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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Middle-class tax cut with long-term tail: Is homestead exemption election year ploy?

Home sales file photo

Associated Press

Home sales file photo

Property owners vote, and most homeowners will vote for a tax cut.

That is the conclusion of a carefully crafted constitutional amendment before the Florida Legislature that will put an additional $25,000 homestead exemption for properties valued at more than $100,000 on the 2018 ballot.

The measure appears headed for approval Monday by the Florida Senate, and later in the week by the House. If 60 percent of voters support it, it would be the broadest middle-class tax cut since 2008, when Florida voters approved a series of property tax breaks that capped increases in non-homestead property tax assessments at 10 percent a year and expanded the homestead exemptions from $25,000 to $50,000. 

It is also carefully timed.

The proposal, which would become law in 2019, will be on a mid-term November 2018 ballot when turnout is traditionally lower than in a presidential year. …

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Editorial: Homestead vote tests Florida Senate

House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Times files

House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The Florida Senate traditionally has been where bad ideas are killed, common sense prevails and independent thinking rules. That reputation will be tested Monday when the Senate votes on a misguided proposal to increase the homestead exemption, one of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's top priorities. This is part of a secret deal between Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to resolve the state budget and other top issues, but it's a terrible trade-off, and senators should reject it rather than follow along like sheep.

Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, wants a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would increase the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000. He hates taxes, distrusts local government and may run for governor. Envision Corcoran taking credit for the amendment that would be on the same ballot. …

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says she's retiring from Congress

Photo: Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen alongside her husband Dexter Lehtinen before her acceptance speech after winning the reelection in November 2016.

David Santiago dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Photo: Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen alongside her husband Dexter Lehtinen before her acceptance speech after winning the reelection in November 2016.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of the Florida legislative delegation and the first Cuban American elected to Congress, is retiring at the end of her term next year, saying it’s time to move on after 38 years in elected office.

“It's been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” the Miami Republican told the Miami Herald in an exclusive telephone interview Sunday. “We just said, ‘It's time to take a new step.’”

Her unexpected retirement marks the end of a storied career in which Ros-Lehtinen repeatedly broke political ground as a Cuban-American woman -- and gives Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018. More here.

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of Southeast Miami-Dade County that leans so Democratic that Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points. …

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Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

Winner of the week

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. The former state GOP chairman accomplished what some of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have failed to do: enact sweeping pension reform that puts new city employees into a 401(k)-style retirement savings system. Barely two years in office, and Curry's already eyeing a promotion to CFO. This big victory could help improve his shot at an appointment by Gov. Rick Scott.

Loser of the week

Transparency. So much for Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran's boast that he is leading a process that is the "best in the nation for transparency and openness." He and Senate President Joe Negron went behind closed doors to hammer out a budget deal last week, and Corcoran fast-tracked a bill that radically alters Florida's tradition of open government by letting local elected officials hold private meetings.

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Where are the compromises on education policy for the public to vet? For now, still private.

Florida Capitol

Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Florida Capitol

With barely three days left before lawmakers have to finalize the annual state budget if session is to end as scheduled May 5, Floridians still have very little idea what kind of compromise lawmakers are crafting behind closed doors when it comes to the most consequential reforms this year that affect K-12 public schools.

As of Saturday evening, House and Senate leaders had yet to release any proposed amended language for policy bills tied to the education budget, such as those calling for:

▪ A brand-new $200 million “schools of hope” program (HB 5105) to help students in perpetually failing schools.

▪ A $214 million expansion of annual “Best & Brightest” bonuses for teachers and principals (HB 7069) that rely on their personal academic achievements.

▪ And reforms to how school construction and maintenance dollars — from the state and from local property taxes — are shared between traditional and charter schools (SB 376). …

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Legislature drills down on hundreds of millions of dollars for local projects

With the big ticket items in the state budget resolved or in the hands of the top leaders in the House and Senate, the rest of the Florida Legislature hunkered down into marathon negotiations over the weekend to dole or hundreds of millions of dollars for local projects back home.

