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19 posts from April 17, 2013

April 17, 2013

Senate panel approves both Medicaid expansion alternatives

Members of the Senate's health care budget committee approved two different Medaid expansion alternatives, saying they want to keep their options open as they attempt to compromise with House Republicans.

However, the panel's unanimous support of Sen. Joe Negron's proposal made it clear that Senate Republicans are willing to accept $51 billion in federal funds to insure 1 million poor Floridians even if the House isn't.

“As we see all the different proposals, I think this is truly the most responsible use of our taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

Both Republican and Democrats praised Negron for coming up with a plan they said would improve the health of poor Floridians and boost the economy. Stakeholder groups also lined up to speak in favor of "NegronCare," including the Associated Industries of Florida, a conservative business organization.

Garcia and the panel's other Republicans also voted in favor of Sen. Aaron Bean's much different approach. As it became clear that Negron's plan had the votes to pass, Bean urged members to vote "yes" on both to help with negotiations with House Republicans, who have a plan similar to his.

“If you say 'no' now it may be killing the last little bit of hope" for compromise, Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said.

Continue reading "Senate panel approves both Medicaid expansion alternatives" »

Gov. Scott hears school superintendents' concerns

Gov. Rick Scott and his education advisers held a two-hour meeting Wednesday with superintendents from around the state, who expressed opposition to the House's plan to link a teacher salary increase to classroom performance.

"It's disturbing," said Orange County Superintendent Barbara Jenkins of the House's pay-raise approach, "and
it's just not feasible unless they have something very simplistic, like satisfactory or unsatisfactory." Jenkins said another law puts school districts on a timetable to develop a pay-for-performance system for the 2014-2015 academic year, and it can't be accomplished sooner than that.

Jenkins later told reporters that Scott's proposal for a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for full-time teachers is a "foundational step" that would raise the base pay of Florida teachers, who are among the lowest-paid in the country with average salaries of $45,000.

Commissioner  of Education Tony Bennett promised a strategy including "talking points" for school districts facing a political backlash over the new common core set of classroom learning standards for students. Scott
himself alluded to criticism of common core from Republicans who called it a "conspiracy" at a state GOP meeting last weekend.

"You're all  hearing that this is a national takeover of education," Bennett told the group, promising a "full-blown communications plan" to push back against the criticism.

Scott, who has made education and teacher pay a cornerstone of his agenda, got a resounding vote of confidence from a Democratic lawmaker: Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who also runs the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Montford called Scott "a great supporter of education" and said: "Your steadfast support and recognition of teachers is really, really appreciated."

Also joining Scott during the roundtable in the Capitol were two top advisors, Chris Finkbeiner and Kim McDougal, who gave detailed status reports on pending legislation dealing with education. Scott told reporters after the session that his $2,500 across-the-board teacher pay raise plan is the best approach, and he said he prefers the Senate plan to the House. "The right thing is to do it the way we've proposed it," Scott said.

-- Steve Bousquet

Marco Rubio immigration-myth-busting shop knocks Shark Tank's 'Marco Phone', rival(?) Rand Paul, media


Even before the mammoth immigration-reform bill from the Senate's Gang of Eight dropped early Wednesday, the rumors, falsehoods and misrepresentations were flying.

And Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's press shop is spending extra time knocking it all down with myth-vs-fact sheets, even though most of it is directed at his longtime supporters: conservatives/tea partiers/Republicans.

There's one myth-vs-fact statement on border security. There's another about the length of the bill (which is 844 pages). And there's our favorite one that just came out: The issue of a "Marco Phone" as the conservative Shark Tank blog wrote.

Rubio's office blasted out an email titled: 'MYTH vs. FACT: THE PERILS OF PEDDLING AN “AMNESTY PHONE” MYTH'


A Marco Phone. A Rubio Phone. An "Amnesty Phone."


Continue reading "Marco Rubio immigration-myth-busting shop knocks Shark Tank's 'Marco Phone', rival(?) Rand Paul, media" »

UPDATED Miami-Dade mayor made Tallahassee trip to lobby for Dolphins' stadium renovation deal


The day after Miami-Dade commissioners OK'ed a referendum to help the Miami Dolphins fund a $350 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium, Mayor Carlos Gimenez traveled to Tallahassee.

The county-funded trip had been scheduled before the deal Gimenez negotiated was approved, with the mayor planning to promote Miami-Dade's broader legislative agenda, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. But after commissioners voted for the Dolphins referendum, Gimenez's one-day trip last Thursday turned largely into a "fact-giving" mission to brief legislators on the proposal's fine print, spokeswoman Suzy Trutie said.

Trutie said the mayor was not lobbying for votes: "He truly went up there to give the facts."

UPDATE: Gimenez later reiterated that he does not consider his trip "lobbying" because he said he didn't ask lawmakers for their vote.

"I'm here to tell you what the deal is," the mayor said he told legislators. "I'm not here to change your mind." 

Gimenez argued that when he describes the deal as among the best negotiated with sports teams -- which he has noted repeatedly in interviews -- he is providing "facts," not advocacy.

"I do support the deal. I was the guy who negotiated the deal," the mayor said. "I didn't go to Tallahassee to lobby for it."

The referendum is conditioned on legislative approval of Dolphins-backed bills allowing the county to increase the mainland Miami-Dade hotel-tax rate to 7 percent from 6 percent. The Dolphins have also asked for an additional $3 million annual sales-tax subsidy.

