Florida's campaign finance system is so riddled with holes that a state ethics watchdog group will urge lawmakers today to open the spigot and let an unlimited amount of cash gush into campaign coffers. Integrity Florida, a nonprofit, independent ethics advocacy organization, will tell the House Ethics and Elections Committee that the state should allow no-limits campaign finance in exchange for public disclosure of all donors. [Source: Times/Herald]
group with strong business ties urged Florida lawmakers to divert nonviolent felons into privately operated prisons for substance abuse and mental health treatment to cut costs and help prevent them from returning to crime when they are released. The proposal by the Florida Smart Justice Alliance drew opposition from public employee unions representing guards and other prison workers. [Source: AP]
The average price for gasoline likely will drop this year, thanks in part to increased oil production in the United States, a leading federal energy agency and travel club AAA predict. Lower gas prices would be welcome news for Florida consumers who face a torrent of other rising costs this year, from payroll taxes to electricity rates and home insurance premiums. [Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida in 1513 could have a billion-dollar payoff for Floridians, state officials told a Senate committee Tuesday. A year-long celebration, anchored around the brand Viva Florida 500, is expected to spike tourism in coming months, yielding dollars and jobs in a state struggling with an 8.1 percent unemployment rate. [Source: Palm Beach Post]
» Viva Florida! In 2013, Florida celebrates 500 years
Looking for a prime college to attend from the comfort of your computer? The University of South Florida is one of the best, according to new education rankings. U.S. News & World Report named USF's online graduate programs in engineering and education among the best nationally for the second year in a row. [Source: Tampa Bay Times]
ALSO AROUND FLORIDA:
› Fort Pierce researcher comes up with monster discovery [TCPalm]
It's a fabled creature that's fascinated man for thousands of years, spawning fishermen's tales of enormous sea monsters such as the Norse kraken or the Scylla of Greek mythology. Yet within the past few months scientists actually have been able to record the giant squid in its natural environment.
› Charter school parents call on state for more money [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
Nearly 1,000 Pembroke Pines parents said they'll push the state Legislature to dig up more money for schools until there is equal funding for the A-rated charter school system.
› Florida superintendents ask for more money, flexibility to improve school safety [Times/Herald]
In the month since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, officials nationwide have reviewed safety and security plans with fresh, newly sobered eyes.
› December a high point for Sarasota luxury home sales [Sarasota Herald-Tribune]
December was a monster month for Sarasota County luxury sales, with a total of 47 homes and condominiums selling for more than $1 million apiece. That was more sales than in any other month in 2012.
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› Harris wins $42 million international contract [Florida Today]
With the U.S. military market expected to shrink because of budgetary issues , Harris Corp. has won a $42 million international order for a radio and data system.
› Coral Gables culinary students learn the art of sushi making [Miami Herald]
The Education Fund’s Teach-a-Thon program delivers master chefs from Sushi Maki to teach Coral Gables High culinary students.
› Red Lobster launches Spanish ad campaign [Orlando Sentinel]
Red Lobster, owned by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, has launched its first Spanish-language advertising campaign. The first ad was created based on Hispanic cultural insights and features the tag "Disfruta un Mar de Sabores" ("Enjoy a Sea of Flavors"). It features Ariana Paz, a server at Red Lobster in Gainesville.
› City of Naples considers height limits, hotel density rules [Naples Daily News]
Removing the city's limits on building height and hotel densities could change the character of Naples, residents and council members said at a Monday workshop. But those changes could also spur downtown development, Mayor John Sorey said.