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14 posts from April 10, 2014

April 10, 2014

Crist to House Democrats: 'We're almost home'

Is Charlie Crist paying too much attention to polls?

For somebody who expects to face an opponent with $100 million, he didn't sound worried about his chances in the governor's race in a Thursday night stump speech to a small but influential group: the House Democratic caucus.

"We're almost there. We're almost home," Crist said. "It's going to be good because I think we're gonna do it. And I think they know it."

Crist announced that he's renting an apartment on Fort Lauderdale beach for the campaign. It's a symbolic gesture intended to show his commitment to ensure a high voter turnout in Broward, the state's strongest Democratic county but one with a recent track record of underperforming in statewide elections.

All candidates have to project confidence and an ability to win -- especially Crist, a recent convert to the Democratic Party who still faces skeptics in the ranks of his adopted party. But his speech to about 40 caucus members was devoid of the usual stuff: Don't underestimate our opponent. This is a tough race. If we don't go all out, we'll lose.

On the contrary, he all but predicted victory in November. He realizes how hungry Democrats are for victory after losing the past four elections for governor.Speaking to a racially diverse group, he emphasized his support for President Barack Obama -- "Obamacare is great. I will not back down from that" -- and reminded them of his 2008 executive order extending early voting before the presidential vote that delivered Florida to Obama.

He recalled a phone call from former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham after Obama won Florida a second time in 2012: "'It's going blue,'" Crist quoted Graham as saying. "'I didn't think it would happen as quickly as it has.'"

On issue after issue, Crist savaged Gov. Rick Scott's record: abortion rights, voting rights, restoration of civil rights, expansion of Medicaid and support for education. The former Republican governor portrayed the Republican Legislature as extremists: "I can't believe some of the stuff they do over there," he said, pointing to the Capitol a few blocks away.

Crist's appearance to House Democrats was at the Adams Street headquarters of the Florida Education Association, the teacher union that's an important cog in the Democratic ground game in statewide elections. "They're running out of time," Crist said of Republicans. "We've got to stay focused ... We're all in this together."


Senate plan offers cut in taxes on cable, phone service

As lawmakers haggle over the budget in the final stretch of the session, they’ll be deciding whether cell phones deserve a tax break or TV producers, gym memberships and low income neighborhoods do.

With about $500 million to offer in tax and fee breaks in next year's $75 billion budget, the House and Senate have already agreed on a major chunk: reducing about $395 million in vehicle registration fees.

Gov. Rick Scott has already signed that into law.

What about the rest?

Continue reading "Senate plan offers cut in taxes on cable, phone service" »

Scott outraises Crist nearly 3 to 1 for the quarter, but slows down in March

The first quarter fundraising number are out and, judging by the announcements from the leading governor's candidates, everyone is thrilled.

"We have raised more money than any other Democratic candidate for governor at this point in the campaign,'' said Charlie Crist on Thursday, after meeting with House Democratic caucus and union members.

"Find someone to high-five,'' read an announcment from the Crist campaign as it announced $1.5 million raised in March by both his "Charlie Crist for Florida" political committee and his campaign. The campaign launched in November and it was a record month.

What they didn't say: they raised $6.1 million for the quarter, nearly a third less than Scott.

Gov. Rick Scott's campaign is happy too. 

"The first quarter and the numbers speak for themselves,'' said Matt Moon, campaign spokesman as he announced the campaign's quarterly totals of $17.1 million.  "We out-raised Charlie Crist’s operation by $11 million."

What Moon didn't say: Crist edged Scott in the month of March as Scott raised $1,196,571 for his campaign and $361,910 for “Let’s Get To Work.” 

Continue reading "Scott outraises Crist nearly 3 to 1 for the quarter, but slows down in March" »

For Miami-Dade voters, the call to citizenship vs. the call of nature


For Miami-Dade County voters who have had to wait up to seven hours on Election Day to cast their ballots, there’s an argument over what should take priority: the call to citizenship or the call of nature.

