October 18, 2017

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What You Need to Know About Florida Today

Will Short Gorham | 1/25/2011

Statute Meant to Protect Jobs Isn't Enforced

Illegal immigration either costs or saves Floridians billions of dollars. It's inspired by racism. Or it's a fight to stop slave-labor wages. The polarizing views and stats clashed Monday at the Florida Senate's second fact-finding committee meeting over immigration. But one number wasn't disputed. Zero. That's the number of employers who have been charged with breaking an 11-year-old Florida law that prohibits anyone from knowingly hiring a person "who is not duly authorized to work by the immigration laws or the Attorney General of the United States." "From what I can find, from our statistics, the statute has never been enforced," said Michael Ramage, general counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. [Source: Times/Herald]

In Strawberry Country, It's Good to Be the Queen

The strawberry queen eats her strawberries straight from the basket.

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Sliced onto pancakes. Topped with whipped cream. She likes them in the winter, when you can get a good Florida berry fresh from the farms. The strawberry queen is too kind and too regal to show disdain, but she politely passes on California berries in the summer. She's a Plant City girl, after all. This is her time: strawberry season, at last. And when you are the strawberry queen, there is glitz. There is glamour. Forget munching on strawberries reaped from early December harvests. Forget pulling over at farm stands for those thick strawberry shakes that don't make it out of the car. The strawberry queen starts her season with chocolate-dipped strawberries. "They're sweet, and the chocolate adds an extra little goodness," said Natalie Burgin, 18, the Strawberry Festival queen. She lingers by the fancy dipped and striped chocolate strawberries behind glass at the Original Leena's Chocolates in Valrico. This is what she aspired to achieve Monday: a chocolate-covered strawberry worthy of a doily-lined plate. When you are the strawberry queen, your royal duties do not make you nervous. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]

Scott Campaign Staffers Get High-Profile, In-House Lobbying Jobs

One kept track of Gov. Rick Scott's inauguration invitations and donations. Another led his campaign field operations in Orlando. A third was a "tracker" who videotaped opponents for campaign research, about a year after he was fired from the Republican Party of Florida for misconduct. These and other young foot soldiers in Scott's campaign are being rewarded with high-profile jobs as legislative affairs directors, or in-house lobbyists, in agencies under Scott's control. Directors traditionally serve as liaisons between the Legislature and the agencies it funds. They are expected to know an agency's inner workings, offer advice on relevant bills and provide timely information to lawmakers. As a candidate, Scott called it wasteful for the state to employ dozens of lobbyists. On MSNBC in August, Scott said: "That's not what state governments ought to be doing." But as governor, he's using those positions to reward political supporters. The appointments reflect a desire by Scott to have more involvement in hiring practices at state agencies. Their mission, Scott said, will be to carry out his agenda. Most are earning thousands less than their predecessors. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]

The Tax Man Cometh ... with an iPhone App

Tax junkies who can’t get enough of the Internal Revenue Service can now stay in touch with a new phone app.

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The IRS on Monday unveiled IRS2Go, an app that allows taxpayers to check on their refunds and obtain tax tips from the federal tax collection agency. The free app, the IRS’s first for smartphones, is available for users of iPhones and Androids. “This phone app is a first step for us,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. We will look for additional ways to expand and refine our use of smartphones and other new technologies to help meet the needs of taxpayers." The agency already uses YouTube and a Twitter news feed, @IRSnews, to reach taxpayers. IRS2Go can be downloaded at the Apple App Store or the Android Marketplace. [Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune]

Does Selling the State's Planes Make Financial Sense?

In less than three weeks, Gov. Rick Scott plans to make good on one of his signature campaign promises: selling off both the state's planes. It's a popular decision for voters who elected Scott based on his vows to downsize government and shrink state spending. Operating and maintaining the planes cost taxpayers $2.4 million annually, and allegations of misuse have turned them into a symbol of sloppy, even corrupt governance. But emptying the state's stable of aircraft is also the prerogative of a multimillionaire who can rely on his own personal jet - a resource that many future governors likely will not have, posing difficult questions about official travel in the future. "That's the big issue, it seems to me," said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida. "It's fine if you are a wealthy individual who can finance your own campaign and afford your own jet. It does save state taxpayers. But the other side of the coin is it leaves future governors and other state officials at a disadvantage. [Source: Tampa Tribune]


› 40-foot Stolen Yacht Rolls Up in Manatee Bay
An abandoned 40-foot yacht found run aground in Miguel Bay on Saturday turned out to be reported as stolen, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Residents of Terra Ceia reported the vessel, ”Unplugged” from Sarasota, which was lilting to the side as it balance in only about six inches of water. Coast Guard investigators believe the yacht was not intentionally run aground. One of the two engines was running, but only in idle, and the boat was secured as if it were not being piloted. There were also no outstanding reports of missing persons from boating.

