Monday, May 30, 2011

A primer for FL pension changes

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law significant reforms to the Florida Retirement System, the state-run pension fund for 655,000 state and county employees. The governor said the changes were needed to bring state workers’ benefits in line with the private sector but the more immediate impact is a savings of $1.2 billion to the state budget. The changes take effect July 1. Here is a summary of the current law and what will change for current and future employees.


Current law:

Employees pay no portion of their salaries into their retirement accounts. The retirement contribution is paid 100 percent by employers.


Beginning July 1, 2011, all employees must contribute 3 percent of their pre-tax salaries into their retirement accounts, thereby saving the state the equivalent of that contribution. It is a net reduction in employee salaries and benefits.

The contribution will be made by all members of the FRS, with either defined benefit or defined contribution plans.

Cost-of-living adjustments

Current law:

Employees now accumulate an annual cost-of-living adjustment for their pension benefits based on their years of service, to be collected when they retire. For example, FRS members who retire before July 1, 2011, receive a 3 percent annual cost-of-living adjustment.


Between July 1, 2011, and July 1, 2016, Florida Retirement System members will not accumulate years of service credits for their cost-of-living adjustments, thereby reducing their annual benefit.

The change will affect employees differently, based on their years of service. For example, FRS members with 20 years of service or less who retire after July 1, 2011, will receive an additional 2.4 percent in cost of living benefits upon retirement. Members with more than 20 years of service who retire after July 1, 2011, will receive less than 3 percent, depending on how many years of service they have. A member who now has 22 years of service, for example, and retires in three years (2014) would receive a 2.6 percent adjustment.

DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program)

Current law: Members who enter DROP before July 1, 2011 will earn 6.5 percent interest on the money set aside under the retirement program.


Members who enter DROP after July 1 will earn 1.3 percent interest on the retirement money set aside in the program.

New hires — Vesting and Retirement age

Current law:

Employees are eligible to be vested in the pension program after five years.

Regular class, senior management class and elected officials class employees can receive normal retirement benefits if they retire after 62 years of age and 30 years of service. Special-risk class can retire after 55 years of age and 25 years of service.

The average final compensation will be calculated on the best five years of salary.


Employees hired after July 1, 2011, will vest after eight years.

Employees hired after July 1 who are regular class, senior management class and elected officials class can receive normal retirement benefits if they retire after 65 years of age or 33 years of service. Special-risk class hired after July 1 can retire after 60 years of age or 30 years of service or, if they have served four years in the U.S. military, they can retire after 57 years of age and 30 years of service.

The average final compensation will be calculated on the best eight years of salary.

Obama "autopens" Patriot Act extension into law

Following the 250-153 evening vote in the House, the legislation to renew three terrorism-fighting authorities was sent to the President's office for a signature with only hours to go before the provisions were due to expire at midnight.

With Obama currently in France at a G-8 summit, the White House said the president had instructed use of the autopen machine, which holds a pen and signs his actual signature. It is only used with proper authorization of the president.

Obama said he was pleased the act had been extended.

"It's an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat," he said after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The measure adds four years to the legal life of roving wiretaps — those authorized for a person rather than a communications line or device — of court-ordered searches of business records and of surveillance of non-American "lone wolf" suspects without confirmed ties to terrorist groups.

The roving wiretaps and access to business records are small parts of the USA Patriot Act enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But unlike most of the act, which is permanent law, those provisions must be renewed periodically because of concerns that they could be used to violate privacy rights. The same applies to the "lone wolf" provision, which was part of a 2004 intelligence law.

U.S. relies less on oil imports to meet fuel demand: government

U.S. dependence on imported oil fell below 50 percent in 2010 for the first time in more than a decade, thanks in part to the weak economy and more fuel efficient vehicles, the Energy Department said on Wednesday.

Imports of crude and petroleum products accounted for 49.3 percent of U.S. oil demand last year, down from the recent high of 60.3 percent in 2005. It also marked the first time since 1997 that America's foreign oil addiction fell under the 50 percent threshold.

Crude oil production, especially in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, increased by 334,000 barrels per day (bpd) between 2005 and 2010, which also cut into foreign oil purchases.

U.S. demand for gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil and other petroleum products that were processed from crude oil dropped by 1.7 million bpd to 19.1 million bpd in 2010 from 20.8 million bpd in 2005.

At the same time, U.S. exports of petroleum products more than doubled to a record 2.3 million bpd last year from 1.1 million bpd in 2005.

Studies: Missed meds could cost more than $250B a year

Americans may waste as much as $258 billion a year by not taking prescribed medications because the missed doses lead to emergency room visits, doctors' visits and in-patient hospitalizations, according to a study by Express Scripts, an independent prescription- filling company.

Study blames 2,200 deaths on traffic emissions

Now, for the first time, researchers at Harvard University have quantified the damage: They say that congestion in the USA's 83 largest urban areas last year led to more than 2,200 premature deaths and a related public health cost of at least $18 billion.

Supreme Court OKs Arizona’s business immigration law

In a weighty case with far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an Arizona law that requires all businesses to check to make sure new workers are in the country legally — and in the process signaled the states can have a greater say on immigration issues.

The 5-3 ruling did not directly address a second Arizona law that granted police broader powers to check immigrants’ status and set off nationwide protests by immigrant rights groups last year. But the decision does touch on many of the same issues of federal versus state authority, and seemed to show an openness by a majority of justices to action by the states.

At issue in Thursday’s ruling was whether Arizona can require businesses to use E-Verify, a voluntary program the federal government offers businesses to check whether their job applicants are work-eligible. The Obama administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the requirements went too far.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts, writing the majority opinion, said that while federal law makes the checks voluntary, it does not specifically bar states from making them mandatory. Because Arizona’s law doesn’t impose criminal penalties and deals only with businesses’ licenses, it doesn’t impinge on federal authority.

Report slams heavy focus on school testing

according to a new report from the National Research Council.

“Incentive programs” in the decade-old No Child Left Behind law — with school districts being rewarded or punished based on standardized test scores — have improved student performance in key subject areas by less than 1 percentage point when using benchmarks set by the National Assessment of Education Progress, an arm of the Education Department.

Assessments designed to both measure student achievement and determine school funding levels simply don’t work, the report’s authors argued.

Florida 3rd in nation for cargo thefts

Florida was third in the nation for cargo thefts in 2010, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

California was the top state for the crime in 2010 with 247, followed by Texas, 91; and Florida, 66. The bureau identified 747 cargo thefts nationwide worth $171 million.

Report: Florida No. 31 in clean energy

Florida was No. 31 in the nation in clean-energy leadership, according to Clean Edge Inc.’s second annual Clean Energy Leadership Index, released May 23.

Florida had 2nd most government jobs in past decade Read more: Florida had 2nd most government jobs in past decade

Florida added 94,700 government jobs between April 2001 and April 2011 — second-most in the United States, according to an On Numbers study of employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state had 1,129,900 government jobs as of April 2011.

But the trend has changed over the past year. Florida lost 4,900 government jobs between April 2010 and April 2011.

Government jobs include all jobs at the federal, state and local levels.

Texas posted the largest 10-year upswing in government jobs, adding 286,800 positions in the past decade.

Michigan shed the largest number of government jobs over the past decade, reducing its total by 64,000. Next were Ohio (down 16,500) and Louisiana (down 15,100). Seven states lost government jobs over the 10-year period.