Emails from a deputy elections supervisor and an assistant county attorney say Miami-Dade voters are banned from using restrooms at polling places. But the chief deputy elections supervisor pooh-poohed the notion.

Number One and Number Two are fine in publicly owned voting sites, such as libraries and city halls, where bathrooms are open for anyone to use.

The problem may arise when precincts are located in private buildings, which don’t have to allow public bathroom access, or in churches and other religious facilities, which are exempt from federal law requiring accessible restrooms for people with disabilities. Elections administrators have long relied on those locations to set up Miami-Dade’s more than 500 polling places.

Two years ago, the nonprofit Center for Independent Living of South Florida asked the department run by Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley, who is appointed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, about its plans for giving the disabled access to the polls.

Marc Dubin, the center’s director, said he hoped the county would try to find new voting sites to replace polling places without accessible restrooms, or that it would pay for portable toilets outside those locations.

Instead, the elections department told him that it would prohibit all voters from using restrooms. If no voters could go to the bathroom, the county argued, then it could not be accused of discriminating against only the disabled ones.

More here.

Solar 'uprising' becomes partisan rally as Crist arrives and RPOF stalks

Photo (12)A capital rally to encourage solar energy development in Florida became partisan Thursday as organizers used the event to call out incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and welcomed his election-year rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist. 

“In Tallahassee, it’s pay to play right now – the ones that are controlling the money are controlling the power,’’ said Stephen A. Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a solar industry-backed group which advocates for the development of alternatives to fossil fuels. The group funded an Integrity Florida report that found that the state’s four top electric companies have spent $18 million between 2004-2012 on state and legislative campaigns.

In the last year, the utility companies have given the governor’s campaign $2.5 million this election cycle, Smith said, “they get what they want.”

Smith said that Florida has the third largest potential for rooftop solar generation in the nation but ranks 18th  in solar installation because, he said, the utility industry fears the market threat of allowing homeowners and businesses to generate their own electricity.

He said they invited the Republican governor to attend the rally, but he didn’t come.That prompted Smith to declare a new rule: "You can't be governor of the Sunshine State if you do not support solar power." He begin a call-and-response with the crowd of about 150 activists wearing t-shirts and sunglasses.

“Rick Scott,’’ they shouted. “MIA today. Gone tomorrow.”

Scott has not been a vocal advocate for alternative energy and didn't respond to requests to explain his position on the issue Thursday. In his first year in office, he opposed a proposal by Florida’s five major utilities that would have allowed them to charge customers as much as $1.5 billion over four years to produce more renewable energy. 

Continue reading "Solar 'uprising' becomes partisan rally as Crist arrives and RPOF stalks " »

Aventura commission candidates become school district colleagues

The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday approved the selection of a new director of media and public relations, but not before a little head-scratching.

The reason: Denise Landman, hired to an unadvertised position, is running for public office in the city of Aventura – as is the district’s Chief Human Capital Officer, Enid Weisman.

At least one school board member received an anonymous phone call about the political connection. But the candidates, who met years ago when Weisman was principal at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High and Landman was a student at the school, say it’s coincidence.

“I didn’t know she was chief of human resources. So when I finally saw her during interviews, it was like ‘Oh, wow,’” said Landman, who is running for city commission seat 2.

Landman currently handles public information for the consortium completing the PortMiami tunnel. She said she applied for the schools position of chief communications officer after meeting the superintendent’s cabinet during a July tour of the tunnel.

“We liked her but not for that position,” said Weisman, who is running for mayor.

Weisman said Landman’s salary starts at $75,669. Should both be elected, they wouldn’t necessarily continue to be co-workers as well, as Weisman has said she’d consider retiring.

Charlie Crist has a new spokesman


Democrat Charlie Crist's campaign for governor is slowly staffing up and has added a new spokesman to its ranks, Eric Conrad.

