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15 posts from April 23, 2013

April 23, 2013

Tweaked Medicaid billing system for counties headed to Senate floor

The Senate budget committee agreed to phase in a new Medicaid billing system for counties over seven years instead of five. But that didn't stop county commissioners from across the state from speaking out against the legislation.

Senate Bill 1884 is headed for a floor vote but could see additional tweaks before then. Senators said the proposal may not be perfect right now, but it's their best attempt to create a new system to collect counties' share of Medicaid costs. Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voiced concerns but still voted in favor of the bill.

"We need to tighten this up because a thousand dollars here, a million dollars there, makes a big difference in the lives of those who have to come up with it," she said. "We have much work to do before the floor."

Under the existing billing system, the one created just last year that sparked an uproar itself, counties pay according to actual services utilized by verified patients that live within their boundaries. Because the state is changing the way it pays hospitals for Medicaid, it also needs to change its billing system for counties.

Senate health care budget chief Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, vowed to continue working with counties on additional fixes.

The proposal requires counties to pay a share of the Medicaid costs proportionate to the percentage of Medicaid enrollees that reside there. But that is softened by the seven-year phase in, so that counties aren't paying solely a proportionate cost until 2020.

Indian River Commissioner Peter O'Bryan said his county's Medicaid costs would jump from the current five-year average of $666,000 a year to $2 million over the phase-in period.

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Workman, Stargel: Gov. Scott, sign our alimony bill

Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, held a press conference Tuesday to rally support for their alimony bill.

The proposal, which does away with permanent alimony and requires judges to split custody evenly between most divorcing parents, has already passed in both chambers. But the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar is pressing Gov. Rick Scott to wield his veto pen.

Killing the bill could help Scott with women voters in his upcoming bid for reelection.

On Tuesday, Stargel pointed out that a supermajority of lawmakers had voted for the proposal, and that supporters included "both men and women."

Added Workman: "If he needs the women's vote, this is not the bill to veto."

The two planned to meet with the governor later in the day. Stargel said they would be bringing a binder full of, er, alimony horror stories.

Scott wouldn't say much about the proposal, only that he's reviewing it.

PolitiFact: Gimenez's remark about the Dolphins' taxes is False

The Miami Dolphins are attempting to score what would be an incredibly fast political touchdown: a one-month campaign to convince Miami-Dade County voters to sign off on a stadium construction deal.

After nearly around the clock negotiations at the stadium and county hall, fueled by frequent runs for Cuban cafecito, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez hammered out a deal with the Dolphins.

During the county meeting on April 10, 2013, when commissioners signed off on the referendum, Commissioner Sally Heyman asked if the stadium would continue to pay property taxes. During the negotiations, the Dolphins proposed turning over the stadium ownership to the county. The team had also appealed their property taxes two years in a row but then dropped the appeals.

Gimenez replied:

"Commissioner, as far as I know the Miami Dolphins are the only professional team in the state of Florida that actually pays property taxes. And, as far as I know, the Dolphins are the only NFL team in the entire nation that pays property taxes. This does not change."

At PolitiFact Florida, our ears perk up when we hear that something is the "only" one in the country. Are the Miami Dolphins the only NFL team to pay property taxes? Read the answer at PolitiFact.com 

Senate panel broadens teacher evaluation bill

Sen. Anitere Flores's pitch to tweak the state's teacher-evaluation model now includes language that prevents students from having low-performing teachers for two consecutive years.

Sound familiar? There's similar wording in the controversial parent trigger bill.

Flores, a Miami Republican, said Tuesday she was OK with the addition because she wants the "important provision" to pass, regardless of what happens with the trigger.

Almost like a back up plan? "Exactly," she said.

The fate of the parent trigger bill is far from determined. The proposed legislation, which would also allow parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools, has already passed in the House. But it's anybody's guess what will happen in the more moderate Senate.

Even Flores said she's "not sure" if the trigger will become law.

"I know that the bill is coming up [in Senate Appropriations] today, and so that other issue of ensuring that students get assigned to good teachers, that's important to me, so I thought this other bill was a good home for it," she said.

There's a new complication, though. The teachers' union now has issues with Flores's teacher-evaulation bill.

SB 980 ensures that teachers will be evaluated based only on students they teach. It's passed in three committees (including Senate Appropriations Tuesday morning) and has one more stop (Senate Rules) before it reaches the floor.

The bill had widespread support -- until the amendment got tacked on.

"There's an evaluation system that has not been proven to be able to identify anything," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association. "We don't trust it to identify which teachers need improvement or are unsatisfactory."  

-- with reporting from Tia Mitchell 

Scott touts ‘incredible economic turnaround’ to poach Illinois businesses

Gov. Rick Scott sent letters to Illinois business owners this week, telling them to book a “one-way” ticket to Florida and set up shop in the Sunshine State. 

In the letter, Scott touts Florida’s economic recovery, low taxes and shrinking state debt. He continues his “It’s working” theme by painting Florida as a state that has undergone an “incredible economic turnaround” under his watch. In contrast, Scott writes, Illinois is raising taxes and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. 

“While Florida’s economic formula is working, we know Illinois’ formula of more taxing and more spending ISN’T WORKING,” Scott writes. 

Scott, who references the state of Texas in his letter, is taking a page from Gov. Rick Perry’s playbook. Earlier this year, Perry aired a radio ad in California bashing the state for raising taxes and welcoming California businesses to Texas. Perry followed the ad up with a recruiting trip to the state. 

It’s not the first time Scott has tried to poach businesses from a high-tax state. Last year, Scott sent letters to New York businesses telling them to come to Florida. It’s not clear if Scott was successful in recruiting any New York businesses to Florida. New York is also playing offense in the job recruitment wars. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been airing ads in Florida and elsewhere for more than a year touting the state’s reduction in business and property taxes

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