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11 posts from February 20, 2013

February 20, 2013

Rep. Darryl Rouson dramatically wins House leader vote

In dramatic fashion, Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg narrowly won a caucus vote Wednesday night to be leader of House Democrats in 2014.

He defeated Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, 23-21, after the two deadlocked on a 22-22 vote and a second round of balloting was held. Lawmakers voted by secret ballot, so who switched sides and why remained a mystery.

As caucus leader, Rouson will be chiefly responsible for recruiting candidates and raising money in the 2014 elections, and being a forceful spokesman for his party in the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions. Florida Democrats gained five House seats in 2012, thanks in part to President Barack Obama’s strong grass-roots campaign, and hope to keep the momentum going in 2014. In the highly unlikely event that Democrats were to win a majority of seats in 2014 (a net gain of 17 seats), he would be speaker of the House.

Rouson has a commanding style that some lawmakers find overly intense, but he forged bonds with several freshman members by helping them in their campaigns. He began collecting signed pledges from fellow lawmakers in November and claimed Wednesday to have a 29 to 15 lead over Jones, which quickly evaporated. Following a tie vote that shocked most lawmakers, Rouson sat slumped in a chair and sounded resigned to defeat.

“I’m a little disappointed that seven Democrats may have done something differently, secretly. I gave it all I had,” he said.

Ten minutes later, he was declared the winner. His voice breaking, Rouson said: “In my heart, the best interest of this caucus is at stake ... This is surreal for me right now.”

Rouson, 58, a lawyer, has spoken freely about his religious faith and his ability to overcome substance abuse. A onetime Republican who once supported Jeb Bush for governor, he recalled in a victory speech that he was the underdog candidate to run St. Petersburg’s NAACP chapter and in his first run for the House.

“I’ve always been the underdog and the insurgent,” Rouson said.

Jones, who was favored by most members of the current House Democratic leadership, pledged to work together with Rouson in fighting the Republican agenda in Tallahassee. She said she wasn’t concerned about who might have abandoned her.

“Our caucus has spoken,” Jones said. “People change their minds ... Our strength is in us being able to stand together."

-- Steve Bousquet

What people are saying about Gov. Rick Scott's Medicaid expansion announcement

Gov. Rick Scott's announcement that he would support Florida receiving federal dollars to expand Medicaid made national news. Here is a round up of some of the reaction from friends and foes, including a few who may be switching from one side to the other.

Attorney General Pam Bondi via Twitter (@PamBondi):

“Concerned about consequences of greater fed control over healthcare, a major expansion of govt. At least FL lawsuit gave each state a choice.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Ft. Lauderdale via Twitter (@SenChrisSmith):

“Medicaid expansion, Obamacare, teacher bonuses who is this guy?”

John Lacquey, president of North Central Florida Tea Party:

“We’ve been after him not to set up the health care exchanges, so I thought that meant 'no' on everything. So undoubtedly it doesn’t. … I am not interested in more government of any kind. We are interested in less government less spending at all levels.”

Henry Kelley of the Florida Tea Party Network via Twitter (@henrykelley):

Will Medicaid Expansion cover me for the knife @FLGovScott just buried in my back?”

Continue reading "What people are saying about Gov. Rick Scott's Medicaid expansion announcement" »

Precourt pushes bill to eliminate 'living wage' laws, snaring South Florida

Miami Dade and Broward counties would have their decades-old living wage ordinances repealed and local governments would be banned from enacting similar employment benefits under a bill passed Wednesday by a House committee.

The measure, HB 655, by Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, not only would preempt the laws in the state’s most populous counties and in cities such as Orlando, Miami Beach and Gainesville, but it would ban Precourt’s home county, Orange, from enacting a sick time proposal set to go before voters in 2014.

“Some counties like Miami-Dade are so large that their ordinances are really distorting the current economy and there is a need for uniformity,’’ Precourt told the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee. He said the laws have suppressed the ability of the state to generate jobs.

