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21 posts from April 9, 2013

April 09, 2013

Before budget vote, House Democrats discuss and debate, Republicans dine

House Republicans and Democrats both agreed Tuesday night would be a good time to huddle with their respective party members.

Republicans ate dinner at the vast Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center for a mandatory meeting. Sans food, Dems jammed into their cramped third-floor conference room in the Capitol that was so small a third of those who attended had to stand.

Guess which one was open to reporters?

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Diaz-Balart: Obama admin ducked questions about Jay-Bey Cuba trip

It's official: Jay-Z and Beyonce's trip to Cuba was legal, according to the U.S. Treasury Department (not a shocker)

And U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and other exile leaders aren't satisfied with Treasury's response.

Letter here: Diaz-Balart Letter. Press release here:

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NFL could contribute $150 million to Miami Dolphins stadium deal

@Patricia Mazzei

The National Football League could contribute $150 million toward the Miami Dolphins’ proposed stadium renovation, lowering the direct costs to the team for the estimated $350 million project, according to a county report released Tuesday.

Miami-Dade officials see the NFL and Dolphins contributions as coming from the same pot of private money, which would account for about 55 percent of the costs and leave the county paying about a third. But the NFL’s contribution had been one of the last remaining questions as county commissioners meet Wednesday to consider a last-minute deal between the Dolphins and Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who want to ask voters to raise hotel taxes to upgrade the 1987 facility.

Teams may use revenue that otherwise would go to the NFL to instead pay down a league loan used for stadium construction or renovation, provided the project has government participation. A Tuesday report on the proposed Sun Life Stadium financing deal prepared for the county by the PFM Group consultancy in Coral Gables notes the Dolphins would likely qualify for $150 million in NFL financing.

That would leave the Dolphins to raise another $41 million to reach the $191 million in private dollars owner Stephen Ross has committed to the $350 million project, or about 12 percent of the total, according to Miami Herald calculations. Miami-Dade would contribute enough hotel tax dollars for the Dolphins to borrow about $112 million, or about 32 percent of the total. A new state subsidy would give the Dolphins an additional $47 million.

A Dolphins spokesman said it’s too early to determine how much money the NFL might contribute to the deal, and disagreed with the calculations.

“The Dolphins are responsible for coming up with more than 70 percent, and how the team does it really doesn’t matter,’’ Dolphins spokesman Eric Jotkoff said in a statement Tuesday night.

Some of the dollar amounts were outlined in a summary Gimenez sent commissioner Tuesday night, though the full paperwork to finalize the plan has not been released.

More, with Douglas Hanks, here.

Judge: Miami commissioner can't run a third time

Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who missed a chunk of time in office successfully battling felony charges, cannot run for a third term in November, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by long-time political foe the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II. He contended that an opinion from the city attorney that Spence-Jones could run for a third time because she didn’t serve two full terms was flawed and unconstitutional.

Dunn said he was “grateful” and “humbled” by the ruling, issued by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge E. Cueto. Then Dunn lashed out at the city attorney’s office.

“It appears the Miami attorneys were trying to find a loophole in the law to appease their boss,” he said.

City Attorney Julie Bru defended her position, and said the city will appeal.

“I continue to believe that the provision does have an ambiguity and that the opinion I issued is legally correct,’’ she said.

Spence-Jones’s attorney, Bruce Rogow, said she would appeal the ruling as well. The matter was argued at a hearing Monday.

“I’m impressed with the thoroughness and speed in which the judge acted,’’ Rogow said. “He did a good job of reading the charter and interpreting it, but it doesn’t mean he’s right.’’

More from Charles Rabin here.

On eve of shutdown, arcade operators seek to retrofit machines, seek options

For Rick Scott, the “jobs” governor, the bill he will sign Wednesday to ban Internet cafes is as awkward as it gets.

The measure is guaranteed to put people out of work and, if the issue hadn’t come up, he would likely still have a lieutenant governor.

From Gadsden to Monroe counties, Internet cafe and adult arcade operators say an estimated 14,000 people will be forced into the unemployment lines as a result of the Legislature’s prohibition on casino game look-alikes.

Nonetheless, Scott said Tuesday, he will sign the bill and it will take effect immediately.

But the resilient industry, accustomed to living on the edge, is not ready to retire.

Many arcade operators, who were in business long before the upstart Internet cafes came into town, are preparing to hang on by reconfiguring their machines to accommodate the new law or challenge the law in court.

“We are currently working on a package to retrofit all machines to be able to comply with new laws,” Shawn Mosayov of E and D Trading, a supplier in Hollywood, wrote on a Facebook page.

Gaming law experts say the retrofit could involve using tokens worth $1 to $20 and allowing  players to collect prizes using a debit or swipe card. Others may offer pseudo prizes — such as giant Teddy Bears — that can be traded for cash at a shop next door. Story here. 

Rick Scott talks Moody's-Medicaid bond report, House's Obamacare intransigence

@MarcACaputo

In a just-issued report issued, Moody’s Investor Service warns that public hospitals and those providing loads of charity care could have revenue – and therefore bond problems – in states where legislatures don’t opt to increase Medicaid enrollment under Obamacare.

