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August 03, 2015

Scott to AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek: Audit hospitals, insurance plans

After demanding that hospitals and insurance companies prove their Medicaid contracts are below state-mandated limits, Gov. Rick Scott is dispatching Agency for Health Care Administration to audit those that did not send the state information by an Aug. 1 deadline.

The audit announcement came in a letter Scott sent to AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek Monday.

Hospitals and insurance plans whose contracts AHCA auditors find are above a cap in state law of 120 percent of the Medicaid rate limit could be cancelled by the agency, Scott wrote. Those hospitals could also become ineligible for taxpayer funding under the Low Income Pool.

It's not clear how many hospitals or insurance plans will be audited at this time. Those that complied with a letter from Dudek requesting information about their contracts by Aug. 1 should be exempt.

Download Scott's letter here.

ICYMI: Being a Florida lawmaker a path to wealth for many

From the weekend:

In the wake of the Great Recession, which left the average Florida family struggling to make ends meet, at least one group of people continues to get richer: It pays to be elected to the state House or Senate.

Of the 160 lawmakers elected to the state Legislature, 114 have increased their personal wealth while in office, a Times/Herald analysis of officials' financial statements found.

On average, lawmakers' net worth has more than doubled from the year of their first campaign through 2014. Their incomes have generally risen, too, by 63 percent on average. For some legislators, years spent in elected office have accompanied multimillion-dollar increases to their net worth.

It's a stark contrast to the reality most Floridians face.

Continue reading "ICYMI: Being a Florida lawmaker a path to wealth for many" »

McClatchy poll: Republican voters like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio. A lot don't like Donald Trump.

via @LightmanDavid

WASHINGTON -- Republicans like Jeb Bush. And a lot really don’t like Donald Trump.

In fact, more than half find Trump a distraction from the primary process, not a serious candidate.

With the first Republican presidential debate coming up Thursday, a new McClatchy-Marist poll finds that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents personally like Bush, saying they view him favorably rather than unfavorably. Large numbers also like Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee, far more than dislike them.

But nearly half dislike Trump, suggesting that the billionaire businessman who leads national Republican polls will have a hard time reaching those personally hostile voters and growing his constituency, while a host of others have room to surge.

The debate in Cleveland, the first of a monthly series, will feature the 10 Republicans, plus ties, atop an average of national polls. As many as seven other candidates will not qualify and instead can participate in a late afternoon forum.

More here.

Legislature urged to add more transparency to mapmaking

One week before the start of a special legislative session to redraw the boundaries of Florida congressional districts, the League of Women Voters is questioning the level of transparency.

League President Pamela Goodman, joined by Common Cause, sent a letter to legislative leaders Monday in which she hinted at possible legal action if the new map isn't developed in public view. The league is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to the Florida Supreme Court's rejection of the Congressional map as unconstitutionally in violation of state anti-gerrymandering provisions.

Goodman questioned the July 20 memo from Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in which both men said a new "base map" would be "drafted solely by staff in collaboration with counsel, without our participation or the participation of any other member, and will be provided simultaneously to all members and the public prior to the convening of the special session."

Challenging that move, Goodman writes: "We believe that the 'base map' should be discussed and drawn in public, as that map will play a central role in the legislative process of drawing the Congressional redistricting plan. We hope and expect that the Legislature will provide a mechanism for the public to view the drawing of the 'base map' and any associated discussions," including live streaming on the web.

Goodman noted that the Florida Supreme Court, in its order, directed the Legislature to "conduct all meetings in which makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation." She also urged the Legislature to resist any use of attorney-client privilege in an attempt to shield discussions from disclosure.

The second special session of 2015 is scheduled to run from Aug. 10 to Aug. 21. A third special session has been called for Oct. 19 to redraw state Senate districts in advance of next year's elections.

AARP: 2015 legislative session's successes and failures were 'historic'

The Florida AARP on Monday released its voting record for the 2015 legislative session and special budget session.

“The 2015 Florida legislative session was historic, both in terms of laws passed and proposals that did not pass,” said State Director Jeff Johnson said in a statement.

Unlike some groups, AARP doesn't rank lawmakers based on their votes during the session, but the document provides an insight into priorities the activism group for older Floridians has going into the 2016 session, especially given how many bills failed to pass amid rancor between the House and Senate.

