Monday, March 28, 2011

Déjà vu over child deaths in Florida

The 1990s saw child death task forces at the rate of one every two years. In May 1995, it was Lucas Ciambrone, whose Bradenton adoptive parents beat, starved and tortured him. He died with cracked ribs, more than 200 bruises and weighed just 27 pounds.

The Ciambrone panel issued 44 recommendations, including that lawmakers stop passing child welfare laws without the money to pay for them. Four months later, legislators cut 33 child abuse investigators from their budget.

The Community Review Panel report that followed Lucas’ death barely had time to gather dust when Florida experienced one of the worst periods in its child-welfare history. In September and October 1997, six children with extensive DCF histories were killed: Beaunca Jones, 2; Nia Scott, 2; Alexandria Champagne, 21 months; Saydee Alvarado, 8 months; Walkiria Batista, 3, and Jonathan Flam, 2.

A task force followed, and then-DCF Secretary Edward Feaver developed new protocols for measuring risk to children.

Then came Thanksgiving, 1998. Richard Adams in Clermont reported his 6-year-old daughter missing.

“The Grand Jury understands that is impossible to legislate common sense, or to regulate an employee to care. Yet the Grand Jury is concerned about the reluctance of various individuals to enthusiastically embrace their duties.’’

A grand jury convened and proposed sweeping changes to how Florida responded to reports of child abuse: Require the state’s abuse hot line to accept all reports, “every complaint, no matter how inconsequential it may appear over the telephone.’’ Never minimize or ignore the concerns of educators. Require the Department of Health’s Child Protection Team to evaluate all allegations of physical injury. Allow the same investigator to look into all successive abuse allegations so patterns can be observed. Never interview abused children in front of their suspected abusers.

The Kayla McKean Act became law on July 1, 1999

Northwest Jesuits reach $166 million sex abuse settlement

The Pacific Northwest chapter of the Roman Catholic Church's Jesuit order has agreed to pay $166 million to settle more than 500 child sexual abuse claims against priests in five states, attorneys said on Friday.

The payout by the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province -- part of an agreement to resolve its two-year-old bankruptcy case -- marks one of the biggest settlements to date in the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandals.

CSX paid Ward $7.7M in 2010

CSX Corp. CEO, President and Chairman Michael Ward received $7.7 million in compensation from the railroad in 2010, a 9 percent increase from the year before, according to the Associated Press.

His salary rose largely due to a $2.1 million performance-based bonus received after the Jacksonville-based railroad reported $1.56 billion in profit last year. Ward’s base salary is $1.1 million. Click here for a profile on Ward.

G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.

While General Electric is one of the most skilled at reducing its tax burden, many other companies have become better at this as well. Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less.

In a regulatory filing just a week before the Japanese disaster put a spotlight on the company’s nuclear reactor business, G.E. reported that its tax burden was 7.4 percent of its American profits, about a third of the average reported by other American multinationals. Even those figures are overstated, because they include taxes that will be paid only if the company brings its overseas profits back to the United States. With those profits still offshore, G.E. is effectively getting money back.

Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.

Lessons for Albany on Malpractice Limits

But other states that have similar caps in place offer cautionary evidence about the big savings for health care providers that such limits are believed to produce.

In 1975, California lawmakers approved a $250,000 cap on so-called noneconomic damages in cases of medical mistakes, which has since become a model for similar proposals. At least 35 states now have at least some limits on malpractice damages.

The California law has also been the focus of long-running debate over who benefits from caps — doctors or insurers — and whether the measures inflict unintended negative consequences upon victims of medical errors, including plaintiffs’ inability to find lawyers to take their cases.

In the early years after California enacted its cap, doctors did not see the cost of their insurance policies plummet. From 1976 to 1986, the total paid in premiums increased 176 percent, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. (Nationally, premiums rose 221 percent.)

California and three other states that had $250,000 caps in place in 1991 saw premiums increase 28 percent in the following decade, compared with a 48 percent increase in other states, according the Physician Insurers Association of America.

Income Inequality: Where Do You Fall?

Income inequality has changed over time: today the richest 1 percent of Americans hold about 24 percent of U.S. wealth. But almost a century ago in 1915, that same top percent had 18 percent of the nation's wealth, according to Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez in his report "Striking it Richer."

Jacksonville City Council action

A look at some of the issues Jacksonville's City Council considered in its meeting Thursday:

Issue: Electronic changing signs

What it means: The council was asked to allow electronic signs to change messages every eight seconds. Supporters said that allows businesses to advertise effectively, but opponents said it promotes visual clutter and could distract drivers.

Bill No. 2010-900

Action: Deferred. Although two council committees approved the bill last week, council President Jack Webb's office announced a public meeting will be held April 6 at 5 p.m. in the council chambers for further discussion.

Issue: Landscape regulation

What it means: The council considered requiring Florida-friendly landscaping and watering measures in new housing subdivisions. The standards are similar to those used in commercial development, but allow more latitude.

Bill No. 2011-74

Action: Approved.

Issue: City ethics

What it means: New legislation would create an Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight that would include the city's ethics officer and general inspector. Existing, funded jobs would be transferred into the office, without creating new jobs.

Bill No. 2011-197

Action: Bill introduced and assigned to Rules and Finance committees.

Jacksonville Councilman Wants to Stop Section 8 Move-Ins at Eureka Gardens

"The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office responds to more than a thousand calls for service to the complex each year, absorbing huge amounts of resources and manpower for a single 200-unit housing complex," Jones' resolution says.

Of the 400 total units in Eureka Gardens, 392 are Section 8 housing, according to a HUD spokesperson, who added those units are not project based, not vouchers, meaning they are fixed to that location.

$3 million invested in Jacksonville mayoral election; 30 percent turnout

The mayoral campaigns and groups backing individual candidates spent nearly $3 million on the Jacksonville election, only to see turnout less than 30 percent.

Will Laura Street Project Ever End?

The city broke ground in February 2010 and it was supposed to be finished in a year - but now it's in the 14th month.

"In any downtown project you'll find you have quite a bit of unknown circumstances," said Paul Crawford, a spokesman for the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission. "In this case there were quite a few. That took some time to resolve and it adds time to the project."

Gov. Scott signs Florida teacher pay, tenure bill

His signature on Senate Bill 736 marked the first law enacted by the new Republican governor.

Merit pay and a new teacher evaluation plan that goes along with it won't go into effect until 2014, but districts will begin spending millions to develop new student tests needed to implement those provisions during the next year while facing sharp budget cuts, Pudlow said. Tentative budget proposals in the Legislature include major cuts, although not as steep as the 10 percent reduction in spending per student that Scott has proposed.

