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16 posts from April 11, 2013

April 11, 2013

After years of no action, House committee moves bill to modify nuclear fee law

A Florida House committee signaled its willingness Thursday to make official what has already happened in practice and passed a bill that will end the future development of nuclear power plants in Florida.

The House Energy and Utility Committee approved PCB 13-01 to prevent utility companies from charging customers for the development of nuclear plants before they obtain a license and precludes any new power plants from being eligible to collect the nuclear fees.

“This is only a start but, it should not go unnoticed this is a big start,’’ said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, chairman of the committee.

Since the nuclear cost recovery statute was passed in 2006, Progress Energy has charged customers more than $1 billion to expand the now shutdown Crystal River nuclear power plant and to start developing a new nuclear power plant in Levy County. The company terminated the Crystal River project, does not have a permit for the Levy County project, but has kept $150 million of the money in profits.

Florida Power & Light collected $511 million and used the money to finance expansions to its existing power plants at Turkey Point and in St. Lucie County. It has also proposed building two new reactors at Turkey Point but has not yet obtained a permit from the federal government to do it.

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After Republicans release plan, House Democrats back down from budget standoff

House Democrats won’t automatically oppose the $74.4 billion budget when it’s voted on Friday.

Although House Minority Leader Rep. Perry Thurston, is “not enthralled” with the health care plan House Republicans unveiled on Thursday, he said it was enough for him to end a plan by Democrats to vote against the spending plan because it doesn’t address Medicaid expansion.

On Tuesday, Thurston and the 43 other House Democrats agreed to oppose the budget because, unlike the Senate, there was no plan proposed by Republicans to expand coverage for an estimated 1 million uninsured Floridians.

But Thursday, the chair of the House’s select committee on the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, unveiled a new plan. It wouldn’t touch the federal money made available for the expansion. Dubbed Health Choices plus, the state would give each participant $2,000 each year to help them purchase coverage options, enrollees would  have to pay $25 a month in premiums, and adults without disabilities would be required to work at least 20 hours a week.

“Though personally, at first glance, I’m am not enthralled by the proposal,” Thurston said in a statement. “I recognize that it is at least a minimal attempt toward achieving a legislative compromise on the important topic of health coverage for Floridians.”

Thurston said he told caucus members that “I am relieving them of the caucus position we have taken on the state budget and they should vote as they deem appropriate.”

By no means, however, did this indicate Democrats would end up supporting the budget tomorrow, it’s just that they can vote as they deem fit.

“I am confident that House Democratic Caucus members stand with me in strong support -- and hope -- for health care coverage plan by the Legislature will rely upon federal resources to provide coverage for more than 1 million Floridians, save 5,000 lives a year, and provide good-paying, much-needed jobs throughout Florida.”


Five legislators may testify in case of fired state trooper

Five state House members, all of whom have been stopped and given traffic citations by state troopers, could be forced to give testimony in the upcoming case of Charles Swindle, a highway patrolman who was fired over his handling of a stop involving a lawmaker.

The Florida Highway Patrol fired Swindle last month after an internal investigation concluded he broke agency rules in his handling of a stop on I-10 last Nov. 19 involving Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville. Swindle said his radar gun clocked McBurney at 87 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone in rural Madison. But rather than give the lawmaker a speeding ticket, Swindle gave him a $10 citation for not having proof of insurance and said he told McBurney: "I'm cutting you a break on this one."

McBurney denied he was speeding. He did have an insurance card in his wallet, and he complained to the FHP, which fired Swindle March 15.

Swindle's attorney, Sidney Matthew of Tallahassee, is challenging the firing in a hearing scheduled for May 2 before the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). His petition says the state "has engaged in unlawful disparate treatment by dismissing (Swindle) for substantially the same doncut in which other similarly situated FHP troopers were not dismissed."

