Sunday, June 19, 2011

U.S. Is Paying European Teams to Hunt Stray Munitions in Libya

The United States is paying British and Swiss mine-clearing groups nearly $1 million to search for loose antiaircraft missiles in Libya and dispose of them, so they do not fall into the hands of terrorist groups.

The State Department’s hiring of the teams was prompted by fears that terrorists could use scavenged man-portable air defense systems, known as Manpads, to attack civilian aircraft around the world.

The Libyan military had amassed nearly 20,000 of the weapons before the popular uprising began in March. Most of them are still held by the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, but some bases and ammunition dumps in contested or rebel-held areas have been looted, and an unknown number of the weapons have gone astray.

Reid Backs Obama on Libya: 'This Thing Will Be Over Before We Know it'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Friday stood by President Obama's assertion that the War Powers Act does not apply to the American mission in Libya and thus, does not need congressional approval.

"This thing will be over before we know it," Reid predicted in an interview with Jim Lehrer, which airs in full on Friday's NewsHour broadcast.

Scott signs Jaguars' priority legislation

Gov. Rick Scott today signed a bill that was a priority for the Jacksonville Jaguars, as well as professional sports teams across the state. It will no longer allow workers to file worker's compensation claims out-of-state.

The legislation applies to all industries, but was largely pushed by sports teams because their players file claims in other states that give larger payouts.

Fla. Gov. Scott signs accident gun showing bill

People with concealed weapons licenses will no longer face arrest for accidentally letting their guns show.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a new law (SB 234) decriminalizing such unintended displays. It's effective immediately.

Those who intentionally openly carry a weapon could still face jail time.

The bill was one of 42 Scott signed.

One (HB 105) increases penalties for a person in control of a home who knowingly allows a minor to possess or consume alcohol or drugs at an open house party.

Another (SB 88) sets criteria for giving bonus and severance pay to public employees.

Yet another (SB 410) re-enacts a law that makes it easier to challenge impact fees in court. It has changes designed to overcome a legal challenge by the Florida Association of Counties.

Many recent veterans unable to find work

The military paid $882 million in unemployment benefits last year, up from $450 million in fiscal 2008. The 2011 figures are trending even higher.

Fla. justices weaken Miranda warning requirements

Police don't need to explicitly tell suspects they can have a lawyer with them during questioning under the Florida as well as U.S. constitutions as long as they get the message across in a reasonably understandable way, a divided state Supreme Court said in a pair of opinions Thursday.

The decisions weaken requirements for what are called Miranda warnings to suspects that notify them of their rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer.

They follow rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in both cases. One affirmed Kevin Dwayne Powell's Tampa conviction in 2004 for illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The other upheld the convictions and a death sentence of former male model Thomas Rigterink for the fatal stabbings in 2003 of two people in Bartow.

U.S. court: child's age a factor when police question

By a 5-4 vote, the high court held the suspect's age was a factor that must be taken into account in determining if the juvenile felt free to end the police questioning.

"It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion.

"Seeing no reason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that common-sense reality, we hold that a child's age properly informs" the analysis of whether the juvenile is in custody and must be told of their legal rights, she said.

The court's four staunchest conservatives dissented.

"The court's decision in this case may seem on first consideration to be modest and sensible, but in truth it is neither," Justice Samuel Alito wrote, saying the ruling was not needed to protect the rights of minors during police questioning.

That position had been argued by the Obama administration, which said clear guidelines already existed for police and courts on questioning suspects. It opposed adding age as a factor.

Federal pension theft not always prosecuted

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that from April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011, the Justice Department declined to file criminal charges in two dozen cases in which retirement benefits were paid out to dead beneficiaries then spent by someone else. During the same period, prosecutors filed criminal charges or won convictions in 40 such cases, not including two others in which charges were dropped.

In several of the cases turned down for prosecution, including six-figure thefts, subjects admitted spending the money but told investigators that they didn’t know they weren’t entitled to the funds. Prosecutors say filing charges is more complicated than just proving the money is missing. They also have to show that the person who spent the money knew they were committing a crime.

Rubio, Nelson disclose personal finances

Democrat Nelson shows $42,454 in retirement income from his years in state government and an array of money market accounts, IRA and profit-sharing plans.

Nelson’s largest asset is a SunTrust money market account with a value of $250,001 to $500,000 (the Senate only requires broad reporting ranges). Two other SunTrust accounts are worth between $50,001 and $100,000.

Nelson owns two plots of undeveloped land in Brevard County, one worth at least $1 million and the other at least $100,001. He reported no liabilities.

