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15 posts from April 26, 2013

April 26, 2013

Your move Scott: House and Senate agree to 3 percent tuition hike

Florida lawmakers Friday agreed to hike tuition for university and college students by 3 percent, setting up a possible clash with Gov. Rick Scott.

Last year, Scott vetoed a bill that would have allowed the University of Florida and Florida State University the freedom to raise tuition. Scott has not said he would veto a tuition increase this year. After the deal, which came during budget negotiations, a Scott spokeswoman would only say that the governor doesn't support a tuition increase.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he doesn't believe Scott will veto the hike.

Story here.

Negron says no way on privatization plan

Just how hard is it to follow along as lawmakers cobble together a $74 billion budget?

Apparently, even a powerful appropriations chair like Sen. Joe Negron , R-Stuart, can be surprised by what he finds as the budget wends its way through the Capitol.

On Tuesday, language that would require the state to  develop a plan to move those with developmental disabilities through a managed care system was added at the final joint budget conference between the House and Senate appropriation committees. Non-profit groups objected, saying it was a last-minute addition that could have huge ramifications for those with disabilities and deserved a public reckoning.

Negron was no fan of the add either. Asked Friday night if it would remain in the budget, Negron didn’t hesitate with a reply.

“We’re not doing it,” he said. “I won’t support it, we’re not doing it.”

Earlier in the day, Senate President Don Gaetz had said as much. Asked why the language had appeared with little discussion, Gaetz said “That’s why it won’t be in proviso language that’s passed by this Senate.”

Ethics panel gives Ring approval to work with firm seeking education business

The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday gave the green light to Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, to take a consulting job with a private equity and venture capital firm that is hoping to drum up state contracts for its investments in education, healthcare, technology and other services. 

Ring, the chairman of the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee and vice chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, asked for the advisory opinion from the ethics panel because he will be working for Sterling Partners, a venture capital firm with offices in Chicago, Baltimore and Miami, after session ends next week.

"Their portfolio of companies include companies like Sylvan Learning, a company called First Choice, which does free-standing emergency room hospitals,'' Ring told the Herald/Times. 

Other companies include Connections Academy, the online school that partners with Florida Virtual School, and School of Rock, a franchise-based music school and camp. "They're like a Bain Capital,'' Ring said. 

Continue reading "Ethics panel gives Ring approval to work with firm seeking education business" »

Budget push for more privatization skirts transparency

Budget language that would ask the state to develop a plan to move those with developmental disabilities through a managed care system has drawn fire from some non-profits, who say it was

“We are concerned that managed care options may further cut services and reduce the inserted at the last minute without public discussion. ability of individuals with developmental disabilities to live in the community,” stated a release by the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council. “Stakeholders for those with developmental disabilities were surprised that this language appeared during the last day of the (Health and Human Services/Healthcare) budget conference process and was quickly accepted.”

The language in question was slipped into the legislative health care budget without discussion on Tuesday morning.

The new language would require the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to develop a plan for serving Medicaid patients with developmental disabilities in a comprehensive managed care program. The program must be mandatory for all eligible recipients, competitively bid, and operated by comprehensive long-term care provider service networks for people with developmental disabilities.

“The proposed changes come in the form of language quietly added to legislation that would implement a managed care program across the state,” said another statement by another group, The Arc of Florida, which advocates for local chapters, public policies and support for people with disabilities. “That would devastate families already struggling to care for loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Continue reading "Budget push for more privatization skirts transparency" »

Senate passes rewrite of unpopular nuclear fee

The Florida Senate on Friday passed a bill that for the first time attempts to scale back the unpopular nuclear fee on customer utility bills by tightening oversight by the state’s utility regulators.

The bill, SB 1472, imposes new restrictions on the "early cost recovery" law passed in 2006 that allows electric companies to impose pre-construction costs for nuclear projects without any guarantee that the projects will be built. The bill passed unanimously with no discussion and will be sent to the House, which will take up a similar bill next week, the final week of the 60-day legislative session. 

"This significance of this is it creates a process that, for the first time, only allows rate recovery for the process of obtaining a license,’’ said Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, who along with Sens. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, are sponsors of the Senate bill. 

The Senate bill prohibits Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light from collecting the nuclear fees after July 1 unless they have shown proof of their intent to pursue a license for a nuclear reactor from federal authorities. The PSC has the power to determine how to interpret intent. 

Continue reading "Senate passes rewrite of unpopular nuclear fee " »

Foster care bill a legacy for Sen. Detert

Sen. Nancy Detert was surprised to find out there was an amendment to her bill to extend foster care until age 21, but she was brought to tears when she learned what it said: Thanks to Senate President Don Gaetz, the bill will be named the Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act.

"It's a legacy and I thank you for putting my name on it," Detert said, later adding that "Anyone who has heard these kids is their champion."

Continue reading "Foster care bill a legacy for Sen. Detert" »

Medical marijuana? Nah. Florida Legislature opts for bong-ban instead


Despair, oh head-shop owners and stoners. Or get ready to go to court. Or get ready to smoke your stash out of an apple.

