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15 posts from March 7, 2013

March 07, 2013

Gov. Scott sidesteps stands on a variety of issues

When Gov. Rick Scott says his focus this legislative session is on a teacher pay raise and a tax break for manufacturers' equipment purchases, he isn't kidding.

As he repeatedly demonstrated at a news conference Thursday, he's not ready to publicly take a stand on a range of other issues, or he's not ready to stake out a public position.

On the so-called "parent trigger" bill that would allow parents to take over failing schools, Scott said: "I haven't seen it ... When I look at it, I'll give you my thoughts."

On legislation to stop utilities from passing on costs of future nuclear plants to ratepayers, Scott said: "I haven't (taken a position) today."

On a bill requiring background checks for sales and transfers of guns, Scott said he supports the Second Amendment, adding: "I'd have to see the bill and read it first."

Scott was asked to explain his strategy for becoming engaged on a range of legislative issues, and he smiled and answered with his top two priorities: the teacher pay raise and the tax break.

The governor did express a firm position on the need for Florida to repeal a 2012 law that requires international visitors to buy Florida driver's licenses. The law has caused a furor among Canadian "snowbirds" who love Florida and make a huge contributions to Florida's economy every winter.

Asked if he supports repealing the law, Scott said: "It made no sense what was going on, so absolutely." 

-- Steve Bousquet    


On this Charlie Crist and Rick Scott agree: Expand Medicaid

As Republican legislators seek an alternative to Medicaid expansion, Gov. Rick Scott has not wavered from his support for a three-year expansion trial run. He's found somewhat of an ally in former Gov. Charlie Crist, who could run against Scott in 2014.

Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, believes the state should move forward with expansion even as lawmakers seek a better way.

"I never think it's harmful to explore other alternatives in addition, but we don’t know what they are yet and how they’re going to be handled and how compassionate they’re going to be and if they're really going to serve people," Crist said. "But Medicaid works. We know that. It is the bird in the hand."

The money that would be coming to the state to expand Medicaid is essentially tax dollars that Florida residents have already sent to Washington, Crist said. "They ought to benefit from it, is my view. In essence, they already paid their taxes to make Medicaid work and solvent, they should benefit from it.”

Crist said he had the same opinion about federal high-speed rail funding, which Scott refused to accept. But on Medicaid expansion, Scott said he doesn't believe the state should turn down such a large infusion of money that will help provide insurance access to the poor and disabled.

It is one of the many examples of the governor taking a more moderate position than he did when he first took office.

Thursday: Five Things to Watch in Tallahassee

Politics often makes strange bedfellows, as will be obvious once again in the state Capitol Thursday. Here are five things to watch:

•  A rally urging expansion of the Medicaid low-income insurance program will be held by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a health care workers’ union that has opposed most of Gov. Rick Scott’s policies. But SEIU members, many of whom are in South Florida, favor Scott’s call for a three-year expansion of Medicaid and will show their support in the Capitol. An SEIU news release said the rally would focus on a leading foe of Medicaid expansion, House Speaker Will Weatherford, "who chose partisan politics over serving the hard-working people of Florida."

•  Scott and the Cabinet will meet for the first time in weeks, and the first time since all three elected Republican Cabinet members forcefully opposed Scott’s support of Medicaid expansion.

•  One of several bills that would make texting while driving a non-criminal traffic violation will be considered by the House Transportation & Highway Safety Subcommittee. The bill (HB 13) is sponsored by Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota.

•  The annual political fight over how to pay for Everglades restoration will emerge in the House State Affairs Committee, which takes up a bill (SAC 13-01) dealing with the long-term plan for reducing phosphorus flows into the River of Grass. The Everglades Foundation and Audubon of Florida both oppose the bill, saying it does not require sugar cane growers to pay their fair share of the cleanup of ’Glades pollution.

•  The Senate Banking & Insurance Committee considers a bill (SB 7018) that allows Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to shrink its risk by loaning some of its surplus money to private insurers who would be encouraged to take over Citizens’ policies.


    Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Bill to shrink Citizens—and hike rates—passes first committee

Update: After more than a dozen amendments, a bill to shrink Citizens Property Insurance Corp. received a near-unanimous vote in its first committee. The only Senator voting against the measure was Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, a former dentist, described the bill as a shot that a patient takes before an operation. He said it may be somewhat uncomfortable (with higher insurance rates) at first, but will be worth it in the long run by reducing the exposure of the state.

A bill brimming with enticements for the private property insurance industry—and forcing homeowners to pay higher rates to reinvigorate an apathetic market--gets its first full hearing in the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee on Thursday morning.

The proposal, SPB 7018, is a massive insurance reform bill that targets state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., but also includes costly side effects for homeowners with private insurers.

Several proposals within the bill allow insurance companies to jack up rates higher and faster, while giving them access to Citizens’ $6 billion cash surplus and the company’s most lucrative policyholders, who would be kicked out of state-run insurance under the bill.

Below are a few proposals within the SPB 7018 that could hit homeowners’ pocketbooks as they prepare to renew their insurance policies in 2013 and 2014.

Continue reading "Bill to shrink Citizens—and hike rates—passes first committee" »

Ban on texting while driving picking up speed in the Senate; House to hear bill Thursday

A bill that makes texting while driving a secondary offense, proposed by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice for the fourth year in a row, was unamiously approved by the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committe Wednesday. But much is riding on the vote for a companion bill by Representatives Doug Holder and Ray Pilon, both Sarasota Republicans, which will be presented on Thursday. It's the first time in two years that texting while driving legislation will be heard in the House.
Detert's bill was so well-received in the Senate Wednesday that a long list of supporters who came to the committee meeting didn't need to make their case.

Committee member Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernadina Beach, wanted to know “how soon can we update the curriculum for kids learning to be new drivers” so that teens "across Florida know immediately this is a no-no and not even think about it." “As soon as we pass the bill,” Detert answered.

Continue reading "Ban on texting while driving picking up speed in the Senate; House to hear bill Thursday" »