Teachers hired after July 1 will be the first affected by the legislation because that's when the tenure ban begins. It limits those teachers to one-year contracts, meaning school officials can terminate them without reason at the end of every school year.

The evaluation system used to determine which teachers get merit raises and those who may face dismissal will be based at least half on how much their students improve on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and other exams over a three year period.

The Effects of Oil Production Turmoil: What We Pay For At The Pump

Crude is not the only factor in price, however. The Department of Energy's price breakdown as of February 2011: 65 percent crude oil, 14 percent refining costs, eight percent distribution and marketing, and finally 13 percent federal and state taxes

Indeed, it's mighty hard to argue supply and demand alone drove the price of crude from $30/bbl in 2004 to over $140/bbl by the middle of 2008 back down to $33/bbl barely six months later.

Meanwhile, the price of crude has risen back up to above $105 a barrel at the moment- a 24 percent price jump since the beginning of protests in the Middle East and North Africa began in mid-January. Prices at the pump reflect this spike, reaching their highest levels ever for this time of the year. Since December 2010, before fears about the crisis hit the market, prices have jumped almost 20 cents per gallon.

If the crisis spreads to the Middle East (and it's already in Bahrain and Yemen), it threatens to affect key oil transit points for tankers to and from refineries. Of particular concern is the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which about 40 percent of the world's oil traffic passes.

Finally, for those who think U.S. gas taxes are high already, here are the comparable figures from England: gasoline taxes of about four dollars a gallon, up from something like $2.50 a gallon in the early '90s.

Survey says U.S. financial house in state of disorder

A new study finds America to be one of the most fiscally irresponsible nations in the world, spending excessively on health care and defense while running up record government deficits.

The United States ranked 28th out of 34 industrial powers — just behind Italy — in the health of its national finances, according to the survey by the nonpartisan Comeback America Initiative, a Bridgeport, Conn., group that advocates reducing the nation’s red ink. Study authors said in a press briefing Wednesday that Washington has as little as two years — and no more than 16 years — to repair its finances or risk seeing the economy slip below the levels reached during the recent global recession.

Australia and New Zealand topped the global survey, while only Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Iceland, Portugal and Greece ranked lower than the United States.

Florida per capita income ranked 24th

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has ranked Florida 24th among the 50 states in per capita income.

According to figures released Wednesday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Sunshine State’s per capita income (PCI) was $39,272 in 2010 — 96.8 percent of the national average of $40,584.

Bus crash in New York City casts light on safety violations

State inspectors found 41 buses with safety violations so severe that they ordered the bus to stop running or the driver to stop driving. Some drivers didn't have a logbook showing how many hours they had worked — a requirement meant to prevent driver fatigue, a leading cause of bus crashes.

"That's not a good thing," said Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a coalition of state and federal safety officials. "Frankly what it says is we need to spend more energy trying to implement safety actions."

The nation's 3,900 motor coach companies transport 750 million passengers a year, and the National Transportation Safety Board calls motor coaches "among the safest vehicles on the road." About 15 passengers are killed annually — a tiny fraction of the 6,800 passengers who die each year in all motor vehicle accidents.

More than 700 of the 3,100 motor coach operators licensed by the DOT have not been audited in three years, records show, and 467 have never been audited. That's usually because they are new companies, which are allowed to operate temporarily without a full audit.

Scott approves partial bailout for Florida courts

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday approved part of a plan to keep Florida's courts operating in the face of a $72.3 million deficit expected in the current budget year due to a drop in mortgage foreclosure filing fees.

Scott's budget director, Jerry McDaniel, notified Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady that the governor has agreed to his request to temporarily shift $14 million earmarked for mediation arbitration and court education within the system's budget to pay for day-to-day operating expenses.

That amount should be enough to keep the courts functioning through April 30, McDaniel wrote in a letter to Canady. He added that it also will give the governor time to gather additional information before deciding on Canady's request to borrow $28.48 million from non-court trust funds.

Fla. Gov. Scott orders state employee drug testing

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered drug testing Tuesday of new hires and spot checks of existing state employees under him, but civil rights and labor lawyers questioned whether the directive was legal.

Scott issued an executive order requiring each of his agencies to amend its drug testing policy within 60 days to require pre-employment screenings of all job applicants and random testing of the existing work force.

Incentives Offered to Raise College Graduation Rates

In what amounts to a “Race to the Top” for higher education, the Obama administration is offering competitive grants and a new “tool kit” to help states increase their college completion rates.

During a news briefing Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the program, to be formally announced Tuesday by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., would include only incentives — no “sticks” — for reforms aimed at helping the administration meet its goal of adding eight million college graduates by 2020.

According to Mr. Duncan, the campaign will include a new $20 million Comprehensive Grant Program for states that carry out plans intended to increase their graduation rates.

In addition, as part of its 2012 budget, the administration has proposed the $123 million “First in the World” initiative for programs that hold down tuition, increase completion rates and move students through college faster. Last, the $50 million College Completion Incentive Grants would reward states and schools for reforms that produce more college graduates.

Video game software sales top $33 billion in 2010

Over 3.2 billion game purchases in total led to over $33 billion in revenues for 2010, with $2.5 billion (7.6% of the market total) coming from digitally-distributed products.

Obama War Powers

President Obama has officially notified Congress of the deployment of U.S. military forces against Libya, in accordance with the War Powers Act of 1973.

March 21, 2011

Dear Mr. Speaker:

(Dear Mr. President:)

At approximately 3:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on March 19, 2011, at my direction, U.S. military forces commenced operations to assist an international effort authorized by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council and undertaken with the support of European allies and Arab partners, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya. As part of the multilateral response authorized under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, U.S. military forces, under the command of Commander, U.S. Africa Command, began a series of strikes against air defense systems and military airfields for the purposes of preparing a no-fly zone. These strikes will be limited in their nature, duration, and scope. Their purpose is to support an international coalition as it takes all necessary measures to enforce the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. These limited U.S. actions will set the stage for further action by other coalition partners.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized Member States, under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in Libya, including the establishment and enforcement of a "no-fly zone" in the airspace of Libya. United States military efforts are discrete and focused on employing unique U.S. military capabilities to set the conditions for our European allies and Arab partners to carry out the measures authorized by the U.N. Security Council Resolution.

Muammar Qadhafi was provided a very clear message that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. The international community made clear that all attacks against civilians had to stop; Qadhafi had to stop his forces from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Ajdabiya, Misrata, and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity, and gas supplies to all areas. Finally, humanitarian assistance had to be allowed to reach the people of Libya.

