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15 posts from April 26, 2013

April 26, 2013

Lawmaker offended by morning prayers in Weatherford's House

Friday’s morning House Session opened as it usually does. A religious leader invited by a House member offers a prayer for guidance to the lawmakers. And as usually happens, the reverend, invited on Friday by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, concluded “we ask these things in the name, and through the merits of Jesus Christ, thy son and savior, amen.”

But that final invocation of Jesus Christ is a growing concern for Jewish members, according to Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

Minutes before session began, Waldman, who is Jewish, met with Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a conservative Christian, and told him that some Jewish members were offended.

“This year more so than others, every time the prayer comes up, it’s in Jesus’ name,” Waldman told Weatherford. “This is my seventh year talking about it, and it’s getting to be too much. It would be nice to have an inclusive prayer.”


Continue reading "Lawmaker offended by morning prayers in Weatherford's House" »

House Republicans approve ‘CorcoranCare,’ set up showdown with Senate

House Republicans held their ground and approve their proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion, a bare-bones plan that puts them in conflict with the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott.

Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said the House plan addressed many concerns about the current Medicaid system, which he described as a costly program that will saddle the state budget and increase the national debt without improve the health of its enrollments. He said the Supreme Court’s decision to make Medicaid expansion optional for states gave Florida a chance to try something different.

"We’ve been presented with an opportunity here in Florida to do something revolutionary," Wood said.

Democrats, who tried unsuccessfully Thursday to replace the House Republican plan with the Senate’s bipartisan proposal, continued to criticize the House plan as inadequate for Florida’s poorest families.

"This bill is wrapped in a beautiful box. The paper is beautiful. The bow is beautiful," said Rep. Mia Jones, R-Jacksonville. "But when you open that box up, the box is empty and it’s filled with empty promises."

The House vote was 71-45 in favor of the plan created by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity. His close friend, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, voted “no” with the Democrats. It was Fasano who filed the failed amendment Thursday that attempted to replace the House plan with the Senate's.

The Senate will decide as early as Monday whether to accept the House plan or stick with their bipartisan proposal that insures more people and qualifies for $51 billion federal dollars.

If the Senate holds its ground, Republican leaders in both chambers would have just a few days to work out a compromise before the end of session.

Continue reading "House Republicans approve ‘CorcoranCare,’ set up showdown with Senate" »

House panel rejects Senate on insurer jobs tax break

The legislative plot thickened Friday.

At a brief, scripted meeting, the House Appropriations Committee flatly rejected the Senate's call to repeal an insurance industry tax break and give motorists a break by immediately rolling back car and truck tag fees by $220 million. The vote was 26-0. Insurance industry lobbyists showed up in force, but they didn't have to plead their case to save a payroll tax credit that has benefited the industry by more than $3 billion since it went on the books in 1987.

Instead, the House plan leaves the tax break intact and gradually rolls back car and truck registration fees over a five-year period, with the fee reductions coming straight out of state general revenue -- the money used to pay teachers' salaries and keep the lights on in state buildings. Motorists would see a $2.40 cut in tag fees next year, not a $12 reduction that the Senate wants.

Without hearing any testimony, House Republicans accepted the industry line that the tax credit has helped it attract jobs to the state.

"It's never a great idea to exchange jobs for cutting fees. It's better to just cut fees," said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville.

The hearing was attended by a large group of insurance industry lobbyists who quietly waived their chance to testify and said they supported the House's alternative, which was presented by Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who said "taxing job creators" is never good policy in the state.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he was disappointed by the House vote. "There simply isn't any justification to continue to write a check for a quarter of a billion dollars to help the insurance industry meet payroll," said Negron, who called the tax credit a "lifetime annuity."

"But we'll keep talking to our friends in the House," Negron added. Asked if the House's willingness to repeal the tax credit is tied to other late-session issues, such as the Senate's consideration of the House plan to change state workers' pension plans, Negron said: "At this stage, everything is related to everything."

-- Steve Bousquet


Scott's out of town but please know that his agency heads are focused on his goals

As Gov. Rick Scott spends the day in Washington, D.C. even though his legislative priorities remain in peril, someone really wants you to know that he is pushing his agencies to refrain from contacting legislators unless it is to do one thing: pursue his priorities. 

That translates into a directive that agencies are also not allowed to push their priorities unless the governor’s goals – a $2,500 across the board pay raise for teachers and a tax break for manufacturing – is added to the budget compromise. 

This is a rumor that no one on the governor’s staff, or among his agencies will confirm. But it is one that has taken hold of the chattering classes in the Florida Capitol.

Said Melissa Sellers, Scott’s spokeswoman: “Everyone is working hard to get the Governor's two priorities done.”

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, told us that Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said in a text message “that he was focused on the governor's priorities." What does Thrasher make of that? "I make that the governor is seroius about his two priorities."

Said DOT spokesman Dick Kane: “Like all agency heads, the secretary has been working to advance the Governor's legislative priorities.”

Meanwhile, Scott focused his weekly radio and video address on the issue that appears to be on the top of his mind: the federal government's furlough of air traffic controllers. 

Five Things To Know for Friday's Legislative Session

Whether Floridian drivers will save about $12 on annual automobile registrations could be determined Friday when the House Appropriations Committee takes up SB 1832 at 8 a.m. It passed the Senate, but the House needs to take it up and has -- thanks to Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford. He called Friday's special meeting after Sen. Joe Negron, the Senate's appropriation chair, requested it. Negron has been making the hard sell the last couple of days. It would eliminate a 1987 tax break on insurance companies, saving the state about $250 million a year.

In the Senate, a bill that would revamp special education (SB 1108) is up for the first time on the Senate floor. The proposal would give parents the final say in determining their child's individualized education program. It would also enable parents to send private therapists to school with their children.

The House will finally vote on CorcoranCare, HB 7169, but without an amendment by Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey that was defeated Thursday after hours of debate. That means the House plan will cover about 131,000 uninsured Floridians, far short of the Senate plan that covers 1 million. How to bridge the gap? That's to be determined over the next week.

At 11:30 a.m., a rally will be held at the Capitol to encourage Gov. Rick Scott to veto SB 718, which landed at his desk this week after passing both chambers. It would end permanent alimony and eliminates any alimony for people married less than 11 years. This would drastically alter the state's alimony landscape, considering that the average length of marriages that end in divorce is less than 10.5 years. Would a veto help Scott poll better with women voters, who support him less than men? Those organizing the rally, the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, will be there today to convince Scott it'll be a good idea.

And lawmakers will continue to haggle over the budget. Will they wrap up negotiations Friday, or will meetings spill into the weekend? We'll know later on Friday.