Florida ranks 39th for manufacturing jobs

Florida has lost 154,900 manufacturing jobs over 10 years, ranking 39th in the nation, according to an On Numbers analysis of new federal data.

Only Alaska gained manufacturing jobs during that period — and that was just 100, the analysis by The Business Journals showed.

Jacksonville Transportation Authority board approves agreement bringing Greyhound to Prime Osborn

An agreement to build a new Greyhound bus station next to the Prime Osborn Convention Center drew the unanimous support of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority board Thursday.

The deal commits JTA and Greyhound to working together to build a station between Houston and Adams Streets. The two entities will jointly apply for federal funding to build the station.

First Coast third-graders show slight improvement on FCAT

Baker and St. Johns counties' third-graders ranked No. 2 in the state on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, according to scores released Thursday.

Northeast Florida's third-graders collectively showed slight improvements in reading, with three of the six districts increasing the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level. The region's students did better in math, with four of the six districts showing improvement.

More than 202,000 third-graders took the exams statewide with more than 16,800 of those being First Coast students. The test was the first time students took a revised version of the FCAT, which was revamped to be more challenging.

A student must score at least a Level 2 out of 5 on the reading portion of the exam in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.

The percentage of third-graders scoring at or above grade level on reading in Baker, Nassau and St. Johns counties improved; the percentage in Duval and Clay stayed the same as last year; and Putnam saw its percentage drop.

Gov. Rick Scott cuts from St. Johns River, UNF

Gov. Rick Scott says that after wielding his budget ax, the spending plan he signed Thursday is a record $615 million lighter than the budget approved by the Legislature, and that the savings can be applied to education.

Some lawmakers in his own party don't believe that claim, but there is no gray area regarding nearly $14 million for Northeast Florida projects that did not survive Scott's veto.

The biggest item: $10 million sought by Sen. John Thrasher for St. Johns River cleanup. The St. Augustine Republican said that he was disappointed but will continue to push for funding.

"I'm not going to give up," he said. "I've had stuff vetoed before by governors. It is part of the process."

Scott also vetoed $400,000 for KIPP Jacksonville Schools — the same charter where, with much fanfare, he held a public ceremony in March to sign his first bill as governor that tied teacher pay to student performance.

Scott signs new Fla. budget but vetoes $615M first

Gov. Rick Scott signed a $69.1 billion state budget Thursday, but before doing that he vetoed a record $615 million in spending, including money for environmental land purchases, college and university buildings, homeless veterans, public broadcasting and local projects ranging from health care to rowing.

The new Republican governor vetoed more than 150 line items after the GOP-controlled Legislature already had chopped nearly $4 billion in spending.

Scott also vetoed about $165 million in college and university construction projects and eliminated all state funding - $4.8 million - for public television and radio. Local projects vetoed include $1 million for a medical and dental program in Lake Wakes and $5 million for a rowing facility in Sarasota County.

Other vetoed appropriations include $2 million for research on a plant disease that's threatening the state's multibillion-dollar citrus industry, $10 million for St. Johns River restoration, $6 million to help the Panhandle's economy recover from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and $3 million for a disadvantaged youth jobs program.

US appeals court upholds Fla. med. malpractice cap

A Florida law that caps the damages that victims can receive in medical malpractice cases was upheld Friday by the federal appeals court in Atlanta.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the challenge of the family of a medical malpractice victim who claimed the cap violated state and federal laws.

The court found that the Florida law, which caps noneconomic damages at about $500,000 per doctor in most cases, "passes muster" and dismissed claims from the victim's family that the law robbed them of their right to be justly compensated for medical mistakes.

The order also directed the Florida Supreme Court to address several state issues that it said were left unsettled, such as whether the cap violates the family's right to a jury trial under Florida law.

U.S. places near middle of annual peace ranking

China, Senegal, Egypt, Cuba and Indonesia are among the many nations ranked more peaceful than the U.S. according to the fifth annual Global Peace Index, which ranked 153 nations according to a set of 23 strict criteria that includes ongoing domestic and international conflict, societal security and militarization.

The U.S. ranks 82nd on the list, right behind Gabon, and just before Bangladesh.

Jacksonville City Council action May 24

Issue: Soccer complex expansion

What it means: The council is being asked to allot $1.5 million to add fields and other improvements to Patton Park, a popular soccer complex on Hodges Boulevard. The fields are maintained and operated by the First Coast Soccer Association on city-owned land. The money to be spent includes $500,000 previously committed by a developer.

Bill No. 2011-188

Action: Approved

Issue: City pension investments

What it means: Trustees of the general employee pension system want permission to invest up to 10 percent of the fund in "alternative" investments that could include hedge funds and private equity funds. Skeptics warn that hedge funds can carry extra risks, including uncertainty about what an investment is really worth.

Bill No. 2011-108

Action: Postponed to June 14

Issue: Park land swap

What it means: The council was asked to approve trading about 12 acres of city-owned land at Old Middleburg Road and Argyle Forest Boulevard for about 80 acres owned by land investment company AFI Associates. The city wants to build a regional park on the larger property.

Bill No. 2011-295

Action: Approved

No shortage of ‘turkeys’ in state budget

Despite a $4 billion budget shortfall that prompted Florida lawmakers to slash school funding, healthcare and other services, one area of government spending emerged unscathed: the big-dollar pork projects known in Capitol parlance as “turkeys.”

The business-backed Florida TaxWatch group Tuesday identified $202.9 million in “turkeys” — the most since 2007 — slipped into the $69.7 billion budget by lawmakers. Items earn the label because they were either inserted into the spending plan late in the session, without public debate, or funded even though the governor or state agencies never requested them.

Jacksonville region ranked third most dangerous in country for pedestrian deaths

On Tuesday Transportation for America, a Washington D.C. based advocacy group, released a report that found Jacksonville is the third most dangerous metro area in the country.

It found that from 2000-2009, 342 pedestrians were killed in the area.

Scott signs repeal of Florida port security law

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill repealing a Florida port security law that's no longer needed due to newer federal requirements.

The Republican governor went to Tampa's port to sign the bill (HB 283) into law on Tuesday.

Scott said it would save business interests $3 million annually because truck drivers and port workers no longer will have to undergo duplicative criminal background checks.

State Secrets Block Resolution of Contractors’ Suit, Justices Say

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that national security considerations made it impossible for it to take sides in a multibillion-dollar dispute between military contractors and the government.

The decision came a week after the court refused to hear an appeal from men who said they had been kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency and sent abroad to be tortured as part of the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program. A federal appeals court had thrown out the lawsuit based on the “state secrets” privilege.

The combination of the two developments at the Supreme Court amounts to “an unmistakable and loud signal that all nine of the justices are not about to change the rules of the game in cases in which the government claims that military, intelligence or diplomatic secrets may be revealed,” said David Rudenstine, an authority on the state secrets privilege at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York.

The case decided Monday arose from a 1988 contract between the Navy and two companies, General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, to develop a stealth aircraft called the A-12 Avenger. Three years later, dissatisfied with the contractors’ progress, the Navy declared them in default and demanded the return of $1.35 billion.

The contractors sued, asking to keep the money and seeking $1.2 billion more. They said their work had been frustrated by the government’s failure to share classified information about how to design and build stealth aircraft.