On their list of failed bills that AARP says should have passed:

* The Florida Health Insurance Exchange plan, which would have subsidized health insurance using federal Medicaid expansion money.

* Some of the legislation to expand advanced registered nurse practitioners' ability to prescribe drugs and care for patients.

* Set up a regulatory framework for telemedecine.

* Bills to make texting while driving a more easily enforced offense and to enhance road safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

You can download the full report here.

Fact-checking Donald Trump's claims about black income, unemployment under Obama

Just days before the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 campaign, billionaire real-estate developer and current polling leader Donald Trump criticized President Barack Obama’s record on ABC’s This Week.

At one point, Trump zeroed in on Obama’s status as the country’s first black president, arguing that he had failed his black constituents.

The topic came up when ABC’s Jonathan Karl referred to a tweet by Trump that said, "Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won't see another black president for generations!"

Karl asked Trump why he thought the country wouldn’t see another black president for "generations." Trump replied:

"I think that he has set a very low bar, and I think it's a shame for the African-American people. And by the way, he has done nothing for African-Americans. You look at what's gone on with their income levels. You look at what's gone on with their youth. I thought that he would be a great cheerleader for this country. I thought he'd do a fabulous job for the African-American citizens of this country. He has done nothing. They are worse now than just about ever. ... They have problems now in terms of unemployment numbers. Look at their unemployment numbers. … Here you have a black president who's done very poorly for the African-Americans of this country."

We wondered whether Trump was right that under Obama, income levels and unemployment numbers "are worse now than just about ever" for African Americans.

See what Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact found and see Trump's Truth-O-Meter record.

August 02, 2015

Democrats fight over Hillary Clinton backer who endorsed Miami Republican congressman


Shortly after Democrat Annette Taddeo launched her campaign against Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Curbelo boasted he had snagged the endorsements of a slew of local Democrats. The list included Hispanic media consultant Freddy Balsera, who also happens to be raising money for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

That didn't seem to sit well with Taddeo's campaign: Someone in her circle asked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington to make Clinton's campaign aware of Balsera's endorsement -- in what Balsera considers an attempt to sideline him from the high-profile 2016 presidential race.

The behind-the-scenes fight spilled over into the public realm last week when Balsera's firm organized a series of meetings in Miami for Lorella Praeli, Clinton's Hispanic outreach director, who was in town to introduce herself to local reporters and Democratic activists. The feud was first reported Sunday by Politico.

Balsera doesn't have an official role with the Clinton campaign -- at least, not yet -- but he's a Clinton supporter and surrogate speaker who worked on President Barack Obama's two races and sat on his national finance committees.

"The Taddeo campaign heard that Balsera may be doing some work with the Clinton campaign and -- this was months ago -- and asked the DCCC to raise the issue with the Clinton campaign," DCCC spokesman Matt Thornton told the Miami Herald.

Continue reading "Democrats fight over Hillary Clinton backer who endorsed Miami Republican congressman" »

August 01, 2015

Miami donors dug deep for hometown candidates Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush

@NickNehamas @lesleyclark @CAdamsMcClatchy @PatriciaMazzei

Miami’s political sugar daddies bankrolled — in a big way — the outside groups supporting hometown presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

And it wasn’t just donors in the Magic City who dug deep. The “super” political action committees enlisted to do heavy fundraising for Rubio and Bush hauled in more money from Florida than anywhere else, underscoring the pitched battle between the two Republicans to win their home state.

Norman Braman, the Miami auto magnate and civic activist, made good on his promise to stand behind Rubio, whom he called the “candidate of the future.” Braman gave the Conservative Solutions committee backing Rubio a tidy $5 million, according to a financial report the group filed Friday.

“I believe he’s the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton,” said Braman, who is said to be willing to give Rubio $10 million. “All the others have been there. I don’t believe in dynasties. I don’t believe in crowning nominees.”

His money — in three checks of $1.5 million, $1.5 million and $2 million in April, May and June — topped the list of contributors to the committee and amounted to nearly a third of the group’s $16.1 million total. About $11.4 million of that came from Florida.

The biggest donor to the Right to Rise USA committee supporting Bush was also a local: Coral Gables healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez, a longtime Bush friend who hosted a March fundraising soiree, contributed $3 million. Right to Rise raised a whopping $103 million in support of Bush’s presidential bid, with Florida donations comprising about $29 million.

