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229 posts from January 2013

January 30, 2013

Weatherford and Gaetz say legislature will take lead on Medicaid expansion decision

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford told a gathering of reporters and editors Wednesday that they aren’t waiting on Gov. Rick Scott to steer them on the controversial issue of whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

"We'll know early in the session,'' Weatherford told reporters after he and Gaetz spoke at the annual Associated Press planning session in Tallahassee, after noting that lawmakers are not expecting the governor to guide them when he announces his budget on Thursday.

But the presiding officers made it clear that they’re not too happy with the all-or-nothing approach to covering everyone in Florida who qualifies for Medicaid under the federal health care reform.

 “The federal government gave us an all or nothing proposal,’’ Weatherford said. “They said you have to expand for all populations or you can’t do any of this. That’s put all legislatures and all governments in a pretty good box.”

Continue reading "Weatherford and Gaetz say legislature will take lead on Medicaid expansion decision" »

House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion

Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader, said voters in Florida are not impressed with Republican-led governance, and said even GOP leaders are beginning to feel the same way.

In a 30-minute talk that covered issues ranging from Florida’s elections debacle to implementing federal healthcare to investing in education, Thurston blamed his Republican counterparts for problems facing the state. He said reform efforts currently being pushed by Republican officials—election reform, ethics reform, education financing, healthcare implementation—all seek to deal with problems caused by the GOP-led Legislature.

Thurston said the ruling party had been “foot dragging” when it comes to implementing the federal healthcare reform. He pointed to a letter from former House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 that effectively kept state agencies from planning for reform. The state is now trying to figure out how to conform to the law and facing several deadlines. The decision about whether or not to expand Medicaid is a critical one for the state, and Thurston supports the expansion.

 “We’re going to save lives.  We’re not talking about turning down money fro a rail system; we’re talking about saving lives,” said Thurston. “Not to do this would be morally reprehensible.”

Continue reading "House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion" »

'Little-known' Rich makes case for governor in 2014

Former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014, made the case for her candidacy Wednesday in a visit to the annual Associated Press planning session on the 22nd floor of the state Capitol.

Rich, who was termed out of the Senate in 2012, focused her criticism on Republican Gov. Rick Scott for turning away billions of dollars in high-speed rail money, making it harder to vote, attacking abortion rights and resisting Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.

"I'm definitely a fed-up Floridian who is tired of seeing state government abdicate its responsibility to improve the lives of the citizens of our state," Rich said.

She parodied Scott's campaign slogan, "Let's Get to Work," saying he and Republican legislators "worked to make it harder for people to vote. They worked to slash support for public education. They worked to restrict women's reproductive rights. They worked to block Floridians from the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. None of these initiatives created even one job."

In her travel around the state, Rich said she has seen "a palpable sense of frustration with Tallahassee. " She has raised about $81,000 and has a political fund, Citizens for a Progressive Florida, that has raised $133,450. Scott spent more than $70 million of his money in a successful pursuit of the governorship in 2010.

Rich has virtually no statewide name recognition, but she said history is on her side: She said Reubin Askew, Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles were all "little known state senators" when they first embarked on their successful campaigns for statewide office.

- Steve Bousquet

Sen. Chris Smith: Gov. Rick Scott playing politics with teacher pay

Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith mostly focused on pushing the Democratic agenda during his 30-minute talk at the annual AP forum, but he didn’t hold back when asked about the 2014 governor’s race.

The Fort Lauderdale resident said just about anybody from his party, including Charlie Crist, would be better that Gov. Rick Scott winning re-election.

“Gov. Scott has shown an inability to really bring the state together and to run the state well,” Smith said. “And so I think any gubernatorial candidate from the Democratic side will have a good shot at the next election.”

Smith describe the governor as a flip-flopper who is altering his policy stance in order to cull favor with voters. He used Scott’s proposal to giveteachers across-the-board pay raises as a prime example.

“You look at the 3 percent we’ve taken the last two years, so when you get at this $2,500 dollars it’s not a net gain for teachers because of what he’s done in the past, Smith said. “To have this sudden epiphany to me reeks of election year is coming."

Here are some other other highlights from Smith’s speech and the question-and-answer session that followed:

Continue reading "Sen. Chris Smith: Gov. Rick Scott playing politics with teacher pay" »

Gov. Scott will seek $1.2 billion more for schools

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday he will ask the Legislature to increase funding for public schools by $1.2 billion next year. But a third of that money would pay for an across-the-board teacher pay hike and nearly $300 million more would pay down part of the unfinded liability in the state pension system.

Speaking to the annual AP news forum in Tallahassee, Scott presented a case that Florida's economy has steadily improved under his direction and that now is the time to "strategically invest" in public education.

Scott will make his full budget recommendations to the Legislature at the state Capitol Thursday.

Speaking from a prepared text, Scott defended his proposal to give all public school teachers a $2,500 across-the-board raise, which has come under fire from legislative leaders who say it should be tied to classroom performance.

"I have never met an educator who wants bad teachers to be rewarded," Scott said. "The educators that I know support accountability."

Scott also listed as a top priority the elimination of the sales tax on manufacturers' equipment purchases, which he said would save businesses $144 million in taxes.

-- Steve Bousquet

FBI strings crime-scene tape, hauls off suitcases and boxes from office of eye doc tied to Sen. Menendez

NBC's West Palm Beach affiliate has been outside the West Palm Beach office of Dr. Salomon Melgen ever since we reported last night that the FBI raided his medical offices.

