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Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

The Hometown Democracy Debate Heats Up

Amendment 4, also known as Hometown Democracy, will be the ballot initiative to watch in 2010.  The highly-controversial amendment cleared another hurdle yesterday when the Florida Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion to Attorney General Bill McCollum stating that a revised financial impact statement now complied with state law.  

“Local governments will incur additional costs due to the requirement to conduct referenda,” the court opined.  The impact on state government; however, “will be insignificant.”

Amendment 4 would require that any comprehensive land use plan changes approved by city councils or county commissions go before the public in the form of a ballot referendum.  Critics say that requiring the public to vote on all comprehensive changes would clog up local ballots and could necessitate dozens of referenda throughout the year.  On the other hand, proponents contend that local politicians are too dependent on large developers for campaign funds and have been quick to approve amendments in the past.

The recent legislative session only served to further heighten the stakes as the Legislature moved to strip much of the existing growth management policies currently in place in an effort to jump-start the state’s flagging real estate industry.  To the dismay of many, Charlie Crist—a self-proclaimed environmentalist—went along with the Legislature’s efforts. As a result, many previous opponents of Amendment 4 are beginning to change their tune, including Florida Times-Union Columnist Ron Littlepage.  Littlepage cited the Legislature’s near-stripping of concurrency requirements and the on-going Craig Airfield controversy in announcing his shifting position on the initiative.  (Interestingly enough, several local governments, including Weston, Key Biscayne and Miami Beach, have filed suit to block the rewrite of growth management laws.  They argue that eliminating concurrency created “unfunded mandates” for local governments.)

Despite their opposition to the recent moves by the Legislature in regards to growth management, the St. Pete Times Editorial Board is not convinced that Amendment 4 is the answer.  They cite the “St. Pete Beach experiment” in detailing their distaste for the initiative.  St. Pete Beach, the Times said, demonstrates that “land planning via referendum is a messy, unpredictable business that leads to higher government costs due to litigation and a stalemate when it comes to development.”

On its face, some argue that the amendment demonstrates an abdication of voter responsibility.  If the voting public is unhappy with politicians rubber stamping the requests of developers, they argue, then voters have an obligation to show up at the polls in support of individuals who pledge their commitment to uphold the comprehensive plan.  

One thing is for certain—it will be a high-stakes, expensive war as the Florida Chamber, developers and real estate interests make an all-out effort to prevent the amendment from reaching that magical 60%.  

The ad wars on YouTube have already begun.  A sampling, including a satirical reprise of the 1970’s era “Crying Indian” PSA, can be viewed below. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: 2010, Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , , , , ,

Scanning Florida’s Legislative and Budget News

You know it can’t be a good sign of things to come when you find the statement below as postonpolitics.com’s Quote of the Day, while scanning various newspapers for Florida legislative and budget news. 

“We threw that away.”

–Senate Transportation & Economic Development Appropriations Chairman Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, on Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget recommendations.

The last thing Floridians need during these tough economic times is a fight between the Legislature and the Governor. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , ,

FL Supreme Court takes on foreclosures

According to various reports, including a 2006 Jacksonville Area Legal Aid report, foreclosure rates and murder rates go hand in hand.   That’s important information to know given that in Jacksonville one out of every 284 homes received a foreclosure filing this past January – that’s much higher than the national average of one in 466.   Jacksonville has already been declared the murder capital of Florida for 8 years running.

The Florida Supreme Court has recently jumped in the foreclosure fray – not with any thought of stemming the murder/foreclosure connection, though.  They are trying to get a handle on the court dockets that are now exploding with foreclosure cases.  I guess we should take any help that we can get.

From the Miami Herald:

To sandbag the flood of foreclosures pouring into the state’s underfunded court system, the Florida Supreme Court announced the formation of a statewide task force on Monday that will look for solutions to the docket backlog while ensuring borrowers and lenders are treated fairly.”This is a hurricane that has hit our state,” said Miami Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey, who was appointed to lead the 15-member task force.

“Over 75 percent of the incoming cases are mortgage foreclosures. Our dockets have exploded.”

The task force will take specific aim at integrating the growing patchwork of judicial rules that have been established by the state’s circuit court judges as they seek to manage the influx of cases.

Some circuit districts, for instance, require lenders to provide homeowners with contact numbers for nonprofit legal help when filing foreclosure. Others refuse to hear cases when representatives for the parties are not physically present in court. Still others require mediation. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Jacksonville, ,

FL Supreme Ct: Redistricting constitutional amendments can go on 2010 ballot

On Thursday, the Florida Legislature suffered a loss at the hands of Florida’s citizens.  The Florida Supreme Court issued 2 advisory opinions upholding Fair Districts Florida’s proposed constitutional amendments regarding legislative and congressional redistricting.  

The legislative redistricting constitutional amendment as proposed by Fair Districts Florida provides that redistricting measures cannot be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts also must be “compact,” and can’t be drawn to block racial or language minorities from having “equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.  So, I guess you can see why the Florida Legislature might not necessarily be thrilled to see these amendments on the 2010 ballot.

The ruling is a victory for Florida Democrats, who have had no way to win Republican-held seats without changes to the redistricting process.  The Fair Districts Florida group now has to gather 677,000 valid signatures by February 1, 2010 to make it on the ballot.  Then 60% of Florida’s voters have to vote to approve the constitutional amendments before they will become law in Florida.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , ,

Lobbyists are still trying to overturn Florida’s ethics law

One thing for sure, you can always count on lobbyists……to protect themselves, that is.  Just 3 short years ago, Florida passed one of the toughest ethics laws in the nation. The law bans gifts to legislators and requires lobbyists to file reports disclosing who hired them and how much they are being paid.  If a lobbyist doesn’t comply or someone complains to the Legislature, lawmakers can investigate and punish lobbyists with up to a two-year suspension and a $5,000 fine. 

Lobbyists originally sued saying that requiring them to disclose their employers violated privacy and equal protection rights guaranteed by the Constitution.  However, federal courts disagreed with that but did decide that the Florida Supreme Court needed to rule on whether the law violated the Florida Constitution.  

So here the lobbyists are (with their Statewide association) – in the Florida Supreme Court.  They made their arguments yesterday according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, but some members of the Florida Supreme Court seemed unconvinced. 

Thank goodness for that.  Just what we don’t need in these days of Ray Sansoms is a return to the days of free drinks, free dinners and legislative gossip at the Silver Slipper in Tallahassee. 

The Florida Supreme Court should be issuing an opinion soon.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , ,

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