Republican Rubio reported a $220,000 salary from Marco Rubio P.A.. and $13,521 from his part-time teaching position at Florida International University.

Rubio listed stock in Terremark Worldwide, a technology company, worth $1,001 to $15,000, as well as Citibank checking and savings accounts and prepaid college plans for his children. He has a 401(k) with ABA Retirement Funds valued at $50,001 to $100,000.

He also lists a rental home in Tallahassee, valued at between $100,001 and $250,000, which brought in at least $1,001 in income in 2010.

Rubio has student loan debt held by Sallie Mae of at least $100,001, and a GMAC mortgage on rental property listed at between $100,001 and $250,000.

Nelson and Rubio earn $174,000 as senators, which is not listed on the reports. Their personal residences are also not listed, nor are mortgages on those homes or vehicles.

JCCI report lays out a path to recovery

There are multiple ways Jacksonville can recover from the recession, and even prosper, according to a report compiled by Jacksonville Community Council Inc. and released June 15.

The study emphasizes a few key avenues for jump-starting economic recovery in Jacksonville. They include creating jobs in targeted growth industries, building a skilled and educated workforce and encouraging the growth of small businesses.

Jacksonville City Council action June 14, 2011

These are some items the City Council addressed at its meeting Tuesday:

Issue: Legal Aid funds

What it means: The council was asked to impose a new $50 fine on people convicted of many types of crimes. The money would be used to help Jacksonville Area Legal Aid finance its work for the poor. But judges warned that many defendants are already poor and can’t afford another fine.

Bill No: 2010-766

Action: Delayed for two weeks

Issue: Fair share fee moratorium

What it means: Two council committees had voted to withdraw a bill that would have put a moratorium on the city charging “fair share” construction fees to developers planning projects in areas with crowded roads. The moratorium, lasting up to three years, was suggested as a way to encourage new development and jobs.

Bill No. 2011-237

Action: Withdrawn

Issue: Waste hauler rates

What it means: The council was asked to approve three bills that renegotiated the rates per household that are paid to waste-haulers. One of the three haulers, Advanced Disposal Services, also negotiated a three-year extension on its contract.

Bill Nos.: 2011-292, 2011-293, 2011-294

Action: Approved

Corrine Brown and John Mica split over plan to privatize Amtrak

U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., is pushing a plan to privatize Amtrak in the Northeast section of America. But his proposal is drawing an angry rebuke from U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla.

Mica and Brown both sit on the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica is the chairman, and Brown is the ranking Democrat on the rail subcommittee. The two have tended to be cordial to each other in the past since they share common interests in Northeast Florida.

But on Wednesday Brown specifically mentioned Mica in criticizing the privatization plan.

“While Congressman Mica refuses to focus on critical infrastructure issues, he is bent on destroying Amtrak," Brown said. At the very time that we should be working together to solve the problems plaguing this nation's transportation infrastructure, Chairman Mica is introducing divisive legislation that is dead on arrival in the Senate.”

“After 40 years of highly subsidized, poorly managed Amtrak operations, it’s time for Congress to change the direction of America’s failed high-speed and intercity passenger rail service,” Mica said. “This new direction will employ private sector competition to bring real high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor, reform passenger rail service across the country, and lower taxpayer costs."

Florida is No. 1 for marijuana grow houses

Last year, more marijuana grow houses were seized in Florida than in any other state, despite a drop in overall numbers, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Florida law enforcement agencies raided 818 houses, followed by California's 791.

Shuttle’s End Leaves NASA a Pension Bill

The shuttle program accounts for a vast majority of the business of United Space Alliance, originally a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. With the demise of the shuttle program, United Space Alliance will be left without a source of revenue to keep its pension plan afloat. So the company wants to terminate its family of pension plans, covering 11,000 workers and retirees, and continue as a smaller, nimbler concern to compete for other contracts.

Normally, a company that lost a lifeblood contract would have little choice but to declare bankruptcy and ask the federal insurer, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, to take over its pensions. But that insurer limits benefits, meaning not everyone gets as much as they had been promised. United Space Alliance’s plan also allows participants to take their pensions as a single check and includes retiree health benefits, neither of which would be permitted by the pension insurer.

United Space Alliance, however, has a rare pledge from a different government agency to pay the bill. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration says in its contract with the company that it will cover its pension costs “to the extent they are otherwise allowable, allocable and reasonable.” NASA interprets this to include the cost of terminating its pension plans outside of bankruptcy.

