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9 posts from January 7, 2013

January 07, 2013

Miami lawmakers file dueling elections bills as advisory group proposes local fixes

In response to the long lines that plagued South Florida polls, two Miami lawmakers have filed legislation to reinstate early voting the Sunday before Election Day.

The proposals by Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis follow a recommendation from a Miami-Dade advisory group examining what went wrong in the November presidential election.

The group made additional suggestions Monday, including allowing voters to return absentee ballots in person at their polling places on Election Day, and setting a goal for how long the average voter should wait in line at the polls.

Advisory group members were pleased to learn about Diaz de la Portilla’s legislation, filed Monday, which also would increase the number of early-voting hours per day to 14 from 12.

Margolis’ legislation, which the group also touched on, is far more expansive: It calls for 14 days of early voting — instead of the current eight — and it would allow for more early-voting sites.

“There’s so much pressure to get this done,” Margolis said, who filed her bill in late November. “I can’t believe anyone would be against this.”

In 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a law sponsored by Diaz de la Portilla’s committee and approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature that reduced the number of early voting days to eight from 14, and eliminated early voting the Sunday before Election Day — a day that predominantly Democratic African-American churches had used to drive “souls to the polls.”

Movers & Shakers: Changes at AIF, DEO

Big changes at DEO

As Jessie Panuccio takes over as head of Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity this week, DEO will see some other interesting changes. 

On Jan. 8, Chad Poppell will begin as the chief of staff and Monica Russell will begin as chief communications officer, according to a news release.

Poppell most recently was director of employee services at the municipally owned electric and water utility in Jacksonville and before that worked as chief of human resources for the city of Jacksonville. Russell was previously a partner at North Public Relations. She worked previously worked at DEO’s predecessor, the Agency for Workforce Innovation. 

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Florida proposes new Medicaid reimbursement system for hospitals

Making good on promises made during the 2012 legislative session, the Agency for Health Care Administration has come up with a new plan for reimbursing hospitals that treat patients on Medicaid. The new "diagnosis-related group" model would categorize Medicaid patients based on the type and severity of their illness and pay hospitals accordingly.

That is similar to how the statefederal government already reimburses health care providers under the Medicare program for the elderly. In the existing Medicaid payment system, hospitals are generally paid a flat rate for each day that a patient is in their care. But each hospital has a different Medicaid reimbursement rate, with those that serve the sickest patients usually getting higher payments.

Converting Medicaid to DRG will make hospitals more efficient and improve quality, AHCA said, and in turn ensures that taxpayer dollars are being protected.

“The Agency is thankful for Governor Scott’s leadership in helping us put forward a roadmap for transforming the way hospital inpatient services are paid for in Florida,” said AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek via a news release.  “Converting to a DRG system promotes quality—it’s designed to reward high value, quality-driven health care services.” 

The conversion to DRG, and a speedier timetable, is a result from pushback from hospitals who have complained that consecutive years of cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates were hurting their bottom lines. Hospitals and lawmakers also rejected a proposal from Gov. Rick Scott last year to group similar hospitals together into "rate bands" and pay them similarly under Medicaid. Advocates complained that Scott's proposal drastically decreased funding for  "safety net'' hospitals that provide the most care for poor people.

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Rick Scott is BCS-bound. And Charlie Crist?

Notre Dame or Alabama?

Gov. Rick Scott is going to tonight's BCS Championship game in Miami but isn't choosing a side.

"I like the fact that it's in Florida," he said earlier today in Washington. "My wife was born in Mobile," Alabama, he went on. "But when I was running (for governor in 2010) a reporter asked me who my favorite Florida football team was. I said, 'I like all the teams.' The next day he said, 'This guy doesn't know anything about Florida football."

"I like all the teams. I'm just glad it's in Florida."

Charlie Crist was invited to the game by the Democratic Governors' Association. No confirmation if he's attending. In a brief conversation about a possible challenge from Crist, Scott said he would continue to lowering Florida' unemployment rate and improving education. "I'm going to just keep doing what I'm doing."

Posted by Alex Leary

Scott's second year: Shifting course and still learning the ropes

Rick Scott casts himself as a problem solver, but after two years as governor of Florida, his biggest challenge remains unsolved: Himself.

Midway through a four-year term, a time when governors traditionally take stock of their highs and lows, Scott remains a polarizing figure, a leader who’s still awkwardly learning the ropes.

Once the toast of the tea party, Scott now must work to expand his political base as he seeks a new term in 2014.

Slow to grasp the state’s shifting political dynamics, he has made course corrections on issues such as immigration, education, healthcare and early voting.

Sued repeatedly over his policies, Scott has been cast by Democrats as a coldhearted, payroll-slashing “Pink Slip Rick,” ridiculed on cable TV for insulting the king of Spain and parodied for pushing drug-testing of state workers. The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi once tried to goad Scott into giving a urine sample on TV.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” said Republican strategist-lobbyist J.M. “Mac” Stipanovich.

“When you get on the wrong side of the Jon Stewarts of the world, it’s a long way back. People formed an opinion early and haven’t seen a reason to change it.” More from Steve Bousquet here.

Video: Gov. Scott, citing cost, remains skeptical of federal health care changes

WASHINGTON - Gov. Rick Scott spoke with reporters after his meeting today with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. He said he remains concerned about the cost of an expansion of Medicaid. "She understands what our concerns are. We're hopefully going to have some productive conversation," he said.

