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19 posts from April 24, 2014

April 24, 2014

'Trauma drama' bill could get bogged down in waning days of session


A plan to shield three disputed trauma centers from legal action — while also placing limits on trauma center access fees — faces an uncertain future as the legislative session winds down.

The so-called "trauma drama" fix is weighed down with language from at least 10 other proposals, turning into an omnibus bill that may be too unwieldy to gain Senate approval.

House Bill 7113 is expected to be approved today in the House, but the Senate is already expressing reservations.

"Any time you have a piece of legislation that big, it's usually problematic," said Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, the health care budget chief.

Read more here.

News Service Poll: Rick Scott, Charlie Crist tied at 42%


If you didn't like the Rasmussen Reports poll today showing Charlie Crist up 6 percentage points over Rick Scott, you'll love the poll paid for by the News Service of Florida, which shows a dead heat in the governor's race:

By Dara Kam and Brandon Larrabee

A new poll finds Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist in a dead heat and, with more than 10 percent of voters undecided, sets the stage for an already-brutal campaign expected to get uglier over the next seven months.

Continue reading "News Service Poll: Rick Scott, Charlie Crist tied at 42%" »

Senate approves bill to let court admit noncitizen to the Florida bar

 A closely-divided Florida Senate on Thursday championed the landmark case of Jose Godinez-Samperio, of Largo, who can’t practice law in Florida because he’s not a U.S. citizen.

On a voice vote — hours after senators rejected the idea on a 19-18 vote — a narrow majority of 14 Democrats and seven Republicans agreed to an amendment that allows the Florida Supreme Court to admit Godinez-Samperio to the Bar after he passes admission hurdles.

“We’re going to right an injustice,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. “He was not responsible for being here.”

The unrecorded voice vote added the provision to a routine courts bill (HB 755), and still requires House passage and Gov. Rick Scott’s approval. Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has said he would like to find a way to help the would-be lawyer, a graduate of Florida State University law school.

Scott said in a statement that “this case demonstrates how broken our federal immigration laws are,” but did not say whether he would sign the bill.

Godinez-Samperio, 27, was born in Mexico and came to the United States with his parents when he was 9. He was valedictorian at Armwood High in Tampa, an Eagle Scout and honors student. He has a work permit, a Social Security card and a Florida driver’s license. He is here legally, though temporarily, under President Barack Obama’s 2012 deferred action program. And he has passed the bar exam and its moral character test.

But last month, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that he can’t practice law unless the Legislature intervenes and makes a special exception. Story here. 



Miami judges slams DCF for keeping children in home where battered toddler died

A Miami judge lashed out at child welfare administrators this week after they asked her to leave three small children in a South-Dade home in which their 3-year-old cousin had just died — his body marked by bruises, welts and a human bite mark.

Gerardo Perez arrived unresponsive at Homestead Hospital over the weekend with bruises to his elbow, back and legs, and telltale bite marks on his upper back. He also had a mouth full of severely rotten teeth. On Monday, he was dead.

Child welfare authorities surveyed the toddler’s injuries and considered removing his first cousins from the home Gerardo shared with them, saying nothing less could “keep the children safe” as police tried to determine who hurt the boy.

But later, the Department of Children & Families changed course: The agency asked a Miami-Dade judge to leave the three youngsters — ages 3, 2 and 1 — with their father, Gerardo’s uncle, on his written pledge to keep their mother and Gerardo’s mother, considered abuse suspects by police, out of the house.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rosa Figarola, who called DCF’s handling of the case “troubling,” refused the request Tuesday, instead ordering the children into foster care. The next day, Figarola shot off a blistering email to agency administrators, accusing them of seeking to leave three small chidlren in harm’s way.

“The handling of this case illustrates that the same systematic failures that have plagued the Department and given rise to the devastation we recently observed are still being executed,” Figarola wrote. Story here. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/24/4078934/judge-lashes-dcf-over-effort-to.html#storylink=cpy


Legislators push plan to shift policies from Citizens to unregulated insurers

In their zeal to shed policies in the state-run Citizens Property Insurance, the Florida Senate is poised to approve a bill that gives homeowners a low-cost, but unregulated, insurance alternative.