The pension fund now has about half the amount needed. The president’s budget proposal for the 2012 fiscal year requests $547.9 million for NASA to provide the rest. That is nearly 3 percent of the agency’s total budget and just about what the Science Mission Directorate at NASA spent last year on all grants and subsidies to study climate change, planetary systems and the origins of life in the universe.

FDA announces stricter sunscreen rules

The FDA, which first proposed changing sunscreen labels in 1978, said new rules will tell consumers which products offer "broad protection" from both major forms of ultraviolet radiation, or UV.

One form, called UVA, causes wrinkles, while another, UVB, causes burns. Both can cause skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Although sunscreens now tout their sunburn protection factor, or SPF, this system measures only protection from burns.

New sunscreen labels will allow products to claim "broad spectrum" protection only if they pass specific FDA tests for blocking UVA rays, and if they have an SPF value of at least 15, says Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation. This is the first standard for UVA.

Products that don't protect against UVA, or which have an SPF of less than 15, will have to carry a warning, noting that they don't protect against skin cancer, Woodcock says. Sunscreens also will have to carry a "drug facts" box that provides detailed more detailed information about sun protection.

Jacksonville City Council OKs ethics bills

Jacksonville's City Council gave more autonomy to the city's Ethics Commission on Tuesday but still kept a hand in how the unpaid commissioners gain office.

The council voted to let commission members hire their own director for a new Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight, whose employees will act as commission staff.

Report: Students don't know much about US history

Just 13 percent of high school seniors who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, called the Nation's Report Card, showed a solid grasp of the subject. Results released Tuesday showed the two other grades didn't perform much better, with just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders demonstrating proficiency.

The test quizzed students on topics including colonization, the American Revolution and the Civil War, and the contemporary United States. For example, one question asked fourth-graders to name an important result of the U.S. building canals in the 1800s. Only 44 percent knew that it was increased trade among states.

The scores on the history test did not vary remarkably from years past; in 1994, for example, 19 percent of fourth-grade students scored proficient or better in U.S. history.

To be considered proficient, they had to get certain scores out of 500. For fourth-graders, the score was 243. Eighth-graders needed 294, and 12th graders had to get a 325.

Scott signs bill creating Fla. commerce agency

Florida will get a new economic development agency but lose another that was supposed to keep urban sprawl in check under a new law signed Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott.

The Republican governor said the legislation (SB 2156) would help him keep promises to streamline government, eliminate inefficiencies and create jobs by growing Florida's economy.

The law shifts the Office of Tourism Trade and Economic Development from Scott's office to the new agency that will be called the Department of Economic Opportunity effective Oct. 1.

It also will help the state more quickly react to business development opportunities, Scott said. The law shortens the deadline for acting on incentive funding requests to 10 days instead of as many as 42 and will let Scott hand out incentives of up to $2 million without legislative approval.

The statute also abolishes the Department of Community Affairs and along with it state oversight of growth management including most local and regional land planning decisions.

Supreme Court Upholds Nevada’s Law on Conflict of Interest

The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Nevada law that barred officials there from voting on matters in which they had a conflict of interest. Such legislative recusal laws are common, and a decision striking them down or even subjecting them to strict First Amendment scrutiny would have reshaped politics across the nation.

But Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said the issue was straightforward. Voting, he wrote, is not speech protected by the First Amendment.

The Nevada law requires elected officials to disqualify themselves, much as judges often do, when they are asked to vote on matters that touch on what the law called a “commitment in a private capacity to the interests of others.”

In 5-4 Vote, Supreme Court Limits Securities Fraud Suits

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a mutual fund’s investment adviser may not be sued for securities fraud over misstatements in fund prospectuses.

The 5-to-4 decision split along ideological lines. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that only the fund itself could be held liable for violating a Securities and Exchange Commission rule that makes it unlawful for “any person, directly or indirectly” to “make any untrue statement of material fact” in connection with buying or selling securities.

U.S. airlines collect $5.7 billion in fees

U.S. airlines collected 10 percent more in fees last year to check bags and change reservations, raising more than $5.7 billion that helped them hold down losses from sharply higher fuel costs.

Most big airlines charge up to $25 for the first checked bag and more for a second. The practice began as a revenue bridge when travel fell sharply during the 2008-09 recession and fare increases were hard to pull off.

But ancillary fees, including those to change reservations, have stuck and are now an important part of the revenue stream for airlines wrestling with high fuel costs and trying to keep their recovery aloft.

Study raised concerns about public transit for seniors in Jacksonville

It found said 44 percent of urban seniors in Jacksonville age 65 and older had poor access to transit in 2000. By 2015, transit access for urban seniors is projected to worsen with 53 percent facing poor transit access.