Although Qadhafi's Foreign Minister announced an immediate cease-fire, Qadhafi and his forces made no attempt to implement such a cease-fire, and instead continued attacks on Misrata and advanced on Benghazi. Qadhafi's continued attacks and threats against civilians and civilian populated areas are of grave concern to neighboring Arab nations and, as expressly stated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, constitute a threat to the region and to international peace and security. His illegitimate use of force not only is causing the deaths of substantial numbers of civilians among his own people, but also is forcing many others to flee to neighboring countries, thereby destabilizing the peace and security of the region. Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States. Qadhafi's defiance of the Arab League, as well as the broader international community moreover, represents a lawless challenge to the authority of the Security Council and its efforts to preserve stability in the region. Qadhafi has forfeited his responsibility to protect his own citizens and created a serious need for immediate humanitarian assistance and protection, with any delay only putting more civilians at risk.

The United States has not deployed ground forces into Libya. United States forces are conducting a limited and well-defined mission in support of international efforts to protect civilians and prevent a humanitarian disaster. Accordingly, U.S. forces have targeted the Qadhafi regime's air defense systems, command and control structures, and other capabilities of Qadhafi's armed forces used to attack civilians and civilian populated areas. We will seek a rapid, but responsible, transition of operations to coalition, regional, or international organizations that are postured to continue activities as may be necessary to realize the objectives of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

For these purposes, I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.

I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.

Pension battle overlooks the deeper numbers

More than half of workers in the Florida Retirement System earn less than $40,000. The average annual benefit for retirees is $17,465. At least 297 executive branch workers earn salaries low enough to qualify them for Medicaid.

Absent from the web site is data that puts the list of high earners into context. For example, the Florida Department of Management Services calculates that the average FRS employee earns a salary of $34,651, retires with 21 years of service, and collects an average annual benefit of $11.642, or $970 a month. Of the 304,337 beneficiaries in the state retirement system, fewer than two in 1,000 – .17 percent – draw more than $100,000 a year.

Health Law Waivers Draw Kudos, and Criticism

Obama administration officials say they were expecting praise from critics of the new health care law when they offered to exempt selected employers and labor unions from a requirement to provide at least $750,000 in coverage to each person in their health insurance plans this year.

Instead, Republicans have seized on the waivers as just more evidence that the law is fundamentally flawed because, they say, it requires so many exceptions. To date, for example, the administration has relaxed the $750,000 standard for more than 1,000 health plans covering 2.6 million people.

Maine has just won a three-year reprieve from a provision of the law stipulating that insurers selling coverage to individuals and families must spend at least 80 percent of premium revenues on medical care and efforts to improve it. The White House had described this as one of the law’s most beneficial provisions, guaranteeing that consumers would get “more value for your dollars.”

The Obama administration lowered the requirement to 65 percent for Maine, after finding “a reasonable likelihood” that the tougher standard would drive one big carrier out of the market for individuals, leaving thousands without insurance.

Five other states — Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada and New Hampshire — have requested similar waivers, and at least a dozen other states are considering whether to apply.

Allies Open Air Assault on Qaddafi’s Forces in Libya

American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on Saturday, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war.

The mission to impose a United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and keep Colonel Qaddafi from using air power against beleaguered rebel forces was portrayed by Pentagon and NATO officials as under French and British leadership.

President Obama, speaking during a visit to Brazil, reiterated promises that no American ground forces would be used.

“I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action, no matter what limits we place on it,” he said. “I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice, and it’s not a choice that I make lightly. But we can’t stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy.”

Rating Nuclear Accidents and Incidents: Which Were the Worst?

Level 7 Major Accident:
A major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.


1986 -- Chernobyl, Ukraine A nuclear reactor located at a power plant in Chernobyl experienced a steam explosion and fire that caused a meltdown, releasing massive quantities of radioactive material. A significant fraction of the reactor core inventory was released, and contaminated areas of Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. There were widespread health and environmental effects.

Nuclear Energy Agency reports there were 31 fatalities immediately following the incident, with latent deaths estimated at between 9,000 and 33,000 over the 70 years after, based on current radiation dose risks.

More than five million people received low whole-body doses of radiation, about 1,000 emergency workers received the highest doses of radiation, some of them fatal. By 2002, more than 4,000 thyroid cancer cases were diagnosed among people who were children at the time and ingested radioactive iodine, often through contaminated milk.

Jacksonville grew 11.7% in 10 years

There were 11.7 percent more residents in the city of Jacksonville in 2010 than there were in 2000, according to statistics just released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Jacksonville remained the most populous city in the state in 2010 with 821,784 residents, compared with 735,617 residents in 2000. The next most populous city, Miami, grew by 10.2 percent from 2000 to 399,457 in 2010. That was followed by Tampa at 335,709, which was a 10.6 percent increase from 2000, St. Petersburg at 244,769, which saw a 1.4 percent decrease, and Orlando at 238,300, which grew by 28.2 percent.

Census: More blacks in South moving to suburbs

The share of blacks in large metropolitan areas who opted to live in the suburbs climbed to 58 percent in the South, compared to 41 percent for the rest of the U.S., according to census estimates. That's up from 52 percent in 2000 and represents the highest share of suburban blacks in the South since the Civil Rights Act passed in the 1960s.

The South also had major gains in neighborhood integration between blacks and whites. Thirty-three of the region's 38 largest metro areas made such gains since 2000, including all the large metros in Florida and Georgia, according to a commonly used demographic index. The measure, known as the segregation index, tracks the degree to which racial groups are evenly spread between neighborhoods.

Census figures also show that Hispanics contributed more to population gains than blacks in 13 of the 16 Southern states over the last decade, compared with seven states for Hispanics from 1990-2000. It was a clear sign of the shift under way for a region in which African-Americans have been the dominant minority group dating back to slavery.

