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11 posts from November 15, 2012

November 15, 2012

Smith appoints Sachs as minority pro temp, Soto as deputy whip

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, will be minority pro-tempore and Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, will be deputy whip in the Florida Senate, Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale confirmed Thursday.

"I think Sachs will do a good job," Smith said. "I think she did a great job during this campaign season and proved herself to be a hard fighter and person of integrity. Even though she was attacked viciously during the campaign I think she held her head up and fought hard."

The minority pro-tempore, who stands in when the minority leader is absent, is largely viewed as having a symbolic position. 

But Sachs said "that won't be the case" with her.

"I'm a doer. I think that's the mother...the woman in me," she said. "I like to get things done."

Smith also praised Soto for his work in Central Florida and for breaking barriers as the first Puerto Rican in the Florida Senate. 

"We're all proud of him, we look forward to him being a leader," Smith said.



Gaetz and Weatherford tells feds they'll miss deadline, need more detail on health reform

Echoing the talking points of Republican leaders in other states, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford sent a letter Thursday to the federal government saying that Florida will miss the deadline Friday to report whether the state will create its own health insurance exchange or allow the federal government to do it.

The one-page letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, followed by a two-page attachment, said the state cannot go forward to establish its own exchange without detailed rules from the federal government and it can't give authority to the governor to move ahead until it meets in regular session in March.

Absent from the signature list is Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose office told the Herald/Times it will notify the federal government of its intentions on Friday. 

The Affordable Care Act requires that states either offer exchanges, essentially online markets for the uninsured to shop for private health insurance, or the federal government will set them up for them. Many Republican-led states dragged their feet for months with the hope the Mitt Romney would be elected and the act would be repealed, but now they must make some decisions. 

"The State of Florida has not made a decision on how to proceed with the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and the state is unable to provide a Declaration Letter in accordance with the timeframe outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,'' the leaders wrote.

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Democratic leader pressures Scott, Legislature to implement Obamacare

The incoming Democratic leader in the Florida House is putting pressure on elected officials (read: Republicans) to get moving on implementing the Affordable Care Act.

“With the election over, today I am urging Governor Scott to take action to implement the nation’s health care reform law,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, in a statement.

Thurston said he was encouraged by Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to drop his staunch opposition to the president’s healthcare reform, known as Obamacare. However, the Democrats are putting pressure on Scott and the Republican-led Legislature to take action on implementing the law in order to meet federal deadlines that will be hitting in the coming weeks.

The deadlines to announce plans for a state-based healthcare exchange start as early as Friday. If state lawmakers don’t make proactive plans in the next few weeks, the federal government will act on Florida’s behalf.

Thurston’s Republican counterpart, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said that the state will begin to move soon, but the federal government has not provided enough guidance.

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Elected without opposition, some state lawmakers give big to political parties

Re-elected without opposition this summer, Rep. Dana Young had the strange but fortunate problem of having $200,000 in her campaign bank account and nothing to spend it on.

By law, Young couldn't keep the money for herself or hold onto it for her next campaign.

So instead she did the next best thing — cutting two checks to the Republican Party of Florida totaling about $150,000.

Young, a Tampa Republican, is one of about 50 lawmakers who — with no rival to bury in signs or television ads — poured their leftover political donations this year into the coffers of political parties and committees affiliated with the state's most powerful lawmakers. The GOP-led Legislature in 2011 lifted a $10,000 cap on political contributions for excess campaign money, making the transactions possible.

Under state law, candidates can steer that money to political parties, to charity or return it to their donors. They also can steer money to their state office accounts, or if they're feeling generous, donate the money to the state treasury.

Read more here.

Ron Gunzburger appointed at Broward Sheriff's Office

Ron Gunzburger, the political maestro behind Democrat Scott Israel toppling Republican Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, has been  named General Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Sheriff, with Commander rank. Gunzburger, son of Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, previously served as general  counsel to Broward Property Appraiser Lori Parrish. He also worked in the past for members of Congress Clay Shaw (R-Fort Lauderdale) and Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) and runs the Politics1 website.

BSO's current general counsel Judith Levine has announced her resignation effective Jan. 7th.

Scott Randolph drops out of race to become Dem Party chair

Orange County Democratic Party Chair Scott Randolph announced Friday that he will withdraw from the race to become chairman of the Florida Democratic Party after his surprise race and subsequent election as Orange County Tax Collector.