Opponents say the new policy -- to allow Citizens customers to select a surplus lines carrier when their policy is up for renewal -- is a wolf in sheep's clothing that could mislead homeowners into thinking they are getting the same insurance for less. Proponents say the plan is a free-market alternative that is a simple case of buyer beware.

"This is something that is provided as an option to a consumer,’’ said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altemonte Springs. "Should we as a legislature prohibit them after having the opportunity?’’

Under the bill, SB 1672, unregulated insurance sold by surplus lines carriers would be included in the list of options homeowners can choose from in the state-run clearinghouse when their policy is up for renewal. These companies would have to offer the same coverage Citizens offers and rates must be 15 percent and include a disclaimer that surplus lines are not regulated, but there is no assurance the rates won’t change.

"This is a classic bait and switch,’’ said Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, who is opposing a similar bill, HB 1109, awaiting a vote in the House. "People decide with their wallets and if they are given a choice between an admitted carrier (traditional insurance) and surplus lines, many people are not going to read their policies and realize they’re not apples and oranges."

Unlike traditional insurance companies, surplus lines were created as insurers of last resort for specialty risks that couldn’t obtain coverage in traditional insurance markets.

Florida Legislators have been trying to reduce the number of policies in the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. because if a damaging hurricane were to hit the state and the company ran out of money to pay its claims, anyone who carriers an insurance an auto or property insurance policy in the state would be assessed a fee to cover the deficit.

Last year, legislators passed a requirement that homeowners cannot renew a Citizens insurance policy if a licensed insurance company offers comparable insurance at a price that’s less or comparable to what Citizens offers. Citiznes is allowed to raise it rates 10 percent each year. Story here. 

Pop-Tart bill wins Senate support

The 'Pop-Tart' gun bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott. 

Florida senators approved the NRA-supported proposal in a 32-6 vote Thursday.

There was virtually no debate, besides Sen. Jack Latvala asking what exactly HB 7029 would do.

The Senate sponsor, Sen. Greg Evers, had a simple reply: It would prevent situations "where you chew a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun and you are expelled" from school.

The situation actually happened in Maryland. It inspired the bill in Florida.

More broadly, the proposal would prevent schools from disciplining students who play with simulated weapons. It passed in the House by a 98-17 vote last month.

The Senate discussed the proposal some on Wednesday.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, asked how many incidents had been reported in Florida.

Evers said it had happened in his North Florida district within the last three months.

"Two kids were sitting down reading a book and there was a picture of a Wild Wild West show and one person has a gun," he said. "One student tells another student that he's got a cap gun at home that's the same as the one in the picture. The teacher sent him to the principal and he was expelled."

Sobel voted against the proposal Thursday. She was joined by Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson, Arthenia Joyner, Gwen Margolis, Maria Lorts Sachs and Chris Smith.

House stadium funding bill now includes language about Cuban baseball players

State representatives on Thursday tweaked a bill that would allow professional sports franchises to compete for $12 million in annual sales tax subsidies for facilities projects.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, added language that would prohibit professional baseball teams from winning the money -- unless Major League Baseball changes its rules about Cuban baseball players.

Under the current MLB rules, players from Cuba must establish residency in another country in order to become free agents. Cuban players who come directly to the United States go into the amateur draft.

The proposal comes on the heels of recent media reports detailing outfielder Yasiel Puig's dangerous journey from Cuba to California. Puig, who now plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers and was the runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year in 2013, was held hostage by smugglers in Mexico.

Gaetz said the current restrictions "drive exceptional Cuban athletes into the arms of human traffickers."

Said Diaz: "We're not going to give away our taxpayer dollars until this ill is corrected."

The new language would also require Major League Baseball to inform the state attorney general about any instances of potential smuggling.

Lawmakers will vote on the stadium funding bill (HB 7095) Friday.

Lawmakers won't eliminate Public Health Trust provision from healthcare bill

State lawmakers on Thursday pitched 14 amendments to HB 7113, the omnibus healthcare bill moving through the Florida House.

The amendments included an effort by Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, to remove a controversial provision that would give the Miami-Dade Public Health Trust total control over contract negotiations between Jackson Health System and its labor unions. Under current law, the Miami-Dade County Commission has the final say.