In suburban and exurban areas 96 percent of seniors had poor access to transit in 2000, and that number will remain the same in 2015.

Florida #40 out of 50 states in 2010 economic growth

If you think Florida's economic growth was sluggish last year, you are correct: the state's economy grew by 1.4 percent, which ranked 40th out of the 50 states for 2010.

The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show that Florida's gross state product for 2010 was $673.4 billion, up from 664.1 billion in 2009.

North Dakota had the largest percentage increase in GSP, at 7.08%, followed by New York at 5.07%. The economies in 2 states, Nevada and Wyoming, shrunk in 2010.

Fla. corporate tax repeal brings back memories

The state's corporate income tax is 5.5 percent, generating about $2 billion annually - approximately 9 percent of the state's general revenue and second only to sales taxes, which generate about $17 billion. The state has no personal income tax. General revenue accounts for about a third of Florida's $69.1 billion budget and pays for most of the state's operating expenses including education, prisons, courts and health and human services.

Only about 30,000 mostly large corporations - less than 1 percent of Florida's business entities - are taxed. That number is expected to be halved to about 15,000 by a bill (HB 7185) awaiting Scott's signature. It will increase the amount exempted from the tax from the first $5,000 of instate net income to $25,000 - that will cost the state about $30 million. The average corporation that pays the tax will save $1,100.

As a first step toward repeal, Scott proposed cutting the tax rate to 3 percent this year. Lawmakers, who were facing a potential $3.7 billion budget deficit, balked at the $458 million price tag. As a compromise, the exemption bill was passed - but Scott promises to push the issue again next year.

State gives $2.5 million to arts organizations, including $87,284 to Jacksonville

Seven Jacksonville arts organizations are among the 224 in the state that will receive funds from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs next fiscal year.

Altogether, Jacksonville organizations will receive $87,284 from the $2.5 million in state grants.

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra will receive $18,243, and Jacksonville Museum of Science & History will get $18,100.

Last year the state gave only $950,000 to arts organizations and the largest grant to a Jacksonville group was $7,358 to the Cultural Council of Great Jacksonville.

Cost for middle-income parents to raise child nears $230,000

American middle-income parents with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend $226,920 over the next 17 years, according to a report released on Friday.

For lower-income families, those earning less than $57,600 a year, parents can expect to spend a total of $163,440 through the time the child finishes high school. Families earning over $100,000 are more likely to spend around $377,000.

When the USDA first started to publish this report in 1960, middle-income families could expect to pay $185,856 in 2010 dollars.

Illinois jury awards $95 million in sex-harassment suit

A federal jury in Illinois has awarded $95 million to a woman who said she was the victim of a sexual harassment campaign that culminated when her boss allegedly threw her down on a couch and masturbated on her chest.

After nearly three days of deliberations, jurors in the Southern District of Illinois federal court concluded Wednesday that Ashley Alford, who worked in a branch of Aaron's Inc. -- a nationwide chain of rent-to-own furniture stores -- should receive $15 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages.

However, he said the judge will reduce the award on the federal claim because of statutory limits. All told, he said it's likely that at least $43 million will be collectible.

Jacksonville has lost 7,000 retail jobs in three years

From April 2008 to April 2011, the number of people working in retail in Northeast Florida decreased from 75,900 to 68,900, which was the 20th steepest loss in numbers of retail jobs of the 100 largest metros in the country.

NE Florida lost 5,300 manufacturing jobs in recession

The Jacksonville metro area lost 5,300 manufacturing jobs during the recession, according to a study of U.S. labor statistics by American City Business Journals.

The statistics, which cover from April 2008 through April 2011, show that 99 of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S. lost manufacturing jobs, with only Modesto, Calif. adding manufacturing jobs in that period.

The number of manufacturing jobs in and around Jacksonville declined from 32,200 to 26,900.

Privately run campgrounds in state parks given green light

Florida's park system was given an important go-ahead Friday to pursue private development of campgrounds inside as many as 56 state parks.

State-park officials told the Acquisition and Restoration Council, a panel in Tallahassee that oversees use of state conservation lands, that establishing privately run camping inside parks would help the park system become less dependent on state funds and provide more camping opportunities.

Preschool Benefits Last Into Adulthood, Study Says

Preschool has surprisingly enduring benefits lasting well into adulthood, according to one of the biggest, longest follow-up studies of its kind.

