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15 posts from April 2, 2013

April 02, 2013

Weatherford: 'Never say never' to federal funds for Medicaid alternative

House Speaker Will Weatherford's opposition to accepting federal money to expand Medicaid has been well documented and made him a darling among conservatives who oppose the health care law.

But Weatherford indicated Tuesday that he may be open to accepting some federal money to provide health care to at least some of Florida's uninsured, perhaps the disabled or adults with children. The House hasn't finalized its Medicaid expansion alternative, and Weatherford said he won’t eliminate any options.

“You never say 'never’ in this business, I’ve learned that,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, replied when asked about his willingness to accept some federal aid as part of a House alternative to Medicaid expansion.

Read more here.

Moraitis says he will strip "space-share" provision from charter school bill

Rep. George Moraitis plans to remove the most controversial provision from his sweeping charter schools bill, he said Tuesday.

Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, is planning to amend the proposal so that traditional public schools won't have to share unused space with charter schools, he said.

The bill, HB 7009, would still give additional flexibility to high-performing charter schools, and put some new accountability measures in place. One example: school employees could no longer serve on the governing board.

"There are some great things in the bill having to do with accountability and transparency," Moraitis told The Herald/Times after Tuesday's floor session. "Those are the most important provisions."

Moraitis said the Senate wants to take a different approach to sharing unused space in public facilities, and that he's willing to listen.

The charter schools bill will likely be up for a final vote in the House this week. Its companion in the Senate, which does not include the space-sharing provision, is moving more slowly.

Miami-Dade inspector general to retire


Christopher Mazzella, Miami-Dade’s first inspector general, plans to retire at the end of the month after 14 years on the job as the county’s independent watchdog.

Mazzella announced his retirement last week in a letter to Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa. His resignation is effective April 26. His four-year term was set to expire in December.

“I feel the time has come,” Mazzella said Tuesday. “I leave with no regrets. I’m very happy with what we’ve achieved and accomplished. It’s always good to have new blood and a new approach.”

Mazzella was hired in 1998, two years after county voters approved the creation of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust. The inspector general’s office has since become independent of the ethics commission.

He came in with 34 years of experience in the FBI, where he investigated organized crime and corruption cases — including, notably, Operation Gangplank, which brought down Philadelphia mobsters. Mazzella earned a law degree during his FBI tenure, eventually moving to Miami in 1981 to focus on public corruption.

More here.

To avoid embarrassing street names, Miami-Dade will check backgrounds of future candidates


Last year, Hialeah and Miami-Dade politicians attended a ceremony to rename a stretch of Southeast 10th Avenue "Banah Sweet Way" in honor of Banah Sugar, a sugar processing company that promised to hire up to 300 workers.

The officials later found out that the firm's owner had served prison time for cocaine trafficking. Banah filed for bankruptcy in February, without ever hiring all the workers it promised. (More on Banah's bankruptcy here.)

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade commissioners signed off on a new policy to avoid similar embarrassments in the future. The county will now require the board's auditor to complete a background check on any "person, organization, place or thing" under consideration for a naming.

"This will only give us background on anything we do," said Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, who sponsored the item.

The measure was approved unanimously and without discussion.

Latvala tees off on Sen. Chris Smith in elections-bill fight

A series of partisan clashes on an early voting bill Tuesday brought a stern lecture from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the point man on the legislation, who said he was "taking it a little bit personal." He aimed a torrent of criticism at Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, leader of the Senate's 14 Democrats, who tried repeatedly to rework the bill to Democrats' liking.

Latvala's bill seeks to address the chaos and long lines at the polls last fall, but Democrats say it doesn't go far enough. Case in point: The bill (SB 600) mandates at least eight days of early voting for eight hours every day. Election supervisors can expand that to 14 days for 12 hours a day, including
the Sunday before the election, but it's optional, as supervisors wanted, and not

Smith offered a batch of amendments that failed on 5-3 votes in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, including allowing early voting at any precinct and mandatory 14 days of early voting including the Sunday before the election. Smith said the bill gives county elections officials too much discretion so that it will lead to varying early voting schedules. "It's almost comical," Smith said.

Latvala said the Democrats' strategy was to "keep this issue in the news and ride this horse until it dies." Then, using the sponsor's prerogative of having the last word, Latvala noted that every House Democrat supported that chamber's elections bil, and said Smith's partisanship reminds
him that the Senate used to be a more bipartisan place. 

"I have always tried to exemplify that the policies, and the people of Florida getting a good
product done, are more important than partisan advantages," said Latvala, who has often bucked Senate Republicans on issues. "We shouldn't be like Washington here in Tallahassee."

A bipartisan vote on an election reform bill would be a strategic advantage for Republicans if the new changes trigger new litigation, but Senate Democrats appear to be digging in to oppose it.

On the bill, Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux warned that overseas military voters in the Panhandle could be disenfranchised by a new requirement that an absentee ballot must be witnessed by another, a change proposed by a Miami-Dade grand jury that investigated absentee ballot fraud. "This is going to be, in my opinion, a means to discount more military ballots. I'm worried about that," Lux said.