Though the legislation moved quickly through committees in the state Capitol, it has slowed down more recently. And the Florida House and Senate versions still differ substantially, a potential problem less than three weeks before the annual lawmaking session ends May 3. The final bills would need to match.

The mayor's schedule shows Gimenez, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, met with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and with Adam Hollingsworth, Republican Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff.

Gimenez also met with the bills' sponsors, Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, and Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens. And he met with a trio of vocal House opponents from Miami, Democrat José Javier Rodríguez and Republicans Michael Bileca and Carlos Trujillo, and with other local lawmakers: Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Hialeah Republicans Sen. René García and Rep. José Oliva.

Oliva voted against the bill in committee, and Flores has said she opposes the legislation.

Dolphins bill appears stalled in Fla. House; Still moving in Senate

The Miami Dolphins’ push for new legislation to approve a tax-supported stadium upgrade appears to be is stalling in the Florida House, where the powerful budget chairman has no plans to hear the bill this week. 

Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, made it clear that the bill would not be heard this week, and there are currently no committee meetings scheduled for next week. 

“On Friday, I’m hearing the [healthcare] bill,” he said. “Don’t plan to hear the Dolphins bill.”

His comments came on Wednesday after the Appropriations Committee met. The Dolphins bill, which was last heard two weeks ago, was not on Wednesday’s agenda. 

Though session in winding down, the bill is certainly not dead.

The Senate plans to hear a different version of the bill on Thursday, and could be the team’s saving grace. If the Senate approves the bill and sends it to the House, it could pass without clearing all of its assigned committees in the House.

McKeel did not say specifically who was lobbying him on the bill or why he wasn’t putting the bill up for a vote.

“I get lobbied about a lot of things,” he said.

Continue reading "Dolphins bill appears stalled in Fla. House; Still moving in Senate" »

Miami-Dade Commission: Hold the line on Bright Futures

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan added her voice to the debate over Bright Futures this week, saying lawmakers should reconsider raising the standards needed to qualify for the state-funded scholarships.

"When this bill initially passed, it was a measure to help save the state of Florida money," Jordan said. "However, no one took into account the effect that it would have on college enrollment for Hispanics and African Americans. If the state of Florida implements this plan, they’ll be moving us backwards, not forward."

The Miami-Dade County Commission agreed, and passed a resolution urging state lawmakers to hold the line on Bright Futures awards.

Beginning next year, students will need to post higher scores on the ACT and SAT to qualify for Bright Future scholarships. An analysis from the University of South Florida has projected that the number of college freshman receiving the awards will drop dramatically, with minority students suffering the most.

Lawmakers have filed bills to keep the existing standards in place. But the proposals have not received a hearing, and the session is winding down.

Faster foreclosures bill zooms toward House floor

A bill to speed up Florida’s groggy foreclosure process is headed to the House floor after a largely partyline vote in the House budget committee.

HB 87 creates new options for expedited foreclosures and tightens up filing standards for banks.

Opponents claimed it would harm homeowners and favor banks.

“The bill appears to diminish the rights of homeowners and consumers, while attempting to streamline the process,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami. “I don’t see how this bill protects homeowners who have been victims of fraud and other unscrupulous activities.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said the bill was a consumer-friendly attempt to clean up the foreclosure process, which has been plagued by fraud.

“The Florida Legislature…does not support fraud,” she said. “This bill is so fair, it’s so consumer friendly.”

Continue reading "Faster foreclosures bill zooms toward House floor" »

The other gang speaks: Diaz-Balart, House immigration group comment on Gang of 8 plan

The following is from a press release:

Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan group of eight Members from the U.S. House of Representatives released the following statement today regarding their efforts for comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system:

“Americans want to see the nation’s broken immigration system fixed, and they know it will take bipartisanship to solve this problem in a sensible and rational way. This week, a bipartisan group of Senators stepped forward to introduce their proposal, and we applaud their effort.

"We are also working on a good faith, bipartisan effort in the House. We believe we will soon agree on a reasonable, common-sense plan to finally secure our borders and strengthen our economy, with a tough but fair process that respects the rule of law so immigrants can contribute to our country.

"While we have made substantial progress, we continue to work diligently towards a bill that keeps America strong, competitive and true to our values.” — Reps. Xavier Becerra (CA), John Carter (TX), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), Luis Gutierrez (IL), Sam Johnson (TX), Raul Labrador (ID), Zoe Lofgren (CA), and John Yarmuth (KY) # # #

Not quite 'The Hug,' but President Obama praises 'positive force' Marco Rubio on immigration


First dinner with the president? Now some love?

Alas, the handful of Florida tea partiers who rallied against Sen. Marco Rubio for his role in drafting an immigration reform compromise, now have more reason to get all protesty.

Check out what President Obama said about the Republican's handling of immigration as part of the Senate's so-called Gang of Eight.

“I think that he has been a very positive force,” Obama told NBC's Savannah Guthrie, adding he feels this way about "all the senators who’ve been involved."

"We’re a nation of laws and a nation of citizens, that helps our economic growth, that helps us attract incredible talent to our shores. But I also hope that it kinda restarts muscle memory in Congress for getting bipartisan legislation done.”

Obama said he was "reasonably confident" immigration reform would pass.

The bill was released about 2 a.m. The text is here: Download Immigrationbill

Obama has politically been much more helpful to Rubio than many realize. The president's literal embrace of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009 -- now simply known as "The Hug" -- over the stimulus bill helped seal Crist's fate as a Republican. Rubio used Crist's position on Obama's policy and his contact with the president to chase Crist out of the GOP and then beat him in the general election in 2010 to win his U.S. Senate seat.