Better jobs, less drug abuse and fewer arrests are among advantages found in the study that tracked more than 1,000 low-income, mostly black Chicago kids for up to 25 years.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Key Vote: Libya Troop Withdrawal

Libya Troop Withdrawal
- Vote Failed (148-265, 19 Not Voting)

The House failed to pass this resolution that would have forced the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Libya within 15 days.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO

Key Vote: Use of Ground Forces in Libya

Use of Ground Forces in Libya
- Vote Passed (268-145, 1 Present, 18 Not Voting)

The House passed this resolution stating the chamber’s opposition to deploying ground forces in Libya and requiring President Obama to report the strategy for U.S. involvement in combat operations in Libya to Congress within 14 days. The resolution is non-binding.

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

Key Vote: Homeland Security Appropriations, FY 2012

Homeland Security Appropriations, FY 2012
- Vote Passed (231-188, 13 Not Voting)

This bill would provide the Department of Homeland Security with $42.3 billion in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The total is 2.6% less than the current fiscal year. The bill includes $1 billion in emergency spending for disaster aid. Senate appropriators have not drafted their version of the bill yet.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Debt Limit Increase

Debt Limit Increase
- Vote Failed (97-318, 7 Present, 9 Not Voting)

The House rejected this bill to raise the public debt limit by $2.4 trillion. The government is expected to hit the current $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2, 2011. Negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders are ongoing.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted NO

Key Vote: Patriot Act Extensions

Patriot Act Extensions
- Vote Passed (250-153, 28 Not Voting)

The House gave final approval to this bill extending certain provisions of the Patriot Act until June 1, 2015. The bill, S. 990, originally reauthorized some small business programs but with the Patriot Act provisions due to expire at the end of the day, the Senate used it as the vehicle to pass the extension. President Obama signed the bill into law before the end of the day.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: National Defense Authorization Act, FY2012

National Defense Authorization Act, FY2012
- Vote Passed (322-96, 13 Not Voting)

The House passed this bill authorizing $690.1 billion in defense spending for the upcoming fiscal year. The Senate is expected to take up its version of the bill this summer.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw voted YES

Key Vote: Patriot Act Extensions

Patriot Act Extensions
- Vote Agreed to (72-23, 5 Not Voting)

The Senate passed this bill extending certain provisions of the Patriot Act until June 1, 2015. The bill, S. 990, originally reauthorized some small business programs but with the Patriot Act provisions due to expire at the end of the day, the Senate used it as the vehicle to pass the extension. The House passed the bill a few hours later and President Obama signed it into law before the end of the day.

Sen. Bill Nelson voted YES
Sen. Marco Rubio voted Not Voting

Key Vote: Presidents FY2012 Budget Resolution

President’s FY2012 Budget Resolution
- Vote Rejected (0-97, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate rejected a motion to proceed to consideration of the president’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year.

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

Key Vote: FY2012 House Budget Resolution

FY2012 House Budget Resolution
- Vote Rejected (40-57, 3 Not Voting)

The Senate rejected a motion to proceed to consideration of the House-passed 2012 fiscal year budget resolution.

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

Key Vote: Cloture Motion; Nomination of Goodwin Liu to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit

Cloture Motion; Nomination of Goodwin Liu to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Ninth Circuit
- Vote Rejected (52-43, 1 Present, 4 Not Voting)

The Senate rejected this cloture motion on the nomination of Goodwin Liu to be a federal appeals court judge. A cloture motion requires 60 votes to end debate and move on to a final vote.

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

Key Vote: Motion to Proceed; Offshore Production and Safety Act of 2011

Motion to Proceed; Offshore Production and Safety Act of 2011
- Vote Rejected (42-57, 1 Not Voting)

The Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to take up this bill intended to increase offshore oil production. The bill is similar to the offshore oil bills passed in the House earlier this month.

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

Key Vote: Motion to Proceed; Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act

Motion to Proceed; Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act
- Vote Rejected (52-48)

The Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed to consideration of this bill that would end certain tax breaks for large oil companies. The bill may resurface as part of the upcoming budget negotiations.

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

Prisoners, dead people got car tax break: report

Prisoners, dead people and children qualified for a 2009 tax break to spur car buying, according to a U.S. report on Wednesday that criticized the Internal Revenue Service for misapplying the refund in some cases.

The IRS should have done more to verify that people who claimed the qualified motor vehicle (QMV) deduction were entitled to it, said the report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, a government-run IRS watchdog.

The measure, which expired on December 31, 2009, was part of the Obama administration's economic stimulus package.

