Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Legislature passes streamlined port security rules

The Senate today gave final approval to a bill the sponsor promises will streamline security requirements for workers at Port Manatee and other seaports in the state.

The Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog reports:
In an effort to improve the flow of business at Florida's roughly one dozen seaports, the Florida Senate on Wednesday approved a proposal that would streamline security requirements that currently force port workers to undergo separate security screenings -- and pay separate fees -- at every port.

The dozens of identification cards workers need for each port can cost more than $2,500 a year.

The proposal by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, and Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando -- which cleared the Senate 36-2 -- would allow ports to share security screening information, enabling workers to carry one ID card and reducing fees by at least 95 percent.

A similar proposal cleared the House last week, and the bill now heads to the governor.

Supporters say multiple layers of port security and bureaucracy have gotten so bad that it has driven business away from Florida ports and into other states.

"This is a bill that will significantly reduce the cost to workers," Aronberg said. "And it will cut down on red tape...This is going to be good for workers and good for security.

Red-light camera debate tangled up in green (UPDATED)

Scroll down for update

The fate of a bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, that would set statewide standards for cameras that capture red-light runners may have become ensnarled in the larger effort by lawmakers to find every last possible nickel and dime to balance the state budget.

The House earlier this week passed a version of the the Mark Wandall Safety Act - named after Manatee man killed by a red-light runner - that sends to the state's general revenue fund $30 out of every $150 fine collected from violators. Of the rest, $90 would be earmarked for the local city or county to install, maintain and purchase cameras; and $30 for health care and trauma centers.

The Senate, which may take up the proposal as soon as today, apparently wants the state to take a bigger cut. An amendment added to the Senate version, S.B. 2004, by the Ways and Means Committee specifies that $40 from the fine would go to the state's general revenue fund.

UPDATED, 2 p.m., April 29

State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, tells Bradenton Herald reporter Sara Kennedy that Senate consideration of the bill has been postponed, but lawmakers continue to work on the measure. Bennett said he did not think the delay would derail the bill.

Neil Spirtas, vice president of the STOP Red Light Running Coalition of Florida, a nonprofit group that supports the bill, told Kennedy that some senators was want to increase the portion of the fines that would go to state coffers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Galvano: I will vote against oil drilling

State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, earlier this week voted for a measure that would allow for oil and natural gas drilling state waters 3-10 miles offshore. The 17-6 party line vote moved the measure out of the House Policy Council.

Galvano told the Bradenton Herald's Sara Kennedy on Thursday that he voted for the measure to move it along through the legislative process.

Today, his office told Kennedy he will vote against the proposal when it comes before the full House.

67 days

The Florida Legislature has only a week left in its regular session, and reports are the Senate and House are far part on a compromise budget for 2009-2010. A special session appears likely.

So what is the drop-dead deadline for lawmakers to craft a final budget, complete with the taxes and fees to pay for it?

Sixty-seven days - or July 1 - the Senate's budget chief, J.D. Alexander, told the Herald's Tallahassee reporter Marc Caputo.

"That's when the government shuts down if we don't have a budget," Alexander said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

MCC name change not yet official

Have you driven by the campus formerly known as Manatee Community College, home of the Lancers, and wondered where are the signs proclaiming the new name, State College of Florida, home of the Manatees?

Well, it turns out the name switch, approved by SCF trustees last week, is not yet officially official.

The Florida Legislature still must sign off.

Part of that approval might come later today.

Galvano backs drilling measure

The debate over oil and gas drilling in the waters off of Florida hit close to home Tuesday, when the House Policy Council approved in a party-line, 17-6 vote a bill that would open state waters - that is, those 3 to 10 miles from shore to exploration. (You can read the measure here.)

Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the only member of the Manatee delegation on the Policy Council, voted for the measure.

The Herald's Tallahassee Bureau reported:

The council approved an amendment by Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, that would lift Florida’s ban on oil drilling in state waters and replace it with a plan to allow the governor and Florida Cabinet to seek bidders for exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico between three and 10 miles offshore.

New revenues would come from a $1 million non-refundable application fee for every bidder and, according to an industry-hired economist, from as much as $1.6 billion in royalties and taxes if the wells produce oil.

“We’re giving the governor and Cabinet that chance to have that dialogue with no obligation whatsoever,” Cannon said. “But we are taking away the shackles that currently prohibit Florida from not only pursuing energy independence but economic development and security and environmental protection.”

There currently is no companion measure on the Senate side, where at least one Republican, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, is opposed to offshore drilling. Bennett's concerns, however are not related to possible environmental hazards.

Bennett said he doesn't like the idea of making the country more reliant on fossil fuels

"The more holes we punch in the Earth, the longer we are putting off doing the right thing, which is investing in renewable energy," Bennett told the Bradenton Herald on Tuesday.

Read more here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Steube leads in House District 67 fund-raising

Greg Steube has jumped out to a large fund-raising lead over two Republican rivals for the District 67 seat in the Florida House.

