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Top Florida Political Discussions and Debates

Topical Breezes
Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
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There is almost nothing in public life that's guaranteed to ignite controversy like education. How children learn, how to measure progress and how to reward teachers are issues on which it's hard to find common ground. But a casual follower of education in Florida might be forgiven for thinking something called “Common Core State Standards” might at least be something people can agree on. What could be wrong with trying to make sure every student is measuring up to generally understood goals? Plenty, it turns out, according to critics. There are many, including such conservative bastions as the Heritage Foundation, that call Common Core government overreach of the worst kind, an infringement on parents' and local school districts' control over what children learn. This week, Patricia Sullivan, a tea party leader in Florida who helped lead a demonstration last week at the Capitol against implementing Common Core in the Sunshine State, explains why she thinks lawmakers would be wrong to go ahead with a policy officially adopted by the state Board of Education in 2010. (Note: The Florida Department of Education was unable to submit a commentary piece defending the three-year-old decision in time for Florida Voices deadline. Its input will appear when we receive it.)
A college degree for $10,000? Is it possible? Can you really get a college education -– the ticket for many to a high-skill job -– for the price of a good used car? St. John's River Community College President Joe Pickens thinks so. Pickens, chairman of the Florida College System Council of Presidents, says the system is responding to last fall's challenge by Gov. Rick Scott to come up with a way students can achieve a degree in Florida for that very affordable price. Curtis Austin, however, says that price tag doesn't tell the whole story. The executive director of an association of private colleges says actual tuition paid by students at state schools is only part of the true cost. The rest is picked up by taxpayers, he says, and even that public money doesn't guarantee the student will obtain a degree. So what do you think? Is a $10,000 degree for real?
Some states legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Some have made it all but legal for just about any adult. And, let's face it, to much of society for most of the recent past, it's about as frowned upon as drinking was during Prohibition -- against the law but beyond the concern of most people. Still, that doesn't change that the federal government and Florida continue to outlaw marijuana, and recent efforts to change state law in the Legislature to allow medical use have gone nowhere. Now, though, a statewide effort to relax marijuana laws in Florida is afoot. It's happened in California, Colorado and other states. Should it happen here? One of our writers says yes. Two say no, even though one of them used to support the idea. You probably have an opinion on it, too. Let us hear it.
With the advent of online tax payments, April 15 doesn't have the cachet it used to. No more newspaper photos of long lines at post offices or breathless local news coverage of people filing their taxes with a minute to spare. But a deadline's a deadline, and tax season is drawing to its climax. No one likes paying taxes, though, except those with wealthy they pay others to handle it for them, sparing no expense. So, now's as good a time as any to ask this question: Are we maxed out on taxes? Kevin King of Pico United Florida writes that for all their griping, U.S. taxpayers bear a smaller burdern than other industrialized countries. Everett Wilkinson of the National Liberty Federation takes a different approach, arguing that financial maneuvers by the Federal Reserve have diluted the spending power of income for everyone, essentially imposing a "hidden tax" on all. So, are we maxed out on taxes? What do you think?
In two cases argued last week, the U.S. Supreme Court could decide the future of same-sex marriage in the United States. One case specifically targets a voter-approved referendum in California banning same-sex marriage; the other addresses the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Florida voters in 2008 approved -- by a convincing 62-38 percent majority -- a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Center and an architect of that 2008 initiative, writes that the traditional arrangement creates the best alternative for raising children -- what many consider to be the main reason for the institution of marriage. Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, thinks it's time for the law to recognize the value of gay relationships as equal to those of heterosexual couples. What do you think?
Few issues are as fraught with the tension of racial history as the right to vote. Now, parts of the Voting Rights Act, a milestone in the civil rights movement, are under review by the Supreme Court in an Alabama case that basically says the country -– including parts of Florida covered by the act -– has shifted enough that federal oversight of election changes is no longer necessary. In fact, it violates the U.S. Constitution by singling out specific geographic areas for special treatment based on historical patterns that no longer apply. This week, Florida Voices asked two groups active on opposite sides of the case: Should the Supreme Court strike down part of the Voting Rights Act?