Besides McBurney, Matthew notes in his PERC filing, he plans to subpoena Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, who also was stopped by Swindle on Nov. 19 and three others cited in the past year: Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Gainesville; Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa; and Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater. Also on the witness list: McBurney's wife Deborah, who was riding with her husband that day on I-10, and Swindle's former superior officer, Sgt. Gary Dawson, who was described in an inspector general's report as approving Swindle's handling of the McBurney case.

Matthew was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment. The day of the hearing is the next-to-last day of the regular legislative session, and a state law requires that any legal proceeding involving a member of the Legislature "shall stand continued" for 15 days after the session ends.

-- Steve Bousquet

House pitches ‘Health Choices Plus’ alternative to Medicaid expansion, rejects federal aid

As expected, the Florida House will unveil a new insurance program today for low-income Floridians that allows them to select bare-bones coverage options on a state-based health exchange. The setup is similar to the plan pitched by Sen. Aaron Bean, but on a larger scale.

“Bean Plan Plus” is what the architect of the House plan, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, calls it.

The House plan is limited to disabled adults and parents, allowing them to purchase insurance using a state-based health marketplace with a rocky history. Most of the plans would provide low-cost preventative and primary care visits, subsidized by state funds.

Among the highlights of Health Choices Plus:

  • -The state would give each participant $2,000 each year to help them purchase coverage options
  • -Enrollees would also pay $25 a month in premiums
  • -Adults without disabilities will be required to work at least 20 hours a week

According to the proposed bill and an explainer booklet, which the Times/Herald has obtained exclusively, the cost to state would rise to $266 million as the program grows to 130,000 participants over the next 10 years. For the upcoming fiscal year, the estimated cost is $14 million because the program isn’t slated to launch until April.

Because not all low-income Floridians are eligible under the House plan and because it doesn’t adhere to federal Medicaid standards, the state would not be eligible for roughly $55 billion in federal dollars. Bean’s plan also isn’t eligible for federal funds.

A separate proposal by Sen. Joe Negron would qualify for federal dollars. The Senate has held off on debating either of its proposals, choosing to wait for the House to release its plan. On Monday, the House committee studying the health care law will take up Corcoran’s proposal as a proposed committee bill.

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Parent trigger wins support in Senate committee stop

Another committee stop, another show of support for the parent trigger bill.

The proposal, which would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at struggling public schools, including having the school converted into a charter school, had its final hearing in the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday morning. 

It picked up an amendment from Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, that waters it down some. As the bill was initially drafted by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, the State Board of Education would be the arbiter if the school district opposed the parents' plans. The Simmons amendment gives the final say to the school system.

The Florida PTA supported the amendment. But the PTA and other parent groups spoke out against the overall bill, saying it would open the door for for-profit charter school companies to take over failing public schools.

Even with the amendment, the trigger bill failed to win the support of the four Democrats on the panel: Sens. Bill Montford, Joseph Abruzzo, Dwight Bullard and Maria Sachs. But the eight Republicans on the dais voted to move the proposal along to its final committee stop.

Observers are expecting a big battle if the bill reaches the Senate floor.

Enrique Ros, voice of Cuban exiles and father of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, passes away


Enrique Ros, the father of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, lived the history of the clandestine resistance against Fidel Castro in the early 1960s that he recounted in the 19 books he authored.

At a time when Fidel Castro was sending hundreds of opponents to the firing squads, Ros was the on-island coordinators of the Christian Democratic Movement, one of the underground groups fighting to topple Castro.

“Enrique not only was a great historian. He was a man who made history,” said Pedro Roig, a long time friend of Ros, who died late Wednesday from respiratory complications at South Miami Hospital at the age of 89.

“My Dad was and will always be the wind beneath my wings. His passing leaves in us a loss that is eternal and deep,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. He was “the foundation of us all, and the one person who kept us grounded and confident.”

Born Enrique Emilio Ros y Perez in Cienfuegos, Cuba, Ros was one of the leaders of the risky struggle against Castro in 1959 and 1960. The Christian Democratic Movement was part of the Democratic Revolutionary Movement, a broad anti-Castro coalition.

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