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12 posts from April 19, 2013

April 19, 2013

Video: Rick and Ann Scott talk 41 years of marriage

Nestled on a loveseat in the governor's mansion, Gov. Rick Scott and wife Ann gush about what it's like to be married to each other 41 years.

Saturday is the couple's wedding anniversary.

In the short video posted on the governor's Facebook page, Rick asks Ann about the secret to a long marriage. Her answer: Be flexible. Laugh at yourself and each other. Stay committed.

She talked about thinking Rick was "pretty cute" when they met as high school seniors in North Kansas City. "When I had hair?" Rick asked. "Yes, when you had hair," Ann laughed. "There was just something special about him. He was different from other boys I had dated."

Rick's advice: "Marry a wonderful person. And then just cherish them, be sweet and have lots of fun in the journey. Enjoy the journey."

Congressional Democrats urge Weatherford to support Medicaid expansion

The 10 Democratic members of Florida's Congressional delegation sent a letter to House Speaker Will Weatherford today asking him to accept federal Medicaid expansion funds. The letter expresses support for Sen. Joe Negron's proposal, which would provide subsidized private insurance for 1 million Floridians and draw down an estimated $51 billion in federal aid.

Weatherford says the House will not accept the federal funding and is backing an alternative plan that uses only state funds to subsidize basic coverage for 130,000 people. The Democratic congressmen and woman said that is wrong for Florida.

"We understand the importance of developing a system that works best for our state, but must express our strong opposition to any plan that leaves $55 billion federal dollars on the table at the expense of our neediest working families," the wrote. "These are Florida taxpayer dollars that should stay in Florida."

The signees are U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings, Joe Garcia, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Alan Grayson, Frederica Wilson, Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Patrick Murphy. In the letter, they remind Weatherford that the last time Florida turned down federal money -- for high-speed rail -- it was re-allocated to other states.

They also repeated many familiar arguments by those who support accepting the federal funding, including Gov. Rick Scott. Click here to Download Congressional Democrats letter to Weatherford.

Bondi to sue BP, Halliburton to recover economic damages from oil spill

UPDATE: Read the whole story and the complaint, which was released Saturday.

Attorney General Pam Bondi will sue BP and Halliburton on Saturday, the three-year anniversary of the oil spill that killed 11 workers, for the state's economic losses, her office announced today.

Bondi will file the lawsuit in the U.S. Northern District Court in Panama City under the Oil Pollution Act without fanfare. The statute of limitation for filing a claim under the OPA expires after three years. The lawsuit does not address the spill's impact on environmental resources, which "continue to be assessed," states a press release.

Bondi hired four law firms on a contingency basis last year to work on the state's case. Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale said a draft of the lawsuit is protected under public record law as an attorney work product.

"The lawsuit includes numerous federal, state and maritime counts. Under the Oil Pollution Act, the State of Florida is entitled to the revenues it lost due to the oil spill, including sales and use taxes; corporate taxes; documentary stamp taxes; cigarette surcharges; cigarette excise taxes; beer, wine, and liquor taxes; fuel taxes; rental car surcharges; and utility taxes and receipts. The State is also seeking punitive damages under maritime and Florida common law due to the egregious nature of the misconduct that led to this environmental and economic disaster."

Florida lawmakers reverse course on transparency, seek exemptions

UPDATE: Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater's efforts to put bring all state contracts into the open on a state-run transparency web site was hit with a major setback as House leaders used the budget conference process to insert broad exemptions into the transparency effort.

Rather than post all contract data on a secure statewide website for the public to view, the House General Government Appropriations Committee wants to exempt all the Cabinet agencies and the judicial branch from the review. That would include all contracts handled by the Department of Financial Services, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Attorney General and the judicial branch, including state attorneys. Only the governor's agencies would be included in the disclosure. 

In addition, if bills moving through the Legislature this session are passed, all Medicaid managed care agreements would be shifted from the governor's Agency for Health Care Administration to the Department of Financial Services and those high-profile contracts would not be required to be posted on the public website.

Continue reading "Florida lawmakers reverse course on transparency, seek exemptions " »

'CorcoranCare' Medicaid expansion alternative headed to House floor

The House's proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion -- a plan that rejects federal dollars and instead allocates state funding to subsidize health coverage for the poor -- could be up for a floor vote some time next week.

The proposal, drafted by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, has been on the fast track ever since it was made public on April 11. The House committee studying the health care law agreed to formally introduce HB 7169 on Monday. The budget panel, the bill's only committee of reference, approved the measure today.

Corcoran's plan has divided the House along party lines. Democrats tried to gut his bill, introducing an amendment today that would have replaced Corcoran's state-funded program for 130,000 people with Medicaid expansion for roughly 1 million people that draws down $51 billion in federal funding.

The amendment failed along party lines. Another party line vote approved the plan, called Florida Health Choices Plus.

Meanwhile, the Senate's two Medicaid expansion alternatives are both on Tuesday's budget committee's agenda after being approved by the health care budget subcommittee earlier this week. Republican senators voted in favor of both plans, saying they want to keep all options open in hopes of reaching a compromise with the House.

One plan, by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, is similar to the House proposal and has faced similarly partisan votes. The other, by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has received unanimous support, as well as the backing of Gov. Rick Scott and many stakeholder groups.

Judge upholds ban on 2012 PIP law, rejecting Scott's appeal

A Leon County judge has again blocked part of the landmark auto insurance overhaul enacted last year by the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

Judge Terry Lewis upheld a temporary ban on the law, after a lawsuit by chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists. Lewis approved the ban last month, indicating that the overhaul of Florida’s Personal Injury Protection laws was unconstitutional.