The government disputed that, but it would not explain why, invoking the state secrets privilege. The case concerned “some of the government’s most closely guarded military secrets,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court on Monday.

FBI: Violent crimes down 5.5 percent in 2010

Crime dropped in 2010 when compared with data from 2009, according to the FBI’s Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report released Monday, with violent crime showing an overall 5.5 percent decrease in the number of reported cases and property crimes recording a 2.8 percent decline.

Collegiate major tied to earning potential

The choice of undergraduate major in college is strongly tied to a student’s future earnings, with the highest-paying majors providing salaries of about 300 percent more than the lowest-paying, according to a study released Tuesday.

Based on first-of-its-kind Census data, the report by Georgetown University in Washington also found that majors are highly segregated by race and gender.

College graduates overall make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only high school diplomas, the study said. But further analysis of 171 majors shows that various undergraduate majors can lead to significantly different median wages.

Petroleum engineering majors make about $120,000 a year, compared with $29,000 annually for counseling psychology majors, researchers found. Math and computer science majors earn $98,000 in salary while early childhood education majors get paid about $36,000.

Fla. child welfare agency cuts nearly 500 jobs

The Department of Children and Families is cutting nearly 500 positions to save the state $48 million as Gov. Rick Scott tries to balance the state budget and slash spending by nearly $4 billion, the agency said Monday.

Secretary David Wilkins said critical services will not be affected. About half the positions will come from three state hospitals: Florida State Hospital, Northeast Florida State Hospital and North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center. Northeast Florida State Hospital is the largest employer in Baker County.

State law requires inmates found to be mentally incompetent to be transferred within 15 days to a state psychiatric hospital instead of keeping them in jail. Advocates say about 70,000 mentally ill people are arrested annually in Florida

Toothless War Powers

Last Friday, the calendar hit 60 days since the White House notified Congress of military action against Libya under the War Powers Act, which requires Congress to authorize U.S. military action. It was another reminder that law has few teeth to force a President's hand.

The White House finally sent a letter to Congressional leaders about the mission, which never once mentioned the "War Powers" angle, but did urge a vote on a resolution supporting the NATO/UN mission.

"Congressional action in support of the mission would underline the U.S. commitment to this remarkable international effort," wrote the President.

"It has always been my view that it is better to take military action, even in limited actions such as this, with Congressional engagement, consultation, and support," President Obama added.

Technically - because Congress did not act to authorize that military action - the President is required to withdraw U.S. forces over the next thirty days.

But don't hold your breath - there have been other Presidents who have ignored the War Powers law as well.

In 1982, President Reagan sent troops to Lebanon and - just like President Obama - notified Congress about this under the auspices of the War Powers Act.

Back in 1999, President Clinton ordered air strikes against Yugoslavia without any War Powers authorization from the Congress.

Weeks later, over twenty members of Congress went to court, arguing that it violated the War Powers law.

Back then, the Republican House actually defeated legislation to authorize the air strikes, as it died on a 213-213 tie vote.

Obama Presses Israel to Make ‘Hard Choices’

President Obama struck back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a speech to a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday, defending his stance that talks over a Palestinian state should be focused on Israel’s pre-1967 borders, along with negotiated land swaps, and challenging Israel to “make the hard choices” necessary to bring about a stable peace.

Mr. Obama, speaking before a conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, offered familiar assurances that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s long-term security was “ironclad.” But citing the rising political upheaval near Israel’s borders, he presented his peace plan as the best chance Israel has to avoid growing isolation.

“We cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace,” Mr. Obama said. The world, he said, “is moving too fast.”

Jacksonville’s best places to work

The May 20 issue of the Jacksonville Business Journal includes the much-anticipated List of Best Places to Work.

Let’s cut to the chase – here are the No. 1 companies in each category:

Large businesses (250 or more full-time employees) – Brooks Rehabilitation

Medium businesses (30 to 249 employees) – Financial Design Associates

Small businesses (10 to 29 employees) – Davidson Realty Inc.

First Coast high schools make top list

Four First Coast high schools were ranked in the top 100 of The Washington Post's The High School Challenge list.

Three of the schools were in Duval County: Stanton College Preparatory School (5), Paxon School for Advanced Studies (14) and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (43).

St. Johns County's Nease High school ranked 79 on the list.

Deal Reached on Extension of Patriot Act

Congressional leaders on Thursday reached a deal to extend by four years several statutes that expanded the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterterrorism and surveillance powers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, aides said.

Under the deal, two sections of the so-called USA Patriot Act and a third provision from a related intelligence law would be extended, without any changes, until June 1, 2015. The provisions had been set to expire later this month.

The sections allow investigators to get “roving wiretap” court orders allowing them to follow terrorism suspects who switch phone numbers or providers; to get orders allowing them to seize “any tangible things” relevant to a security investigation, like a business’s customer records; and to get national-security wiretap orders against noncitizen suspects who are not believed to be connected to any foreign power.

Insurers Told to Justify Rate Increases Over 10 Percent

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, issued a final rule establishing procedures for federal and state insurance experts to scrutinize premiums. Insurers, she said, will have to justify rate increases in an environment in which they are doing well financially, with profits exceeding the expectations of many Wall Street analysts.

“Health insurance companies have recently reported some of their highest profits in years and are holding record reserves,” Ms. Sebelius said. “Insurers are seeing lower medical costs as people put off care and treatment in a recovering economy, but many insurance companies continue to raise their rates. Often, these increases come without any explanation or justification.”

Federal health officials proposed the 10 percent threshold in December. The insurance industry criticized it as an arbitrary test that could brand a majority of rate increases as presumptively unreasonable. But the administration rejected the criticism and insisted on the 10 percent standard in the final rule, issued Thursday.

Starting in September 2012, the federal government will set a separate threshold for each state, reflecting trends in insurance and health care costs.

Gov. Rick Scott signs controversial election bill into law

Gov. Rick Scott has signed HB 1355 making sweeping changes to voting and elections procedures in Florida. Here are the highlights of those changes.

Early voting is reduced from 15 days to eight days, but the total number of early voting hours will stay at 96; no additional early voting sites.

Voters who have moved or changed their name since the last election can only update their status at the polls if they have moved within the same county. All others must cast provisional ballots.

Third-party groups that register new voters must submit forms within 48 hours or face fines of up to $1,000.

A nine-member panel will choose the date of Florida’s 2012 presidential preference primary to maximize the state’s influence in selecting the Republican nominee.

The 2012 primary election will be on Aug. 14, two weeks earlier than usual.

Many With New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling

The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006 to 2008, according to a study released on Wednesday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. That is a decline of 10 percent, even before taking inflation into account.

Of course, these are the lucky ones — the graduates who found a job. Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56 percent had held at least one job by this spring, when the survey was conducted. That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007. (Some have gone for further education or opted out of the labor force, while many are still pounding the pavement.)

Judicial Filibusters, 2011 Version

When Democrats blocked a series of judicial nominees from President George W. Bush, many Republicans denounced the move, arguing filibusters of judges went against the Constitution.

Democrats at that time talked in stentorian tones about how they were upholding the Constitution and dutifully following their power of advise and consent.

Now there is a Democrat in the White House and Republicans are in the minority in the Senate.

And the roles have completely changed, as GOP Senators try to filibuster one of President Obama's nominees for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Goodwin Liu.