Story here. Interactive money graphic here.

Interactive graphic: The money race between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio



You've got questions: How much have Miami's two Republican presidential candidates raised so far? Who did it come from? How much did top donors give?

We've got answers.

Check out our interactive graphic, where you can peruse the top national, Florida and South Florida donors to the super PACs backing Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. We've also got a county-by-county breakdown of how much they hauled for their campaigns in Florida.

Take a look here.

July 31, 2015

Miami City Hall gets one-day pass for not responding to you


For one day, Miami City Hall gets a pass for ignoring your emails and phone calls.

An electrical surge Friday morning at Miami’s police headquarters knocked out power to the building and shut down computer systems for the department and the municipal administration, according to city officials.

Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said the power spike happened after midnight, and 400 NW Second Ave. went dark. Computers in the building went down. Police officers were still able to use their laptops, and 911 calls went to a backup center at the Coconut Grove firefighter training facility, he said.

The city administration keeps its servers at the police department and lost its connection as well. The public couldn't access documents and city employees couldn't accept calls at their office or emails to their city addresses.

City Manager Daniel Alfonso texted that the city was getting by “with difficulty.”

Llanes said the department was getting back online around 5 p.m., but emails and the city’s website were still down as of this posting.

Lift Cuba embargo, Hillary Clinton urges Congress

via @MrMikeVasquez @J2theLuna

Saying “America’s approach to Cuba is at a crossroads,” Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton called for an end to the 53-year-old Cuban trade embargo in Miami on Friday.

The former secretary of state’s chosen location of Florida International University was significant for two reasons: Clinton delivered the message in the heart of the Cuban exile community, which is divided over the issue, and did it at a college campus, where the crowd tilted younger and, according to polls, more likely to support lifting the controversial measure.

Her position would have elicited public outcry in the Miami of a not-so-distant past. But times have changed: Protests against Clinton were contained to a handful of people, many of them with the local Republican Party, outside the auditorium.

In her remarks, Clinton said her campaign is about bringing prosperity to the U.S. — but also to the citizens of Cuba, and “for the young entrepreneur in Little Havana, who dreams of expanding to old Havana.”

Though only Congress can lift the embargo, Clinton promised, if elected, to act on Cuba even if Congress doesn’t, by using her executive authority to loosen travel and other economic restrictions, including on telecommunications.

More here.

In Fort Lauderdale, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton offer glimpse into what 2016 general election could look like

@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

Forget the primary. For a moment Friday in Fort Lauderdale, it seemed as though next year’s general election had already arrived.

Democrat Hillary Clinton took direct aim at Republican Jeb Bush — who in turn made a pitch to the voters whose support he would need to defeat Clinton.

Clinton didn’t name Bush when she spoke to the annual conference of the National Urban League, a civil-rights organization that welcomed five 2016 presidential candidates. But she referred to the “right to rise” — the name of a political action committee raising money for him.

“Too often we see a mismatch between what some candidates say in venues like this, and what they actually do when they’re elected,” Clinton said.

“I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a ‘right to rise’ and then say you’re for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care. They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on. They can’t rise if their governor makes it harder for them to get a college education. And you cannot seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote.”

That last line, alluding to some of Bush’s policies as Florida governor, prompted a round of enthusiastic applause. Bush’s administration purged the voter rolls and shortened early-voting hours, two measures that disproportionately hurt African Americans.

“What people say matters, but what they do matters more,” Clinton said.

More here.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott highlights hospital infection problems

via @JeremySWallace

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is using new infection control data released this week by a consumer magazine to provide further justification of his call to create a commission to review the state’s hospital system.

On Wednesday Consumer Reports said St. Petersburg General Hospital, UF Health Jacksonville and Venice Regional Bayfront Health were among the 12 worst hospitals in the nation in preventing infections. The magazine looked at infection rates for MRSA and clostridium difficile, two of the most common and deadly types of bacterial infections in hospitals. The used dates from October 2013 to September 2014, the most recent data available.

“The news that three Florida hospitals are the worst in America for preventing infections is troubling and unacceptable,” Scott said in a statement to the media. “The study also further demonstrates the importance of the work being conducted by the Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding to shine a light on the services provided at these facilities.”