Steube, an attorney and the son of Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, collected almost $62,000 in the first three months of this year, more than his two opponents combined, according to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

Robert K. McCann, a physician and attorney, reported just more than $33,000 in contributions, and Jeremiah J. Guccione, the founder of the nonprofit Heart Gallery of Sarasota Inc., collected more than $20,300.

Guccione, however, reported the biggest bank account, thanks to a $50,000 loan from him to his campaign, bringing his receipts to more than $70,000.

The District 67 seat is currently held by Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, who cannot run for re-election in 2010 because of term limits. No Democrats have yet filed to run for the seat next year, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

District 67 is comprised of parts of Manatee, Sarasota and Hillsborough counties.

Records filed with the Division of Elections show that more than 250 individuals, businesses and political action committees have contributed to Steube's campaign. The maximum contribution under the law is $500.

Donors to Steube's campaign include developer and former state senator Pat Neal; Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski; Bealls PAC; 12th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Larry Eger; LWR Development LLC; the Red Barn Flea Market Ltd.; and former Manatee sheriff Charlie Wells.

McCann listed about 100 contributors, not including himself or law and medical practices, most of them physicians or other medical personnel from outside Manatee County. He also reported more than $3,200 in cash and in-kind contributions from himself or his medical and law practices to his campaign.

In addition to the $50,000 loan, Guccione reported making $100 in in-kind contributions to his campaign. He also listed about 60 donors.

The only other local legislative race to draw more than one candidate is for House District 55, which includes slivers of Manatee and Sarasota counties. Incumbent Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, reported $6,300 in contributions.

His Democratic challenger, Martha Allen of St. Petersburg, reported no campaign finance activitey.

In District 68, which is being vacated by Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, only businessman and former Palmetto mayor Jim Boyd, has announced. The district is comprised of neighborhoods in western Manatee County.

Boyd reported collecting almost $15,000 in contributions, and making a $10,000 personal loan to his campaign. His donors included former state senators Neal and John McKay.

In District 69, which includes parts of southern Manatee, incumbent Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, reported $10,500 contributions - all from lobbyists, political action committees or other special interest groups.

For links to the campaign finance reports for all legislative candidates, visit the Florida Division of Elections.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Detert: This is how you track the stimulus cash from D.C.

Almost every day, the e-mail boxes here in the newsroom are hit with news releases announcing the latest government programs to receive a boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as the "federal stimulus."

At times, it can get dizzy trying to track where the money is going, and how exactly this program or that is suppose to help lift the economy out of the doldrums. Simply put, $787 billion is ALOT of money.

Two Web sites and - may make it easier to track how and where federal stimulus dollars are being spent, including here in the Sunshine State.

State Sen. Nancy, Detert, R-Venice, who obviously has spent some time on the two sites, this afternoon released a news release detailing where some of the money is heading: is the official website where all announcements and developments on
funding derived from the Stimulus Package can be monitored. The site also
provides information about Federal grant awards and contracts and links directly
to, which serves as a one-stop-shop for all Federal related grants.

Some of the Stimulus funding streams that have recently been announced to help provide recovery for Florida’s economy include:
· Repairs to Roads and Bridges--$1.3 billion
· Public Transit--$316 million
· Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program--$135 million
· Stop Violence Against Women--$6.9 million
· Community Development Block Grant--$42.6 million
· Homelessness Prevention--$65 million
· Native American Block Grant--$89.8 million
· Public Housing Capital Fund--$85.5 million
· Tax Credit Assistance Program--$101 million
· WIA Youth Activities--$42.8 million
· WIA Adult Activities--$19.4 million
· WIA Dislocated Workers--$80.5 million
· Adoption Assistance--$97.7 million
· Foster Care--$88.7 million
· Employment Service to connect unemployment insurance claimants to employment and training opportunities that will facilitate their reentry into employment--$22 million

· Title I, Part A Grants to Local Educational Agencies--$492 million
· Clean Water State Revolving Fund--$133.6 million
· Drinking Water State Revolving Fund--$88 million
· Wildfire Prevention--$900 million
· Weatherization--$175.9 million
· State Energy Program--$126 million

