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7 posts from February 26, 2013

February 26, 2013

Pam Bondi criticizes 'surrender' on Medicaid expansion

From the News Service of Florida:

A chorus of opposition is starting to take hold in the Florida Cabinet to Gov. Rick Scott’s stunning support for expanding Medicaid, with Attorney General Pam Bondi saying she objects to the idea.

“I am opposed to this dramatic expansion of Medicaid, because of the ultimate cost to Florida's taxpayers and because I don't think our state should surrender even more control over health care to the federal government,” Bondi said in an email Tuesday.

Bondi, who helped lead a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the federal Affordable Care Act, has joined Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in forming a potentially persuasive bloc as the Medicaid expansion issue moves before lawmakers.

Scott drew national headlines last week when he announced support for expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. The governor, who has been a longtime critic of the federal law better known as Obamacare, said he would support the expansion for three years and then require that it be revisited.

Bondi backed Putnam’s contention that once Medicaid is expanded to include residents up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, the state would be unable to back away from that position after three years. Opponents worry that could eventually create a massive fiscal burden to Florida.

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Marco Rubio holds out hope for 'Obamacare' repeal

As more Republican governors say expanding Medicaid is the right decision for their states, count U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio among those who disagree. Today New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became the eight GOP governor to say he would support accepting federal dollars to reduce the number of uninsured people in his state. Gov. Rick Scott was No. 7 after making a similar announcement last week.

Rubio believes the long-term costs of Medicaid expansion should gives these governor's pause, according to spokesman Alex Conant. Despite the law being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and Democrats retaining control of the U.S. Senate and White House after November's election, Rubio is still is holding out hope for a repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"Specifically, Senator Rubio is concerned that without future reforms, the decision will leave the state of Florida on the hook for billions of dollars of unfunded mandates in the future," Conant said via email. "Senator Rubio remains committed to repealing Obamacare and reforming Medicaid.”

Another day, another Medicaid expansion poll

The Times/Herald has obtained yet another poll gauging Floridians' support of Medicaid expansion, this time conducted by left-leaning Public Policy Polling.

According to PPP, 62 percent of 551 Florida voters polled support Medicaid expansion. This result is similar to two other polls conducted on behalf of non-profit groups urging the state to accept federal dollars to reduce the number of uninsured residents. 

Here is how the question was framed: "You may have heard some things in the news recently about extending Medicaid. By investing $1.7 billion of state funds to extend health care coverage to at least one million, low-income Floridians who are children or working adults, Florida will receive nearly $28 billion from the federal government, while creating 56,000 new jobs in Florida. Do you support or oppose this approach to extending health insurance coverage?"

So far, only one poll has concluded that a majority of Floridians oppose Medicaid expansion. That survey by conservative James Madison Institute posed the question differently than the others, focusing instead on the long-term costs of expanding Medicaid.

The PPP poll was conducted February 22 through 24. It has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Download PPP Medicaid expansion poll

Black eye for Florida's biz incentive program as Miami company fails

A Miami-Dade company that received a large tax incentive deal from the state of Florida folded last week, casting another black eye on the state’s job recruitment incentives program.

Banah International Group, a sugar company, was approved for a “qualified target industry” tax credit worth $437,000.

Adding insult to injury: News that Banah’s chairman had been convicted of cocaine trafficking five years before the company was approved for inventives.

Enterprise Florida, which does much of the vetting in Florida’s multimillion-dollar business incentives program, has been under heightened scrutiny in recent weeks as lawmakers have questioned the practice of doling out tax breaks and cash to companies promising to create jobs. EFI said that Banah did not disclose the criminal past of its chairman.

The organization pointed out, in all capital letters, that Banah did not receive any tax money from the state because it failed to create the jobs it promised.


Gov. Rick Scott is asking the Legislature to approve nearly $300 million in incentives funding this year, a massive increase from about $111 million last year.

Lawmakers are skeptical about the funding request, especially after at least three companies have gone bust in the last year after accepting incentives deals.

Groups like Integrity Florida and the Koch-brothers sponsored Americans for Prosperity have slammed Enterprise Florida’s incentive program, saying it picks “winners and losers” in the marketplace. When a company goes bust after accepting government funds—as was the case with Solyndra and Florida’s own Digital Domain—critics blame the government for picking a loser.

EFI has countered that narrative by stating it is using the taxpayer funds to recruit companies that create high-paying jobs in Florida.

Most of the deals that it approves go on to fulfill—and often surpass—their requirements, EFI has said.