U.S. Slaps Sanctions on Syria's Assad for Abuses

The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.

The White House announced the sanctions Wednesday, a day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world. The speech is expected to include prominent mentions of Syria.

The Obama administration had pinned hopes on Assad, seen until recent months as a pragmatist and potential reformer who could buck Iranian influence and help broker an eventual Arab peace deal with Israel.

But U.S. officials said Assad's increasingly brutal crackdown left them little choice but to abandon the effort to woo Assad, and to stop exempting him from the same sort of sanctions already applied to Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

Florida No. 3 on list of pro-business states Read more: Florida No. 3 on list of pro-business states

Florida is the third best state in the country for doing business in new rankings from Chief Executive Magazine.

Florida rose three spots from last year's ranking of No. 6.

Daniels wins tight Jacksonville council race

Kimberly Daniels has won her race with David Taylor for the Jacksonville City Council's At-Large Group 1 seat.

Fewer than 100 ballots remained to be counted in both the mayoral and council race. Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland told reporters the lead would not be overcome, with Daniels holding 1,014 more votes than her rival shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Alvin Brown makes history as city's first African-American mayor

Brown, 48, will be the first African-American to hold the seat in the city's history and the first Democrat since Ed Austin was elected in 1991.

Receiving 97,057 votes to Hogan's 95,521 in a 37 percent turnout, Brown won with an eight-tenths-of-a-percent margin of victory. That gap is large enough to prevent an automatic recount.

Robin Lumb wins Jacksonville City Council At-large Group 5

City Council At-large Group 5

252 of 256 reporting

Donald R. Foy (NPA), 70,493 votes, 41.64%

Robin Lumb (REP), 98,814 votes, 58.36%

Report: Push for Electronic Medical Records Overlooks Security Gaps

As the Obama administration pushes ahead with plans to increase the use of electronic medical records, two internal reports released Tuesday by the Department of Health and Human Services revealed "significant concerns" about security gaps in the system.

The Office of the Inspector General found "a lack of general [information technology] security controls during prior audits at Medicare contractors, State Medicaid agencies, and hospitals."

The investigation audited computer security at seven large hospitals in different states, and found 151 major vulnerabilities, including unencrypted wireless connections, easy passwords, and even a taped-over door lock on a room used for data storage. The auditors classified 124 of the breeches were "high impact" - resulting in costly losses, injury or death. According to the report, "outsiders or employees at some hospitals could have accessed, and at one of the seven hospitals did access, systems and beneficiaries' personal data."

On Numbers: Average pay for metro Jax CEOs is $174K Read more: On Numbers: Average pay for metro Jax CEOs is $174K

Metro Jacksonville ranks No. 96 in a national database of chief executive pay covering 376 metro areas, according to The Business Journals’ breakdown of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

CEOs in metro Jacksonville earn an average yearly salary of $173,780, about $83.55 an hour.

Clay Yarborough wins Jacksonville City Council District 1

City Council District 1

16 of 16 precincts

Yarborough (R) - 8,069 votes, 57.7%

Brock (R) - 5,907 votes, 42.3%

Michael Corrigan beats Dick Kravitz in Duval County Tax Collector race

Duval County tax collector

256 of 256 precincts reporting

Michael Corrigan (R) - 89,368 votes, 53.5%

Dick Kravitz (R) - 77,749 votes, 46.5%

Scott signs bill aimed at aiding Florida insurers

A law Gov. Rick Scott signed Tuesday is expected strengthen property insurance companies that cover damages to homes and businesses from hurricanes, fires and other hazards, but critics say it'll mean higher rates for their customers.

The measure (SB 408) also is aimed at reducing fraudulent sinkhole claims.

A key feature of the new law will reduce the time windstorm victims have to file their claims from five to three years. Sinkhole claims will have to be filed within two years and they'll face some new limitations.

Other provisions are aimed at regulating public adjusters who work for claimants rather than insurance companies. Their fees would be capped and deceptive solicitations would be prohibited.

Insurers will be able to offer better coverage but for a higher price.

Another provision will require insurance companies to have at least a $15 million surplus to pay claims.

Debt limit reached, U.S. halts 2 pension investments

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Monday that he will immediately halt investments in two big government pension plans so the government can continue to borrow money.

Geithner informed Congress of his decision in a letter stating that the government had officially reached its $14.3 trillion borrowing limit. He repeated a warning that if lawmakers do not increase the borrowing limit by August 2, the government is at risk of an unprecedented default on its debt.

The deficit is the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in through taxes and other revenue. The Congressional Budget Office projects that this year’s deficit will total $1.4 trillion. That’s would nearly match 2009’s record imbalance and mark the third straight year in which the federal deficit has exceeded $1 trillion.

Many say college too pricey but grads say worth it: survey

A majority of Americans say college is unaffordable and not worth its skyrocketing price tag, but graduates say the investment pays off, according to a report published on Sunday.

College graduates say they are happier and more satisfied with their jobs, with 86 percent saying college was a good investment, according to data analyzed by Pew Research Center.

A college degree translates into $20,000 more in earnings per year and remains the goal nearly all parents set for their children, the report said.

San Francisco Health Waivers

First, let's get everyone up to speed on what happened, as the Obama Administration released another 221 waivers of a provision in the health reform law which allow companies to limit health insurance plan payouts to less than $750,000 for the year.

Those annual benefit limits will be phased out under the Obama health law by 2014.

The extra waivers bring the total to 1,372 one-year waivers, giving over three million workers at regular businesses, health care companies, unions and others an exemption from the annual benefit rules.

Some of the names in this latest batch are familiar - Wendy's International is one - though the fast food restaurant is only getting a waiver for 22 employees.

Another familiar name, REI - the outdoor equipment company - which won a waiver for health coverage provided to 1,180 of its employees.

The latest waivers included another two dozen plus unions as well, like the CWA Local 1182 Security Benefits Fund in New York, the Southeastern Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Health & Welfare Fund and the Washington Wholesalers Health and Welfare Fund.

As for the California angle on this latest batch of waivers, at times when I was trying to identify all of the groups that won a waiver, I almost thought I was doing research on a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Key Vote: Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011

Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011
- Vote Passed (392-15, 24 Not Voting)

The House approved this bill authorizing intelligence-related programs for the current fiscal year. Funding levels authorized for the 16 intelligence gathering agencies are classified, but it is estimated to be around $80 billion. The Senate version of the bill is currently at a standstill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Reversing President Obamas Offshore Moratorium Act

Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act
- Vote Passed (243-179, 9 Not Voting)

This House bill would require the Interior Department to open certain unused areas of the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and natural gas drilling. The bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act

Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act
- Vote Passed (263-163, 5 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would expedite the permitting process for lessees seeking to drill for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department would be required to review applications within 30 days, with the option of extending the review period to 60 days. The Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Nomination of James Michael Cole, of the District of Columbia, to be Deputy Attorney General

Cloture Motion; James M. Cole to be Deputy Attorney General
- Vote Rejected (50-40, 10 Not Voting)

The Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to end debate and move to a final vote on the nomination of James M. Cole to be deputy attorney general. Cole was given a recess appointment in December 2010.

