« January 29, 2013 | Main | January 31, 2013 »

13 posts from January 30, 2013

January 30, 2013

FBI raid more about Medicare fraud than Sen. Bob Menendez.

The high-profile federal raid on a South Florida ophthalmologist’s office was more about potential Medicare fraud than about U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a longtime friend of Dr. Salomon Melgen.

Joining FBI agents on the two-day raid at the doctor’s West Palm Beach eye center: a team of investigators from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which investigates Medicare wrongdoing.

The FBI is separately examining the ties between Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Melgen in a parallel corruption investigation launched last year, The Miami Herald has learned.

FBI agents are investigating the allegations of a shadowy tipster who claimed the doctor flew Menendez on his plane to the Dominican Republic.

Earlier this month, Menendez quietly sent a $58,500 personal check to Melgen’s company to reimburse the cost of two flights to and from the Dominican Republic, the senator’s office confirmed Wednesday.

Continue reading "FBI raid more about Medicare fraud than Sen. Bob Menendez." »

Weatherford unveils campaign finance plan: no CCEs and $10,000 limits

Florida House leaders unveiled what they believe will be behavior-changing campaign finance reform Wednesday, phasing out candidate-controlled political committees and ushering in stricter reporting deadlines, more contribution accountability and campaign contribution caps of $10,000 per election.

 “It’s a way to start the conversation,’’ said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made reforming what he considers a “messed up” campaign finance system a top priority.  “We are keeping the baby and throwing out the bath water.’’ 

The most dramatic proposal of the 47-page bill filed by House Rules Chairman Rob Schenck is targeting the elimination of nearly 700 Committees of Continuing Existence, political committees that can collect unlimited campaign checks but may not expressly advocate for candidates. The CCEs have been increasingly used as personal slush funds by candidates who can legally spend the unrestricted money on travel, entertainment and meals as well as steer money to other candidates and causes.

The bill requires all CCEs to be shut down by Nov. 1, giving time for organizers to allow them to become traditional political committees. Traditional political committees will remain in law to be used to advocate for a candidate or an issue and would be allowed to accept unlimited contributions from donors.

The proposal also raises the 20-year-old cap on campaign contributions from $500 to $10,000 per election, and from $1,000 to $20,000 per election cycle. See chart here:  Download House Campaign Finance

Continue reading "Weatherford unveils campaign finance plan: no CCEs and $10,000 limits" »

Scott recommending that state civil service workers get bonuses

School teachers aren’t the only ones Gov. Rick Scott wants to pay more.

When Scott unveils his $74 billion budget on Thursday – the highest dollar figure in state history – it will include bonuses of $1,200 for each of the state’s civil service employees in non-supervisory roles.

The chief negotiator for the union representing the employees said he was surprised by Scott’s offer, which he received late Wednesday.

Previously, Scott had told the union he would propose bonuses only for up to 35 percent of workers. “It’s better than expected,” said Doug Martin. “This is a significant financial commitment to the employees, and we appreciate that.”

Scott’s proposal applies to the state’s civil service workers in agencies like the Department of Revenue and the Department of Transportation and non-sworn employees at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, covering jobs that range from research scientists who studied the oil spill to support personnel in prisons.

Along with the bonus of $1,200 for each employee, Scott is offering additional bonuses of either $5,000 or $2,500 for employees who are reviewed favorably by supervisors. Martin said he’d like assurances that those additional raises aren’t doled out strictly to favorites but to those who deserve them.

Despite the offer, which Martin called “generous”, he said his group still prefers cost of living pay increases of five percent. The downside to Scott’s offer, he said, is that bonuses are for only one year and they aren’t figured into an employee’s retirement payouts. A salary increase would be.

Martin said his union, AFSCME Florida Council 79, will continue to negotiate with Scott’s office. If negotiations reach an impasse, where neither side can resolve it, lawmakers will decide the outcome in next year’s budget.

