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467 posts from March 2011

March 30, 2011

Reform of Citizens Property Insurance marches on

The House Insurance and Banking subcommittee on Wednesday voted in support of a bill intended to shrink the state-run property insurer.

"We now have the chance to get Citizens back to the market of last resort, which is what Citizens was intended to be to begin with," Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, the sponsor of HB1243, told the panel. "There's a big opportunity to get private capital back."

Among other things, the bill would increase rates for Citizens Property Insurance policy holders by up to 25 percent a year and gradually eliminate coverage for some homes valued at more than $500,000.  It also tightens eligibility requirements so people could only enter the program if the only policies they can find cost 25 percent more than Citizens. A similar bill passed the Senate Banking and Insurance committee on Tuesday.

Citizens officials have been warning its premiums aren't high enough to cover losses incurred if a 1-in-100-year storm hits the state. Meanwhile, as private insurers left the state in the wake of the busy 2004 and 2005 storm seasons, the number of Citizens policies has swelled from 820,000 in 2003 to nearly 1.3 million. Meanwhile, private insurers say they can't compete with Citizens' low rates.

The proposal, though, has some critics. Heather Carruthers, mayor of Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, worried the rate increases would be too much of a financial burden on the people who rely on Citizens.

"These are the teachers, the nurses, the people who bring you your food when you visit," she said.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, was among those to vote against the bill.

"We should not be in the business of insuring homes or businesses. But that's where we are," she said.  "I just worry about the rates and the rate hikes that we're imposing."

Plan to privatize South Florida prisons advances

As the House Appropriations Committee debates a $66.5-billion budget proposal, the most spirited debate involved a proposal to privatize prison and probation operations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Private prisons are nothing new -- the state has seven -- but privatizing the supervision of probationers is uncharted territory. (The panel approved the budget on a 15-8 party line vote).

"This subject probably hasn't been addressed anywhere in the nation," said Jim Baiardi, president of the Florida PBA's correctional officers chapter, who testified in opposition. "Where we're thinking of going is truly terrible for public safety." 

Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie, tried to abolish the privatization language but failed on a 14-9 vote. Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart, joined all eight committee Democrats in voting against privatization. The only South Florida Republican on the committee, Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, the House majority leader, voted for privatization.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who chairs the budget subcommittee for prisons, emphasized that the privatization idea is a "proposal" and must be approved by a 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Commission. "When you have less money, you can't continue to do business as usual," he said. 

The Department of Corrections did not propose the privatization and is "neutral" on the concept, Deputy Secretary Dan Ronay says.

-- Steve Bousquet

Schenck's revised pill mill bill passes committee after getting slammed for hurting small businesses

A plan to combat the state's precription drug abuse epidemic by limiting dispensing of narcotics to big pharmacies faced criticism Wednesday in the House Judiciary committee.

Rep. Robert Schenck originally filed a bill that would allow all pharmacies to dispense, but prevent doctors from dispensing. That raised concerns that unscrupulous doctors or pain clinic operators would simply open pharmacies to skirt the law. So Schenck presented an amended bill to allow dispensing only by pharmacies owned by publicly traded companies, those with more than $100 million of taxable assets in Florida, and those that have been continuously permitted for 10 years. He also increased from $1 million to $3 million funding for a law enforcement crackdown.

Schenck displayed extreme confidence in his approach, saying: "Once this bill is signed into the law this problem goes away."

But folks in the pharmacy industry and some committee members complained that the bill will hurt small businesses. 

"This really punishes the mom and pops throughout the entire state," said Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach.

And Lori Weems, general counsel for the Florida Pharmacy Association, said the bill would prevent pharmacies from prescribing non-narcotices, such as Ritalin and drugs to treat epilepsy.  "This is the first time I can recall community pharmracies being targeted as the cause of this crisis," she said.

Others, though, said the crisis has become so severe that it's important to take an extreme stance.

"I will err on the side of perhaps being too agressive in attacking pill mils because up until now we've been far too lenient," said Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar.

Also on hand to support the bill: Bonnie Rogers, public safety policy coordinatory for Gov. Rick Scott.

HB7095 passed with an 11-6 vote. This was its last committee stop.


Sexting bill slows in Florida House

Looks like the Florida House is not as eager as its Senate counterparts to stop making it a crime for minors to send provocative photos and videos to each other by cell phone or computer.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday postponed a vote on House Bill 75 after members peppered sponsor Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, a Wellington Democrat, with questions.

Would escalating penalties be severe enough for sexting after being caught for the first offense? What if kids send photos or videos not of themselves but of other minors? Could decriminalizing the first offense make sexting more socially acceptable?

Abruzzo said he was open to tweaking the proposal and promised to return to committee members with answers. The point, he said, is to bring the law up-to-date with technology.

"Ruining a child's life over a youthful discretion is not the intent" of the law, he said.

University chancellor: Thanks, legislature! (Especially Senate)

Universities had prepared for this reality: No funding for new capital projects and only a fraction of funds for critical repairs and maintenance.

The House's draft budget mostly delivered on that expectation, funding repairs at about $44 million and paying for no new projects. But the Senate has other ideas:

In its draft budget, the Senate calls for not only $40 million for repairs but also for $80 million for eight university capital projects vetoed last year by Gov. Charlie Crist.