For most people, the federal budget is like the winter weather up North: Almost nobody likes it, but nobody's doing anything about it. Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson has introduced a bill aiming to stop the sequester. Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho says a continuing resolution passed in the House of Representatives should keep the government funded through the rest of the fiscal year while limiting the effects of the sequester on Florida military veterans. At least one thing is clear, though, Democrats and Republicans seem to agree the sequester was a bad idea. What do you think?
After the pre-Christmas massacre in Newtown, Mass., the issue of gun control once again took over the national conversation. And though it has been subsumed in recent weeks by another partisan deadlock over budget matters, the debate over gun control measures continues in the federal government on issues such as a more comprehensive system of background checks on gun purchasers and handling potential mental illness. To Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, federal officials must follow President Obama's lead in moving for quick action. Republican Steve Southerland, of Tallahassee, thinks the answer belongs more in the home than the Capitol Dome and that it's time for a measure debate rather than a rush to action. What do you think?
Want to break up a party? Bring up divorce or its financial offspring: alimony. Two bills before the Florida Legislature (HB 231, SB 718) sponsored by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, aim to revamp Florida's laws regarding post-marital payment plans by limiting the length of time an ex-spouse is able to collect alimony and allowing factors, such as retirement, into payment calculations. The effort has failed in the past, but its supporters are as undeterred as its opponents are adamant. Will the 2013 Legislature end permanent alimony?
The Sunshine State is well-known for its constitutional commitment to open government, but every year groups advocating transparency in official dealings keep an eye out for changes that could hinder public access to their government's operations. Whether it involves a higher education personnel move or a new incentive aimed at fostering economic development, an animal shelter's records or a voting-information law, open government is a subject in which we all have vested interests. The first is tax dollars. With all the risk of government's becoming more secretive, this week, as the legislative session nears, Florida Voices asked: What are open-government groups watching for in the 2013 Legislature?
It seems there are as many kinds of non-profit groups in Florida as there are the kinds of people they help. And you can find that diversity reflected in the different expectations for the legislature. From general priorities to some very specific legislation, the needs of organizations included this week range widely but give us a starting point in answering this question: What do Florida's non-profits want to see out of this year's session?
Paychecks that help build families and communities, tax collections that make up a major part of Florida's general revenue: The chief business of Florida in many ways is business itself, to paraphrase Calvin Coolidge. And that business includes the one all those tourists, covered in oil, support so handsomely. With that in mind, Florida Voices asked some of the state's leading business organizations: What are Florida businesses looking for from the 2013 Legislature?
February in Florida is a great time to remember -- or in some places, to be forcibly reminded -- how big an impact tourism has on this state. The money, in the billions annually; the jobs, more than a million statewide in 2012; and the lifestyle with which tourism blankets the Sunshine State: That's all part of our makeup. With that in mind, Florida Voices asked the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association: What does the hospitality industry need from the 2013 legislative session?
When it comes to American democracy, local government is where the rubber hits the road. State capitals can have a good or bad relationship with Washington. But the relationship that affects most people in most ways is the one they have with their own government: their garbage collection, their roads, their cops. And a key part of how that works is the relationship county seats, cities and town have with Tallahassee. This week, Florida Voices asked two organizations, the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities, what local governments are looking for from the 2013 Legislature.
To the rest of the world, we're Disney. And Miami. And the Everglades. And long, long stretches of beaches. (And, unfortunately, yes, elections, too.) But coastal residents who head an hour or two inland, or anyone who takes the long drive across Florida's midsection gets reminded that agriculture is a big part of Florida -- well beyond our iconic oranges,it's the second biggest engine of the Sunshine State's economy. This week, Florida Voices asked some of those who know the industry best – growers and field workers: What does agriculture want from the 2013 legislative session? It's not real sexy, and it generally doesn't make for good TV. But it is about food. And we all have an interest in eating.