Randolph, a state legislator from Orlando who retired because of term limits, entered the race for Orange County Tax Collector at the last minute after its long-time incumbnet, Earl K. Wood, died three weeks before the election at the age of 96.

Randolph's withdrawal now leaves Annette Tadeo of Miami and  Alan Clendenin of Hillsborough County left in the race for party chairman. 

Here's Randolph's statement: 

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NPR report: Traditional schools outperform charters in Florida

From NPR:

While charter schools are an increasingly popular option for Florida students, a University of Central Florida researcher says they don’t perform as well as district schools.

Dr. Stanley Smith, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s business school, analyzed school grades of Florida elementary schools last summer, examining the effect of poverty and minority status on those grades.

Smith found that “when the poverty and minority characteristics of the student population are controlled, the average charter school performs significantly lower than the average traditional public school.”

Smith used complicated formulas to conclude that:

The average charter school is doing about the same as the non-charter school when no adjustments are made for poverty and minority statuses. When the adjusted scores are considered, the average charter school performs significantly worse than the average non-charter school.

“These results call into question the emphasis by state education leaders — particularly Republicans — on charter schools,” Smith said.

“Although charter schools may be cheaper for the state to fund, the adjusted scores suggest that Florida is also getting a lower return on these schools,” Smith said. “Is the lower average return on these schools worth the lower cost?”

Read more here.


Farewell video: Prisons Chief Ken Tucker alludes to agency struggle

Prisons Chief Ken Tucker released a video message to say goodbye to friends and coworkers in state government. He also lamented what he called a "difficult year" for the state Department of Corrections, which suffered budget cuts and several prison closures.

Tucker's last day in the office as Department of Corrections secretary was Tuesday Nov. 14, but his last official day with the state will be Dec. 28. Gov. Rick Scott's office is searching for a replacement to lead the country's third largest prison system.

"I came in the door with a responsibility of immediately starting a legislative session resulting in us having to close a number of our institutions and work camps. And implementation of 12-hour shifts, implementation of other substantial budget cuts," he said. "And I can tell you this, none of that would have been possible without the commitment and the professionalism, and probably most importantly, the patience, of the members of the Department of Corrections."

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Sen. Sobel forms task force to look at voting problems in Broward

State. Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) is forming a Broward County Election Task Force to look at problems that occurred during the November election.

"I am forming this task force not to point fingers at anyone, but to find solutions, real solutions that Broward and Florida desperately need,” said Sobel in a press release. “We can no longer sit back and continue to be not only the butt of jokes around the country and the world, but a blemish on Democracy as well.”  

When asked about the performance of Broward Supervisor of Elections  Brenda Snipes, Sobel said in an interview that some problems were not Snipes' fault such as the lengthy ballot and the decision by Republicans to reduce early voting days. But Sobel said "I don't like the idea they are still counting after the election for several days. I don't like that ballots were found in a room but at least they were found."

When asked in an interview about how she felt about Snipes' job performance, Sobel said: "I'm not going to point fingers at people. I am looking for solutions . ... I don't like the idea they are still counting after the election for several days. I don't like that ballots were found in a room but at least they were found."

The task force will meet at 5 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Broward County Commission chambers, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale.

Anyone interested in serving on the task force or who would like to give public testimony can send an email to BrowardElectionsTaskForce@gmail.com or call 954-924-3693. 



Study says expanding Medicaid could save Florida money

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Medicaid expansion authorized under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is optional for states, Florida has a decision to make. Florida lawmakers have the option of adding roughly 950,000 people to the Medicaid rolls, with the federal government covering most of the intial costs.

Gov. Rick Scott has repeatedly expressed reservations about allowing more people access to this health insurance program for the needy and the poor. Each year Medicaid takes a greater percentage of the state's budget, he points out, and he worries the expansion could ultimately burden the state even futher.

But that's not so, according to a report released today by researchers at the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University. The study concluded that Florida could expand Medicaid and add between 800,000 and 1.3 million uninsured Floridians to the rolls "without assuming any new net costs."

In fact, the researchers determined the state could save up to $100 million a year because allowing people to join Medicaid would reduce the financial burden on other state-funded safety net programs.

“It is time for Florida’s elected officials to take a serious look at this option," said Joan Alker, Research Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. "Our study found that the state can actually save money while ensuring that a million Floridians can get the health coverage they desperately need. And this decision affects all Floridians as Florida’s hospitals will be put in jeopardy if the state does not move forward.”

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