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the following Stimulus funding opportunities nationwide:
· The Farm Service Agency (FSA) will use $145 million of the $173 million provided in the Recovery Act for its Direct Operating Farm Loan Program, which will give 2,042 farmers – almost 50% are beginning farmers and 10% are socially disadvantaged producers – direct loans from the agency. These loans will be used to
purchase items such as farm equipment, feed, seed, fuel, and other operating
expenses and will stimulate rural economies by providing American farmers funds
to operate.
· USDA Rural Development Agency will initially provide nearly 10,000 rural families with $14.9 million ($1.17 billion in loan guarantees) for homeownership financing, creating or saving more than 5,000 jobs.
· USDA Rural Development has released funding for more than $400 million in pending applications for Water and Waste grants and $140 million in pending applications for Water and Waste Direct Loans. Rural Development expects nearly 13,000 jobs will be created by 400 water and wastewater projects.
· The Forest Service has released almost $100 million of the $1.15 billion for projects in the Recovery Act. The stimulus funding will be used for hazardous fuels reduction, forest health protection, and rehabilitation and hazard mitigation activities on federal, state, and private lands. Over 1,500 jobs will be created through shovel ready projects that were identified for urban youth and individuals involved in urban forestry, restoration projects, fire prevention, roads, bridges, buildings, and recreation facilities. Florida has received $900,000 for reduction of mechanical fuel on both state and private lands to reduce the state’s vulnerability to catastrophic wildfire and improve the health and resiliency of ecosystems.
· The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will release up to $145 million provided in the Recovery Act to restore frequently flooded land to its natural state; create jobs in rural communities nationwide when landowners establish these
floodplain easements; as well as restore and protect an estimated 60,000 acres
of flood-prone lands nationwide through the floodplain easement component of its
Emergency Watershed Protection Program. Signups for the easements began
March 9 and will continue through March 27
· NRCS has released $80 million of the $145 million for watershed projects. Through the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations Program, funded projects will improve fish and wildlife habitat and create or restore
· NRCS also released $50 million for rehabilitating aging watershed structures to protect lives and property and public infrastructure. Over 2,100 jobs directly related to NRCS Recovery Act funding are estimated in the engineering and biological fields, additional specialized equipment operators, construction crews, and many other diversified skilled laborers.
· The Recovery Act provides a 13.6 percent increase in the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit for recipients, or roughly $80 per family per month. The SNAP program currently serves over 31 million people each month and the influx of funding will not only help those struggling during these tough economic times but stimulate local economies. It’s estimated that for every five dollars spent through SNAP, $9.20 of local economic activity is generated. This benefit increase will begin to be provided to recipients on April 1, 2009. In addition, ARRA provides nearly $300 million to help states administer SNAP. The first $145 million will be released this month to assist States in responding to increased need. Additionally, the USDA will award grants of up to $5 million to help make SNAP benefits more accessible. The deadline to submit a grant application is June 11, 2009.
· An additional $5 million in funding is provided for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) for facility improvements and equipment upgrades. This is in addition to the over $114 million that will be spent on food
distribution on Indian reservations this year.
· In addition, the Recovery Act provides additional funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Through this program, USDA provides commodities and administrative funds to states for further distribution to local organizations that assist the needy, including food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens. The first $25 million to support administrative functions will be distributed this month.The NIH has announced the availability of applications to allocate the following Recovery Act funds:
· At least $200 million in Challenge Grants to support research on topics that address specific scientific and health research challenges in biomedical and behavioral research that would benefit from significant 2-year jumpstart funds;
· $1 billion in construction grants to help build new or improve existing research facilities and help grow the economy; and
· $300 million in shared instrumentation grants to facilitate the purchase of research equipment that will enable scientists and researchers to complete their critical work.

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) has announced the availability of funding under the COPS Hiring Recovery Program (CHRP) to address the personnel needs of state, local, and tribal law enforcement. Applications for CHRP grants are currently being accepted online via the COPS Office web site at through April 14, 2009. Details include:
· CHRP is a competitive grant program that provides funding directly to law enforcement agencies having primary law enforcement authority to create and preserve jobs and to increase their community policing capacity and crime-prevention efforts.

· Up to $1 billion in grant funding will be available for the hiring and rehiring of additional career law enforcement officers.
· There is no local match requirement for CHRP, but grant funding will be based on current entry-level salary and benefits packages and therefore any additional costs for higher salaries or benefits for particular individuals hired will be
the responsibility of the grantee agency.
· CHRP grants will provide 100 percent funding for approved entry-level salaries and benefits for 3 years (36 months) for newly-hired, full-time sworn officer positions (including filling existing unfunded vacancies) or for rehired officers who have been laid off, or are scheduled to be laid off on a future date, as a result of local
budget cuts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide the
following Stimulus funding nationwide:
· $100 million for Emergency Food and Shelter Program;
· $150 million for transit and rail security grants;
· $150 million for port security grants, no non-federal match required;
· $210 million for Assistance to Firefighter (AFG) grants for firehouse construction; maximum grant is $15.0M; and
· $5 million expansion in authority for FEMA Community Disaster Loans
Recognizing the need to identify and secure funding quickly, Senator Drtert added “those seeking fiscal relief for their agencies, educational institutions, coalitions,
communities, nonprofits, and businesses should visit and
often to monitor formula funding streams and aggressively apply for competitive

Senate to take up growth management bill

The Florida Senate is set to consider a growth management measure designed to encourage growth in urban areas and away from rural parts of the state.

Senate Bill 360, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, would lift an existing requirement to have sufficient roads and other transportation facilities in place before development can take place. That requirement was intended to prevent urban sprawl, but it's had the opposite result. Growth has shifted to outlying and rural areas where roads are less traveled and cheaper to build.

Follow the story here.

Other legislative stories in today's paper and/or at include a story about how and how deep lawmakers want to dig into your pockets to make up for declining revenues in the state budget and Herald reporter Sara Kennedy's report on efforts to prepare Florida for a "greener" future.