University chancellor Frank Brogan wrote the Board of Governors Tuesday night with the news about the public education capital outlay (PECO) dollars.

“At a time when funding is particularly scarce, we are gratified that the Senate and the House recognize the powerful role our universities have in growing Florida’s knowledge-based economy through increased degree production and commercialization of faculty research,” Brogan said. “These projects are vital to the success of our New Florida Initiative, and provide the classroom and laboratory facilities that our universities need.”

The Senate’s draft budget contains funding for the following eight projects:
• $5 million for Florida Gulf Coast University’s Innovation Hub Research
• $7 million for Florida International University’s satellite chiller plant
• $7.1 million for New College of Florida’s Caples Mechanical Renovation
• $7.2 million for University of Central Florida’s engineering
• $7.8 million for University of Central Florida’s physics building
• $35 million for University of South Florida’s Polytechnic campus
• $1 million for USF Polytechnic Interdisciplinary Center for Excellence
• $10 million for USF School of Pharmacy at Polytechnic

The House Budget Committee takes up the higher education plan today, and the Senate Budget Committee considers its higher ed plan Thursday.

Marco Rubio on Good Morning America, sans hype

Marco Rubio on Good Morning America as part of his national rollout: the first interview not to focus on whether the newly elected senator will ditch Florida in favor of a presidential bid.

Instead, George Stephanopoulos asked him about President Obama saying he hasn't ruled out arming the rebels in Libya: "I think it was wise for the president not to take it off the table, to leave that open as an option," he said.

And then his opinion piece on why he won't vote to raise the debt ceiling as the administration has proposed -- or support another short term budget fix. "We need to show that we're serious," he said.

Only at the end did Rubio's presidential or vice presidential prospects come up and then in the context of Republicans having trouble wooing Hispanics -- making the Cuban-American Rubio a tempting choice.

"I'm not going to be the vice president in 2012," Rubio said. Course half the time he spoke, the ticker raised the possiblity of him as a vp candidate.

Alcee Hastings criticizes Obama on Libya

Alcee Hastings is questioning US involvement in Libya, saying there's "no question that there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Libya, driven by Muammar Gaddafi’s disregard of basic human rights and continued use of force against his own people.

But, he adds, "As a nation still paying a hefty price for our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, I had hoped the President would have been more cautious and conferred with Congress before getting the U.S. military involved in a third conflict. One of my biggest concerns about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan was the lack of a coherent military strategy from the outset. Unfortunately, I see this same issue arising in Libya where we seem to be focusing on the process of intervention rather than the overall strategy.

"A clear strategy, with stated goals, objectives, and an exit plan, is necessary before sending our young men and women into harm’s way. As of now, I do not see a clear strategy in place and this is very troubling."

The administration is holding closed door meetings today with lawmakers on Libya strategy.

Continue reading "Alcee Hastings criticizes Obama on Libya " »

ABC News: On Rubio's ipod, Nicki Minaj

ABC News' Nightline aired it what it called the first national TV interview with the "tea party superstar" -- spending time in Rubio's basement office in Washington and in Miami -- with the GOP'er ABC says is the first senator to arrive with such fanfare since...Barack Obama.

Other than the fact he ruled out running for president in 2012, but was a little squishy on a veep bid, ABC learned Rubio has hip hop star Nicki Minaj on his "play list" -- "it'll probably hurt her record sales," Rubio quipped -- and doesn't want Barack Obama to be reelected.

"I hope he doesn't get reelected and the reason why is I think his policies are ultimately bad for America's economy and for America's future," he said.

March 29, 2011

Democratic senator calls out Jimmy Carter for trip to Cuba

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is criticizing former President Jimmy Carter's trip to Cuba, saying it sends the "wrong message, wrong time, wrong place."

The Democratic senator said he's sent a letter to Carter -- now in Cuba -- "to express his concerns with the visit and the message the meeting sends to the Cuban regime about the goals of US policy, which are to support civil society and promote democracy in Cuba."

In the letter Menendez says the visit "suggests that the improvement of relations between the United States and Cuba is contingent upon some action by the United States.

"That’s the wrong message, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place," he wrote. Full letter after the jump.

Continue reading "Democratic senator calls out Jimmy Carter for trip to Cuba" »

Marco Rubio on Sean Hannity: I'm not going to be the veep nominee

The Fox News host out of the box repeated his prediction that the freshman senator would one day be president. Rubio repeated his stance that he's not running in 2012, so Hannity pressed him on a veep nomination.

"No, I'm not going to be the vice presidential nominee," Rubio said. "I'm focused on this and it's important that I have that attitude because otherwise I won't be able to do this job well... The job I have is an important one. Florida deserves to have a full time senator and that's what I want to be."

Rubio expanded on his position that he won't vote to raise the debt ceiling without six conditions, including tax and regulatory reform, a balanced budget amendment and spending caps: "Everyone here knows exactly what needs to be done. The problem is they don't want to do it," he said. "They want to use all this debt stuff as a political tool to win elections. They're more interested in winning their next campaign even if it means losing the essence of their country. And I think that's a shame."

Fox is thrilled to have the conservative darling -- who has kept national media at bay -- back. Hannity promoted the interview as Rubio's "very first live national television interview" since his election and the network promoted Rubio's appearance tomorrow on Neil Cavuto's show.