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

Key Vote: Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act

Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act
- Vote Passed (266-149, 17 Not Voting)

This House bill would require the Interior Department to sell oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia. The bill's future in the Senate is uncertain.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act

No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act
- Vote Passed (251-175, 6 Not Voting)

This bill would prohibit federal funds from being used for abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or danger to the woman's life. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, but it is unlikely to gain any traction.

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

Key Vote: To repeal mandatory funding for school-based health center construction

To repeal mandatory funding for school-based health center construction
- Vote Passed (235-191, 6 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill that would repeal a section in the 2010 health care bill providing funding for the construction of school-based health centers. The bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: To repeal mandatory funding provided to States in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to establish American Health Benefit Excha

To repeal mandatory funding provided to establish American Health Benefit Exchanges
- Vote Passed (238-183, 11 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill to eliminate federal grants to states to set up health insurance exchanges. The grants are part of the 2010 health care bill which requires each state to establish an exchange by 2014. The bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Confirmation John J. McConnell, Jr. of Rhode Island, to be U.S. District Judge

Confirmation John J. McConnell, Jr. of Rhode Island, to be U.S. District Judge
- Vote Confirmed (50-44, 5 Not Voting)

The Senate confirmed attorney John J. McConnell to be a district court judge in Rhode Island.

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

Monday, May 16, 2011

Council auditors say Jacksonville revenues down, spending too high

Jacksonville could have to spend almost $10 million from reserve accounts this year to make up for falling revenues and city departments running over budget, a report from the City Council's auditors warns.

And there would still be money problems at some agencies if that happened, according to a financial summary that became public Friday. The report tracked revenue and spending through March 31, the end of the city's second budget quarter.

The city's general fund, which pays for most city business, raised less revenue than expected, mostly because tax payments, licensing fees and state and money from other government agencies have come in slower than planned.

If that doesn't change, revenues could be off by $8.4 million on Sept. 30, the end of the budget year.

On top of that, cost overruns by the Sheriff's Office, the elections office and some citywide programs are eating up savings that other city departments have made and could push overall spending about $2.8 million over budget.

With gas costs high, Obama to speed oil production

Amid growing public unhappiness over gas prices, President Barack Obama is directing his administration to ramp up U.S. oil production by extending existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's coast and holding more frequent lease sales in a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska. But the moves won't calm spiraling prices at the pump any time soon.

Obama said Saturday that the measures "make good sense" and will help reduce U.S. consumption of imported oil in the long term. But he acknowledged anew that they won't help to immediately bring down gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon in many parts of the country, and an oil industry analyst agreed.

Obama's announcement followed passage in the Republican-controlled House of three bills - including two this week - that would expand and speed offshore oil and gas drilling. Republicans say the bills are aimed at easing gasoline costs, but they too acknowledge that benefits won't come fast.

Gates Puts Cost of Libya Mission at $750 Million

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on Thursday that the air offensive in Libya had cost the Pentagon $750 million so far, more than originally expected for a conflict that Mr. Gates said he had never imagined the United States would enter.

“If you’d asked me four months ago if we’d be in Libya today, I would have asked, ‘What were you smoking?’ ” Mr. Gates told Marines during a visit to Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Last month, the Pentagon estimated the cost of the offensive from its start on March 19 until April 4 at $600 million, with continuing costs expected to be around $40 million per month. On Thursday, Mr. Gates did not give a reason for the higher price tag.

In comparison, the war in Afghanistan costs the United States $100 billion a year. But unlike those costs, which are paid from a supplemental contingency fund, the expenses for Libya come out of the Pentagon budget.

Internet tied to growth in U.S. prescription drug abuse

Access to rogue online pharmacies may be driving a rapid increase in the abuse of prescription drugs like powerful painkillers Percocet and Oxycontin, a new study shows.

The pharmacies, typically located outside the United States, send out millions of e-mail solicitations a year, and many not adhere to U.S. regulations requiring a physician's prescription for the drugs.

Prescription drugs are fast replacing illegal substances in venues like college campuses, Goldman said.

Age gap widens in U.S. regions as immigrants and young move

Driven by immigrants and young people moving to the South and West and older Americans who stay put elsewhere, the age gap between regions in the U.S. has grown to its widest level in decades, sharpening the divides on hot-button issues such as immigration and Medicare.

The new numbers from the Census Bureau highlight the impact of recent waves of young Mexican immigrants and their children, who are helping to slow the aging of the population in many parts of the United States.

Study: $41 billion yearly losses due to crash-related deaths

Motor vehicle crash-related deaths, the leading killer of children, teens and young adults, cost an estimated $41 billion in medical and work loss expenses in a year, a study showed on Wednesday.

The study showed just 10 states bear nearly half of all the nation's crash-related death costs -- with totals in California, Texas and Florida each topping $3 billion in a year.

The other seven states with the highest costs are Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee, according to the analysis of crash statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 30,000 people are killed each year in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, according to CDC data.

Such crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 5 to 34, according to the CDC.

JEA receives permit to draw more from Florida aquifer

A state water agency approved a 20-year permit Tuesday for JEA to gradually increase the amount of water it takes from Florida's aquifer by more than a third.

The Jacksonville-owned utility could be allowed to use up to 163 million gallons of groundwater daily by 2031, up from the 118 million gallons daily it pumped last year.

JEA already had a patchwork of permits to take 155 million gallons a day, and water managers argued the new deal makes JEA live within reasonable limits.

"We proposed an allocation for the next 20 years that, in total, is really no more than ... they already have," said Catherine Walker, director of water use regulation at the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Critics said Northeast Florida water use was hurting aquifer levels and contributing to falling springs and lakes in places far outside JEA's service area.

Jacksonville City Council action

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

Issue: City pension investments

What it means: Trustees of the general employee pension system wanted permission to invest up to 10 percent of the fund in "alternative" investments that could include hedge funds and private equity funds. Skeptics warn hedge funds can carry extra risks, including uncertainty about what an investment is really worth.

Bill No. 2011-108

Action: Postponed until May 24

Issue: Nonprofit construction grants

What it means: The council was asked to approve grants of about $95,000 to FreshMinistries and $53,000 to daniel Memorial. FreshMinistries would use the cash to help it develop a new center at 616 A. Philip Randolph Blvd., and daniel would replace roofs at two Southside buildings.

Bill No. 2011-183

Action: Approved

Issue: Ash zone construction

What it means: The Mayor's Office wanted to update city construction codes to include rules for excavating in areas that were formerly contaminated by lead and other pollutants in ash from city-owned trash incinerators and have since been cleaned up.

Bill No. 2011-230

Action: Approved

Bin Laden Sons Say U.S. Broke International Law

The adult sons of Osama bin Laden have lashed out at President Obama in their first public reaction to their father’s death, accusing the United States of violating its basic legal principles by killing an unarmed man, shooting his family members and disposing of his body in the sea.

The statement, provided to The New York Times on Tuesday, said the family was asking why Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, “was not arrested and tried in a court of law so that truth is revealed to the people of the world.”

Citing the trials of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, and Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian leader, the statement questioned “the propriety of such assassination where not only international law has been blatantly violated,” but the principles of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial were ignored.

“We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems,” the statement said, adding that “justice must be seen to be done.”

Obama Immigration Speech

Infant death rate drops again in Duval County

Good news on the infant mortality front: The death rate among children below the age 1 dropped again in Duval County, according to newly released 2010 data.