While many of the items are tiny in a budget of $83 billion, they are the library projects, museums, park renovations and roadway work legislators crave to bring back home to win praise from voters.

“We’re sort of in a project hell,” State Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, said about marathon negotiations and constant inquiries from other members about the status of funding for things back home. …

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Enviromental budget talks blow up as Senate declares exercise 'fool's errand'

Florida's Everglades National Park

Miami Herald files

Florida's Everglades National Park

Negotiations blew up Saturday over the Legislature's $3.6 billion environmental budget after the Florida House returned with a new offer that rescinded agreements forged the previous two days, forcing the entire budget silo to be bumped up to leadership to resolve.

"We've now spent two days on what, in essence, is a fool's errand,'' said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the chair of the Conference Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

He then declared that all 359 line items will be resolved by House and Senate budget chairs, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. After the meeting, Bradley called the two days of meetings "a charade."

"This was destined to fail and this budget was not going to work out in any meaningful way,'' he concluded. It was not clear when Latvala and Trujillo would meet to resolve the budget, which includes many of the pivotal environmental projects sought by lawmakers as a condition of their support for Senate President Joe Negron's priority -- a water-storing reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. …

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Cruz: Senate chairman who opposes slavery memorial 'knows he can say this and be revered at home'

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa

AP

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz is among those upset and offended by a conservative Senate chairman's explanation on Friday for why he blocked a bill to establish a Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, who chairs the Senate's government operations committee, had told the Herald/Times a memorial to slavery would be too negative and would "celebrate defeat" -- remarks, among others, that were viewed as racially insensitive and sparked immediate backlash from House Democrats and members of the black caucus.

Baxley later clarified that by "defeat" he meant "adversity" but his explanation didn't quell the outrage.

MORE: "A senator said a Florida Slavery Memorial would ‘celebrate defeat.’ Lawmakers are furious."

After what Baxley said, Cruz remarked that a "real issue" in Florida is the redrawing of legislative districts in ways that have created politically safe seats for one party or another.

"Gerrymandering has given members in these safe seats, on both sides, the ability to say what the hell they want to say without answering to a district," the Tampa lawmaker told the Herald/Times, venting her frustration late Friday. …

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Once on chopping block, Miami arts school could still get some state aid next year

Alumni of New World School of the Arts in Miami helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.”

AP

Alumni of New World School of the Arts in Miami helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight.”

Lawmakers in Tallahassee are largely reversing course on plans to cut $650,000 in state grant funding to the Miami arts school whose alumni helped create the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”

During ongoing budget talks Saturday morning, the Florida House asked for $500,000 for New World School of the Arts in 2017-18. That would still represent a cut of $150,000 in funding from last year, but it’s a drastic change from the House’s first proposal to entirely de-fund the school.

The funding level is still under negotiation — talks that now elevate to the full Appropriations chairmen and will continue through the weekend. The Senate had also originally proposed cutting all funding to New World, but later proposed $20,000.

MORE: “Lawmakers set to defund Miami school that educated makers of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hamilton’ ”

Threats to the school’s state grant funding sparked public outcry when news of the Legislature’s plans spread on Friday. 

But House and Senate chairmen in charge of K-12 public school spending said Saturday morning those complaints had little to do with their change of heart.

Full details here.

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Corcoran: Gov. Rick Scott is 'the problem with recess,' not Legislature

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes

House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered a curious statement shortly after midnight Saturday: It’s not lawmakers who have a “problem with recess” — it’s Gov. Rick Scott.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, made the remark in a tweet with no additional explanation. The Herald/Times has requested clarification from Corcoran’s office and also sought comment from Scott’s spokeswoman. (This story will be updated when they respond.)

“Recess moms” were immediately perplexed by Corcoran’s mystery tweet, which was in direct response to a question from an advocate for daily school recess.

More here.