In all, Hispanics accounted for roughly 45 percent of population gains in the South over the last decade, compared with about 22 percent for whites and 19 percent for blacks. Hispanic growth also has been surprisingly larger than expected in several Southern states, with official counts exceeding earlier estimates by more than 10 percent in Alabama, Louisiana and Maryland, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Foreign Aid Facing Proposed Cuts and a Public Perception Problem

Key Vote: Emergency Mortgage Relief Program Termination Act

Emergency Mortgage Relief Program Termination Act
- Vote Passed (242-177, 13 Not Voting)

This House bill would terminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Emergency Homeowner Loan Program and redirect the unused funds to paying down the national debt. The program provides emergency loans to unemployed homeowners in certain states. The bill is unlikely to see action in the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: FHA Refinance Program Termination Act

FHA Refinance Program Termination Act
- Vote Passed (256-171, 5 Not Voting)

This bill would end a Federal Housing Administration program that helps homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth refinance their mortgages. The bill is unlikely to see action in the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Inouye Amdt. No. 149; In the nature of a substitute

Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011
- Vote Rejected (42-58)

The Senate also rejected a Democratic alternative to the full-year continuing resolution that would have reduced spending by $4.7 billion over the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted NO
Sen. Marco Rubio voted NO

Key Vote: Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011

Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011
- Vote Rejected (44-56)

The Senate rejected this House-passed continuing resolution that would have reduced spending by $57.5 billion over the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The current, short-term continuing resolution expires on March 18, 2011.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted NO
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: Patent Reform Act of 2011

Patent Reform Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (95-5)

The Senate passed this bill that would overhaul the nation's patent system and change the way they are issued and challenged. The House is expected to pass its own patent bill.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act of 2011

Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (314-112, 6 Not Voting)

The House voted to repeal a provision of the 2010 health care bill requiring businesses to report payments to vendors over $600 to the Internal Revenue Service. There is support in the Senate for repeal, but the two chambers disagree on how to offset the cost of repeal.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Short-Term Continuing Resolution

Short-term Continuing Resolution
- Vote Passed (335-91, 6 Not Voting)

The House passed this continuing resolution funding government operations through March 18, 2011. Passage of the CR gives lawmakers time to work out a long-term solution to the 2011 fiscal year budget. The president signed it into law the next day.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Short-Term Continuing Resolution

Short-term Continuing Resolution
- Vote Agreed to (91-9)

The Senate gave final approval to this continuing resolution funding government operations through March 18, 2011. Passage of the CR gives lawmakers time to work out a long-term solution to the 2011 fiscal year budget. The president signed it into law later that day.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011

FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (279-143, 11 Not Voting)

The House gave final approval to this bill extending some expiring provisions of the Patriot Act for 90 days. The original House bill would have extended the provisions to December 8, 2011, but the Senate approved the short-term bill on February 15. Both chambers are working on long-term bills. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Continuing Resolution, FY2011

Continuing Resolution, FY2011
- Vote Passed (235-189, 9 Not Voting)

The House passed this long-term CR that would fund government operations through September 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year. The bill includes $61.5 billion in spending cuts. The current funding expires on March 4, 2011. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act

FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act
- Vote Passed (87-8, 5 Not Voting)

This $34.6 billion bill reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration for two years and sets aviation policies. The House is working on its own version of the bill that would cover four years.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011

FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011
- Vote Passed (86-12, 2 Not Voting)

The Senate passed this bill extending some expiring provisions of the Patriot Act for 90 days. The extension allows both chambers more time to work on long-term bills. The House cleared the measure for the president two days later.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted YES

Key Vote: United Nations Tax Equalization Refund Act

United Nations Tax Equalization Refund Act
- Vote Failed (259-169, 6 Not Voting)

Under a vote that required a two-thirds majority, the House failed to pass this bill that would establish as United States policy that the United Nations should return $179 million overpaid into the U.N. Tax Equalization Fund as of Dec. 31, 2009, and that the U.S. should press the U.N. to change its fund assessment procedures to reduce discrepancies. The future of the bill is unclear.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Patriot Act Extensions

Patriot Act Extensions
- Vote Failed (277-148, 9 Not Voting)

Under a vote that required a two-thirds majority, the House failed to pass this bill that would extend through Dec. 8, 2011, three provisions of the anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act. The bill is likely to be voted on this week under regular voting procedures.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Teaching seen as crucial in topping ed rankings

The meeting comes after the recently released results of the Programme for International Student Assessment exam of 15-year-olds alarmed U.S. educators. Out of 34 countries, it ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

Schleicher co-authored a report released Wednesday in conjunction with the conference which concluded that for the U.S. to remain competitive, it must raise the status of the teaching profession. An additional report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, as well as the PISA exam, identified several effective practices observed in the top performing regions and countries:

- They draw teachers from the same pool of applicants as those from other selective professional careers.

Aspiring teachers in Singapore, for example, are selected from the top one-third of secondary school graduating classes. They are given a monthly stipend while in schools and starting salaries are competitive with other professional jobs.

In Finland, there were 6,600 applicants for 660 openings in primary school preparation programs in 2010.

- Higher teacher salaries - rather than smaller class sizes - were a better indicator of student performance.

At the same time, it wasn't an exclusive means of attracting the best into the profession and must be accompanied by support from school leaders and a work environment that values professional judgment rather than formulas.

"They want to do knowledge work, not work in a prescriptive environment," Schleicher said.

- Teachers are continually being trained and developing their skills as instructors.

In Shanghai, teachers are expected to participate in 240 hours of professional development within five years. Singapore teachers are entitled to 100 hours of training per year "to keep up with the rapid changes in the world."

- Instructors are held accountable for student performance, but test results would be just one of a number of measures to determine student outcomes. Teachers welcome effective appraisal systems.

- In many cases, countries with the highest student performance also had strong teacher unions. The unions also developed their research capacities, with international links and connections to ministries and universities.

Life spans up, death rates down

The 2009 age-adjusted death rate was the lowest in U.S. history, with just 741 deaths per 100,000 population, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) says in its preliminary death report released Wednesday. The 2009 rate was 2.3 percent lower than the 2008 rate of 758.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

Researchers said they were surprised and heartened to see declines in mortality rates in 10 of the 15 leading causes of death. Death rates fell for heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, septicemia, homicide and chronic lower respiratory diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis.

Mortality rates for leading disease fell so much that suicide cracked the top 10 for the first time in a decade among the leading causes of death for Americans, according to the report.

Loan Study on Students Goes Beyond Default Rates

For each student who defaults on a loan, at least two more fall behind in payments on their student debt, a new study has found.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit organization, said in a report that two out of five student loan borrowers were delinquent at some point in the first five years after they started repaying their loans.

Almost a quarter of the borrowers used an option to postpone payments to avoid delinquency.

With tuition rising more rapidly than inflation or family incomes, student borrowing has been growing. College seniors who graduated in 2009 had an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, up 6 percent from 2008, according to an annual report from the Project on Student Debt.

Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of and, estimates total student debt at about $896 billion — more than the nation’s credit-card debt.