The death rate of 8 deaths per 1,000 live births is down from 8.4 in 2009, according to the Florida Department of Health. That was the first time the death rate had dropped below 9 in Duval since such statistics have been kept.

Interestingly, the racial gap narrowed in the new data. For years, rates have been falling among both whites and blacks, but the white rate has been dropping faster.

In 2010, the white rate actually jumped from 5.5 to 5.8. Meanwhile, the black rate went down a notch, from 12.4 to 11.1.

The overall infant death rate in Duval is still higher than the state average of 6.5, however.

Increase in adoptions spells fewer children on rolls, shorter waits

In a report for fosteringconnections .org, a clearinghouse for data on foster care and adoption, the Child Trends researchers found that in 2009:

• Adoptions from foster care reached a record high of 57,000, up from 37,000 in 1998.

• The number of children waiting for adoption fell to a record low of 115,000, down from 135,000 in 2006.

• The average wait to be adopted fell to a record low 35 months, down from 48 months in 1998.

• The likelihood a waiting child would be adopted in a year rose to 45 percent, up from an average 39 percent over the previous decade.

• The average time to free an abused or neglected child for adoption (i.e., terminate parental rights) fell to 14 months, down from 17 months in 1998.

Gov. Scott signs Florida probation violator bill

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill honoring a Fort Myers police officer slain by a domestic violence suspect wanted for a probation violation.

Scott went to Fort Myers on Monday to sign the bill (SB 844). It will let judges order suspects arrested for community supervision violations when they appear in court on new charges.

Abel Arrango was freed on bond for a drug charge in Lee County while still on probation for armed robbery and other crimes in Collier County about a month before he fatally shot Officer Andrew Widman. Police also killed Arrango during a shoot-out.

Under the new law, Arrango could have been arrested on suspicion of violating community supervision although the judge was unaware he was on probation due to a botched data search.

School bullying widely underreported

For two years in a row, nearly half of the state’s 67 school districts reported less than 10 bullying complaints to the state. And some districts that are reporting complaints aren’t confident the data provides an accurate picture of what is — or isn’t — happening on campus.

Miami-Dade, the state’s largest district with 347,400 students, reported just seven cases in 2008-09. The next year, it tallied 802, the second highest in the state. District leaders say the first number included only cases that involved police.

What is bullying?

Here is how the Florida Department of Education suggests local school districts define bullying in their policies:

“Bullying means systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students or employees. It is further defined as unwanted and repeated written, verbal or physical behavior, including any threatening, insulting or dehumanizing gesture, by student or adult, that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment; cause discomfort or humiliation; or unreasonably interfere with the individual’s school performance or participation; and may involve, but is not limited to: teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, stalking, physical violence, theft, sexual, religious or racial harassment, public humiliation, destruction of property.”

Guess how few Florida businesses pay corporate taxes?

Out of 1.3 million for-profit corporations and companies in the state, only 24,112 paid any corporate income taxes at all last year, according to the state Department of Revenue.

More than 98 percent paid none at all.

At 5.5 percent, Florida has had one of the lowest corporate-tax rates in America for years.

A summary of the session

A look at some of the bills that passed and failed during the 2011 session. All passed bills await Gov. Rick Scott’s approval.

Budget Finally Approved Early Saturday Morning

The $69.7 billion budget (SB 2000) passed the Florida Senate late Friday. House approval, though, didn't come until 1:55 a.m. Saturday after the two Republican-controlled chambers voted to extend the legislative session past its scheduled midnight conclusion into overtime. Final passage sent the budget to Gov. Rick Scott, who left the Capitol for the night as the session was extended.

The budget will eliminate nearly 4,500 state positions, about 2,000 of which are vacant, while 1,700 jobs are in prisons slated to be privatized. School districts also are anticipating layoffs and furloughs due to state spending cuts.

Yet lawmakers also found enough money to cut taxes by $308 million - mostly at the expense of water management districts - and pay for dozens of their pet projects. Those include college and university buildings, a rowing facility in Sarasota and a $400,000 study of House Speaker Dean Cannon's proposal to expand the Florida Supreme Court. The budget also maintains $2.28 billion in reserve funds.

The votes were 31-8 in the Senate and 79-39 in the House with most Democrats opposed.

Florida legislation that failed to pass in 2011

Legislation that failed during the 2011 session of the Florida Legislature, which ended Saturday, would have:


- Deregulated a variety of businesses and occupations including interior design, sports and talent agents, moving, telemarketing, gyms, auto repair, dance studios and hair and body wrapping.

- Exempted online hotel booking companies from taxes on price mark-ups they argue are service fees, a claim being challenged in court.


- Put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would have expanded the Florida Supreme Court from seven to 10 justices and divide it into two five-member panels, one each for criminal and civil cases

- Authorized a $12 million payment to Eric Brody, who suffered severe brain injuries when a speeding Broward County deputy crashed into his car 13 years ago.

- Cap lawyer fees at $10,000 for in personal injury protection auto insurance cases.


- Required lineups to be run by an officer who doesn't know who the suspect is.

- Allowed a computer user to be charged with possessing child pornography for simply viewing multiple images without downloading them.

- Prohibited the handcuffing or other restraint of pregnant prison and jail inmates unless they are security risks.

- Paid $810,000 to compensate William Dillon, who was cleared by DNA of a Brevard County murder after 27 years in prison.

- Made illegal immigration a state crime, allowed police to question suspects about their immigration status and required employers to use a federal database to check the immigration status of prospective hires.


- Repealed a law passed last year requiring period septic tank inspections.

- Prohibited state, regional and local government agencies from implementing federal nutrient limits designed to clean up algae-choked waters but opposed by business and agriculture interests as well as many local officials.


- Ended a requirement that greyhound racing tracks must offer live racing to keep card tables and other betting games.


- Banned the deduction of union dues from public employees' pay.

- Designated the barking tree frog as Florida's official state amphibian.


- Required youth and high school sports sanctioning bodies to adopt head injury policies and barring a concussed athlete from returning to play without written clearance from a doctor.

- Allowed the removal of manual fire alarms from certain condominium buildings under four stories.

- Repealed a "potty parity" law that sets a male-to-female toilet ratio for public buildings.


- Increased penalties for drivers who turn their audio systems to the max with their windows down while driving.

- Repealed a law passed last year permitting the use of cameras to catch red light runners.

- Required motorists driving in the far left lane of a multiple lane roadway to move to the right to let faster vehicles pass them, a measure aimed at reducing road rage.

- Ended discounts for using the SunPass electronic toll-paying system.

Measures that passed in Fla.'s legislative session

Legislation that passed during the 2011 session of the Florida Legislature, which ended Saturday, would:


- Put on the November 2012 ballot a proposed constitutional amendment banning public funding of abortions -already prohibited by law - and exempting abortion from the Florida Constitution's strong privacy right.

- Exclude abortion from policies obtained through insurance exchanges, which states must establish in 2014 under the federal health care overhaul, although separate abortion riders paid for by policyholders may be offered.

- Require women to undergo ultrasounds before getting an abortion although they can opt out of a requirement to view or listen to a description of the image.

- Make it more difficult for minors seeking abortions to get court waivers from Florida's parental notification law.

- Loosen limits on the spending of money to facilitate adoption that's raised from "Choose Life" license plates including letting an advocacy group use 15 percent for administration and promotion.