Scott wants the commission to investigate how taxpayer-supported hospitals spend their money, especially when it comes to lobbyists, political campaigns and advertising. The idea for the panel arose in April when the state was wrestling with a potential $1 billion budget shortfall after the federal government sought to end a program, called the Low Income Pool, which provides funding for state hospitals.

Continue reading "Florida Gov. Rick Scott highlights hospital infection problems" »

Urban Leaguers weigh in on presidential candidates

via @RosalindZAdams

Five of the presidential candidates addressed the National Urban League conference on Friday morning, speaking to a packed crowd who were eager to hear how they would address issues like criminal justice reform and closing gaps in health care and education.

Many of the attendees said they wanted to hear directly from candidates -- and they were still unsure of who they might vote for with the election more than a year away.

"I'm just listening to them all and trying to come up with my opinion. I'm very open at this point," said Jadira Hoptry, who works in financial services and came out to the conference from Fort Myers.

The attendees said over and over that racial and economic disparity issues were one their top issues that they hoped candidates would address.

"We have a crisis in our country that should have been solved at least 50 years ago, which is inequality," said Coreen Norville, 57, of Pembroke Pines. "It's not only in our schools, in banking and in the penal system. In every genre of our society, there is inequality."

She supports Hillary Clinton right now, and liked her speech but said for her it's more about the candidates proving their intentions behind their actions. "I've been around a long time -- I've seen that show before," she said. "I've taken that medicine before, and right now it's extremely bitter for me.

Continue reading "Urban Leaguers weigh in on presidential candidates" »

Did Jeb Bush win 60 percent of Hispanic vote in 2002?

Former Gov. Jeb Bush is courting Hispanic voters to build momentum for his presidential run, pointing out that he relied upon the demographic during his gubernatorial campaign.

"In my re-election in 2002, I won the majority," he told Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart in Spanish during a July 27 interview. "I won more Hispanic votes than Anglo votes, 60 percent in the state. It can be done."

Bush has some advantages over most of his GOP rivals when it comes to Hispanic voters: He speaks Spanish fluently and his wife, Columba, is a native of Mexico. But did he really win re-election as governor with 60 percent of the Hispanic vote, higher than his percentage with white voters? We decided to revisit the polls and find out.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

Super PAC supporting Marco Rubio details $16 million in big-money donations


The outside political action committee supporting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in his presidential campaign raised $16.1 million in the first half of the year, with four big donors making up the bulk of that, according to just-filed campaign finance records.

The filing with the Federal Election Commission covered contributions that came in during the first half of the year to Conservative Solutions PAC, a political organization formed to support Rubio’s campaign for president.

Topping the list at $5 million was Miami auto dealer Norman Braman, who has a long history of friendship with and support of Rubio. Braman’s support for this campaign has been known for months, even if the total he may ultimately contribute is uncertain.

The current filing shows three donations -- $1.5 million, $1.5 million, $2 million – with one each in April, May and June.

Lawrence J. Ellison, chairman and chief technology officer for tech giant Oracle, gave $3 million in two donations, in May and in June. Ellison was recently listed No. 3 on the Forbes 400 magazine list of the richest people in American.

Continue reading "Super PAC supporting Marco Rubio details $16 million in big-money donations" »

TMZ: Marco Rubio wants people as 'fired up' about Planned Parenthood babies as about Cecil the lion

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio told TMZ that people should be more "fired up" about the babies shown in Planned Parenthood videos as they are about the Cecil the lion. He said the same thing a few days ago on Twitter:

Super PAC backing Jeb Bush reveals list of major donors, led by Coral Gables billionaire

via @lesleyclark @NickNehamas

Coral Gables healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez topped the list of major donors to a super PAC backing former Gov. Jeb Bush, with a $3 million contribution.

Nearly two dozen donors gave at least $1 million to Right to Rise USA, which accepts unlimited donations and reported in a filing Friday that it raised more than $103 million in support of Bush’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

In addition to the Cuban-American Fernandez, the major donors include Rooney Holdings, Inc., of Tulsa, Okla., which gave $2 million.

California investor William E. Oberndorf, a board member of Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, contributed $1.5 million.

San Francisco investor Helen O. Schwab, wife of financier Charles Schwab, also contributed $1.5 million.