Below, HHS take on the meeting.

From HHS:

"Secretary Sebelius was pleased to meet with Governor Scott today to discuss the health care law and the substantial resources and flexibility states have when implementing the law. The Secretary pledged to continue to work with the state on the Governor’s proposed changes to the Medicaid program. The Secretary also talked to Governor Scott about other opportunities the Administration has created that states like Florida can implement to improve care and lower costs, in particular, a program to better coordinate care for people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, as well as federal grants for states to improve health and wellness in their communities.  The Secretary noted that Florida has the third-highest rate of uninsured residents, and reminded the Governor that more than 1.2 million Floridians will have access to high quality affordable health insurance if he chooses to expand Florida’s Medicaid program. The Secretary reiterated that the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of insuring these Floridians for the first three years and 90 percent of the costs in the future. Secretary Sebelius encouraged Governor Scott to work in partnership with the federal government to run the new health insurance marketplace, which will deliver quality, affordable coverage to Florida consumers. She also reiterated her commitment to flexibility as HHS works with states to continue implementing the Affordable Care Act."

-- Alex Leary

Flores files bill to cap rates on Citizens Property Insurance

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has filed a bill to put a limit on the rate-hiking power of Citizens Insurance’s Board of Governors.

Flores expressed outrage last year when the board said it would consider removing the traditional 10-percent cap on rate increases for new policies. (State law requires Citizens to limit rate hikes to no more than 10-percent each year, but it’s not clear if that also applies to new policies).

Flores—who called the idea "immoral" and vowed to block attempts by the board to raise rates on new policies by more than 10-percent—filed a bill this month that would clarify that the cap on rate increases applies to both existing and new policies.

Flores' SB 96 is the first bill filed to make changes to Citizens Property Insurance for the 2013 session, which could be a pivotal one for property insurance.

South Florida lawmakers are hearing from their constituents after perennial rate increases have made property insurance a top pocketbook issue. Insurance industry power brokers are pressuring lawmakers to push for higher rates and allow the private market to compete with Citizens. At the direction of Gov. Rick Scott, Citizens’ board of governors has taken up an aggressive mission of shrinking the size of the state-run company--leading to rate hikes, unpopular reinspections and coverage cutbacks.

Flores’ bill seeks to rein in the board by taking off the table the idea of higher rates for new customers (the board shelved the idea last year, but has indicated that it still may push for higher rates for some new customers).


Rubio concerned Hagel called U.S. policy on Cuba "outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant."

President Obama today will nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., for defense secretary, starting what could be a difficult confirmation process on both sides of aisle. Hagel has already been attacked with TV ads over perceived weak support toward Israel and has had to apologize for anti-gay remarks.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has another concern: Hagel's position on Cuba, which has lined up with others who say sanctions are "outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy." (more on Hagel's position here)

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said, “We have a process for nominations, and Senator Rubio won’t prejudge these nominees. Senator Rubio hopes he will be able to meet with Senator Hagel prior to his confirmation vote.  We’ll have questions about some of Senator Hagel’s past positions, including sanctions on Iran and promoting democracy in Latin America, since that’s long been a priority for Senator Rubio."

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GOP files its first elections reform bill for 2013

TALLAHASSEE -- The long-awaited Republican response to the long lines that plagued many Florida precincts was turned in today.

It's a bill sponsored by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, that adds a day of early voting -- the Sunday before the election. The Republican controlled Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott had been criticized nationally for reducing the number of early voting days from 14 in 2008 to eight days. Though Republicans had been resistant to add early voting days as a way to reduce long lines before November's election, they have since said they would consider expanding the number of days.

Diaz de la Portilla's bill adds one day of early voting and adds two hours of early voting per day at each site to 14 for a general election. The bill requires each of the 67 supervisors of elections to inform the state of their preparations three months before a general election. The report is required to include staffing levels for early voting, Election Day, and after Election Day, as well as a rundown of the equipment used to tabulate votes at each site.

Democrats, two from Tampa Bay and one from South Florida, have filed three other bills that seek to expand early voting by even more. All of them seek to allow for more early voting sites, which are currently limited to certain government buildings that often can't handle the crowds in big counties. The proposals have almost identical language. Consider Miami Sen. Gwen Margolis SB 82, which says early voting could take place in "any city hall, public library facility, courthouse, place of worship, civic center, convention center, community center, county government center, conference center, community college facility, university or college, or any other location designated by the supervisor as meeting the requirements of this section."

The legislation, similar to bills filed by Tampa Sen. Arthenia Joyner and St. Petersburg Rep. Darryl Rouson, would also expand the number of early voting days to 14, which was the number before Diaz de la Portilla carried the elections bill in 2011 that cut the days to 8. The Democrats would also expand the cumulative early voting hours, currently capped at 96, to 144 hours or as many 168 hours. The cumulative early voting hours in 2008 was 120 hours after then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered polls to remain open to grapple with long lines. 

Scott refused to do so this year. Now Scott has said that the number of early voting days and sites needs to be re-examined.

"There's so much pressure to get this done," Margolis said. "I can't believe anyone would be against this."

Said Rouson: "The cutting of early voting wasn't just harmful to Democrats. It hurt Republicans. It hurt independents. The governor and leaders of the House and Senate said it's time to make a change. Surely, they can't be against giving people more opportunities to vote and more convenience for them to vote."


-- Marc Caputo and Michael Van Sickler