for the expansion of gaming at the tribe's casinos.


- Enact a state budget of $70.4 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

- Ask Congress to call a constitutional convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment.

- Raise liability limits for the state and local governments from $100,000 to $200,000 per person and from $200,000 to $300,000 per incident on claims that can be paid without legislative approval.

- Cap fees of outside lawyers hired by the attorney general's office at $50 million.


- Authorize the use of cameras to ticket red light runners.

- Create new specialty tags that support surfing ("Endless Summer"), fishing ("Catch Me, Release Me") and horse enthusiasts ("Florida Horse Park"), as well as the Fraternal Order of Police and the Florida Diversity Foundation.

New taxes coming to tanning salons

To help pay for health care reform, tanners will be taxed 10 percent of the total cost of any indoor tanning service - whether it be in a tanning bed or booth - that uses one or more UV lamps to induce skin tanning.

A late addition to the federal health care bill, the "tan tax" is estimated to collect $2.7 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

For regular tanners such as Cheryl Robinson, who visits Four Seasons Tan a few times a week, the tax means the monthly package she purchases, which runs about $40 and allows her unlimited access to the salon's beds, will cost about $4 more.

Crist wants federal government to run high risk health insurance pool

Gov. Charlie Crist will leave it to the Obama administration to run the federally subsidized high-risk health insurance plan that is to cover people unable to buy such insurance in the private market due to preexisting conditions such as cancer or diabetes.

In a letter late Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Crist said he agreed that states and the federal government must cooperate in expanding healthcare for Americans but said ``unfortunately Florida is not in a position to authorize new financial obligations.''

``We are in the process of balancing our budget on the final day of the 2010 legislative session,'' he wrote. ``As governor of Florida, I cannot commit any state resources to participate in the federal temporary high-risk health insurance program.''

``However, I understand you can . . . create a new high-risk pool at the federal level, where eligible Floridians can participate. We stand ready to assist you,'' he added.

Regardless of who runs the pools, the Obama administration has promised a $5 billion one-time subsidy to help make the insurance affordable. Each state's share would be based on population and need, not on who would run the pools, an HHS spokeswoman said Friday.

Florida's share of the $5 billion is $351 million.

Analysis: Congressional earmarks to colleges $2 billion

Colleges, universities and other academic organizations received just shy of $2 billion in grants directed to them by individual members of Congress in the 2010 fiscal year, an Inside Higher Ed analysis shows.

A review of appropriations bills, Congressionally mandated disclosure forms and lawmakers' news releases revealed grants to 875 institutions, totaling $1,982,532,150. (That total may be incomplete; while required disclosure of earmarks has been strengthened under federal law, and many lawmakers like to boast about the money they bring home to their local colleges and other constituents, it is still difficult to follow the flow of money with perfect precision.) That's roughly one-eighth of the overall amount of $16.5 billion earmarked by Congress in 2010, according to an estimate by Citizens Against Government Waste.

Zillow: Homebuyers fail to adequately research loans

Americans spend more time researching which car to buy than they do researching options for a home loan, according to a survey released Thursday by Zillow.

The Seattle-based online mortgage marketplace found that borrowers who obtained a home loan in the past five years spent just five hours reviewing their options and got just three quotes. Thirty-one percent spent two hours or less, despite the fact that a home is one of the largest investments people make in a lifetime, Zillow pointed out.

Suspended Drivers Continue to Drive

Authorities say the number of people who drive with a suspended license, or with no license at all, is growing. One judge says offenders do not take the law seriously.

Four days a week at Duval County Traffic Court on Beach Boulevard, offenders step before a judge to enter a plea for driving with a suspended or revoked license.

They are people from all walks of life who authorities pulled over for one reason or another only to find the drivers had no valid license.

For three days, First Coast News observed traffic court proceedings and witnessed 49 people go before two different judges:

An unemployed woman who did not have car insurance and could not pay for a citation; an undocumented worker caught speeding who never could obtain a license to begin with; a man with a number of past of traffic violations which led to his driver's license being taken away.

Each sentencing carried a message from the judge:

"No driving means no driving!" said Circuit Court Judge James Ruth. "If you have a bad record, you could face jail time."

The penalties for driving with a suspended or revoked license range from a $200 to $300 fine to jail time and felony conviction.

Many of the offenders were accompanied by drivers and others stopped to call for a ride. Others never left court: the judges sentenced several to serve jail time.