› Fla. Lawmakers Look to Texas for Prison Advice
Florida lawmakers are looking to Texas for advice on cutting prison costs without appearing to be soft on crime. Texas state Rep. Jerry Madden outlined several cost-cutting steps taken by his state in 2007 during a joint meeting Monday of two Florida Senate committees. The Texas approach included putting low-risk, nonviolent offenders on probation or freeing them on parole and providing treatment to inmates suffering from drug and alcohol addiction or mental health problems. "This (group) is the ones you're mad at, you're angry at," said Madden, who helped lead the overhaul. "They've done something that's really dumb, stupid against the law, but you're not terribly afraid of them." Texas has avoided about $2 billion in prison costs since taking its new approach, Madden said. Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, said Florida lawmakers have discussed similar proposals for the last three years but they haven't gotten anywhere. "It's politically difficult to do," Dockery said.

› 'Burn Notice' to Remain Part of Miami's TV Mini-Boom
As it readies for a fifth season in Miami, Burn Notice still hasn't mined all of the region's backdrops or storylines, show creator Matt Nix said Monday. ``You get tapped out on the obvious things, like cartels, straight-up Colombian cartels,'' Nix said at a panel discussion of the hit cable series about an out-of-work spy stuck in Miami. But ``we've done one Haitian story in the history of the show. Make it one and a half. One of things we've never done is an episode that leans heavily on the Brazilian community in Miami.'' Nix initially fought to set Burn Notice in New Jersey in order to preserve his concept of a dark spy made miserable by glum surroundings. But the USA cable network insisted on the bright surroundings of Miami, and the show went on to be one of the most popular cable series on television.

› House Wants Freedom from Redistricting Rules
Nearly 63 percent of Florida voters last November approved sweeping new standards for lawmakers to follow in drawing up new congressional and state legislative districts. But the GOP-controlled House wants a federal court to remove some of those standards from the state constitution. The Florida House has asked a judge to let it join a lawsuit filed late last year by two veteran members of Congress against Amendment 6. The stakes for the lawsuit are even higher than they were last fall, now that new U.S. Census numbers have increased the size of Florida's congressional delegation by two seats. Starting in 2012, the state will have 27 members in the U.S. House. It is up to the Legislature to draw those districts' boundaries. House Republicans on Monday defended the decision to act after voters have already approved the new standards. They maintain Amendment 6 is unconstitutional because it would put limits on how legislators draw up new districts for Congress.

› Food, Goods Pump Up Gas Station Profits
"We cater to both Bubba and the BMW set," said Mark Perrualt, who runs this sprawling 12-pump, 1.5 acre station leased from Risser Oil Corp. The up market venture shows how gas station owners are grappling with change dogging this rough and tumble industry. Gas prices are rising again, but retailers typically make just 8 cents a gallon, and that's before paying for expenses like rent. Adjusted for inflation, that's a nickel less than 30 years ago when gas cost a third of what it does today. Operators make it up on volume with more pumps and more to-go food inside. The Rally at 2200 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg includes a beer cave, a cigar bar, some produce and a business plan to pump as much gas as all nine stations that once were within two miles.

› ShandsCair Team Uses $10K Goggles to Improve Patient Safety
The ShandsCair medical team has a new weapon in its arsenal, aimed at increasing patient safety. This week, the helicopter flight team began using night vision goggles to improve flight capability at night. As lead pilot Mark Womack explains, the $10,000 goggles give him 20/25 vision in low visibility, compared with 20/200 without them. When you're landing a helicopter in an unfamiliar landing zone close to the scene of an accident, prepared to load a critically injured patient, the goggles can make a critical difference. "They improve our ability to go into dimly lit landing zones, such as a field or pasture, and allow us to see obstructions like power lines that we'd miss with the naked eye," he said. The helicopter is staffed by a pilot, flight nurse and paramedic, and all of the crew members have been outfitted with the goggles, manufactured by ITT Night Vision and Imaging.

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