With a big vote in the Florida Senate on Friday, the Florida Legislature has banned the sale of various pipes, hookahs and bongs to crack down on marijuana use.

Gov. Rick Scott will likely sign House Bill 49, which passed the Senate by a 31-2 vote. The bill passed in the House on Wednesday by a vote of 112-3.

State law currently allows certain retailers to sell the pipes. Any sale of marijuana pipes would be a first-degree misdemeanor if the bill becomes law. Second and subsequent violations would jump to a third-degree felony.

Supporters say the bill sends a message against illegal drug use by making the pipes inaccessible at stores that often are close to schools.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, voted against the bill. He argued that marijuana isn't a dangerous drug and should be allowed under strict regulation.

Clemens supported a medical-marijuana bill that never got a hearing in the Legislature this year or last. The measure could still end up before voters. Influential trial lawyer John Morgan, a major donor to President Obama and the boss of former Gov. Charlie Crist, is leading up a citizens' ballot initiative. About 7 in 10 voters favor the proposal, according to the most-recent polling.

Users of synthetic marijuana and stimulants could find them harder to come by under another drug bill that Scott this week signed into law.

The Associated Press contributed to this blog

Another drug-related bill, which would allow heroin addicts to exchange their needles to reduce the spread of disease, also appears in jeopardy.

But if your drug is wine, you're in luck.

The Florida Senate on Thursday sent Scott a measure allowing for wine-keg sales.

Commission won't drop Rep. Nuñez's attorney's fees in dismissed ethics case

 While the State Ethics Commission dismissed an ethics complaint against Rep. Jeannette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, last month, she can't pass her attorney's fees to the complainant, the panel decided on Friday.
    On March 13th, the Commission found no probable cause to believe that Nuñez had misused her position to mail a legislatively-funded newsletter to voters who were not her constituents in newly established District 119, in apparent violation of House policy, before the 2012 election Aug. 14th.
    But the Ethics Commission followed a recommendation by staff to reject a petition by Nuñez's attorney, Juan-Carlos Planas, to dismiss attorney's fees and costs the representative incurred in the case.

Continue reading "Commission won't drop Rep. Nuñez's attorney's fees in dismissed ethics case" »

Will Senate forgo federal dollars to compromise with House on Medicaid expansion?

UPDATE: Sen. Aaron Bean's proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion is on the Senate's agenda for Monday. But it appears the Fernandina Beach Republican is drastically changing the contents of the bill and it might not have anything to do with Medicaid expansion after he's done with it.

For now, Bean's amendment deletes all the text from SB 1844, essentially leaving it a blank document with a description saying the bill will deal solely with the state's health exchange, called Florida Health Choices. The Florida Times-Union's political blog says Bean wants to use the bill solely to bolster the state exchange and it would no longer be a potential vehicle for providing health coverages to poor Floridians.

ORIGINAL POST: Although the Senate rejected Medicaid expansion, it insisted on creating an alternative that still qualified for related federal funding to insure 1 million Floridians, an estimated $51 billion.

The Senate has unanimously supported a plan by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that accomplishes just that. Meanwhile, a second plan by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, was more controversial. Only Republicans voted in favor of Bean's plan at its three committee hearings, saying they liked his proposal less than Negron's but wanted to keep it alive in hopes of bargaining with the House.

Earlier this week, Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said that it was unlikely Bean's plan would make it to the Senate floor for a vote since Negron's plan had wider support. But today, Bean's plan, SB 1844, joined Negron's proposal, SB 1816, on the Senate agenda for Monday.

Stakeholder groups are now scrambling to interpret what that means and figure out if the Bean plan, which could pass on a simple majority vote without Democrats' support, will be the Senate's attempt at compromise with the House. It would use roughly $30 million in state funding a year to provide about $120 in subsidies to participants to help them afford basic coverages.

Continue reading "Will Senate forgo federal dollars to compromise with House on Medicaid expansion?" »

Two dozen women urge Scott to veto alimony bill

AlimonyGov. Rick Scott has less than a week to sign or veto the controversial alimony bill.

On Friday, two dozen women urged him to dust off his veto pen.

"If the governor wants to look pro-family, he should definitely veto this bill," said women's rights activist Barbara DeVane.

SB 718 would put an end to permanent alimony, and require judges to split custody evenly between divorcing parents, unless one parent could make a convincing case otherwise.

Maria Gonzalez, a Broward-based family law attorney, said the proposal would likely be found unconstitutional because some of its provisions are retroactive.

"A new bill could not and should not be permitted to undo contract rights," Gonzalez said.

Also attending Friday's rally: Simone Kay, a 22-year-old honors student at Florida State University. As a child of divorced parents, Kay said the proposed legislation hit "close to home."

"Every aspect of this bill is incredibly wrong," she said. "I'm truly concerned about the children. The 50-50 time share could put a lot of people at risk."

At a press conference earlier this week, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, reminded reporters that the alimony bill had passed by a "supermajority" in both chambers. Would there still be enough support to override a potential veto? Stay tuned.