Meanwhile, default rates have been rising, to 7 percent, for the 2008 fiscal year, the latest period for which data is available, from 5.2 percent in the 2006 fiscal year.

Students who did not graduate were more likely to become deliquent or default.

The new numbers are likely to be used in the Congressional debate over for-profit colleges. Those colleges’ students make up about 12 percent of the nation’s college enrollment, and get a quarter of all federal student aid — but they account for almost half of all students who default.

States change laws, send fewer juveniles to adult court

Fewer kids in trouble are being sent to adult court because of a five-year trend of states changing laws to keep young offenders away from adult prison, according to a report out today from the Campaign for Youth Justice, a Washington, D.C., organization that focuses on the issu

About 250,000 youths under 18 are prosecuted in adult court annually, according to the report. Nearly 3,000 were held in adult prisons in 2009, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Florida prisons to no longer allow inmate smoking

The Department of Corrections is banning smoking in a bid to cut health care costs to inmates.

Buss said inmates hospitalized for smoking-related illnesses have cost Florida taxpayers nearly $9 million.

Obama Defends Detention Conditions for Soldier Accused in WikiLeaks Case

President Obama has defended conditions in a Marine Corps jail for Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, who is accused of leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks. The president said Friday that he had been assured that such measures as forcing Private Manning to sleep without clothing were justified and for his own safety.

“With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference. “They assure me that they are.”

“I can’t go into details about some of their concerns,” he added, “but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.” He appeared to be referring to fears that Private Manning might harm himself, though the private, his friends and his lawyer have all denied that he is suicidal.

Study says Florida mentoring programs a mixed bag

A legislative study shows two of Florida's six state-funded child mentoring programs are doing well, but results are mixed for the others.

The report released Friday by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability says the Best Buddies and Take Stock in Children programs outperformed comparison groups of similar students in three or more performance areas.

The Boys and Girls Club, Teen Trendsetters and YMCA Reads! did so in only two areas. Participants in Bigs in Schools had similar or lower performances than their peers.

The state spends $10 million a year on the programs intended to help children from kindergarten through high school enhance their social, life and/or academic skills.

20% Rise Seen in Number of Survivors of Cancer

About one in every 20 adults in the United States has survived cancer, including nearly one-fifth of all people over 65, according to new federal data.

The numbers, released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, indicated that the number of cancer survivors increased by about 20 percent in just six years, to 11.7 million in 2007, the latest year for which figures were analyzed, from 9.8 million in 2001. In 1971, the number of cancer survivors was three million.

About 65 percent of cancer survivors have lived at least five years since receiving their diagnosis, 40 percent have lived 10 years or more, and nearly 10 percent have lived 25 years or longer.

Household wealth jumps $2.1 trillion in last quarter

Household wealth rose by $2.1 trillion in the fourth quarter and their debt contracted at the slowest pace since 2008 as consumers stepped up spending and boosted the fragile economic recovery.

Gains made in investments such as mutual funds boosted overall household wealth to $56.8 trillion even as the value of real estate fell, data released by the Federal Reserve showed on Thursday.

Businesses were holding $1.9 trillion in liquid assets in the last quarter of 2010, fueling hopes that companies would use their stockpiles of cash to step up investments.

The government's debt expanded 14.6 percent on an annual rate in the fourth quarter, down from 16 percent in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, state and local government debt expanded 7.9 percent on an annual basis after expanding 5.4 percent in the previous quarter.

Obamas decry bullying to help vulnerable children

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday used their roles as national parents and policymakers to ask Americans to stand against the heartbreak of bullying.

“As adults, we all remember what it was like to see kids picked on in the hallways or in the schoolyard,” Mr. Obama said to a packed audience in the East Room, who gathered for the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.

“And I have to say, with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn’t immune. I didn’t emerge unscathed,” he said to laughter.

Public-sector unions claim outsized share of U.S. pension assets

More than a third of the nation’s $9.3 trillion in pension assets belong to state and local government employees, even though they make up only 15 percent of the U.S. work force, a study shows.

Research by the Spectrum investment group found that public-sector employees, primarily through powerful unions, have accumulated by far the most generous retirement programs in the country. Meanwhile, many private-sector workers have had their retirement plans cut back and have had to delay retirement.

Even with $3.4 trillion set aside to pay public pensions, dozens of strapped state and local governments are struggling to make payments. Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida are calling on state employees for the first time to contribute to their retirement plans the way workers do in the private sector.

Panel: Child welfare system failed dead Fla. girl

A panel investigating the death of a 10-year-old Florida girl whose body was found in the back of her adoptive father's truck said a lack of commonsense and communication among child welfare officials played a role in the tragedy.

"A child has died, and a child didn't need to die," said panelist David Lawrence, a former Miami Herald publisher. "We could have done a hell of a lot better than we did."

The three-person panel recommended that the state Department of Children and Families immediately review the qualifications of case managers, child protective investigators and psychologists contracting with the state, warning in the 14-page report "there is no substitute for critical thinking." The panel also suggested that the state establish a more concise and immediate information-sharing system and review its state abuse hotline procedures.

The investigation revealed that child welfare officials repeatedly missed signs that the girl, Nubia Docter, and her twin brother Victor were being abused by their adoptive parents.

A child protective investigator visited the home on Feb. 10, one day before Nubia's death, after the state received a call to its abuse hotline that the twins were being bound and locked in a bathroom. She never saw the twins, but marked on a safety questionnaire they weren't likely "in immediate danger or serious harm," even though she didn't know where they were. She spent four days looking for the twins but never called police.

Many of the panel's recommendations match the findings of other commissions in Florida foster-child deaths in recent years. Case workers didn't talk to teachers and medical professionals. Critical information was missing from case files. Abuse allegations were treated with little sense of urgency. In short - no one was ultimately responsible for Nubia and Victor.

Jacksonville unemployment rises to 11.5%

Metro Jacksonville’s unemployment rate rose to 11.5 percent in January from an adjusted figure of 11.1 percent in December 2010.

Florida’s comparable, not seasonally adjusted, rate was 11.8 percent in January, up from an adjusted figure of 11.7 percent in December, and the national rate was 9.8 percent, up from 9.1 percent.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January was 11.9 percent, down from 12 percent in December. The Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation reported this morning that the state lost 12,900 jobs (-0.2 percent) from December.

State imposes stricter clemency rules

With uncommon speed that infuriated opponents, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet imposed strict new barriers Wednesday on felons who want to regain the right to vote, including a five-year waiting period to apply for clemency.

At House E.P.A. Hearing, Both Sides Claim Science

Science and politics rarely play nicely together, and a House hearing Tuesday on a bill to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions proved no exception.

