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17 posts from March 4, 2013

March 04, 2013

Rep. Frederica Wilson: As 'a firm opponent of DOMA,' I wanted to sign a pro-gay marriage brief

The Miami Herald's Steve Rothaus writes that U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, is having some explaining to do to the LGBT community.

Read more here



Video: The annual legislative fundraising frenzy


Movers & Shakers; Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductees, capital press corps veterans retire

Gov. Rick Scott has named James B. Sanderlin, Margarita Romo and Harry T. and Harriette Moore to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Here’s a look at the inductees:
Sanderlin, a St. Petersburg judge who died in 1990, was the lead attorney representing six families in civil rights cases over classroom segregation, which resulted in desegregation in Hillsborough and Sarasota Counties. As the lead attorney for a group of 12 black police officers known as the “Courageous Twelve,” Sanderlin won a lawsuit to end discriminatory assignments in segregated neighborhoods.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers; Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductees, capital press corps veterans retire " »

Alleged prostitute: I was fooled, never had sex with Sen. Bob Menendez

@MarcACaputo -- via Ezra Fieser:

An alleged prostitute who said she appeared in a video claiming to have been paid for sex with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez now claims in sworn testimony that it never happened and that she was tricked into making the video.

The claims from the woman, Nexis de los Santos Santana, were released by Vinicio Castillo Semán, a cousin of a Menendez contributor, Dr. Salomon Melgen. A West Palm Beach eye doctor, Melgen's offices were raided by the FBI last month. Melgen, Menendez and Castillo were accused in anonymous emails, sent to the FBI, that accused them of having sex with prostitutes, including some under age.

"I never went to bed with [Menendez, Melgen] or with Vinicio [Castillo]. I don't know them and I've never had sex with any of those people," said Nexis de los Santos Santana in a sworn testimony entered in a court case in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

In a statement, Melgen lawyer Kirk Ogrosky noted the matter was under investigation by officials in the Dominican Republic, which was conducted at the behest of Castillo: "Dr. Melgen is pleased that authorities in the Dominican Republic are investigating the individuals behind this campaign of lies. Dr. Melgen is hopeful that the appropriate authorities will identify and prosecute the people who are responsible.  As he has maintained from day one, Dr. Melgen has been cooperating with authorities in every way possible and he denies any wrongdoing. "

All have denied the claims. Menendez has said the prostitution claims were part of a right-wing election-year smear.

Continue reading "Alleged prostitute: I was fooled, never had sex with Sen. Bob Menendez" »

Excerpts from Gov. Scott's State of the State speech

Gov. Rick Scott's office released excerpts from Tuesday's State of the State address in anticipation of its delivery Tuesday on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session. Scott will deliver the address live to a joint session of the Legislature in the House chambers in Tallahassee.

Among the highlights:

"This year, we have two priorities to keep our economy growing: First, remove the sales tax on manufacturing equipment, and second, invest in our teachers by giving them a well-deserved pay raise."

"Now is not the time to turn back to the legacy of taxing and borrowing that crippled the economy we inherited two years ago. We must stay the course for economic growth and job creation.”

"Florida's education system is making tremendous progress, due in large part to our great teachers and the work by Governor Bush and many in this Legislature ... the best way we can build on this progress is to reward our hard-working teachers with a $2,500 pay raise.

"We came into office saying we wanted to create an environment that would encourage businesses to add 700,000 jobs over seven years. When I took office two years ago, the debate was about whether or not this goal was even possible.

"Now there is a debate about how to count all the jobs being created, and who should get credit for it., Maybe it is because I am not a politician, but I think this is a great debate to have. It celebrates the fact that our economy is again creating jobs, and as Ronald Reagan said, there is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care about who gets the credit."

-- Steve Bousquet

Reaction to House panel rejection of Medicaid expansion

As expected, the House committee studying the Affordable Care Act voted against expanding Medicaid today. Here is a round up of what some folks on both sides of the issue said after learning of the panel's party-line vote.

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey:

"By voting to turn back these dollars, this committee has, in essence, told millions of Floridians that they are not worthy of having access to primary health care services. Our office receives untold numbers of calls from single women, single mothers and others who may be living on the edge, that they cannot see a doctor because they do not qualify for Medicaid under existing criteria."