- Cut state maximum unemployment compensation benefits from 26 to 23 weeks if the jobless rate is at 10.5 percent or higher with the maximum dropping on a sliding scale to as few as 12 weeks when the unemployment rate falls to 5 percent or below. The benefit reduction would lower unemployment taxes paid by employers.

- Overhaul Florida's property insurance laws in a bid to generate more competition through such provisions as letting insurers pass on to customers up to 15 percent of their reinsurance costs in addition to state-approved rate increases and setting deadlines of two years for filing sinkhole claims and three years for other damages including wind.

- Deregulate landline telephone service.


- Put a state constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would require Senate confirmation of Florida Supreme Court justices and give lawmakers a say on court rules.

- Make it more difficult for injured people to win product liability damages from auto makers and other manufacturers.

- Overhaul medical malpractice lawsuits including a requirement that out-of-state doctors apply for a certificate to testify as experts and partial immunity from liability for doctors who volunteer to help high school and collegiate sports teams.

Set limits on lawsuits against nonprofit Florida teaching hospitals and their staffs.


- Make it a felony to possess a stolen credit or debit card that was or should have been known to be stolen.

- Remove requirements for ex-convicts to have their civil rights restored before they can get occupational licenses.

- Make bestiality - sexual contact between humans and animals - a crime.

- Reduce the penalty for "sexting" by minors so they no longer would be subject to child pornography charges and registration as sex offenders for electronically sending sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves.

- Require rape suspects to get tested for hepatitis, allow evidence of suspects' past sex crimes to be used in court, require police to transport victims for medical treatment or have forensic evidence gathered and provide relocation assistance to victims.

DRUG ABUSE(equals)

- Crack down on "pill mills" that sell prescription painkillers to drug dealers and addicts through provisions that include stiffer penalties for doctors who overprescribe and tighter regulation of pharmacies. The bill retains a prescription tracking system that Gov. Rick Scott wanted to repeal but bans pharmaceutical companies from funding it.

- Make it a crime to possess a designer drug known as MDPV or "bath salts" with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.


- Establish a statewide teacher evaluation and merit pay system in 2014 and do away with tenure for new teachers hired after July 1.

- Loosen class limits by allowing up to five students over the maximum after an annual head count and by exempting hundreds of courses from the requirements.

- Expand the McKay voucher program that lets disabled students attend private schools at public expense by adding children with lesser disabilities such as asthma and allergies.

- Transfer responsibility for lunches and other school nutrition from the Department of Education to the Department of Agriculture.

- Provide charter schools with more training and technical assistance while giving those rated high performing longer contracts and other benefits.

- Let certain private school students join public school teams if the sport they want to play is not offered at their own school.

- Require school districts to adopt dress codes that ban the wearing of clothing in a revealing or disruptive way.

- Expand virtual learning options and require high school students to complete at least one online course before graduating.


- Roll back the state's ability to control sprawl and development, leaving it mostly in the hands of local government.

- Make it more difficult to challenge development or mining in wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas.


- Spend $69.7 billion during the budget year starting July 1 - a reduction of nearly $4 billion from the current year.

- Require teachers, state workers and many local government employees to pay 3 percent of their salaries into the Florida Retirement System, now fully funded by taxpayers.

- Put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would cap state revenue with allowances for growth in population and inflation.

- Put new limits on voting including shorter hours for early balloting.

- Exempt photos, video and audio recordings of deaths from the state's public records law.

- Put a state constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot to repeal Florida's ban on using public funds to aid churches and other religious organizations while adding a provision saying people couldn't be barred from public programs because they've chosen to receive those benefits from religious organizations.

- Require welfare applicants to take drug tests and pay for them out of their own pockets although they'd get reimbursed if they pass. Benefits would be denied for at least six months to those who fail.


- Prohibit doctors from asking patients about gun ownership.

- Bar local governments from passing gun laws stricter than the state's.

- Decriminalize the accidental showing of a concealed fire arm by a person licensed to carry such a weapon.


- Revamps Florida's Medicaid system for nearly 3 million low-income and disabled people by putting it in the hands of private companies and hospital networks as a cost-cutting move subject to federal approval.

- Put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would prohibit government requirements to purchase health insurance as in the national health care overhaul. Many legal experts say the federal law still would prevail.

- Prohibit by law requirements that people purchase health insurance as in the federal health care overhaul.


- Put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot to reduce property taxes for homeowners and businesses alike along with an additional exemption for people who have not owned a house for at least three years

- Put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would expand a homestead property tax exemption for combat-disabled veterans by lifting a requirement they must have lived in Florida before enlisting.

- Cut the corporate income tax $30 million a year by increasing the exemption from $5,000 to $25,000, which would save each company $1,100.

They use our money to fight us

Don’t worry. Despite the most brutal budget cuts in state history, the taxpayers of Florida still have millions set aside for their epic battle against the taxpayers of Florida.

Both houses of the Florida Legislature managed to find plenty of money — also known as your money — for the slush funds underwriting their costly lawsuit against the Fair Districts amendments.

The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that the legislative leadership has figured on spending $20 million, and plenty more if necessary, to preserve their sacred right to re-draw state Senate, state representative and congressional districts in whatever squished-out, crazy-map shapes best protect their political self-interest.

You’ll be paying the legal costs to subvert a pair of constitutional amendments approved by 62.6 percent of the voters last fall.

You’ll also be paying the legal costs to defend those same amendments. The state of Florida is the named defendant in the lawsuit. That would be you, with the governor (however unenthused) secretary of state and attorney general standing in for the citizens of Florida when the case opens before U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro in Miami on July 29. Just to give the matter cosmic balance, the Florida Senate and House of Representatives are listed as both plaintiffs and defendants.

Fla. Senate kills deregulation of interior design

The Florida Senate has killed a bill that would have deregulated commercial interior design as well as hair and body wrapping.

The 32-6 vote shortly before the legislative session ended Friday drove the final stake into what started out as a bill (HB 5005) that originally would have deregulated many more businesses and occupations.

They included sports and talent agents, dance studios, gyms, and movers. They were removed in joint budget negotiations after senators objected to lifting regulations that protect consumers.

The vote was a victory for interior designers who opposed being deregulated. They said their university degrees would be wasted if training requirements were lifted.

Legislators roll back corporate taxes for small businesses

With back-slapping praise — and Republicans applauding Democrats — the Florida House on Thursday sent a $30 million corporate income tax cut to Gov. Rick Scott.

The House voted 110-5 for a tax break of $1,100 a year on average for 15,000 small businesses as Republicans vowed that it will be the first step in a multi-year effort to cut the state’s annual $2 billion corporate tax.

The tax cut won bi-partisan support as several Democrats and all 81 Republicans in the House argued that the measure will help small businesses.

The proposal was sent to Scott, who made it a campaign pledge to eliminate Florida’s 40-year-old corporate income tax. While the measure is only a fraction of the $459 million in corporate income tax cuts sought by the governor this year, it was hailed by legislators as an incentive for job development.

Florida Legislature approves $1 million award to family of man killed by JTA bus

The Florida Legislature has approved awarding $1 million to the family of a man who was hit by a Jacksonville Transportation Authority bus.

Cesar Solomon, 52, was killed three years ago when a JTA bus knocked him 20 feet to the ground as he was working from a bucket truck to repair a traffic light at Commonwealth and Melson avenues. He worked for the city as a signal traffic repairer.