In an effort to support the E.P.A.’s regulatory power, committee Democrats rounded up five eminent academic climatologists who defended the scientific consensus that the planet is warming and that human activities like the burning of fossil fuels are largely responsible. The professors called for swift and concerted action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, although they did not endorse any particular policy means for achieving them.

The Republicans countered with two scientific witnesses who said that while there was strong evidence of a rise in global surface temperatures, the reasons were murky and any response could have adverse unintended effects. Another scientist said that the E.P.A.’s decision to ban the pesticide DDT 40 years ago had led to a huge increase in death and disease in the developing world.

Representative Jay Inslee, Democrat of Washington, is one of Congress’s most ardent advocates of strong action to combat global warming. Mr. Inslee brought to the hearing a two-foot-high stack of books and scientific reports, which he placed on his desk as a sort of totem of the robust science behind climate-change theory.

He used his question time largely to criticize Republicans as suffering from what he called an “allergy to science and scientists.” He said he was embarrassed that a country that sent a man to the moon and mapped the human genome could be on the verge of enacting a law that overturns a scientific finding based on the testimony of a few scientists who question the extent of human responsibility for altering the climate.

“If Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein were testifying today,” Mr. Inslee said, “the Republicans would not accept their views until all the Arctic ice has melted and hell has frozen over, whichever comes first.”

Jacksonville City Council action

A look at some of the issues the Jacksonville City Council considered in its meeting Tuesday:

Issue: Historical Society growth.

What it means: The Jacksonville Historical Society asked the city for $250,000 to help it buy the Old St. Luke’s Hospital and Florida Casket Co. on Palmetto Street near the downtown sports complex. The buildings would be used to store and display its archives. Buying them will cost $575,000 and restoring them could cost more than $1 million. Bill No. 2011-87.

Action: Approved

Issue: Anti-terrorism equipment.

What it means: The council was asked to let the city accept a $252,000 federal grant to buy police equipment for handling chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive hazards. Bill No. 2011-75.

Action: Approved

Issue: Fire museum board.

What it means: The council was asked to approve appointments of five people to an advisory board for the city’s fire museum near the downtown riverfront. The appointments of Carol Alexander, John Bracey, Wayne Doolittle, Christina Leonard and Wayne Wood are part of an effort to revitalize a board that had not been active recently. Bill Nos. 2011-121 and 2011-123 through 2011-126.

Action: Approved

Text: Gov. Rick Scott's State of the State

Click on the title to read the full text.

Scott wants Department of Community Affairs dismantled

Six weeks after he took office, Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, visited the state’s Department of Community Affairs. Scott told the employees gathered in the lobby that they were doing a great job. Then he told them to stop.

Scott wants to gut the DCA. He contends the agency in charge of managing Florida’s growth is a red-tape-crazy job-killer standing in the way of economic recovery. As an example, he cited a development in Collier County that needed “75 or 78 permits, just for the land.”

When Scott talked to the DCA employees, he told them he’s looking forward to all but abolishing their agency. He wants to cut the DCA’s 358 employees to 40, slash the budget from $779 million a year to just $110 million and combine it with the DEP.

Still, in the past four years the DCA approved local plan amendments covering 950,000 acres of land, enough for 600,000 new homes and 1.5 billion square feet of commercial projects, he said. That’s far more approved development than can possibly be built for years.

Mayoral candidates call for closing Jacksonville Skyway, but lack power to do it

Mike Hogan and Rick Mullaney have advocated getting rid of the Skyway, or at least shutting it down, in recent campaign appearances. But the 2.5-mile downtown people-mover, long derided for not going anywhere, is controlled by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, not by City Hall.

Despite its name, JTA is a state agency that doesn't have to do what the city says. Money to operate the Skyway comes primarily from sales and gas tax revenue, federal funding and a small amount of fare money.

"It is true," said JTA Executive Director Michael Blaylock, "that the city has nothing to do with the Skyway."

By almost any measure, the Skyway has been a disaster. When it was built 20 years ago, JTA promised 100,000 riders per month but, in 2010, ridership was a third of that.

The system is also a huge money-loser. In 2010, it cost $5 million to operate it, but fares and parking revenue generated only $345,452.

Shutting down the Skyway could also have other financial implications. JTA said it would have to reimburse the federal government around $90 million if the Skyway is torn down because it paid the majority of costs to build it.

High court rules for inmate who wants DNA testing

The Supreme Court on Monday gave a glimmer of hope to a death row inmate in Texas who wants to test crime-scene evidence that he says may show he is innocent.

The court’s narrow, 6-3 ruling means that Hank Skinner, who was about an hour away from execution when the Supreme Court intervened last year, will not be put to death soon while his legal case continues.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said prison inmates may use a federal civil rights law to seek DNA testing that was not performed before their conviction. Lower federal courts had dismissed Skinner’s claims at an early stage, although other federal judges have allowed similar lawsuits to go forward in other parts of the country.

Justice Ginsburg said it is by no means clear that Skinner can prevail in his lawsuit and actually gain access to the evidence for testing. Even if he does win in court, she said, testing the evidence “may prove exculpatory, inculpatory or inconclusive.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Anthony M. Kennedy, said Skinner’s legal claims should have been cut off.

Skinner, 48, was convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993.

Police found him hiding in a closet in the home of a woman he knew, about three hours after the bodies were discovered. He was splattered with the blood of at least two of the victims. A trail of blood led police from the bodies to his hiding place, a few blocks away. He acknowledged being inside the house in the Texas Panhandle where the killings took place.

But other evidence was not tested at the time of Skinner’s trial, on the advice of his lawyer. The untested material includes vaginal swabs taken from the girlfriend, Twila Jean Busby, at the time of her autopsy, fingernail clippings, a knife found on the porch of Busby’s house and a second knife found in a plastic bag in the house, a towel with the second knife and a jacket next to Busby’s body,

Obama restarts Guantanamo trials

President Obama approved Monday the resumption of military trials for detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ending a two-year ban.

It was the latest acknowledgement that the detention facility Mr. Obama had vowed to shut down within a year of taking office will remain open for some time to come.

“I strongly believe that the American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, and we will continue to draw on all aspects of our justice system — including Article III courts — to ensure that our security and our values are strengthened,” the president said in a statement. Article III courts are civilian federal courts.

Under Mr. Obama’s order, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will rescind his January 2009 ban against bringing new cases against the terror suspects at the detention facility.