But opponents countered that the laws, which have been on the books in some cases for 14 years, have actually stabilized employment and helped businesses.

Continue reading "Precourt pushes bill to eliminate 'living wage' laws, snaring South Florida " »

Post water-swigging Pew poll: Marco Rubio upside down

From a Pew Research poll that also surveyed opinions about Chuck Hagel (nominated to be defense secretary) and Secretary of State John Kerry:

The survey also finds that the public expresses mixed views of Marco Rubio, following his response to Obama’s State of the Union address. Overall, 26% view Rubio favorably, 29% unfavorably, and 46% cannot offer a rating.

Rubio has a strong image among Republicans and receives particularly high ratings among those who agree with the Tea Party.

Among all Republicans (and Republican leaners) who agree with the Tea Party, fully 70% view Rubio favorably compared with just 7% who view him unfavorably. Among Republicans and leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party, 31% view Rubio favorably and 25% view him unfavorably.

Although it's dangerous to mix-and-match polls, what's interesting here is that Rubio's numbers are rather different from a (pre-SOTUr) survey earlier this month by Quinnipiac University, which found Rubio more popular (27%) than unpopular (15%). Was it the water-swigging by Rubio? The substance of his speech? Or are the polls too different to divine any meaning?

Broward GOP chair suddenly quits...and then there is silence

This was a faster divorce than some celebrity marriages: Broward GOP chairman Rico Petrocelli sent a letter Tuesday announcing that he was quitting and cited "irreconcilable differences" with the board. His peers on the Broward Republican Executive Committee elected him to the post just two months ago. Petrocelli, a former Plantation council member, will remain a precinct committeeman.

Petrocelli won't elaborate and so far, nor will his board.

The board plans to meet tonight to discuss Petrocelli's departure. Vice chair Christine Butler will take over as interim chair until an election is held in 60 days.

Lots of potential candidates have been mentionned including former Davie town mayor Tom Truex who lost a chair bid in 2010 and Karen Harrington who lost two races to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) by a landslide.

It is not easy being a Republican in the Democratic-dominant county of Broward. But an organized Broward GOP can make a difference in statewide elections. The question is whether the group can unite behind a leader and a functional board to encourage the more than 250,000 registered Republicans to get out and vote in 2014.

The Broward GOP has had a lot of turnover in the chair position in recent years. The Broward Democrats face the opposite situation -- Mitch Ceasar has been at the helm since 1996 (and faced serious challengers in 2008 and 2012 who said it was time for a change.)




Lawmakers no closer in knowing cost of Weatherford's pension reform

A report on Friday was supposed to help lawmakers understand how much it would cost to do pension reform pushed by Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The study only looked at what it would cost if new employees were prohibited from enrolling in the $136 billion pension system and were required instead to enroll in 401(k) style plans.

On Monday, Weatherford concluded he needed to compare the costs of keeping the plan in its current state before understanding the cost. But late Tuesday, representatives with Milliman, the Virginia actuarial firm that did the study, alerted state officials that the report was missing even more critical data.

They told state officials that when calculating the assets of the plan, they omitted the three percent contribution rates from employees that the Florida Supreme Court recently upheld.

"This caused errors in several columns within the report," said Ben Wolf, a spokesman with the Department of Management Services, which ordered the study.

An updated study with corrections and a comparison to the current plan's associated costs will be released on March 1.

"So we’re not better off than when the report was issued," said Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, who chairs the House Committee that is sponsoring Weatherford's pension reform.

Florida receives go-ahead to privatize Medicaid. Is expansion next?

Gov. Rick Scott has said that Florida cannot expand Medicaid unless the federal government approves the state’s plan to privatize Medicaid. Well, the Medicaid managed care agreement is all but done.

Now, the ball is in the state’s court on Medicaid expansion, without 1 million uninsured Floridians waiting in the balance.