The state has a $200,000 statutory cap on damages, but JTA agreed to pay $1 million, provided the state legislature waived the cap. The Senate voted 32-3 to waive the cap Thursday. The House had previously voted 108-8 in favor.

All Northeast Florida legislators voted to waive the cap except for Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, who was one of the eight to vote no in the House.

Appeals court upholds Jacksonville's right to evict nude clubs

A federal appeals court has upheld Jacksonville zoning laws that will kick two nude dance clubs out of their current locations.

But the establishments will continue to operate for the time being because lawyers for the clubs have requested a rehearing.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that zoning and municipal codes approved by Jacksonville City Council in 2005 and 2010 legally allowed the city to evict the Doll House on Atlantic Boulevard and the New Solid Gold Club on Blanding Boulevard.

Those rules require fully nude establishments to be located in areas zoned heavy industrial, and they must comply with buffer requirements that prohibit them from being within 500 feet of schools and churches and within 1,000 feet of homes. The City Council also revoked a grandfather clause that would have allowed the bars to stay where they are.

The council also required adult businesses to obtain approval from the Sheriff's Office before opening to the public. None opened during the five years that requirement existed.

Before the 2005 changes, clubs were allowed in areas zoned commercial and didn't need approval from law enforcement. A commercial area usually has stores and restaurants; a heavy industrial area usually has factories, distribution centers and manufacturing.

Florida tidbits from the 2010 Census

During the past decade, Floridians got older and were less inclined to get married. More unrelated Floridians moved in together and the number of unmarried domestic partners grew. Thursday's release of new demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau offers a new prism into Florida's changes over the last decade.

- Floridians grew older in the past decade. The median age went from 38.7 in 2000 to 40.7 in 2010.

- Floridians were less likely to be married. The share of husband and wife households declined from 50.4 percent in 2000 to 46.6 percent in 2010.

- The number of unrelated people living together increased from 5.9 percent of households in 2000 to 6.7 percent of households in 2010.

- The share of unmarried partners increased from 2.3 percent in 2000 to 2.9 percent of Florida households.

- More Floridians are living alone than a decade ago - 27.2 percent in 2010 compared to 26.6 percent in 2000.

Florida makes downhill coasting legal

Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law a measure that repeals an outdated law prohibiting a motor vehicle from coasting downhill.

Scott approved the measure (HB 4019) on Thursday. Drivers in Florida now can travel downhill while in neutral or with the clutch disengaged.

Doing so was previously a moving violation punishable by a $60 fine. The bill was passed unanimously by both houses and signed by Scott as part of his deregulation efforts.

Failing Grades on Civics Exam Called a ‘Crisis’

Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday.

At the same time, three-quarters of high school seniors who took the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unable to demonstrate skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

New U.S. nuclear reactors close to construction: S&P

For the first time in more than 30 years, the construction of new nuclear plants is underway in the United States despite the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima in Japan.

The accident at Fukushima Daiichi will cause the U.S. nuclear regulators to call for new inspections and additional regulatory scrutiny on both existing and new plants, but should not stop the construction of at least a few new reactors in the country, Standard & Poor's credit analysts said on a call Wednesday.

The construction of new reactors in the United States has stalled since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

Two new projects, from Southern Co's Georgia Power unit and SCANA Corp's South Carolina Electric & Gas Co unit, however, are on track to receive the combined construction permit and operating licenses (COL) from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), possibly before the end of 2011, S&P said.

U.S. asthma rates rising but reasons unclear: CDC

About 25 million Americans, or 1 in 12 people, have asthma, a figure that is rising despite efforts to control key asthma triggers such as indoor smoking, U.S. government researchers said on Tuesday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an additional 4.3 million people were diagnosed with asthma from 2001 to 2009. The life-long disease causes wheezing, tightness in the chest, coughing and shortness of breath.

Asthma diagnoses increased among all demographic groups between 2001 and 2009, but children were hit hardest, with asthma affecting 9.6 percent of children, compared with 7.7 percent of U.S. adults.

The biggest increase in asthma rates was among black children, rising almost 50 percent from 2001 through 2009. Seventeen percent of non-Hispanic black children had asthma in 2009, the highest rate among racial/ethnic groups.

The cost of treating asthma rose about 6 percent to $56 billion in 2007, from $53 billion in 2002, according to the most recent figures. For patients, that's about $3,300 a year.

Jacksonville No. 47 for economic clout

America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas wield more economic clout than any other nation in the world, and Jacksonville ranks as the No. 47 U.S. market.

The gross metropolitan product of the top 100 markets equals $10.56 trillion, according to a study of U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data by The Business Journals, the online arm of Jacksonville Business Journal’s parent company, American City Business Journals Inc.

That’s roughly twice the economic power of the most powerful foreign country.

The New York City area is the national leader, with GMP of $1.21 trillion. Next are Los Angeles at $731 billion and Chicago at $509 billion.

The metro Jacksonville area's GMP is $58.3 billion. Other Florida cities and their rankings include Miami, No. 11 with $252.65 billion; Tampa, No. 23 with $111.37 billion; and Orlando, No. 28 with $100.7 billion.

U.S. Business Has High Tax Rates but Pays Less

Topping out at 35 percent, America’s official corporate income tax rate trails that of only Japan, at 39.5 percent, which has said it plans to lower its rate. It is nearly triple Ireland’s and 10 percentage points higher than in Denmark, Austria or China. To help companies here stay competitive, many executives say, Congress should lower it.

But by taking advantage of myriad breaks and loopholes that other countries generally do not offer, United States corporations pay only slightly more on average than their counterparts in other industrial countries. And some American corporations use aggressive strategies to pay less — often far less — than their competitors abroad and at home. A Government Accountability Office study released in 2008 found that 55 percent of United States companies paid no federal income taxes during at least one year in a seven-year period it studied.

In addition to being complex and uneven, the United States corporate tax code is inefficient and has become a diminishing source of revenue. Corporate taxes accounted for about 9 percent of all federal revenue in 2010. At $191 billion, they were equal to 1.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Most industrial countries collect more from companies, about 2.5 percent of output. Only a portion of that disparity can be explained by the many types of businesses in the United States that elect to be taxed at an individual rate.

Osama Bin Laden Killed in Pakistan, President Obama Says

Since 9/11, U.S. intelligence teams have been working with allies to capture or kill bin Laden, who had escaped from Afghanistan to Pakistan, President Obama said. "Last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action," the president said in a late-night address at the White House.

After a firefight, the U.S. team killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and took custody of his body, he said, adding that no Americans were harmed in the operation.

Bin Laden's body was later buried at sea, according to The Associated Press and New York Times. From the AP:

After bin Laden was killed in a raid by U.S. forces in Pakistan, senior administration officials said the body would be handled according to Islamic practice and tradition. That practice calls for the body to be buried within 24 hours, the official said. Finding a country willing to accept the remains of the world's most wanted terrorist would have been difficult, the official said. So the U.S. decided to bury him at sea.

Florida charters less diverse than other public schools

Segregation is making a comeback in Florida's public schools with the new wave of charter schools springing up across the state.

One out of eight charter schools has a student body with 90 percent or more of a single race or ethnicity, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of the state's 456 taxpayer-financed charters shows. That compares with one out of 12 traditional public schools.