Capitol preview: What to expect this week in Florida politics

in Uncategorized by

It’s the final week before the start of the new legislative session, beginning with a holiday and including the deadline for registering to vote to be able to cast a ballot in the presidential primary at the end of the month.

It remains quiet at the Capitol, with no meetings scheduled, but amendments to the redistricting bills are due this week on Wednesday. Substitute amendments are due Thursday.

A number of changes happen on Sunday with the start of the new year, including changes in the minimum wage (higher), the length of unemployment benefits (shorter) and one of the state’s venerable newspapers changes its name.

IOWA CAUCUSES In politics, the grind of presidential politics will finally produce results on Tuesday, when Iowa voters become the first to weigh in on an increasingly unpredictable field of Republicans seeking the nomination to challenge President Obama in November. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is at the front of the pack, according to recent polls, running neck and neck with former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, although the results have seesawed in recent days. The Iowa caucuses have often served to either affirm candidates’ frontrunner status or to clear the way for a dark horse who performs more strongly than expected, as was the case with U.S. Sen. John Kerry in 2004. No matter which candidate wins Tuesday, the focus will instantly shift to New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary state, where Romney has consistently polled on top.

A round-up from the News Service of Florida.

SUNDAY, JAN. 1, 2012

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE: The Florida minimum wage goes up to $7.67 per hour, effective January 1, 2012. Florida law requires the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to calculate a minimum wage rate each year based on the percentage increase in the federal Consumer Price Index. That’s 36 cents higher than the current rate of $7.31 and above the national minimum wage of $7.25.

PUBLIC HOSPITALS REPORT DUE: The Commission on Review of Taxpayer Funded Hospital Districts faces a Jan. 1 deadline for submitting recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature about making changes in Florida’s public hospitals. With the deadline falling on Sunday, the report likely will not be submitted until Monday.

8.9 PCT WORKERS’ COMP HIKE: Businesses will face a an 8.9 percent increase in workers compensation insurance rates that was approved by state regulators earlier this year.

UNEMPLOYMENT MAX CHANGES: Florida’s 26-week maximum unemployment benefit period changes Sunday to a sliding scale that ranges from 12 weeks to 23-weeks, depending on the unemployment rate. The duration will be calculated based on the average unemployment rate in Florida for July, August and September 2011. The Department of Economic Opportunity says the change is projected to save the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund an estimated $103 million annually.

SCHOOL NUTRITION MOVES TO AG: The state’s school and food nutrition program will be part of the state Agriculture Department starting Sunday. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam pushed for a bill, passed earlier this year, that moves the school food program from the Department of Education to Agriculture, where Putnam argued it made more sense. Putnam has said the agency will work to improve the nutritional value of foods served in schools, and to incorporate more foods grown in Florida into school meals. Starting Jan. 1 the program’s 45 full time employees will move to the agriculture agency. The office will be headed by Robin Safley.

NO MORE HAMMERHEAD FISHING: The recreational and commercial harvest of tiger sharks and smooth, scalloped and great hammerhead sharks will be prohibited in Florida state waters beginning Jan. 1. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the management change at its Nov. 16 Commission meeting. The rule change came with no instructions on just how you safely throw back a great hammerhead shark.

IT’S THE TAMPA BAY TIMES: In the Bay area, if you pick up a copy of the paper from the St. Petersburg side of the bay, you may notice it has a new name. As of Sunday, it’s the Tampa Bay Times.

NEW YEAR’S DAY: The U.S. Census bureau is projecting that the country’s population will reach 312.8 million on New Year’s Day, a 2,250,129-person – or 0.7 percent – increase from a year earlier, and a 4,035,430-person increase since the official Census tally on April 1, 2010. The bureau is also estimating that in 2012, a birth will occur every eight seconds, and a death will occur every 12 seconds. Immigration will add one person to the United States every 46 seconds. Births, deaths and immigration will result in a net population increase of one person every 17 seconds, according to the agency.

MONDAY, JAN. 2, 2011

With New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday, Monday is the official holiday. State government is closed.

FAMU TRUSTEES CALL: Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees meets by conference call to consider a communications plan by the public relations firm DKC. (Call in: 1-800-309-9169; conference ID number: 40166629.)

TUESDAY, JAN. 3, 2011

WANT TO VOTE IN THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY? REGISTER BY TUESDAY: Florida law requires voters to register at least 29 days prior to an election in order to participate in it. Tuesday is the deadline for registering to vote in the Jan. 31 presidential preference primary.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4, 2011

INSURANCE: The industry group Florida Insurance Council holds a news conference to talk about the industry’s legislative agenda for the upcoming session, including issues related to PIP, the CAT Fund, Citizens Property Insurance and workers compensation. FIC President Cecil Pierce and Executive Vice President Sam Miller will attend. (Wednesday, 10 a.m., Florida Press Center, 336 E. College Ave., Tallahassee.)

HAWKES STEPS DOWN: The resignation of First District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes is effective Wednesday. Hawkes resigned in the face of an investigation into his role in the building of the court’s new home.

THURSDAY, JAN. 5, 2011

LIP PANEL MEETS: The Low Income Pool Council will discuss the $1 billion program that funnels money to hospitals and other health providers that serve low-income and uninsured patients. (Thursday,  10 a.m., Agency for Health Care Administration, 2727 Mahan Drive, Building 3, Tallahassee.)

FRIDAY, JAN. 6, 2011

SCOTUS CONSIDERS WHETHER TO TAKE FLA DRUG SNIFFING DOG CASE: The U.S. Supreme Court has a conference on Friday to decide which petitions to take cases it will grant and one of the petitions before it on Jan. 6 is a Florida case involving search and seizure. The case hinges on whether a drug dog’s sniff at the front door of a grow house constitutes a search requiring a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. The case is Joelis Jardines v. Florida. (Friday.)

GOVT BRIEFS DUE IN HEALTH CARE SUIT: The United States must file its brief in the defense of the Affordable Health Care Act by Friday with the U.S. Supreme Court. The 26 states, the NFIB and others who are challenging it will reply on Feb. 6, and the government will reply by March 7. The arguments in the case will be in March.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.