Jacksonville 40th in metro population rankings

Jacksonville is the 40th-largest metropolitan area in America, according to new estimates from Business First of Buffalo, a sister paper of the Jacksonville Business Journal.

The newest estimates put Jacksonville’s metro population at 1,362,214 as of Monday morning.

When test scores seem too good to believe

Just read the whole article. It describes one major consequence of our wonderful education system.

More Health Law Waivers

The Obama Administration has quietly issued another 126 waivers to one provision of the Obama health law, putting the total number of waivers now at over one thousand.

The latest waivers were issued Friday by the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, a new agency set up by the Health and Human Services Department after the approval of the controversial health reform statute.

Unlike previous lists of the waivers - which were all listed on one web page - the CCIIO has now broken them out into seven different pdf pages, which makes it a bit more difficult to go through.

Some of the newest waivers have again been granted to labor unions, like Local 246 in New York City of the Service Employees International Union, Teamsters Local 20 in Toledo, Ohio, the United Food and Commercial Workers Unions and Employers Health & Welfare Fund in Atlanta, Local 247 of the Plumbers & Steamfitters Union in Alexandria, Louisiana, and many more.

Among the private companies that received waivers, Goodwill Industries of North Georgia, May Trucking Company, Stonebridge Companies of Colorado and Military Deli & Bakery Services, the self-described "largest operator of Deli and Bakery departments in military commissaries."

Other waiver recipients include the Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Florida, Sportsman's Warehouse, a multi-state retail store dealing in hunting, fishing and camping gear and Scottish Food Systems, which operates Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Inn restaurants.

These waivers usually deal with limited health benefit plans, often referred to as "mini-med" policies, which companies as large as McDonald's and Waffle House use for some of their employees.

The plans have strict limits on how much can be paid out in coverage, a limitation that won't be legal after 2014 when the Obama health law is fully phased in.

These waivers - for one year - allow these many companies and unions to get around the limits on payment benefits, which in 2011 is no less than $750,000.

One more note - the waivers aren't limited to just companies and unions - for example, several school districts and county governments were added to the list as well.

Fla. Supreme Court Says Governor Can Reject Rail Funds

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday upheld Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to reject more than $2 billion in federal funds to build a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando, which had been a major part of the Obama administration’s plan for a nationwide network.

The unanimous decision came on the day the federal government had given Florida as a deadline to either accept the money or see it transferred for rail projects in other states.

As Health Costs Soar, G.O.P. and Insurers Differ on Cause

Across the country, premiums have more than doubled in the last decade, with smaller companies particularly hard hit in recent years, federal officials say.

This year, groups of more than 20 workers have been experiencing premium increases of around 20 percent, insurance agents say, while smaller groups are seeing increases of 40 percent to 60 percent or more.

Economists and state regulators say health insurance is expensive primarily because health care is expensive.

Some insurance industry lobbyists say the new federal health care law is driving up premiums. But Vincent Capozzi, senior vice president for sales and customer service at Harvard Pilgrim, said that only one percentage point of the increases here was attributable to the federal law, mainly its requirement for free coverage of preventive services.

Another percentage point results from new state laws requiring coverage of hearing aids and certain treatments for autism, Mr. Capozzi said. Most of the remainder, he said, reflects increases in the use and cost of medical care by small-group customers, with adjustments for demographic characteristics like age.

Jax co. named top exporter in 2011

A Jacksonville company was named 2011 exporter of the year by the publisher of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s export promotion magazine.

SOHO Network Solutions Inc., which was named the state’s top exporter in 2010 by the U.S. Small Business Administration, exports investigative tools to foreign police departments.

Scott to fund Port of Miami project

Gov. Rick Scott Friday said the state will contribute $77 million to deep dredge the port of Miami so that larger ships can use it.

Scott said he’s directed the state Department of Transportation to “amend” its work plan to account for the $77 million “so that Florida can take another leap forward in international trade.”

Feds: No unsafe conditions on BP platform

The federal agency that oversees the offshore oil and gas industry says an investigation into BP's Atlantis platform in the Gulf of Mexico found some problems, but none that caused unsafe conditions.

The agency found problems with the way the company organized, stored and labeled engineering drawings and documents.

Obama Tells Qaddafi to Quit and Authorizes Refugee Airlifts

President Obama demanded Thursday that the embattled Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, “step down from power and leave” immediately, and said he would consider a full range of options to stem the bloodshed there, though he did not commit the United States to any direct military action.

In his most forceful response to the near-civil war in Libya, Mr. Obama said the United States would consider imposing a “no-flight zone” over the country — a step his defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, warned a day earlier would carry major risks, requiring the United States to destroy Libya’s air defenses.

Mr. Obama said the United States and the world were outraged by Colonel Qaddafi’s “appalling violence against the Libyan people.” Speaking after he met with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico at the White House, he declared, “Muammar Qaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.”

The administration has moved rapidly on other fronts. The Treasury Department has frozen an additional $1.2 billion in Libyan assets this week, bringing the total of blocked funds to nearly $32 billion.

Scott imposes fees for Fla. public records copies

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is imposing fees on public records request to pay for staff time and the cost of making copies.

In announcing the fees Thursday, the new Republican governor cited a sharp increase in such requests since he took office in January.

Citizens making requests will be provided with cost estimates before the requests are answered.

Fees must be paid in advance based on the estimates. If actual costs are less the overpayment will be refunded. If the cost is more, the requester will have to pay the additional amount.

The fee will be waived if costs are under $5 if it's not cost-effective to collect it.

Florida's low corporate taxes not its biggest draw, survey finds

Florida's current corporate-tax rate of 5.5 percent is already near the bottom among states with flat rates, which range from 4.6 percent to 9.9 percent. The tax now funds education and other services, generating about $2 billion a year in revenue for a state currently facing a $3 billion budgetary shortfall.

Of the 32 states with flat rates, only five have rates lower than Florida's: South Carolina, Utah, Michigan, Colorado and Ohio. Those states combined are home to 52 headquarters for companies on the Fortune 500 list of largest U.S. corporations. The five states with the highest tax rates — Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island and California — are home to more than 120 Fortune 500 headquarters.

How term limits reshaped Florida politics — for better or worse

Most committee chairmanships now change hands every two years because term limits don’t allow enough time for long apprenticeships on tax policy, insurance or healthcare regulation. To that end, today’s less-experienced legislators must rely more on the knowledge of staff members and lobbyists.

Another by-product of term limits are the frenzied fights among newly-elected lawmakers to nail down the House speakership years ahead of time, before the newbies have even cast a vote.