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David Rivera is hanging out in Frank Artiles' old Senate office

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera appears to be testing out the digs of a state legislative office that he might seek to occupy one day soon.

Rivera, a Republican, was seen casually hanging out in the Capitol office of former Sen. Frank Artiles on Friday evening -- socializing and bantering with a handful of people who appeared to be Artiles' remaining legislative staff and others.

One of Artiles' legislative aides, Alina Garcia, used to work for Rivera when he was a state House member from 2000-2008.

Artiles, R-Miami, resigned one week ago Friday after a firestorm brought on several days earlier when Artiles insulted a fellow lawmaker and used a racial slur to describe several other senators in an alcohol-laced tirade at a private Tallahassee bar.

Rivera's name has been floated as a potential candidate to fill Artiles' vacant seat, representing District 40 in Miami-Dade County. (Rivera unsuccessfully ran for a state House seat last fall.)

After Artiles' resignation, his legislative staff was kept on to provide continued constituent services until voters select his replacement in an upcoming special election, which Gov. Rick Scott has not yet scheduled. …

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House, Senate agree to small increase in K-12 public school spending

From Brandon Larrabee at the News Service of Florida: …

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House passes 'sanctuary' city ban, although Senate version stalled

Dozens of immigrant advocates gathered at the Florida Capitol in March to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring.

Kristen M. Clark / Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau

Dozens of immigrant advocates gathered at the Florida Capitol in March to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring.

Florida’s Republican-led House voted Friday to outlaw “sanctuary” cities and to impose harsh penalties on any elected officials or communities that seek to thwart that ban.

After a divisive debate that spanned almost three hours over two days, the House endorsed the proposed law by a 76-41 vote, with Democrats vehemently opposed.

Republicans said the bill supports American freedom and “the rule of law” by prohibiting local law enforcement from resisting compliance with federal immigration laws and detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“To essentially encourage illegal activity should be offensive to everyone,” Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, said in reference to communities deemed to be “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants.

RELATED: Judge blocks Trump from cutting off funds to ‘sanctuary cities’

The controversial measures proposed in HB 697 are unlikely to become law this year. A companion bill in the Senate wasn’t heard in committee.

Lawmakers still debated the legislation at length, as Republicans aimed to temper what they viewed as inflammatory rhetoric by Democrats.

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Black lawmakers, Democrats irate after senator says slavery memorial would 'celebrate defeat'

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

AP

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala

House Democrats and members of the legislative black caucus are offended and irate after a conservative Senate committee chairman said Friday the reason he didn’t hear a bill to create the first slavery memorial in Florida was because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat.”

“I would rather celebrate overcoming the heartbreak of slavery. I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to child abuse; I wouldn’t want to build a memorial to sexual abuse,” Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley told the Herald/Times for a story that was published online midday Friday. “I have a discomfort about memorializing slavery. ... I would like to take it in a more positive direction than a memorial to slavery.”

His comments came as the House voted unanimously that day — with roaring applause — to build the Florida Slavery Memorial near the Capitol in Tallahassee. Despite the House support, the proposal stalled in the Senate because Baxley had what another senator described as a “philosophical objection” to the concept. …

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Did fracking create cracks in the Democratic Party?

Fracking

Associated Press

Fracking

A crack has emerged over fracking in Florida Democratic Party.

As the Florida Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill sought by Florida Power & Light to allow the company to expand its rate base by charging customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states, the Florida Democratic Party was blasting the measure on its website and urging people to sign up “and tell the Florida Legislature to OPPOSE SB 1238.”

“Republicans in the Senate want Florida families to pay for FP&L’s disastrous and harmful oil exploration methods,” warned the party in a post after the measure passed 9-3 by the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.

SB 1238, has been opposed by residential and commercial utility customers, and remains stalled in the Florida House but, in the Senate, both Republican and Democratic senators have voted for the measure in committee and are expected to approve it when it comes up for a final vote as early as Monday. The bill was debated on second reading Friday.

Among the supporters of the bill are both Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, even though …

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