Taxpayers who claimed the deduction were not required to provide independent proof that they bought a vehicle, or if they did, how much they paid in deductible sales and excise taxes, said the inspector general.

"While no amount of fraud is acceptable, more than 4.3 million taxpayers claimed more than $7.2 billion in qualified motor vehicle deductions and only a small percentage involved questionable claims," the IRS said in a statement.

The IRS failed to identify 4,257 people who made QMV claims above a level the IRS flagged as excessive, the report said. These people claimed more than $151.1 million in QMV deductions, based on the inspector general's 2010 review of 2009 returns.

Study: Schoolyard Bullies Four Times More Likely to Abuse Spouses as Adults

Schoolyard bullies are likely to grow up to be adults who abuse their wives and girlfriends, according to a new study.

The study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, surveyed more than 1,400 men between that ages of 18 and 35 at an urban community center in Boston. It found that men who recalled being frequent bullies in school were four times more likely to physically abuse their partner than those who reported never bullying in school.

"Individuals who are likely to perpetrate abusive behaviors against others may do so across childhood into adulthood," concluded the report, which was led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Duval's ambitious reading program kicks off today

Read It Forward Jax is a $5.5 million reading initiative that aims to have every child reading on grade level. The district has not set a time frame for that goal, but it is calling on faith-based, business and government segments of the Jacksonville community to help.

Supreme Court Rules for Drug Firm in a Patent Dispute

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with a drug company over Stanford University in a patent dispute concerning a test to measure the amount of H.I.V. in a patient’s blood.

In a second decision, the court ruled that plaintiffs in a securities fraud class action against Halliburton did not have to prove that false statements from the company caused them to lose money in order to band together in a class action.

In the patent case, Stanford v. Roche Molecular Systems, No. 09-1159, the court considered how a 1980 federal law, the Bayh-Dole Act, affected rights to the H.I.V. test. It was invented by Dr. Mark Holodniy, a fellow at Stanford’s department of infectious diseases who had been assigned by the university to conduct research at the Cetus Corporation, a private firm.

Dr. Holodniy had signed a contract saying that “I agree to assign” inventions arising from his employment at Stanford to the university. He later signed a contract saying that “I will assign and do hereby assign” to Cetus inventions arising from his time there.

Roche Molecular Systems bought Cetus’s rights in the H.I.V. test and created a kit that became widely used in hospitals and clinics. Stanford sued for patent infringement; Roche said it was entitled to sell the kits in light of the agreement between Dr. Holodniy and Cetus; and Stanford responded that the doctor had no rights to assign given the Bayh-Dole Act, which specifies how rights in patents are allocated when federal money is involved.

The “general rule,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in a 7-to-2 decision, is that “rights in an invention belong to the inventor,” even if created on an employer’s watch. (Outside the patent context, Chief Justice Roberts said, the basic rule often goes the other way. “No one would claim,” he wrote, “that an autoworker who builds a car while working in a factory owns that car.”)

Students continue to struggle in FCAT science

Students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take the FCAT science exam. This year, 51 percent of fifth graders scored at grade level — earning a 3 or better on the five-level test — while 46 percent of eighth graders and 40 percent of 11th graders did as well.

Florida governor signs historic Medicaid bill

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed two historic Medicaid bills Thursday, placing the health care of nearly 3 million Florida residents into the hands of for-profit companies and hospital networks.

Lawmakers said the program was overwhelming the state budget and needed to be privatized to rein in costs and improve patient care. Critics fear the bills build on a flawed five-county experiment where patients struggled to access specialists and doctors complained the treatments they prescribed were frequently denied.

State Sen. Joe Negron, who spearheaded the overhaul, said leaders have learned from the pilot program's shortcomings and it now includes increased oversight and more stringent penalties, including fining providers up to $500,000 if they drop out. The measures also increase doctors' reimbursement rates and limits malpractice lawsuits for Medicaid patients in hopes of increasing doctor participation in the program.

The bills (HB 7107 and HB 7109) also require providers to generate a 5 percent savings the first year, which could save the state about $1 billion.

The plan divides the bill into 11 regions where managed care plans and hospital networks will bid on contracts to serve certain regions. Critics worry the regions are too large and that patients will have to drive long distances to see doctors. The House originally proposed eight regions.

Report Finds Inequities in Payments for Medicare

Medicare uses inaccurate, unreliable data to pay doctors and hospitals, the National Academy of Sciences said Wednesday.

Although Medicare is a national program, it adjusts payments to health care providers to reflect regional differences in wages, rent and other costs.