Senate President Don Gaetz said the discussions shouldn't be mixed. Whether the state expands Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has nothing to do with the federal government’s decision to grant the state the waiver it needed to privatize Medicaid, he said.

“The two are completely separate issues,” Gaetz said, noting that the Senate committee studying the health care law will eventually come up with a recommendation on whether the state should expand Medicaid.

But it is Scott who has linked the two. Although he has stopped short of saying he would embrace the Medicaid expansion, the governor has said in recent weeks that he is willing to work with the federal government as long as the waiver was part of the conversation.

Continue reading "Florida receives go-ahead to privatize Medicaid. Is expansion next?" »

Mother Jones, Gov. Rick Scott and the Tea Party

In its next issue, Mother Jones delivers a scathing critique of Gov. Rick Scott and Florida ...

What's It Like to Wake Up From a Tea Party Binge? Just Ask Florida!

Kids locked up in nursing homes. Leaky sewers. Mosquitoes unleashed. The Sunshine State has buyer's remorse.

Read the article here

Scott: Citizens execs should return 'outrageous' raises

Gov. Rick Scott blasted top executives at Citizens Property Insurance for “foolish” behavior Wednesday, calling on them to give back large pay raises they received last year.

“First off, they have these outrageous pay raises,” Scott said in an interview “They ought to give that back. Those ought to go back.”

The raises, first reported by the Herald/Times, came as the state-run company was increasing homeowners’ insurance rates and scaling back coverage. Scott said no one told him about the pay hikes—which were as large as $31,000—and made it clear that he did not approve.

Citizens has been through a number of controversies in the last year as news of the company’s spending habits has come to light. Expenditures unearthed by the Herald/Times, independent auditors and Scott’s chief inspector general include gourmet dinners, alcohol, international travel and stays in $600-a-night hotels.

A Citizens spokesperson said the company will "revisit" its board-approved compensation plan and "make a revised recommendation at the March meeting."

In a Wednesday opinion piece in the Bradenton Herald, Citizens’ board chairman Carlos Lacasa said that the company has “sound internal governance” and the raises were merited due to increased responsibilities and comparisons with the private insurance industry.

"The raises also followed three straight years of no merit raises and were accompanied by a decrease to benefits in the form of increased health insurance premiums and higher co-pays,” Lacasa wrote.

Scott said that his staff had heard Citizens’ rationale for raising the salaries, but he remained critical of the pay increases, which went out to some of the highest-paid execs at the state-run insurer. Employees at state agencies have not received a raise in six years.

On several occasions, Scott made mention of executives’ use of the corporate credit card to buy alcohol, including purchases brought to light by Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel.

Citizens responded to Scott’s inspector general by saying that Lacasa had reimbursed the company for $300 in alcohol purchased at a company dinner last June. Receipts obtained by the Times/Herald show that seven or eight officials at Citizens ordered about $369 of red wine and Grey Goose Vodka during a $918 dinner at Orlando’s Ocean Prime restaurant.

“We shouldn’t be reimbursing them for alcohol,” Scott said. “This is a state organized entity. It shouldn’t be any different.”

Continue reading "Scott: Citizens execs should return 'outrageous' raises" »

Proposals for more virtual schools, fewer class size penalties

School officials from Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Duval counties lined up to encourage a House subcommittee to approve a proposal to  relaxes Class Size Amendment penalties. But they needn’t have worried; the House’s Choice and Innovation Subcommittee passed HB 189 with near unanimous support.

The bill tweaks the formula used to penalize school districts for failing to meet requirements of the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2002. Instead of calculating the penalty based on the number of students assigned to individual classrooms, HB 189 uses school-wide averages . Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, was the lone “no” vote.

Saunders also voted against two proposed committee bills that were also on the agenda. The first, presently known as CIS2, would stiffen school grading requirements and also increases access to student education data for research and analysis. Several Democrats expressed privacy concerns and voted “no,” but the bill still passed.

Continue reading "Proposals for more virtual schools, fewer class size penalties" »