Moody’s reasoning is simple: less money means more risk for lenders. More risk potentially can mean worse bond ratings. And worse bond ratings can theoretically mean higher payments on debt.

That’s not the primary reason Gov. Rick Scott wants to expand Medicaid, which could give the state a $6.7 billion shot in the arm over three years. But it helps reinforce his argument and the argument of other conservatives, including former Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, who now heads the Associated Industries of Florida.

Feeney called on the Legislature to look at the report. They probably will, and then go back to refusing to accept the Medicaid money, particularly in the conservative House, where “Obama” is a four-letter word.

Earlier today, we asked Scott about the report and Medicaid. Here’s what he said.

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From the vault: The definitive early-years Jeb Bush profile

With former Gov. Jeb Bush and the issue of immigration in and out of the news as of late, there's no better time than the present to post something from the past (specifically, June 1, 1986 in The Herald's Tropic magazine).

And though its decades old, this "Family Business" profile of Bush still captures much of the man you see today. And it still captures Miami, a place where an illegal immigrant waitress can petition a scion of one of the most-powerful political families in American history.

Here it is:

By Joel Achenbach

Little Havana, a packed Cuban restaurant. The waitress has a problem. Immigration. She is not legal. She writes her phone number down on a napkin. Jeb Bush slips it into his shirt pocket. "Por Favor. Por Favor. Por Favor," she says.

Jeb nods: "Si, si, voy a tratar." Yes, I'll try.

"Recuerdes," the waitress says. Remember.

Jeb Bush is not a lawyer. He has nothing to do with immigration. He is in real estate. He leases space in buildings, to be precise. But he's Jeb Bush. Jeb . . . Bush. When you are the son of the man who flies around in Air Force Two, son of the man who is the favorite to succeed Ronald Reagan as the next leader of the most powerful nation on Earth -- when you are such a son, it is naturally assumed that you have merely to tuck a napkin in your pocket and soon a complex set of immigration questions will be taken care of.

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Gov. Scott praises legislators advancing abortion-related bill

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement Tuesday praising legislators for unanimously passing a Senate bill that would “ensure common sense measures to help care for the babies who survive abortion procedures.”

 The 9-0 vote advances Senate Bill 1636, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, which would require health practitioners to offer emergency medical care to a baby born alive or face a first-degree misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail.

While the measure is known as an abortion bill, the proposed law focuses on what happens after the procedure, one reason it hasn't drawn the ire of prochoice groups and legislators. Planned Parenthood dropped its opposition after a provision that would have stripped a mother seeking an abortion of parental rights was eliminated from the bill by both Flores and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, in the House version.

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Drum roll please: House GOP plan on health care to be unveiled

Are Florida House Republicans ready to unveil their long-awaited alternative to Medicaid expansion?

Could be judging from the approval this week, through House Speaker Will Weatherford’s office, to block out four hours on Monday for the House Select Committee on the Affordable Care Act. The meeting hasn’t been posted yet, but House leaders are authorizing that the committee, which is chaired by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, meet from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday.

The committee rejected Medicaid expansion on March 4 -- the day before legislative session began -- and has met sparingly since. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have proposed two alternative plans (one that uses federal dollars, one that doesn’t) and Gov. Rick Scott has continued to get national attention for supporting the expansion of Medicaid, something Weatherford and other top House Republicans oppose.

Weatherford lost support last week from Democrats for the House’s $74.4 billion budget because of the lack of a plan addressing Medicaid. For weeks, he has said that a House plan was going to be released, but hasn’t provided any details about it. Last week he said only that a plan was coming soon.

Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he has heard about a proposed House plan that would include no federal dollars and about $300 million in state dollars. It would pay for a system that would expand coverage, but would also include higher deductibles, incentives for staying healthy and limit patient spending through “savings accounts.”

Continue reading "Drum roll please: House GOP plan on health care to be unveiled" »

Republican lawmakers won't hear Bright Futures bill

Two Democrats have a plan that would prevent thousands of black and Hispanic students from losing out on Bright Futures scholarships.

There's just one problem: Nobody seems willing to listen.

Starting next year, Florida students will need to post higher scores on the SAT and ACT scores to qualify for the state-funded scholarships. The change will likely cause the number of college freshman receiving Bright Futures awards to drop dramatically, with poor and minority students suffering the most.

In response, Rep. Ricardo Rangel and Sen. Geraldine Thompson filed HB 387 and SB 526, which would maintain the standards as they are. But neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing, and committee meetings are winding down.

Rangel, D-Kissimmee, said he presented the bill to the Hispanic Caucus about three weeks ago in hopes of gaining some support. He was "shocked and surprised," he said, that the caucus members offered virtually no feedback.

"It's going to affect the Miami area pretty heavily," Rangel said. "I would hope that they would open up their eyes a little bit as far as how it would actually affect their community."

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