Money is an unending object of derision in Tallahassee, and term limits have accelerated the pace of fundraising.

Some freshmen House members who were elected in November have already started raising money for their 2012 campaigns and the 2011 session hasn’t even begun.

Campaigns are costlier and nastier than ever, which heightens the fundraising frenzy.

Campaign dollars are hard to track

Their most common complaints:

Contribution caps of $500 for state candidates are unrealistically low. It’s nearly impossible to pay for a statewide campaign that way and it’s too easy to circumvent the limit.

Politicians avoid accountability by using state parties to collect and spend six-figure campaign contributions from corporate donors.

The rise of so-called 501(c)(4) groups, which are corporations that can engage in lobbying and campaigning without having to disclose donors.But before Scott’s case, he spending limit was rarely given a second thought.

The limit has been raised so high — $25 million in 2010 for governor candidates — that it would take a staggering 50,000 donations of $500 to reach it.

Obama Signs Two-Week Budget Extension

President Obama called on Wednesday for high-level negotiations to bridge major budgetary differences between Congressional Republicans and Democrats after the Senate passed a measure to buy at least two more weeks for talks.

After the Senate’s bipartisan 91-to-9 vote in a favor of a bill that keeps federal agencies open through March 18 while enacting $4 billion in new spending cuts, Mr. Obama urged House and Senate leaders to meet with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and two top aides to work out a longer-term budget agreement.

“Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy,” said Mr. Obama, who signed the bill a few hours after the Senate vote. He said any eventual agreement should “cut spending and reduce deficits without damaging economic growth or gutting investments in education, research and development that will create jobs and secure our future.”

Republican leaders said they were already in talks with Democrats and the White House but would take part in budget meetings if they were invited. They noted that the Republican-led House had passed a $61 billion package of cuts covering the remaining seven months of the current fiscal year while the Democratic-controlled Senate had not produced any legislation beyond passing the temporary budget measure drafted by the House.

Supreme Court upholds protests at military funerals as free speech

The Supreme Court ruled decisively Wednesday that a fringe anti-gay group has a constitutionally protected right to stage hateful protests at the funerals of dead servicemen, saying “such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.”

In one of the year’s most closely watched cases, the Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision upheld a lower-court ruling to throw out a multimillion-dollar judgment that the father of a dead U.S. Marine from Maryland had won against the Westboro Baptist Church.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in writing the majority opinion, noted that “speech is powerful” and can “inflict great pain.”

“On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker,” the chief justice wrote. “As a nation, we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. rebuked the majority and wrote in a blistering dissent that “our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”

The high court said Westboro Baptist’s protest is protected under the First Amendment because it focused on matters of public concern, namely the “political and moral conduct of the United States,” gays in the military and the sexual-abuse scandal surrounding the Catholic Church.

Chief Justice Roberts noted the “messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary,” but he said the church members have engaged in many such protests, and nothing suggests they used “speech on public matters” to “mask an attack on Snyder over a private matter.”

“And even if a few of the signs — such as “You’re Going to Hell” and “God Hates You” — were viewed as containing messages related to Matthew Snyder or the Snyders specifically, that would not change the fact that the overall thrust and dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke to broader public issues,” the chief justice wrote.

Part-time legislating leads to conflicts of interest

Florida has a part-time citizen Legislature, comprised of people of varied backgrounds from teachers to real estate agents to funeral directors.

“We don’t want full-time legislators, and I’m glad we’re not like Congress,” says House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

Such professional diversity gives lawmaking a real-world component in Tallahassee but also leads to conflicts of interest for legislators who earn $29,000 a year.

In city and county government, officials must abstain from voting on matters that could benefit them personally, but the rules are different in Tallahassee.

Senators and representatives are allowed to vote on matters in which they have a financial stake as long as they disclose it up to 15 days after the vote is cast. And Florida ethics laws say it’s legal for elected officials to vote on matters that affect their own professions.

During the past five years, dozens of legislators have filed voting conflict forms in cases where they had conflicts of interest.

19% admit Web use while driving

In the November survey, more than 19% reported accessing the Internet on a cellphone at least once a week while driving. That compares with 74% who reported making or receiving calls at least once weekly while driving and 35% who reported sending or receiving text messages at least that frequently.

Speed limit critic says Jacksonville 5th-worst speed trap nationwide

Jacksonville ranks as the fifth-worst speed trap in the nation with 175 sites where police set up equipment to catch speeding drivers, according to newly released National Motoring Association statistics.

It's not the only Florida city on the list, which ranks Orlando at No. 7 with 165. Houston is the worst with 373 speed traps. They're based on motorists' contributions to the association's Speed Trap Exchange at

Supreme Court rejects AT&T corporate privacy rights

AT&T Inc and other corporations do not have personal privacy rights to prevent disclosure of federal government records about them, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

The justices unanimously overturned a ruling by a U.S. appeals court for the telecommunications company that corporations can assert personal privacy in claiming the records should be exempt from disclosure.

The high court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed with the Obama administration's argument that the personal privacy exemption under the Freedom of Information law applied only to individuals, not to corporations.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Election Guide: City Council District 6 (Jacksonville 2011)

This guide is for City Council District 6 (Jacksonville 2011).

The three candidates and their platforms:

1) Matt Schellenberg (Republican)

  • Supports selling JEA.
  • "Raising [city] taxes and fees was the wrong decision."
  • Supports improvements to Downtown Jacksonville as well as JaxPort but is currently "unprepared to support new taxes or fees to pay for these projects."
  • Owner of Movers Claim Service, Inc.
  • Graduated from Bishop Kenny High School.
  • "Pro-life."
  • Has lived in Jacksonville for 48 years.
  • Has 10 brothers and sisters.
  • Does not support the "added new fees to our garbage, storm water and JEA bills."
  • A member of the JCCI.


2) Jack Webb (Republican)

  • Currently president of the Jacksonville City Council.
  • Partner at Brennan, Manna, and Diamond, P.A.
  • M.A. in Business Administration (Finance).
  • Supports port development and "continued emphasis on access to waterways and park improvements."
  • Voted against the Waste Management contract extension.
  • Voted for the property tax increase.
  • Voted for the JEA utility Franchise Fee in 2007.
  • Voted against the Stormwater fee.


3) Greg Youngblood (Republican)

  • Graduated from Wolfson High School.
  • Started "Tools For A Time, Inc. in 1995" and owns several pet food franchises.
  • "Happily married" for 21 years.
  • Against "double-billing" i.e. the numerous taxes we pay (stormwater, JEA, etc).
  • Supports consolidating city offices.