Although Martin said he won’t accept Scott’s offer, he said it’s a good one that he respects. “We’re certainly glad the governor has recognized that all employees are deserving of raises,” Martin said. “It’s been a long, long tough haul.”

Weatherford opens door to revising nuclear cost recovery law

House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters on Wednesday that he is open to revising the the 2006 law that allowed Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy of Florida to collect money for nuclear power plants before building them.

Speaker to reporters at the annual pre-session gathering for reporters and editors hosted by the Associated Press, Weatherford said he will leave it up to lawmakers on the various committe to decide whether to alter or repeal the law that has allowed the two utility companies to collect nearly $2 billion from customers with no guarantees they will build the plants.

"It’s an interesting discussion,'' said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "Obviously, no one can be happy with the way we find ourselves today with regard to nuclear cost recovery. There have been some unexpected things that took place. The cost of natural gas has plummeted -- not a bad thing. We had the situation in Japan. We also had an economic downturn. So what looked like a great idea in 2006, in hindsight, may not have been. 

“We can’t go back and rewrite time and history but I know there are people interested in this area and if the committee decides to take it up we certainly will be supportive of their efforts.” 

Reps. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasinlina have proposed bills over the last several legislative session that would repeal the law but, amid intense pressure from FPL and Progress Energy, the measures have never received a hearing. 

The 2006 law is now being challenged by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an alliance of clean energy advocates who argue that the measure amounts to Florida taxpayers socializing the risk but privatizing the profits. 

Florida universities could get $300 million restored, Brogan says

Florida University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said he’s been assured by Gov. Rick Scott’s office and legislative leaders that the $300 million eliminated from the state system last year will be restored this year.

 "This year we have asked for the restoration of the $300 million that was cut last year," Brogan said during a 30-minute talk with reporters. "We've been committed to by the leadership of the House, the Senate, the Governor, they all want the same thing."

Later, Brogan repeated the claim.
"We asked for our $300 million back and we have that commitment.”
That claim comes a week after the Joe Negron, the Senate’s appropriations chair, said no such restoration has been decided yet, saying instead that it is “on the table.”

 Brogan, who as chancellor oversees the state’s 12 universities, said in addition to getting the $300 million restored, he is also seeking an additional $100 million to be distributed among the universities to improve access and keep up with enrollment growth.

“The return will dwarf that investment,” Brogan said. “We guarantee that.”

Brogan said that Florida has relied for too long on a three-legged stool for the economy: agriculture, tourism and growth. Now is the time to invest in higher education to diversity the economy, he said.

“Why can’t Florida spawn innovation and creation?” Brogan said. “Why can’t we drive job creation by harnessing the power of higher education?”

He provided no better explanation as to how one key legislative priority championed by House Speaker Will Weatherford, an investment of $30 million to $70 million for online education, could develop. He said some universities will put their brand on the education, and that the on-line courses now provided will have to be better organized statewide. Earlier this week, Weatherford had to clarify that his wish for virtual education does not mean a 13th university. 

UPDATE: Randy Goin, Brogan's chief of staff, said that Brogan doesn't know if Scott has committed to restoring the $300 million. But Goin did say that Brogan's office has been encouraged by good discussions with Scott about next year's budget. "We are feeling very good about what they may be recommending for higher eduction," Goin said in an e-mail. 


After FBI raid on South FL eye doc office, NJ Sen. Bob Menendez maintains innocence

From a press release:

WASHINGTON – The following statement was release by the Office of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez today.

“Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years. Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false.”

Here's our story

Marco Rubio to RedState's "Erick:" Current law "is no way to run a nation of immigrants.”

After pitching the Gang of Eight's immigration plan in virtually every conservative forum, it's not much of a surprise that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is responding in a lengthy post to the criticisms of RedState's Erick Erickson.

It underscores how, despite Rubio's talk about how the unions are a big threat to the proposal (which isn't yet a bill), the problem is in the Republican Party. And it shows Rubio is the salesman-in-chief to conservatives, and therefore the linchpin of getting the plan passed in the Senate and, ultimately. the House.

