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9 posts from January 14, 2013

January 14, 2013

Florida election system to get tweaked?

TALLAHASSEE — More than two months after Florida's election system drew national scorn for its long lines and tardy vote tabulation, state lawmakers said Monday they supported reforms in hopes to avoid a repeat performance.

During five hours of Senate hearings, lawmakers voiced measured support for a series of proposed changes, including expanding the number of early voting days from eight to up to 14 days, giving local elections offices more flexibility in choosing early polling sites and limiting the length of ballot amendment summaries to 75 words.

The recommendations were made by Florida election supervisors, who blamed long lines in some of the bigger counties on a ballot overstuffed with 11 proposed amendments that were passed by state lawmakers. Ten supervisors, including Penelope Townsley of Miami-Dade and Susan Bucher of Palm Beach, urged lawmakers to make the changes.

Although senators spent much of the hearing avoiding a discussion of the role they played in reducing the number of early voting days and passing the verbose amendments, they did acknowledge they were open to change.

"The Senate has gotten the message on the length of the ballot," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. "I was probably part of the problem as far as the language that appears on the ballot. If 75 words is the way to go, we should do that. And going from eight to 14 days of early voting? I don't have a problem with that."

Continue reading "Florida election system to get tweaked?" »

Rubio's immigration plan gets the Paul Ryan nod

Rep. Paul Ryan added his voice to support for Marco Rubio's immigration plans. In a message this afternoon on Facebook, the potential 2016 presidential candidate wrote:

"Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system. I support the principles he’s outlined: modernization of our immigration laws; stronger security to curb illegal immigration; and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population. Our future depends on an immigration system that works."

The remarks join kind words from other conservatives, including Jeb Bush. Still, there was some online push back Monday about a provision of Rubio's plan that would allow illegal immigrants to seek citizenship -- but not before paying fines and not before getting in the back of the line. Wrote Mark Krikorian in National Review:

With an amazing lack of self-awareness, “Mr. Rubio repeatedly says his plan ‘is not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship.’” You know what would be new? If a politician came out and said, “Look, folks, I don’t like it any more than you, but we screwed the pooch for so long we’re stuck with no other options — we need to eat the crap sandwich of amnesty and try to make a fresh start of this national sovereignty thing.” I don’t believe that to be the case, but it would be by far the most convincing case for amnesty I’ve heard.

Posted by Alex Leary

Florida business owners worry about impacts of health care law

As the Legislature decides whether Florida will implement certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, businesses of all sizes are also grappling with the impacts of the law.

There are new standards for insurance plans offered by employers, requirements that employees buy insurance and penalties for those who don't comply. It doesn't help that the state has avoided making certain decisions, one business owner told a Senate panel on Monday.

"We need you to study this matter expeditiously and bring us more certainty as an employer," said Kim Williams, president of Marpan Supply Company in Tallahassee. "What are we going to do?"

The Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as well as a similar panel in the House, is studying whether Florida should expand Medicaid and create a health exchange under the law.

Most of the discussion has focused on what the health care law could cost the state financially. This week, legislators are hearing from business leaders about what the law means for them.

Read more here.

Video: Health workers become DIY movers in Tally reorganization


A state office complex became a giant game of musical chairs Monday as dozens of Department of Health employees stopped their work day to wheel desk chairs and computers across a parking lot in the first day of a week-long agency-wide reorganization.

A handful of moving trucks were on hand to load filing cabinets as 1,200 employees are being asked to switch from one building to another. But most of the moving was being done by employees, dressed casually in the unseasonably warm 81-degree day.

It’s all part of an effort by Department of Health Secretary John Armstrong to respond to the downsizing ordered by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott last session. Many of them will switch spaces from Building 2585 in the Southwood Office Complex to Building 4025.

Continue reading "Video: Health workers become DIY movers in Tally reorganization" »

Rubio, Obama, Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen, Jeb -- oh my! Everyone's talking immigration now

The fiscal cliff debate is on hold. Now comes the demographic cliff debate: Immigration.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush hosted a Friday powwow about immigration reform. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Obama’s administration leaked details of their plans over the weekend that would give varying degrees of amnesty to those illegally in the country.

And on Monday in Doral, Miami U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held a forum to gather ideas and, in Diaz-Balart’s words, give them “ammunition” to call on their colleagues to reform immigration.

With the exception of Obama, all are from Florida and are Republicans. Their party’s hard-line immigration stances helped drive Hispanics, the state and nation’s fastest-growing demographic group, to the Democratic Party this last election. Republicans don’t want a repeat in two years.

“Both parties have used immigration as a political wedge issue,” Diaz-Balart said. “The Democrats never wanted to get it done. They wanted to have it as a political issue. It worked very well for them.”

But, Diaz-Balart said, his party isn’t without fault.

“Republicans didn’t want to get it done — leadership — they wanted it as a wedge issue. It has worked poorly for them,” he said.

Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen say this is the year that Congress needs to pass immigration reform. A major fault-line: Whether to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship or a pathway to residency.

Still, this is the time, Diaz-Balart said because it’s not an election year. So there’s less chance for hyper-partisan politics, Diaz-Balart said. It’s also a new Congress. And Republicans, who blocked major congressional immigration legislation in 2010 and 2006, might be more willing to vote for immigration-reform plans as the lessons of 2012’s elections are still fresh.