Common Cause Florida and the League of Women Voters both said they liked the bill overall, though
the LWV raised fears over the witness requirement.

-- Steve Bousquet 

Senate introduces Bean alternative to Medicaid expansion

The Senate's Health Policy Committee has agreed to introduce a bare-bones approach to providing health coverage for the uninsured proposed by Sen. Aaron Bean.

The Fernandina Beach Republican is arguing that his plan may be the only way to get all three sides -- the Senate, the House, and Gov. Rick Scott -- to agree on an alternative to Medicaid expansion.

"Our challenge, senators, if we’re going to find something or if we’re going to move on something: it has to be something that we can all say 'yes' to," Bean said.

All sides agree that something should be done for the roughly 1 million low-income residents in Florida who don’t have insurance. But the main sticking point is the federal dollars available as part of the federal health care law.

The House says it doesn’t want the money and has indicated it would reject any proposals that include it. Bean's plan doesn't qualify for the federal money, unlike an alternative proposal by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Here is a previous blog where we compare the Bean and Negron plans. Negron's plan, SB 1816, has been assigned to two committees. Now that Bean's proposal, SB 7144, is officially introduced, we expect it to be assigned to at least two committees as well.

Commissioners override Miami-Dade mayor's MIA baggage-wrap vetoes


Miami-Dade commissioners upheld their decision to award a lucrative Miami International Airport baggage-wrap contract Tuesday, overriding a pair of vetoes by Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The 11-1 vote marked the first time in Gimenez’s young administration that the board, flexing its collective political muscle, dismissed his executive action.

The coveted concession will go to Safe Wrap, the second-place bidder that last month matched the $9.6 million minimum annual payment offered by the first-place bidder, TrueStar. Commissioners selected Safe Wrap, which initially offered $9.1 million, saying they could not trust TrueStar’s rosy revenue projections from encasing luggage in clingy plastic to prevent theft.

TrueStar is a new corporate venture involving the airport’s current vendor, Sinapsis Trading USA, which last year asked for a reduction to $8.7 million from its $11.1 million payment to the county. The board reluctantly approved the request, but only with the condition that the contract be re-bid.

The concessionaire must pay the county the minimum annual fee or a percentage of monthly gross revenues, whichever is higher. Safe Wrap did not match TrueStar’s offer to provide 65 percent of the revenues, sticking to its 52 percent offer.

More here.

Miami-Dade creates insurance task force


Miami-Dade commissioners created a task force Tuesday to recommend to state lawmakers improvements to Citizens Property Insurance.

The 17-member task force will, among other things, examine how Citizens' recent decisions to raise homeowners insurance rates and scale back coverage affect residents in hurricane-prone Miami-Dade County.

"This cannot continue on the way it's going," said Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who sponsored the item. "Our citizens can't keep suffering."

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced the creation of a similar advisory group at his “state of the county” address in February.

Students lobby lawmakers to support charter schools

GaetzThe charter school movement has former Sens. Jim Horne and Al Lawson making the rounds in the Capitol.

But its most effective lobbyists may be the 300 or so students in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

"We are here because we want equitable funding," said Sallie Haney, 17, who attends North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City. "Charter schools are technically public schools. The fact that some public schools get more money than others isn't fair."

Charter schools, which are run by private governing boards, do get public dollars for things like teacher salaries and educational materials. But unlike traditional public schools, they cannot levy tax dollars for building and maintenance.

In the past, charter schools have gotten one-time allocations from the Public Education Capital Outlay fund. Advocates, however, are hoping to secure recurring revenue from the state general fund that can support charter schools' capital needs.

The idea has met resistance from school districts, teachers' unions and parent organizations, who say the money should be left for traditional public schools. They take issue with public dollars being used to build and enhance private facilities. They also point out that charter schools were first allowed in Florida because they promised to do more with less.

But Sallie has a different take. "We should have the same opportunities that other students have," she said, after a morning meeting with Senate President Don Gaetz.

The students are scheduled to meet with Reps. David Richardson, Shevrin Jones, Jake Raburn, Erik Fresen and Jose Javier Rodriguez, among others.

They'll be there "to spread the word about successful charter schools and to urge legislators to continue funding high-quality public charter school programs," Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools spokeswoman Lynn Norman-Teck said.

Bob Graham's daughter Gwen becomes candidate for Congress

Gwen GrahamGwen Graham, daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, said this morning she will challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in Florida's 2nd Congressional district.

“It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Congress is a dysfunctional mess," she said in a news release. "They'd rather fight each other with the goal of scoring points on cable news instead of focusing on creating jobs and balancing the budget – in fact, Congress hasn't even passed a budget since Bobby Bowden was coach at FSU."

Southerland was elected in the 2010 tea party wave, defeating longtime Rep. Allen Boyd. He held off a challenge in 2012 by former state Sen. Al Lawson.

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