In the case of Banah, EFI was surprised by the bankruptcy.

“There were no concerns regarding the financial viability of Banah,” EFI said.


Biz group releases Citizens Insurance map, hoping to get lawmakers to act

Hoping to convince lawmakers to make significant reforms on the politically thorny issue of property insurance, a business group has released an interactive map showing legislators how many of their constituents are covered by Citizens Property Insurance.

The idea is to get lawmakers to realize that, in most cases, the majority of their constituents get coverage in the private market, not from government-run Citizens. That realization would theoretically make it easier for lawmakers to back legislation raising rates at Citizens.

“This is the first time we’ve looked at the data this way and it’s very telling. More than two-thirds of residents in a majority of Senate and House districts don’t have Citizens as their property insurer,” said Associated Industries of Florida president Tom Feeney in a statement.

AIF is pushing for major reforms, many of which will lead to higher insurance rates for property owners covered by Citizens, and potentially for those covered by private insurers as well. AIF says the threat of those "hurricane taxes" is bad for business. Citizens, the largest insurer in the state with 1.3 million policies, covers about 23 percent of the market.

If the company—which is running a record surplus—ever runs out of money after a massive monster hurricane, it might have to levy “assessments” on Florida consumers to make up the shortfall. Federal and state taxpayers may also pick up some of the tab, as has happened in the past after devastating storms.

Property insurance has been a tough political football because of the pocketbook impact it has on homeowners. In places like South Florida, where Citizens dominates the market, the typical family spends about 5 percent of its income on property insurance, much higher than state and national averages.

Those homeowners are very vocal come election time, so Republicans in South Florida and other high-cost coastal regions have been wary of voting for business-backed insurance bills in the past. Democrats have joined those wary Republicans to kill bills that the insurance industry wants and this year the minority party has made keeping insurance costs down part of its platform.

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Federal court rejects Florida's welfare drug-testing appeal

A federal appeals court upheld the temporary ban on Florida’s drug-testing for welfare recipients Tuesday, saying that a lawsuit against the state had a good chance of succeeding.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta sided with a lower court decision, stating that Florida failed to show that the drug testing plan was so critical that the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches by the government, should be suspended.

The decision—which did not weigh in on the ultimate constitutionality question—is the latest development in Gov. Rick Scott's controversial drug testing push. In 2011,Scott and the Florida Legislature instituted a program for drug-testing all recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Luis Lebron, a single-father and TANF applicant who refused to take the test on constitutional grounds, filed a lawsuit with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.

In authoring the court’s opinion, Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett said that Florida had not proven that its drug-testing program serves a “special” or “immediate” need, or that it even protected children in families with substance abuse.

“There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment,” Barkett wrote. “The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida’s mandatory drug testing program is that they are financially needy families with children.” 

Scott vowed to appeal the decision and take his fight to the Supreme Court.

“The court’s ruling today is disturbing," he said in a statement. "Welfare is 100 percent about helping children. Welfare is taxpayer money to help people looking for jobs who have children. Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the wellbeing of Florida families. We will protect children and families in our state, and this decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.”

The court relied on a similar case in Georgia, which struck down the state’s program for requiring all political candidates to take drug tests. That case found that Georgia did not show that there was a drug problem among elected officials, and the law was mostly “symbolic.”

In the rejecting Florida’s appeal to the lower court's preliminary injunction, Barkett took a similar position. 

“The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior,” she wrote.

The ACLU's associate legal director Maria Kayanan said the ruling was a vindication for struggling families who apply for government assistance.

"The state of Florida can’t treat an entire segment of our community like suspected criminals simply because they are poor and are trying to get temporary assistance from the government to support their families,” said Kayanan, who was lead counsel on the case.

Florida also passed a law last year requiring drug testing for all state workers, but that issue is also tangled in constitutional challenges and litigation. 


Florida Polytechnic University might not ask for $25 million after all

Florida Polytechnic University's Board of Trustees might be having a change of heart about its decision to ask the Legislature for $25 million. In recent weeks, lawmakers and the state Board of Governors have expressed concern about why the newly created university would be asking for additional dollars so soon.

Now, Poly's chief operating officer Ava Parker is recommending that the school back track from the request, the Lakeland Ledger reports. She said that recommendation was based on additional information about the school's finances and projections, but we wonder if the expected dressing down at the next Board of Governors meeting and indications that the Legislature might not be willing to write Poly another check might also have something to do with Poly Trustees' about-face.

Read the Ledger's report here.