That was from prepared remarks emailed by Fasano's office, but he took it even further when we spoke to him on the phone. Fasano criticized his fellow Republicans for voting to deny health care access even as they have subsidized, government-supported health care plans of their own.

"It's very easy for individuals that have health care insurance being paid for by the taxpayers of Florida to say no to individuals that have no access to health care insurance or health care period," he said.

James Madison Institute director of public affairs Thomas Perrin:

"The House made the right decision today to not draft a committee bill expanding Medicaid under PPACA provisions. Many Members expressed valid concerns that this could hurt the people that it is aimed at helping. State leaders should focus on providing more access to quality care — expanding a program that is inefficient in this effort is not a way to do that. Additionally, in our recent poll of 600 registered Florida voters more than 63 percent said they are wary that the federal government would keep the funding level promises made, and clearly many House Members share this worry. If history is any indicator, costs of such programs are often underestimated and there has been examples of the federal government going back on their promise before. These issues cannot be ignored."

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Cost estimate for Weatherford's pension reform raises more questions

A report released Friday concludes that Florida would quickly recoup savings if House Speaker Will Weatherford succeeds in getting his pension reform plan approved.

But the report also makes some major assumptions and leaves out potential costs that raise questions about the accuracy of those projections and underscores just how tricky it can be to determine what it will cost to overhaul the Florida Retirement System’s $136 billion pension plan.

In other words, those who hoped the report would resolve the issue, think again.

Since becoming House Speaker, Weatherford has made it one of his top priorities to prohibit, after Jan. 1, 2014, new employees from enrolling in the pension plan and require them instead to choose defined contribution plans, where it’s up to each employees to choose an investment strategy.

Weatherford argues that the pension plan’s guaranteed benefit is a drag on state finances and could require a future massive bailout to remain solvent. The fund represents 145,000 current and future beneficiaries, who including state workers, teachers and college and local government employees.

Weatherford had been hoping he’d get an estimate on Feb. 15 from Milliman, a Vienna, VA actuarial firm about how much his reform proposal would cost. But the estimate didn’t compare the costs to keeping the pension system the same, so Milliman had to take another two weeks to make that comparison.

Friday’s report by Milliman, a Vieanna, VA actuarial firm, concluded that by the second year of switching from a pension system to a defined contribution system would produce $12.2 million in savings. The state would lose money, but not as much if it stayed with the pension system, the report states. In 20 years, those savings would grow to $2.1 billion.

Experts at the Capitol were scrutinizing the report Monday, and many people were waiting until they knew more before commenting. Weatherford’s spokesman, Ryan Duffy, said staff members in the House was still reviewing it.

Many actuaries also said they needed time to look at the 136-page study more closely. Among them was Bradley Heinrichs, CEO of an actuarial firm in Fort Myers. He said he did note that Milliman makes a major assumption that the pension system will continue to earn an average of 7.75 percent from its investments. That could be optimistic, and hides certain costs that would require contribution rates to climb, Heinrichs said.

“While every plan is different, as a rule of thumb, lowering the investment return assumption by 1 percent can cause contribution rates to increase by around 10 percent of payroll,” Heinrichs said.

One reason the investment return could fall from its current 7.75 percent assumption -- which is set by the Senate, House and Governor’s office -- is that the number of people enrolled in the pension plan will fall because new members will be prohibited from joining.

As the active population shrinks and the retired population continues to grow in the pension plan, benefit payments will exceed the contributions, requiring future changes in the plan’s assets so that it has enough cash for benefit payments. That would decrease the number of long-term investments the plan could make, which typically have higher returns.

A 2009 paper published by Milliman says as much. It concluded that defined contribution plans in Nebraska and West Virginia had lower returns than defined benefit pension plans, which it called more efficient.

“The biggest drivers of the cost advantages in (defined benefit) plans are longevity pooling and enhanced investment returns that derive from reduced expenses and professional management of assets,” it concluded.

In addition, Milliman mentions the risk associated with 401(k)-plans in the report it released Friday, but doesn’t calculate the associated costs.

For instance, it mentions that when pension plans come up short, then the employer (be it the state or a local government or agency) must pay the shortfall. But in 401(k)-plans, the report stated, ‘“if assets earn less than assumed, since contribution levels are usually fixed, the primary impact is that ...expected retirement benefits are less.”