It might be one of the most oft-repeated political cliches of the past 20 years or so, but there's a reason we hear “for the children” all the time. For most people, that really is what politics is all about: for the children, for the future, for what kind of country we see ourselves as and want to be. For this week's contributors, “for the children” is part of the job description. Florida Voices asked children's advocates what they would like to see the Legislature accomplish in 2013. They're people involved with the Children's Movement of Florida and the Children's Home Society of Florida and also those who professionally help families with children, including those at the National Association of Social Workers, Florida Chapter, and the Florida Tobacco Prevention Network, which aims to snuff out teen smoking. Take a look. You are likely to be hearing from these folks in the spring.
Florida's Legislature opens officially on March 5, but the wheels have been turning for months as different groups and lawmakers prepare to push their agendas for 2013. Florida Voices asked school activists, administrators and educators what they're looking for from the Legislature this year. From different political points on the political spectrum – respondents include the Florida School Boards Association, Florida PTA, Fund Education Now, the Florida Education Association and former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future – the answers boiled down to similar themes: help students by helping teachers by helping schools. Just how that should be done, though, is a big part of what lawmakers will be wrestling with in Tallahassee this spring. The goals may sound the same, but the devil, as always, is in the details.
By any measure, 2012 was a year for big headlines: Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman's shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin; the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (known to supporters and detractors alike as “Obamacare”); President Obama's re-election after a seemingly endless presidential campaign. Topical Breezes had opinion packages on all of these and many more; and Topical Breezes readers had opinions about the opinions. Here, as judged by the number of comments we received, are the five topics that generated the most responses, favorable and otherwise. So, in a year when a formerly Republican Florida governor addressed a Democratic national convention, a Florida election ballot appeared stuffed with proposed constitutional amendments, and last-minute negotiations in the nation's capital sought to avoid a “fiscal cliff,” what subjects generated the most comment among Topical Breezes readers? Please note that comments counted included multiple offerings by individual writers as well as responses back and forth among various writers. Just click on the question link to take a look. Unless you're a divorced motorcyclist who really doesn't like paying alimony, you might be surprised. (And whether you do or don't like the results, feel free to comment yourself.)
You've probably heard something by now about the “fiscal cliff” the country's heading for if President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner can't reach some kind of a deal on whether and how to deal with the end of the “Bush tax hikes” set to expire at the end of the year. With military spending on the cutting block automatically if no deal is reached, Florida Voices asked leaders in defense-related industries and military-heavy communities in the Sunshine State what they think could happen here, and what should be happening in Washington and Tallahassee. Joe Moreno, president of the Florida League of Defense Contractors, thinks the uncertain climate could lead defense-related businesses to consider “possibly closing their doors in Florida.” The Legislature, he writes, has an opportunity to help prevent that. State Rep. Lake Ray, a Jacksonville Republican, writes that the state is in danger of losing employment opportunities for its young people. On the other side of the state, meanwhile, Tampa Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Rohrlack writes that the time is now to get a deal done to keep these possible cuts from happening.
Judging by the responses Florida Voices received from the leaders of the Florida House and Senate to this question, a short, and very obvious, answer is: “heat. And a lot of it.” Senate President Don Gaetz wants to “lash higher education to the realities of the economy” and takes aim at ethical misconduct at the local level. Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, meanwhile, sets his beginning in what sounds like a fairly rancorous committee meeting on “Obamacare” in Florida then heads into property insurance. In the House, Minority Leader Perry Thurston makes no bones about standing “first and foremost” for fixing Florida's voting problems. Meanwhile, in his Organization Session speech excerpted here, House Speaker Will Weatherford covers a lot of ground but at one point reminds Democrats that bipartisanship is a “two-way” street, and asks if they would use their “power and position to surprise and embarrass the majority in order to grab a good headline?” So, it's not even the beginning yet, and we're already into a new anthropology war, Obamacare and accusations of voter suppression versus grandstanding to “grab a good headline.” What can we look for from the Legislature in 2013? Heat. And a lot of it.

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