But in a new report, a panel of experts from the academy’s Institute of Medicine said the payment formulas were deeply flawed.

The system of paying doctors has “fundamental conceptual problems,” and the method of paying hospitals is so unrealistic that almost 40 percent of them have been reclassified into higher-paying areas, the report said.

The report criticizes the current arrangement under which Medicare distributes tens of billions of dollars based on regional variations in wages, rents and other costs in 441 hospital labor markets and 89 payment zones for doctors. Of the physician payment zones, 34 cover entire states.

The panel said Medicare should recognize a single set of 441 payment areas for doctors and hospitals alike.

As a result of such a change, the panel said, “higher-cost areas would be separated from lower-cost areas,” and payments to doctors in metropolitan areas would generally increase, while payments to doctors in some rural areas could be expected to decrease.

Doctors sue over new state gun law

Pushing back against the National Rifle Association, a group of physicians on Monday filed suit in a Miami federal court to nullify a controversial measure prohibiting health practitioners from routinely asking their patients if they own guns and have them properly stored.

In a battle pitting the First Amendment against the Second Amendment, attorneys representing pediatricians and family doctors are asking U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke to throw out the recently approved measure (HB 155) they say steps illegally between a patient and their physician by limiting the types of questions practitioners can ask.

The complaint, filed in the Southern District of Florida, contends that prohibiting what physicians and their patients can talk about is unconstitutional.

"By severely restricting such speech and the ability of physicians to practice such preventative medicine, the Florida statute could result in grievous harm to children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly," the complaint reads. "The First Amendment does not permit such a gross and content-based intrusion on speech and, accordingly, the court should declare the ’Physician Gag Law’ unconstitutional and enjoin its enforcement."

The bill easily passed both chambers along largely party line votes - 88-30 in the House and 27-10 in the Senate.

The legislation appears to have originated after an Ocala couple complained that their doctor had told them to find another physician after they refused to disclose whether they owned guns and how they were stored.

Physicians say questions about gun ownership is often part of routine screenings done in many doctor’s offices, included in a battery of questions including such safety questions as whether poisons are kept in the home or if medicines are safely stored.

Gov. Rick Scott signs pill mill bill into law

After initially fighting one of its key provisions, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday aimed at cracking down on clinics that frivolously dispense pain pills, feeding a nationwide prescription drug abuse epidemic.

"Florida will shed its title as the Oxy Express," Scott said at a bill signing ceremony in Tampa.

Below are key provisions of the new pill mill law, which seeks to help law enforcement authorities crack down on prescription drug abuse.

• New administrative and criminal penalties for overprescribing narcotics.

• A strengthening of the prescription drug monitoring database by changing reporting requirements from 15 to seven days.

• A background check requirement for the manager and support staff involved with the database.

• A requirement that the Department of Health study an appropriate monthly dosage limit that pharmacies can dispense.

• A dispensing ban for physicians, with exceptions for surgeons, methadone clinics, clinical trials and hospice.

• A mandatory buy-back program for doctors to return controlled substances to distributors.

• A requirement that pharmacies go through new rigorous permitting by July 2012.

• Tracking of wholesale distribution of controlled substances.

• Appropriation of $3 million for local law enforcement to enact new provisions.

Budget Baby Steps

But when it came time for the votes to be counted, the 10% across the board cut - which would have saved around $4 billion - didn't come close to prevailing, as the House voted 312-110 against the plan.

108 Republicans voted for the cut, while 127 voted against it, again showing that lots of people like to talk about cutting the budget, but it's not easy to come up with big cuts that everyone can agree on.

Report: Drug war a failure

A high-level international panel criticized the war on drugs as a failure Thursday and called on governments to undertake experiments to decriminalize the use of drugs, especially marijuana, in order to undermine the power of organized crime.

Compiled by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the report concludes that criminalization and repressive measures have failed with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

For-profit college regulation softer than anticipated

The Obama administration Thursday released its highly anticipated regulation for tougher oversight of private, for-profit colleges, saying the new rules were needed to protect students who were running up big tuition bills but getting few practical job skills.

The so-called “gainful employment” test immediately came under fire from a top congressional Republican and from minority groups, but share prices for some for-profit colleges jumped as investors concluded that the final rule was not nearly as punitive as some had feared.

The rule would impose three tests on for-profit institutions, which critics say have enrolled huge numbers of students receiving federal aid without delivering real results. Repeated failures to meet the tests would mean a college could no longer accept students paying with federal money, a restriction that could force some nontraditional institutions to close their doors.