But if retirement benefits help pay for the cost of growing old, who pays if those savings don’t cover those costs? How much would it increase Medicare or Medicaid costs?

Those costs aren’t tallied by the Milliman report.

“Shifting to a defined contribution plan produces lower retirement savings for workers like firefighters, police officers and teachers,” said Alan Stonecipher, director of the Florida Retirement Coalition. “They don’t look at the costs to Medicaid or food stamps. So it’s another incomplete. This raises more questions than it answers.”

Mayor Jack Seiler not officially out of Gov's race

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said today that he remains open to the possibility of challenging Gov. Rick Scott in 2014 but he sounds like he is leaning against it at the moment.

"I haven't made any decision," said Seiler, a Democrat and former state legislator whose mayoral term is up in 2015. "I'm not rushing to make any decision. The field seems pretty unsettled."

When asked if he was waiting for a decision from fellow Democrats, former CFO Alex Sink or former Gov. Charlie Crist, Seiler said: "I'm not really waiting on any one person. I am more waiting to see that we have a quality candidate for governor."

Seiler, a father of four and partner in a law practice, said he wants to do what is best for his family and that he loves his job as mayor.

"The only thing I have come to realize is this belief we had to rush into a decision the first part of the year is really not accurate. I realize there is sufficient time to make a decision. ... We will see how things play out in the next 30 to 60 days. If I had to make a decision today I am probably leaning toward remaining the mayor of Fort Lauderdale."



Steve Crisafulli officially chosen as House Speaker for 2014

Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, was officially appointed as the incoming Republican Leader of the Florida House of Representatives for 2014 on Monday.

If, as expected, Republicans etain their majority in the 120-member House in 2014, Crisafulli will be the state’s next House Speaker, occupying one of the most powerful positions in state government.

“It is an honor for me to be a small part of this ceremony, and a special day for a very close friend,” said current House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Crisafulli was chosen for the post a week after last year’s election, when designated Speaker-in-waiting Rep. Chris Dorworth (R-Lake Mary) was defeated in a shocking upset.

As speaker-designate, Crisafulli will play a major role raising money and getting Republicans elected in 2014.

“No one who’s blessed with this opportunity gets here on his own,” said Crisafulli, in a speech where he thanked a slew of people and got emotional at times.

Continue reading "Steve Crisafulli officially chosen as House Speaker for 2014" »

Jeb Bush immigration reversal? No citizenship-pathway for the undocumented. Pulling a Romney?


The Huffington Post obtained a copy of Gov. Jeb Bush's new book on immigration -- and it indicates the former Florida governor has reversed himself when it comes to granting a pathway to citizenship for those illegally in the country.

The revelations angered top advisors to Mitt Romney, who felt that Bush went out of his way to make statements during the campaign that undermined the former Republican presidential candidate's campaign by seeming to urge a softer approach to immigration.

"Where the hell was this Jeb Bush during the campaign?" said one advisor."He spent all this time criticizing Romney and it turns out he has basically the same position. So he wants people to go back to their country and apply for citizenship? Well, that's self deportation. We got creamed for talking about that. And now Jeb is saying the same thing."

Asked to respond, Bush said by email: "i am not advocating self  deportation. read the book."

The book isn't out yet. So it's unclear what specifically Bush was advocating for and against.

From a marketing perspective, it's a good move for Bush. It gets people talking about his book. It also gets people wondering if he's covering his right flank and is therefore more-serious about running for president in four years.

Excerpts from HuffPo:

WASHINGTON -- In a new book, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) makes a notable reversal on immigration reform, arguing that creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would only encourage future unauthorized immigration.

"It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences -- in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship," Bush and lawyer Clint Bolick argue in a new book, Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution. "To do otherwise would signal once again that people who circumvent the system can still obtain the full benefits of American citizenship."....

They don't fully rule out citizenship, however, despite what that sentence implies. Although Bush and Bolick state there should be no special pathway, they say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to go through normal channels to naturalize by going to their native country to apply. That process currently requires three- or 10-year bars and no guarantee of return, making it untenable to many undocumented immigrants.