Jackson, Miami-Dade County, the Public Health Trust and the healthcare workers union all supported Gonzalez's amendment.

"All this does is allow for the elected officials of Miami-Dade County to vote on union contracts if they go to impasse," Gonzalez said.

But Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, pointed out that a grand jury in 2010 had concluded that the Miami-Dade Commission exercises too much authority over the Public Health Trust.

"We have a Public Health Trust in place that is non-partisan and that is ultimately accountable for the financial well-being of that hospital," Trujillo said. "We have put these people in a position of power... but they are powerless in all labor negotiations [because] all impasses and negotiations will be sent to a county commission."

Rep. John Wood, the Winter Haven Republican who added the language to the bill, agreed.

"We believe public health trusts do not need the interference of the county commission to exercise their authority to manage the business," Wood said.

Gonzalez's amendment failed in a 53-62 vote.

Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican who sits on the Public Health Trust, voted against the amendment. Other Miami-Dade lawmakers who voted against the amendment included Trujillo and Republican Reps. Frank Artiles, José Félix Díaz, Jeanette Núñez and José Oliva.

The Public Health Trust language is not included in a Senate bill.

Weatherford and Gaetz in standoff -- but not just over in-state tuition


It’s not just subsidized higher education for undocumented students that is pitting Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford against Senate President Don Gaetz.

It’s also two separate line items buried deep in the dueling higher education budget proposals from the two chambers.

The Senate is proposing to spend $10 million for the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement. Gaetz, R-Niceville, is requesting the money for the Pensacola-based university, which happens to be in his district.

“This is for the Industry Recruitment, Retention & Expansion Fund (IRREF) Grant Program, which is administered by the University of West Florida,” said Katie Betta, Gaetz’s spokeswoman, in an email. “Senator Gaetz was one of the authors (of the law), of which the Oil Spill Recovery Act was an important component. The Oil Spill Recovery Act allots $10 million per year for three years to eight Northwest Florida Counties for the purposes of research and development, commercialization of research, economic diversification and job creation.”

That may be so, but the Florida House won’t budge, and has refused to match the request. (How much of this is posturing? We'll see how far this goes, but consider that Judy Bense is the president of UWF. She's the aunt of Weatherford's wife, Courtney, the sister of his father-in-law, Allan Bense, a former House speaker himself.)

Meanwhile, the House is requesting $7 million for Jacksonville University, an 80-year-old private college that Weatherford attended on a football scholarship between 1998 and 2002. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is one of a dozen lawmakers, mostly from Jacksonville, to have met with school officials.

While UWF belongs to the state’s university system, JU is a private college that has never received money via the Legislature, according to a college spokeswoman, Misty Jackson Skipper. And while it’s not unprecedented that a private college would get such a large sum, it’s not typical, either.

The Legislature has given large amounts to Nova Southeastern University, various historic black private colleges, the University of Miami’s medical school, but $7 million would rank high as a one-time payment.

That might be one reason why the Senate, so far, is only offering $1 million.


Continue reading "Weatherford and Gaetz in standoff -- but not just over in-state tuition " »

Performance funding for state universities among unresolved budget issues

UPDATE: A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford said the House proposal for performance funding found in HB 5105 is effectively dead after failing to pass its final committee. The House will not waive rules to resurrect the proposal, even though it started out on solid ground as a bill introduced by the Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

Instead, the House inserted language in its version of the budget that is very similar to the Senate proposal and embraces the Board of Governors' performance funding criteria.

As it stands, the main disagreement between the two chambers is how much the lowest-performance schools would lose. The House would only require a 1 percent cut in base formula. The Senate wants a 3.7 percent reduction.

The two chambers agree to put $200 million into performance funding, including $100 million in new funding that would be divided by the top-performing schools. There is also an additional $5 million each for the two pre-eminent institutions: Florida State University and University of Florida.

ORIGINAL POST: Efforts to finalize the education portion of the state budget stalled Wednesday night when House negotiators rejected a pivotal Senate deal. Sen. Bill Galvano, the Senate’s education budget chief, responded by putting negotiations essentially back at square one and negating almost 48-hours of work.

But even before that meltdown occurred, there were key disagreements on several higher education spending issues.

Continue reading "Performance funding for state universities among unresolved budget issues" »