A for-profit program will be considered to lead to gainful employment if the estimated loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 30 percent of discretionary income; or if the estimated loan payment of an average graduate does not exceed 12 percent of total earnings.

US Sen. Marco Rubio to teach part-time at FIU

Freshman U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is sharing his expertise with students at Florida International University as a visiting fellow at the university's School of International and Public Affairs, the school announced Thursday.

The GOP senator will co-teach four courses on Florida politics, together with two full-time FIU professors. He will draw on his tenure in the Florida House of Representatives, where he rose to Speaker of the House.

"I am always excited to see young people who are interested in politics and public service. I enjoy providing them real world insights on elections and policy making," Rubio said in an emailed statement.

Rubio, who began teaching in May for the summer trimester, will teach Monday and Friday when the Senate is not in session, spokesman Alex Burgos said.

He will earn $24,000 a year, less than the roughly $27,000 limit senators are allowed for outside work.

Stephen Joost, Bill Bishop picked to lead Jacksonville City Council

All but one of the council's 19 members has an aide. The one exception, John Crescimbeni, decided to work without one after he took office in 2008.

After picking Joost for the top job, members named Bill Bishop as council vice president. Like in the president's selection, Bishop was the only person nominated for the No. 2 spot.

Florida's Minimum Wage Up 6 Cents Wednesday

The state's minimum wage goes up 6 cents Wednesday.

It goes up to $7.31 an hour, affecting about 188,000 people in Florida. Each minimum wage worker will get an extra $188 a year.

The decision increases the payroll by $28 million.

Gov. Rick Scott was disappointed in the decision, but will not appeal it, said spokesman Brian Burgess.

Fla. Gov. Scott signs welfare drug testing bill

Floridians must submit urine, blood or hair samples for drug testing before receiving cash benefits from the state under a bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday.

“The goal of this is to make sure we don’t waste taxpayers’ money,” Scott said. “And hopefully more people will focus on not using illegal drugs.”

The law, which goes into effect on July 1, will mean about 4,400 drug tests per month, according to the Department of Children & Families. Taxpayers will reimburse welfare applicants for negative drug tests, which can cost between $10 and $25.

Positive tests will carry an immediate six-month ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. A second positive test will result in a three-year ban on state assistance.

Gov't cuts rates for hard-to-insure patients

The government is cutting premiums by up to 40 percent in nearly two dozen states and implementing other changes to make it easier for people with pre-existing medical conditions to get health insurance.

The move Tuesday comes as enrollment in the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan continues to lag far behind expectations, often because people can't afford the premiums or find it too hard to meet enrollment requirements.

The insurance program, part of President Barack Obama's signature health care law, began last summer. It offers health insurance to people with medical problems at prices the average healthy person would pay, although that's not necessarily cheap.

So far, about 18,000 people have signed up - well short of government projections that some 375,000 people would gain coverage in 2010.

After bashing President Obama’s stimulus program, Scott includes federal money in state budget

Gov. Rick Scott campaigned against President Obama’s “failed stimulus” program – yet the freshman politician kept nearly $370 million of the federal cash in the Florida budget he signed last week.

When asked Tuesday why he appeared to reverse himself by keeping stimulus money, Scott didn’t specifically answer.

“I think the stimulus was not good for our state, made us more dependent on the federal government,” he said, echoing a budget-signing letter he issued last week. “I think that we’ve got to watch how we spend money. As you know, in the budget, I focused very much on how we spend our money, stopping the growth of debt in our state and making our state less dependent on the federal government.”

The stimulus money Scott and Republican legislators approved touch every corner of the state: $290 million to improve electronic medical records, $4.2 million to aid disadvantaged children, $3.2 million for fighting wildfires, $12.5 million for drug courts, $8.6 million for county health departments, $1 million to fight infectious diseases, and $4.4 million to help public defenders and prosecutors.

In all, Florida is on pace to have spent about $24.2 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package. Florida’s share would have been higher, but Scott unexpectedly refused $2.4 billion to build a high-speed rail line linking Tampa and Orlando. Like the rejection of the rail money, he and lawmakers could have refused to spend the $370 million in federal funds.

Florida flunks in providing dental care for poor children

For the second year in a row, the Sunshine State has received an F for its efforts to help provide poor children with dental care.

Fewer than one in three Florida children enrolled in Medicaid, the government insurer for the poor, saw a dentist in 2010, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States, a public-policy institute based in Washington, D.C.

For that, Florida was awarded a flunking grade for the second year running. Hawaii and New Jersey also got F’s again. Maryland was rated the best-performing state.