Gov. Rick Scott appealed the decision, in effect putting the ban on hold and leaving the law intact. But the plaintiffs asked a judge to uphold the ban, saying that allowing the law to remain in place would put many out of business.

Lewis said he agreed to “vacate the stay,” not because of the harm that would be done to the plaintiffs, but because of potential harm to those injured in car accidents.

“The reason for issuing the injunction was to protect this constitutional right and prevent the potential harm to citizens injured in automobile accidents who, under the PIP statute, may not receive necessary care,” he wrote.

Scott's office said it would again challenge the decision, and attempt to keep the law in place.

The 2012 PIP overhaul targeted chiropractors, massage therapists and acupuncturists, restricting their ability to provide covered treatment for people injured in auto accidents. The bill also limited covered medical care to $2,500 if the injured person does not have “an emergency medical condition.” The typical policy limits under Florida’s no-fault law are $10,000. The law was aimed at cracking down on fraud within the PIP system.

Lewis found those changes likely violate the part of the Constitution that provides for access to courts. The case remains pending.

The PIP overhaul was a top priority of Gov. Rick Scott in 2012, and is another example of a law the governor pushed, only to see a judge rule it unconstitutional months later. The Legislature floated the idea of doing away with PIP this year after Lewis’ ruling, but ultimately decided to allow the court battle to play out.

The chiropractors had a better outcome in state court than they did in federal court, where a judge denied the plea for an injunction in December.

Scott's office said the state has filed a lawsuit to challenge Lewis' decision. 

"The solicitor general filed a challenge to the circuit court's decision to lift the stay," said a spokesperson for the governor.

Scott indicated in a statement last month that he would fight to keep the PIP changes in place.

“Our reforms are working to lower insurance costs for Florida families and we will continue to fight special interest groups to keep them in place,” he said.

Florida's job recovery continues, unemployment at 7.5 percent

An excerpt from the Tampa Bay Times' report on the latest unemployment figures:

Florida's job recovery kept its momentum in March, with the state's unemployment rate tumbling to a four-and-a-half year low of 7.5 percent, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported Friday morning.

That's down from a revised rate of 7.7 percent in February.

Florida added 32,700 jobs from February to March and is now up 141,300 jobs compared to a year ago.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, speaking at an event honoring a Naples manufacturer, said the latest numbers prove his jobs strategies are working. "In Florida, our economy is turning around because we focus every day on creating new jobs for our families," he said, noting the state has added 320,000 private sector jobs since he took office a little over two years ago.

Read more here.

Mario Diaz-Balart: Grassley’s terrorism-immigration bill link “not appropriate at this time.”


“Lower the rhetoric. Lower the decibels.”

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was giving that advice to the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Coral Gables during a talk about immigration reform – just as Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley appeared to have done just that in Washington.

At a committee hearing, Grassley said the immigration-reform bill ought to be discussed in connection with the Boston Marathon terror attack.

“Given the events of this week, it is important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” said Grassley, a Republican like Miami’s Diaz-Balart, a House leader on immigration.

Continue reading "Mario Diaz-Balart: Grassley’s terrorism-immigration bill link “not appropriate at this time.”" »

Workers don't come out even in Florida budget haggling

The past five years haven't been easy for state government workers and teachers.

The ranks of state workers have shrunk about 10 percent. Training has been slashed by 25 percent. Seven out of every 10 state employees make less than $40,000 — putting them well below what the average employee in the private sector makes and near the bottom of state workers across the country.

The state's 172,000 teachers, meanwhile, have had tenure stripped away and are now evaluated based on student test scores, which next year could help decide if they get a raise.

"It's been a rough ride," said Ryan Druyor, a 30-year-old research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who lives in St. Petersburg. "Getting ahead working for the state just isn't done anymore. We're falling behind."

A budget surplus producing the first pay raises for state employees in six years has been celebrated by lawmakers as a chance to make up ground. Gov. Rick Scott, the Senate and the House have all proposed budgets with pay raises that can start to kick in this summer.

But as lawmakers haggle over budget details during the next two weeks, the pay proposals vary in shape and size, who gets them and for how much.

It's a legislative exercise that has left many workers feeling oddly conflicted. While obviously thankful that their pay is on the upswing again, they can't help but notice they aren't being treated equally.

See story.


Gov. Rick Scott asks state analysts to revise Medicaid expansion estimates

Now that the federal government has removed some of the uncertainty about how the health care law will be implemented, Gov. Rick Scott wants state analysts to revise their cost-benefit estimates for Medicaid expansion.

Scott supports drawing down federal dollars to expanding Medicaid, but House and Senate Republicans disagreed. Now, the governor supports a Senate plan that uses the estimated $51 billion federal dollars to purchase private insurance policies for roughly 1 million Floridians.

Last week, the governor's chief economist, Michael Anway, emailed members of the committee that estimates Medicaid costs. He asked them to schedule a meeting to revise their numbers.

There are signs that the state could save even more by expanding Medicaid or implementing the Senate plan than what was calculated just last month.

Earlier this week, state estimators said expanding Medicaid could save the state $430 million in general revenue funds by reducing demand on the Medically Needy program. The state would save much less, about $130 million, if it implemented the House's alternative, the report said. The House plan is to use uses state funds to subsidize basic coverages for about 115,000 people and banks on another 350,000 Floridians purchasing insurance on federal exchanges in exchange for tax breaks.

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott asks state analysts to revise Medicaid expansion estimates" »