Despite the potential consequences, of the 49 drivers First Coast News saw go before the judges, three walked out of the courtroom and into their cars and drove away.

In 2008, Florida law enforcement agencies cited 226,560 people for driving with a suspended or revoked license. More than 25,000 of those people were cited on the First Coast.

Navy to Allow Women to Serve on Submarines

The first U.S. women allowed to serve aboard submarines will be reporting for duty by 2012, the Navy said Thursday as the military ordered an end to one of its few remaining gender barriers.

The cramped quarters and scant privacy aboard submarines, combined with long tours of up to 90 days at sea, kept them off-limits to female sailors for 16 years after the Navy began allowing women to serve on all its surface ships in 1994.

Crist Makes it Official: No Party Affiliation

Gov. Charlie Crist made it official this afternoon: He is leaving the Republican Party and running for the U.S. Senate as an independent.

By doing so, he will bypass the Republican primary, where polls have shown he trails Marco Rubio by a large margin.

"It's the right thing for America; it's the right thing for Florida," said Crist, defending his decision in a speech in his hometown of St. Petersburg.

Sheriff John Rutherford Approves of Red Light Camera Bill

The sheriff is pleased that the state senate passed the bill allowing cameras at intersections to catch drivers running red lights.

Sheriff John Rutherford released the following statement this afternoon in response to the bill that awaits Gov. Charlie Crist's signature after being passed by the senate overwhelmingly Tuesday:

"I am very pleased about the Legislature's passage of the bill allowing red light cameras to be installed in Florida, and look forward to the Governor signing it into law.

"I've stated publicly that my support for red light cameras includes the use of 'crash avoidance' technology. It gauges or detects when a driver is coming into an intersection at a high rate of speed (when the light is changing to red) and
then delays the other traffic signal(s) from changing to green, for just a few seconds, thereby preventing a crash.

"We will support the Department of Transportation as they develop the specifications for the approved traffic control systems and camera devices, and hope that this life saving technology is allowed for or incorporated into their rules.

"Once the Department of Transportation has developed these rules, we will review our most current crash data and other factors and determine exactly which intersections will be outfitted with the devices. These intersections will be
identified publicly and we will educate the public.

"Regardless of where the cameras are installed in Jacksonville, it is my hope that drivers will treat all intersections as if they are outfitted with a camera, and drive defensively and carefully. We'd like to see the number of traffic fatalities continue to decline."

Sheriff John H. Rutherford

Good Samaritan Left for Dead on City Sidewalk

A psychologist believes there could be several reasons why people didn't offer to help Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, 31 -- whose fate was captured on a grainy surveillance video -- perhaps including our culture's desensitization to violence from so much exposure in movies, video games and music.

"We love violence in this culture," said the psychologist, Michael Bradley. "We have this kind of 24/7 pounding of violence. We now know that that pounding of violence actually causes brain changes where people start to not distinguish between real violence and cyberviolence. We're actually rewiring our brains to not react to violence and pain the way we should."

Bradley said there are several explanations for why passersby may not have taken action.

For one thing, he said, people tend to copy the behavior of others, so if one person ignored the injured man, then others were likely to do the same thing.

People also think it's someone else's responsibility to intervene, so they won't do anything because they assume another person will call for help.

Scouts must pay man $18.5M

An Oregon jury's decision to award a man $18.5 million in punitive damages in his case against the Boy Scouts of America will likely be the first of many financial hits the Scouts will take as it prepares to defend itself against a series of sex abuse lawsuits.

The jury on Friday ordered the Scouts to make the payment to Kerry Lewis, the victim of sex abuse by a former assistant Scoutmaster in Portland in the early 1980s.

The case was the first of six filed against the Boy Scouts in the same court in Oregon, with at least one other separate case pending. If mediation fails to settle the other cases, they also could go to trial.

Florida stimulus saved 33,000+ paychecks

The federal stimulus package created or saved roughly 33,200 Florida jobs in the first quarter of 2010, Governor Charlie Crist’s office reported.

Aside from the full-time jobs saved and created, the federal program also helped nearly 74,700 people who didn’t work the full three months or were paid partly through other sources, according to state statistics.

The state said about 153,000 jobs were created or saved in Florida since February 2009 through stimulus spending. Of the $19.5 billion Florida expects to receive in stimulus funding, about $13.5 billion has awarded, About $8.8 billion has been spent of that.