More here

After 2010 campaign, Gov. Rick Scott gave back dog Reagan

TALLAHASSEE — Shortly after winning the GOP nomination in 2010, Rick Scott announced to the world through Facebook that his family had rescued a Labrador Retriever.

And, with help from his Facebook friends, Scott gave it a name: Reagan.

"The Scott family is proud to announce that the name (chosen by you) for their newly adopted pup is Reagan! Thanks to everyone who participated in the fun contest,'' read Scott's announcement on his Facebook page.

Commenters were ecstatic, congratulating Scott for getting a rescue dog instead of a pure bred like Bo, the Portuguese Water Dog President Barack Obama adopted in 2009. And friends saluted the dog's name, an homage to former President Ronald Reagan.

"What a great looking dog! Glad you rescued him. Reagan will like the Governor's Mansion!" wrote Christine Haut of Fort Myers.

"Welcome Reagan! What a great family," wrote Debbie Wiest, a friend of Ann Scott's for 40 years.

But where is Reagan today?

Read more from Lucy Morgan here.

New education commissioner faces skeptical crowd

Florida's new education commissioner, Tony Bennett, sought to hold his own Monday before a skeptical crowd of public school officials attending their annual legislative conference in Tallahassee. Sensing turbulent political times ahead, he said: "I think great solutions come in disagreement."

Bennett was picked by the state Board of Education last month, weeks after losing a re-election bid for state superintendent of schools in Indiana. Speaking to the Florida Association of School Administrators, Bennett called himself "an unapologetic advocate for school choice" who implemented the nation's largest school voucher program in the Hoosier State. "I will tell you I just came off a statewide election and I lost. Pretty well-documented," Bennett said in his first public speech in Tallahassee, speaking in crisp authoritative tones in the House chambers in the state Capitol. "There is nothing you can ask that can offend me."

An Orlando-area school official asked Bennett how he felt about Florida giving money to for-profit charter school companies at the expense of public schools. Bennett's reply is that wealth should not determine where kids attend school. "School choice is a social justice issue, because I believe that impoverished families deserve the same thing I get, and that's the right to put their children in a school that meets their child's needs," he said. He said he believes in accountability, such as requiring standardized testing for an entire school even if one pupil is attending it on a voucher, and that charter schools should comply with the same accountability standards as public schools.

Bennett, a former high school science teacher, basketball coach and principal, said he's "not going to try to bring Indiana to Tallahassee," and sought to reassure his audience by saying Indiana does not have all the answers. "If we did, we wouldn't have a place in the north called South Bend. We wouldn't have a place in the south called North Vernon," he said.

-- Steve Bousquet

Consumer group grades lawmakers for votes on insurance issues

A consumer advocacy group has released a report grading lawmakers for how they voted on property insurance issues last year.

The annual report card from Policyholders of Florida gives lawmakers ratings based on their votes on several controversial bills that could have pushed insurance rates higher for homeowners.

In the 40-member Senate—seven lawmakers received and ‘A,’ and 11 received an ‘F.’

In the 12-member House, 35 lawmakers received an ‘A’ and 63 received an ‘F.’

“Consumers don’t find out who their friends are during campaigns, they find out during legislative session,” said Sean Shaw, founder of Policyholders of Florida. “We track important insurance votes throughout the year so Floridians can see whether or not their lawmakers went to Tallahassee to fight for them or not – clearly many lawmakers are failing. We need lawmakers to focus on stabilizing the market for consumers and encouraging the responsible expansion of the private market in Florida.”

Outspoken critics of the insurance industry, like Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, received ‘A’ grades, while those pushing for industry-backed proposals and higher rates at Citizens Property Insurance Corp. got ‘F’ grades.

Many of the lawmakers receiving high grades are from South Florida and Tampa Bay, coastal areas where  insurance rates are the highest in the state.

Lawmakers from inland parts of the state and Republicans were more likely to have lower grades.

See the report card here.

Will Rick Scott's charm offensive amount to a hill of beans?

Rick Scott seemed fascinated with the beans.

The Florida governor grabbed a package of Goya beans off the shelf and pointed out that packages have a special lining.

“On the inside,” Scott said, “it’s an anti-static. So the beans are a little bit dusty. But you never see it. Because it [the bean dust] doesn’t attach.”

Smiling and sweeping his right hand over the package, Scott last weeksounded almost like an infomercial host at the Goya food warehouse in Doral, where he hosted his 15th regular-guy workday.

“When I was growing up, in the grocery store, the bean bags were always cloudy,” he said. “They’re not like that anymore.”

This is the Rick Scott you don’t always see: down to earth, engaging and fascinated with the smallest of details — from the appearance of beans to a genuine interest in what tamarinds are.

Often, though, he’s guarded, aloof and muddling details to such a degree that it blows up on him.

And that’s the Rick Scott giving fellow Republicans heartburn these days.

Earlier in the week, Scott traveled to Washington and penned an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times that, in the eyes of Florida budget experts, wildly inflated how much President Obama’s plan to grow Medicaid would cost the state budget.

Column here