A brief bio from the campaign

"Eric Conrad is fourth generation Floridian who has been working for campaigns and nonprofits across the country since graduating from the University of Florida. Most recently that time included work as the Florida Communications Lead for Enroll America, a nonprofit focused on encouraging Floridians to enroll in the federal health insurance Marketplace. Before that he worked for the President's reelection campaign as a Deputy Press Secretary in Florida and later served as the Deputy Communications Director for the Florida Democratic Party in 2013."

Omnibus health care bills headed to House floor


A House committee approved two health care bills today that now include various member priorities whose sponsors worry don't have the traction to gain passage in the Senate on their own.

For example, HB 7113, initially only focused on grandfathering in three HCA-trauma centers under court challenge. Now it also includes requirements that doctors consult the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, authorization allowing highly trained nurses to practice independently, regulations for virtual doctor visits for certain types of medical providers and a statewide medical tourism marketing plan 

All of those measures are found in various bills that are still making their way through the House committee process, but time is running out. And then there is one topic added to the bill that isn't in any bills currently under review: a provision to allow safety net hospitals to open new locations without going through the normal review process.

A second omnibus bill, HB 573, also passed overwhelming. It took a Senate priority -- assisted-living facilities regulations -- and added on a limited grandparent visitation laws and changes to the types of post-operation recovery centers that can attend to patients outside of hospitals.

Continue reading "Omnibus health care bills headed to House floor" »

Florida eye doctor emerges as top-paid doc in nation, data shows

A South Florida doctor under criminal investigation for alleged excessive billing of Medicare emerged as the federal health program’s top-paid physician in the nation Wednesday, according to the most detailed data on physician payments ever released in Medicare’s nearly 50-year history.

Salomon Melgen, a West Palm Beach ophthalmologist, was paid $21 million by Medicare in 2012 — more than any other physician who billed the taxpayer-funded program that year, according to new government data.

More than half of those payments went toward reimbursing Melgen for his injections of a costly drug, Lucentis, to treat patients suffering from a retinal disease, macular degeneration. His prolific use of that drug is at the center of the U.S. attorney’s investigation into Melgen’s practice, which thrives largely on payments from the Medicare program.

Kirk Ogrosky, an attorney for Melgen, issued a statement Wednesday denying that his client has defrauded the federal health program for seniors and the disabled.

“At all times, Dr. Melgen billed in conformity with Medicare rules,’’ said Ogrosky, a former federal prosecutor who for years fought Medicare fraud in South Florida and other hot spots.

“While the amounts in the CMS data release appear large, the vast majority reflects the cost of drugs,” Ogrosky said, adding that “the amount billed by physicians is set by law, and drug companies set the price of drugs, not doctors.’’ Story here. 


Candidate: If Miami-Dade has to raise tax rate, commission should decide without referendum


Daniella Levine Cava, who is running for Miami-Dade County Commission, wouldn't say Thursday if the board should raise the property-tax rate to fund public libraries.

But she did say that if a rate hike is needed, then commissioners should sign off on one themselves, instead of taking the matter to voters in a referendum -- an idea Mayor Carlos Gimenez has floated that would give elected officials some political cover.

"I'm concerned that they might need to" raise the tax rate for libraries, she said Thursday morning outside the Miami-Dade elections department in Doral.

First, commissioners should take a look at how they're spending the money they have, said Levine Cava, who is running against Commissioner Lynda Bell in South Miami-Dade. 

The library department faces a $20 million budget shortfall. A task force convened by Gimenez suggested a tax hike, but the mayor wants public support first.

Levine Cava was at the elections department to submit more than 1,200 signatures to qualify for the ballot by petition, a move candidates use to save on their candidate filing fee and also to show grassroots campaign support.

She said she raised $50,000 in March, bringing her total to more than $250,000. That's respectable for a challenger but still less than the incumbent Bell, who had raised more than $335,000 as of the end of February.