American Pacific International Capital, Inc. contributed $1.3 million and North Palm Beach-based Nextera Energy, Inc. gave $1 million.

Other million dollar donors included Republican mega-financier Al Hoffman, the founder and former chairman of WCI Communities Inc.; hedge fund billionaire Louis M. Bacon; Raul Rodriguez, president of Miami-based Clinical Medical Services, Inc.; and Hushang Ansary, a former Iranian ambassador to the United States whose wife, Shahla Ansary, also gave $1 million.

The numbers demonstrate the former Florida governor’s extensive network in Florida, with Right to Rise raising about $29 million in the state — the most of any state. Bush’s family roots in Texas also show, with $17 million raised from the state.

More here.

National Urban League: Jeb Bush


Jeb Bush refused the engage in cross-fire with Hillary Clinton when he took the stage Friday as the fifth and final 2016 presidential candidate to address the National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale. Clinton had alluded to Bush in her earlier remarks, but Bush stuck to his script -- which included praising each of the contenders who preceded him by name for showing up. (His campaign did respond to Clinton on his behalf.)

Bush was interrupted several times by mild applause, and a few people stood up at the end, but the only candidates to receive full ovations were Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

DIDN'T GET THE 'JEB!'-NOT-BUSH MEMO: National Urban League President Marc Morial introduced Bush as someone "from a family that is no stranger," who is "looking to win the trifecta."

HE'S GOT JOKES: "I'm pleased to see the other candidates here as well –- Secretary Clinton, Governor O'Malley, Senator Sanders and a good man who's bringing a lot of wisdom to the Republican side, Dr. Ben Carson," Bush said. "By the way, I am very glad he will likely make it into the top 10 for next week's debate. Before that thing's over we might just need a doctor. Just sayin'."

LEARNED HIS LESSON: Bush didn't mention his infamous 1994 remark when he was asked at a debate for governor what he would do for African Americans. "Probably nothing," he said at the time. But he nevertheless alluded to the moment on Friday, noting his loss in that race.

"I went through a period of what some might call 'self-reflection' but I referred to it as 'listening and learning," Bush said. "I converted to my wife's Catholic faith. I went to family courthouses where there were cases of children abused or neglected. And parents trying but unable to meet their obligations because of barriers -– language, skills, or otherwise -– that held them back."

HAT TIP: Bush praised the Democrat sitting in the White House, an unusual move for a GOP presidential candidate that earned him applause: "When President Obama says that 'for too long we've been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present,' he is speaking the truth."

APPLAUSE LINE: "We should not be wasting times agonizing over the easy calls," Bush said. For example? "Fourteen years ago, when the question was whether to keep the Confederate flag on the grounds of the Florida State Capitol, I said no, and put it in a museum where it belongs."

'RESTORATIVE' JUSTICE: "In this country, we shouldn't be writing people off, denying them a second chance at a life of meaning," Bush said. He didn't bring up support for mandatory minimum sentences known in Florida as 10-20-Life.

National Urban League: Bernie Sanders

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders brought his message about fighting income inequality to the National Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale today.

Here are some highlights:

RECORD HIGH INCOME INEQUALITY: “The United States of America today is the wealthiest country in the history of the world but most people don’t know that because much of that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. Today in America we have more wealth and income inequality than any other major country on earth and it is worse today than at any other time since 1928.”

THE 1 PERCENTERS: “To me it is not acceptable that top 1/10th of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%.”

WALMART OWNERS: “It’s not acceptable that one family, the family that owns Walmart, owns more wealth than the bottom 40% of the American people.”

KOCH BROTHERS: “You tell me what it means when one family, the Koch brothers family, will spend more money on this election cycle than either the Democratic party or the Republican party. spend almost a billion dollars to make the rich richer and everyone else poorer.”

AFRICAN-AMERICAN UNEMPLOYMENT: “If you are a white kid between 17-20 who graduates high school you have a 33% unemployment rate. If you are a Hispanic kid you have a 36% unemployment rate. If you are an African-American kid, age 17-20, a  high school graduate you have a 51% unemployment rate. That is unacceptable.”  (See PolitiFact’s analysis of a similar claim by Sanders.)

RACE OF PRISONERS: “Blacks are in prison at six times the rate of whites.”