So far, the reception has been mostly positive and even gushing when it comes to pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity. Like them, Erickson comes across as hesitant to criticize Rubio, who they built into a conservative hero. Unlike the other guys, Erickson remains intellectually honest, but with a touch of nervousness.

Consider Erickson's headline opening sentence: "I don't like Marco Rubio's immigration plan. There. I said it." His post is here. Rubio's response is here. It's long. The most-intriguing part is the kicker:

 I understand there are those who will not support any effort. Some raise valid points and I respect their views. But in the end, to leave things the way they are now is de facto amnesty and a barrier to accomplishing important government reforms in other areas. It is no way to run a nation of immigrants.

Weatherford and Gaetz say legislature will take lead on Medicaid expansion decision

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford told a gathering of reporters and editors Wednesday that they aren’t waiting on Gov. Rick Scott to steer them on the controversial issue of whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"We'll know early in the session,'' Weatherford told reporters after he and Gaetz spoke at the annual Associated Press planning session in Tallahassee, after noting that lawmakers are not expecting the governor to guide them when he announces his budget on Thursday.

But the presiding officers made it clear that they’re not too happy with the all-or-nothing approach to covering everyone in Florida who qualifies for Medicaid under the federal health care reform.

 “The federal government gave us an all or nothing proposal,’’ Weatherford said. “They said you have to expand for all populations or you can’t do any of this. That’s put all legislatures and all governments in a pretty good box.”

Continue reading "Weatherford and Gaetz say legislature will take lead on Medicaid expansion decision" »

House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion

Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader, said voters in Florida are not impressed with Republican-led governance, and said even GOP leaders are beginning to feel the same way.

In a 30-minute talk that covered issues ranging from Florida’s elections debacle to implementing federal healthcare to investing in education, Thurston blamed his Republican counterparts for problems facing the state. He said reform efforts currently being pushed by Republican officials—election reform, ethics reform, education financing, healthcare implementation—all seek to deal with problems caused by the GOP-led Legislature.

Thurston said the ruling party had been “foot dragging” when it comes to implementing the federal healthcare reform. He pointed to a letter from former House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 that effectively kept state agencies from planning for reform. The state is now trying to figure out how to conform to the law and facing several deadlines. The decision about whether or not to expand Medicaid is a critical one for the state, and Thurston supports the expansion.

 “We’re going to save lives.  We’re not talking about turning down money fro a rail system; we’re talking about saving lives,” said Thurston. “Not to do this would be morally reprehensible.”

Continue reading "House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion" »

'Little-known' Rich makes case for governor in 2014

Former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014, made the case for her candidacy Wednesday in a visit to the annual Associated Press planning session on the 22nd floor of the state Capitol.

Rich, who was termed out of the Senate in 2012, focused her criticism on Republican Gov. Rick Scott for turning away billions of dollars in high-speed rail money, making it harder to vote, attacking abortion rights and resisting Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.

"I'm definitely a fed-up Floridian who is tired of seeing state government abdicate its responsibility to improve the lives of the citizens of our state," Rich said.

She parodied Scott's campaign slogan, "Let's Get to Work," saying he and Republican legislators "worked to make it harder for people to vote. They worked to slash support for public education. They worked to restrict women's reproductive rights. They worked to block Floridians from the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. None of these initiatives created even one job."

In her travel around the state, Rich said she has seen "a palpable sense of frustration with Tallahassee. " She has raised about $81,000 and has a political fund, Citizens for a Progressive Florida, that has raised $133,450. Scott spent more than $70 million of his money in a successful pursuit of the governorship in 2010.

Rich has virtually no statewide name recognition, but she said history is on her side: She said Reubin Askew, Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles were all "little known state senators" when they first embarked on their successful campaigns for statewide office.

- Steve Bousquet