Agents hauled off boxes, suitcases and strung up crime scene tape.

The investigation is believed to be focusing on Melgen’s finances and the allegations about Sen. Bob Menendez’s trips and contact with prostitutes. A spokesman for Menendez could not be reached for comment, nor could Melgen.

Here's our story

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2013/01/fbi-agent-raids-office-of-eye-doc-tied-to-gift-prostitution-controversy-with-sen-bob-menendez.html#storylink=cpy

January 29, 2013

FBI agents raid South Florida office of eye doc tied to gift, prostitution controversy with Sen. Bob Menendez


FBI agents raided the West Palm Beach business of an eye doctor suspected of providing free trips and even underage Dominican Republic prostitutes to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez — who has denied what he calls the “fallacious allegations.”

Agents gathered at the medical-office complex of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a contributor to Menendez and other prominent politicians, late Tuesday night to start hauling away potential evidence in about a dozen white vans.

The investigation is believed to be focusing on Melgen’s finances and the allegations about Menendez’s trips and contact with prostitutes. A spokesman for Menendez could not be reached for comment, nor could Melgen.

Melgen has an outstanding IRS lien of $11.1 million, for taxes owed from 2006 to 2009, according to records filed with the Palm Beach County recorder’s office. A previous IRS lien for $6.2 million was released in 2011.
More here

Weatherford says he won't push for new online-only university

From the News Service of Florida:

House Speaker Will Weatherford clarified his stance on overhauling the state's approach to online higher education Tuesday, emphasizing that he would not push for an actual, 13th university focused on web-based education.

But in remarks at a panel discussion held by the Orlando Sentinel and the University of Central Florida Metro Center, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, made it clear that he still sees the Internet as a critical part of higher education's future.

"I don't know what the end game is going to be, but it's not going to be creating some unbranded university or unaccredited university, because I think that would be a waste of everybody's time and money," Weatherford said. "But it will be pushing the envelope a little bit to get more people exposed to online learning."

Instead, Weatherford suggested that the state create some entity "that is solely focused on creating the best platform, the best content at the most affordable price" -- but not another university.

Tico Perez, a fellow member of Tuesday's panel whose term on the Board of Governors recently expired, backed that approach.

Continue reading "Weatherford says he won't push for new online-only university" »

Miami lawmaker wants more scrutiny for economic incentives

Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, is pushing for more accountability from the state's tax incentive program, which provides tax breaks for companies who agree to create jobs in Florida.

Under a bill field by Rodríguez, the state would have to provide detailed information about the type of jobs created by companies receiving taxpayer incentives. Florida would also have to launch an online database to allow taxpayers to track the progress of the companies receiving incentives. An online database was launched last year, but it has only limited information.

The tax credit program is facing renewed scrutiny this year, as lawmakers look more closely at the pros and cons of giving companies tax deals to lure them to Florida. Last year, one of the companies went bust after receiving $20 million in taxpayer funds from the state.

While Gov. Rick Scott and his top officials in charge of the incentives program say the tax incentives are helping to create thousands of jobs, several bills filed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seek additional transparency. Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, is pushing a bill that would require an independent review of all incentives, providing information about the return on the state's investment.

“Our state’s economic development programs are a major strategy for diversifying our economy and making it more competitive for the future” said Rodríguez, in a statement. “Evaluating taxpayer-funded incentives with maximum transparency is important for all Floridians but particularly for those Florida businesses whose competitors are receiving tax dollars to deliver on jobs or investment promises.  This bill seeks to restore credibility to economic development programs which have recently come under fire for failing to fulfill their missions.”



RPOF spox Brian Burgess back in private sector after dodging questions about Rick Scott's dog

Brian Burgess, the combative communications director for the Republican Party of Florida, is returning to the private sector less than five months after taking over as the party's top communicator.

Burgess would not return emails or telephone calls, but was shown the door at the party after he did not answer questions from the Tampa Bay Timesabout a rescued Labrador retriever adopted by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott publicly adopted the dog during the 2010 campaign and held a contest to name it — people chose Reagan — but Scott returned the dog shortly after taking office in 2011.

The resulting publicity outraged animal lovers across the state who accused Scott of adopting the dog as a campaign gimmick.

Burgess, 42, will be joining Brian Hughes, former spokesman for the party, at Meteoric Media Strategies, a private public relations business. Hughes and Burgess worked together in Scott's office shortly after Scott was elected governor and during the 2010 campaign. Hughes announced the new partnership in a statement to the Florida Times-Union Tuesday shortly after the Times asked Burgess for comment on his dismissal from the party.

Hughes' firm has consulting contracts with the Republican Party of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other conservative groups. He has been paid more than $195,000 for campaign work since 2010, including $92,000 from the state party.

Burgess began working for the state party in September after 18 months working in the governor's office. Burgess previously worked for a Washington public relations firm that handled communications for Scott's gubernatorial campaign.

He has a history of clashing with reporters — in public and in private — and was once called "an aggressive knife-fighter" by a prominent Florida communications consultant.

"I really don't miss some of you dips---s at all," Burgess emailed a Kansas reporter in 2008, after he left to work with a conservative public relations firm in Virginia. "Have fun in your world of make-believe."

Keep reading the story from Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan.