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28 posts from March 9, 2012

March 09, 2012

Legislature approves Medicaid plan derided by counties

Despite widespread concerns from lawmakers that the proposal was unfairly burdensome to counties, the Legislature approved changes to the Medicaid program on Friday night.

The House approved HB 5301 on a 73-36 vote that split mainly along party lines. However, several Republicans joined the Democratic Caucus in voting against the measure.

Their beef was provision in the legislation that forces counties to pay back roughly $300 million in disputed Medicaid bills over 5 years. The state will withhold revenue sharing dollars from the counties for both the backlog and future Medicaid payments.

The vote in the Senate was much closer and showed the tough decisions lawmakers faced in a bill that had provisions they both liked and disliked. For example, HB 5301 also included a provision that allows state employees to enroll their children in the KidCare health insurance program.

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With high drama, Senate delivers Scott victory on PIP


Florida Governor Rick Scott, center, was all smiles Friday night on the Senate floor after the passage of the PIP bill. Senator Jim Norman, R- Tampa can be seen in the front. On the right, back, Senator Eleanor Sobel, D- Hollywood, who voted against the bill, did not greet the Governor. [Scott Keeler, Times]

The Senate approved personal injury protection reform on a razor thin 21-19 vote in favor of the “strike all” amendment then a 22-17 vote in favor of HB 119. Democratic Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee was the deciding vote initially, breaking with his caucus to support the compromise.

During debate on the legislation, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was seen in the wings of the Senate chambers. She chatted up members as they stepped out for a beverage.

Right after the Senate approved the “strike all” amendment to HB 119, Gov. Rick Scott came into the chambers and congratulated Senate President Mike Haridopolos. The governor's office said he also passed out handwritten notes to Senate supporters.

The vote allows both Scott and Haridopolos to close out the session with a victory.

“This is a triumphant moment for the residents of Florida,” Scott said via a news release issued minute after the Senate voted. “Members of the legislature heard our call to put Floridians ahead of special interests and combat the fraud that has become a billion dollar tax on drivers.”

Continue reading "With high drama, Senate delivers Scott victory on PIP" »

Reacting to Supreme Court's Whiley decision, Sen. Gaetz and Rep. Gaetz define Scott's rulemaking role

Last year's Supreme Court ruling that Gov. Rick Scott overstepped his authority by weighing into agency rulemaking really rubbed some conservative lawmakers the wrong way.

Especially Don and Matt Gaetz, the Legislature's only father-son duo and sponsors of a proposal that directly responds to the court's decision. If Scott is the chief executive, they say, and he hires the agency heads who oversee rulemaking, then why can't he formally say whether he likes or doesn't like the rules?

They want to clarify in state law that ultimate oversight of rulemaking -- which is delegated by the Legislature to implement policy -- belong to the governor. As Sen. Gaetz explained it, it allows the governor to weigh in on rules after they are proposed and before they enter the public comment process.

"The Legislature did not create a fourth branch of government which could frustrate the policy direction of any Governor, present and future," according to a staff analysis.

The language is on its way to Scott, as of today. Their proposal, HB 7055/SB 1312, passed the Senate on Friday by a 29-11 vote, with Democratic Sen. Bill Montford crossing the party line. The House approved it along similar party lines last week.

Most Democrats worry it muddies the separation of powers for agency control, gives too much power to Scott and may limit public access to rulemaking. The Gaetzes disagree, saying his effort does not short-circuit required notice and comment periods.

“I don’t care what anybody says,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston. “They’re giving him more power and I don’t think it’s called for.”

Continue reading "Reacting to Supreme Court's Whiley decision, Sen. Gaetz and Rep. Gaetz define Scott's rulemaking role " »

House approves PIP; outlook in Senate uncertain


Top- Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R- Miami, and bottom- Rep. Jim Frishe, R- St. Petersburg, urge a down vote on an amendment to the PIP bill offered by Rep. Rick Kriseman, D- St. Petersburg, Friday night in the House. The amendment failed. PIP passed the House, 80-34. The bill went back to the Senate for a vote. [Scott Keeler, Times]

On a mainly party-line vote, the House approved a compromise on PIP reform and sent the measure back to the Senate in hopes the upper chamber will concur before session ends tonight.

Whether the Senate will agree to bend on some provisions of no-fault car insurance system remains to be seen. If the Senate doesn’t agree to the House’s proposal, the issue will likely die this session and prompt Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session.

The House approved the “strike-all” amendment to HB 119 on an 80-34 vote.

Two Democrats voted with the majority: Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, and Rep. John Patrick Julien, R-North Miami Beach.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, was the sole Republican to vote against the legislation.

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Bondi hires legal team to assist with state's BP oil spill claim

Nearly two years after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the gulf, Attorney General Pam Bondi has hired reinforcement in the state's impending legal battle with BP over economic damages from the oil spill.

The legal team consists of the following firms: Nix Patterson & Roach, LLP; Harrison, Rivard, Duncan & Buzzett; Fowler White Boggs P.A.; and Harrison Sale McCloy. Here's the contract.

Bondi says these firms have represented local governments and private clients in claims against BP through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility process, Bondi said. The lead firm is Nix Patterson, which previously pursued cases against BP, among other oil companies, as co-lead counsel in Federal False Claims Act cases, Bondi said.

One of the chosen lawyers, Carl Nelson, who works for Fowler White Boggs, praised Bondi last year for not pursuing a lawsuit against BP like other gulf states as criticism of the choice mounted on the spill's first anniversary.

"I just can't believe the courage that the governor and the attorney general displayed by deciding to stay out of that litigation," Nelson told the Times/Herald. "It's important to follow this claims process."

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Jeb Bush phones Senators to pass parent trigger

Apparently, the parent trigger bill means a lot to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, who now oversees two foundations dedicated to education reform, reached out to Senators before the controversial vote Friday afternoon. 

One particular target: Alan Hays, the Umatilla Republican. 

Hays voted against the proposal, which failed 20-20. But after the vote, the pressure continued. Bush had Gary Lester, vice president of the Villages retirement community in Hays district, phone the senator to ask him to reconsider his vote, sources said.

It was unclear what Hays planned to do.

The parent trigger bill would enable parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing public schools, including having the school converted into a charter school. Supporters say it would empower parents to take charge of their neighborhood schools. But opponents say the bill was written to benefit for-profit school management companies.

-- Marc Caputo and Kat McGrory 

Department of Health reorg with septic tank regulations headed to governor

Both measures were on shaky ground at times, bogged down by politics and competing interests. Now the repeal of a septic tanks inspections law is contained in a larger Department of Health measure headed to the governor’s desk.

The Department of Health reorganization plan became less controversial once Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, dropped a plan to decentralize the agency and shift duties to counties. But HB 1263 still faced opposition from Democrats who questioned whether the streamlined mission and reduced divisions would affect the level of services.

A.G. Holley Hospital treating tuberculosis patients will also be privatized under the measure.

HB 1263 was approved by the House and the Senate today. On Thursday, an amendment was added that contained language repealing the 2010 septic tank law.

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Two DLPs in the crazy Florida Senate? Alex Diaz de la Portilla wants to run for Senate

Already a powder-keg of competing agendas and intrigue, The Florida Senate is poised to explode if master back-room operator and former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla makes good on his latest plan to run for the chamber.

This afternoon, the former Senate Republican leader filed to run in SD 35, currently held by Democrat Gwen Margolis. Diaz de la Portilla's older brother, Miguel, replaced him last year in SD 36. Two Diaz de la Portillas in the Senate would be quite a sight. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and his younger brother, Renier, planned to run for state House.

Alex Diaz de la Portilla made the switch after the Florida Supreme Court today threw out major portions of the proposed Senate reapportionment maps. Caveat: Alex Diaz de la Portilla has suggested before that he'd run, but he ultimately opted not to. His statement:

"Today I filed to run in Senate District 35. I believe it is paramount to the future of our state that all people no matter how rural or urban, no matter race or party have their voice heard in the Florida Legislature. I do believe the Senate acted in good faith during the re-apportionment process. However, the new redistricting standards have made the process more difficult. While the Florida House was able to meet these new standards, unfortunately today the Supreme Court confirmed that the Senate got it wrong. I have full faith and confidence the Senate will be able to get it right during the upcoming special session."

Video: Parent Trigger Wrap-up

Kathleen McGrory of the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau explains how the "parent trigger" bill would have affected public schools in Florida -- before it barely failed in the Senate on Friday afternoon.


Wasserman Schultz: Rep. Garcia saying ‘ridiculous’ things in DCCC recruitment flap


Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is disputing claims from Democratic state Rep. Luis Garcia who accused her of being mean and unhelpful in his congressional campaign to unseat Republican Congressman David Rivera.

Garcia said Wasserman Schultz called his campaign "pathetic" for only raising $100,000 throughout the spring and summer -- and he was particularly offended that she and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have urged former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas to hop into the race. (Background here)

Wasserman Schultz said she never used the word "pathetic" and that she had only urged him to pick up the pace.

"His accusation is ridiculous. I would never speak to someone that way," she said. "I’ve had many conversations with candidates who struggled in their fundraising. My approach with any of them is encouragement, cajoling, hey pick up the pace, you’ve gotta put in more call time. Those are the kinds of conversations that I have. So his accusation is ridiculous. And it doesn’t merit a response more than that."

So you can’t say if you’re excited about Alex Penelas?

"No," Wasserman Schultz said with a smile.

Garcia, though, disputes her disputing. He said she said "pathetic." And more.

"Her mind is gone or she is lying," Garcia said. "I've got witnesses."

Wasserman Schultz briefly discussed the issue at the Florida Capitol where, despite her reputation as a partisan pitfighter, she was greeted warmly by many of her old Republican colleagues in the Florida Legislature and by scores of well wishers from the Republican-leaning lobby corps.