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23 posts from April 10, 2013

April 10, 2013

Senate unanimously approves $74.3 billion budget

In an unexpected move Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved its proposed $74.3 billion budget.

"It's a tribute to the bipartisanship that we've seen in the Senate during the budget process," Senate President Don Gaetz said.

The spending plan includes a $1.2 billion increase to public-school funding, $70 million for Everglades restoration and 3 percent across-the-board pay raises for state employees, many of whom haven't seen their salaries increased in six years. 

"I think that this budget takes care of the basics," Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron said. "Things that we haven't been able to take care of and respond to in the past, given the challenges in the economy, we're now taking those on. We're making sure that our foundation is strong and that we're not deferring issues that need to be addressed."

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Scott signs Internet cafe ban, local police have strengthened tools for crackdown


Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill to give law enforcement better tools to put an end to illegal gambling devices in strip malls and arcades throughout the state. 

With no fanfare, the governor signed the bill in the privacy of his office when he returned to the Capitol Wednesday after making a jobs announcement in Lakeland this morning.

The measure, HB 155, is a response to a three-year federal and state investigation into illegal gambling at Internet cafes run by the Allied Veterans of the World and has already resulted in job losses for hundreds of workers in now-shuttered operations. It will be enforced by local law enforcement. 

"I think the House and Senate did the right thing to crackdown on illegal gaming, especially in light of the Allied Veterans multi-state criminal conspiracy,'' Scott told reporters on Wednesday.

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Another Bogdanoff rises in the political world

Former Republican state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff's son has a new gig. The press release:

Washington, D.C. (April 10, 2013) -- The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), the nation's only grassroots organization of Jewish Republicans, announced the hiring of Matthew Bogdanoff as the RJC's Florida regional director. Bogdanoff, a graduate of the Florida State University, comes to the RJC with extensive experience in political campaign management. Bogdanoff has worked on races including city commission, school board, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida state Senate, and most recently the 2012 presidential campaign.


In addition to his campaign experience, Bogdanoff has worked in the Florida House as a legislative aide. During the 2012 presidential election, Bogdanoff worked as a Florida field representative for the RJC. As part of the RJC team, he assisted in delivering the RJC message to the Florida Jewish community and was instrumental in making the RJC's Florida outreach a huge success.


"The RJC is excited and fortunate to have Matthew Bogdanoff as our new Florida regional director," said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. "As a native Floridian, Matt understand the community and the state and we look forward to working with him to expand the RJC's outreach efforts in this critical part of the country."

Ring's plan to consolidate data and create technology agency clears Senate

Sen. Jeremy Ring won a long-sought goal on Wednesday with the passage of SB 1762 which creates the Department of State Technology.

Ring, a former executive with Yahoo.com, does not have kind things to say about the state’s of Florida’s haphazard and disjointed management of its technology resources and systems.

The newly-created agency would be a department under the governor and replaces the now-defunct Agency for Enterprise Information Technology. It will have a budget of $4.9 million under the bill, 24 positions with a salary rate of $2 million. Mich of the money will come from the technology and telecommunications functions of the Department of Management Services which will be transferred to the new agency.

The agency will then coordinate a comprehensive data-sharing consolidation throughout many – but not all agencies. The plan phases in a series of requirements over three years. Exempt from the data consolidation are law enforcement, lottery, legal affairs, financial services and housing finance agencies and departments. 

Negron drone bill passes Senate without opposition

Well, that was easy.

The Senate unanimously approved SB 92 by a 39-0 vote on Thursday.

Sponsored by the chamber's appropriations chair, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the bill pleased both sides of the aisle in limiting how local law enforcement's use of drones.

"I believe it achieves a delicate balance between security and freedom," Negron said before his bill passed the Senate floor. A companion bill in the House awaits a vote on the floor.

The bill bans local law enforcement officials from using drones without a warrant or threat of a terrorist attack and prohibit information collected by drones to be used as evidence in courts.

Many of the bill's restrictions are already prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration or the policies of the two Florida law enforcement agencies who are actually cleared to use them. So while it might feel good to pass, the bill may not have an obvious impact on how drones are regulated.


Villages retirement community asks Legislature to bypass nursing home rules

The Villages, a sprawling retirement community in Central Florida, is asking legislators to bypass state rules and a moratorium on new nursing homes so it can construct one in the sprawling retirement community. HB 1159 would carve out an exception that would allow nursing homes to be built in communities with large elderly populations and relatively low numbers of nursing home beds.

According to state analysts, that description fits only one place: the Villages.

The community says it needs nursing homes to start addressing the long-term care of its aging residents. Rep. Marlene O'Toole, whose district includes the Villages, sponsored HB 1159. Sen. Alan Hays, whose district also includes the Villages, sponsors the Senate version, SB 1482.

The town says it will need nearly 800 nursing home beds to ensure a 16-to-1 ratio for its current population, O'Toole said Tuesday. "We think the need is now," she said.

The request underscores the power and influence of Villages developer and mega-GOP donor Gary Morse. And it has Democrats and even some Republicans in the Legislature uneasy about playing favorites.

Read more here.

Shhh... Soaring insurance rates the unspoken theme in fast-moving Senate bill

Rate increases have been the unspoken undercurrent of a property insurance bill cruising through the Florida Senate.

As lawmakers have cast their votes on the quickly-moving and complex bill, few have discussed exactly how much rates would increase under the proposal. With little discussion of the bill’s rate impact, it has sailed through committee and could be debated on the floor on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Citizens President Barry Gilway gave the first glimpse of the actual rate impact and pointed out that it could be substantial. 

“There are 11 territories that would see a rate increase of over 60 percent,” he said

Here are some of the rate increases that will hit new Citizens customers next year if the bill passes in its current form. 

Part of Volusia County: 86.8 percent
Part of Lee County: 62 percent
Part of Broward County: 65.6 percent
Part of Hernando County: 73.3 percent
Part of Monroe County: 137.8 percent
Part of Palm Beach County: 60.1 percent

Other territories in Miami-Dade County and parts of Tampa Bay could also see annual insurance premiums increase by thousands of dollars. Sinkhole rates in places like Hernando County could nearly triple. 

Those numbers have been non-existent in the debate over SB 1770, which is reaching a floor vote after bipartisan support in three Senate committees. Some of the lawmakers voting for the bill represent districts where rate increases would hit hardest. Rates would go up mostly for new customers, but that includes people who get dropped by their insurance companies and forced into Citizens, and people who get dropped by Citizens and need to rejoin.

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Senate Medicaid plan would cut funding for Jackson

Miami’s Jackson Health System could see its crucial Medicaid funding cut by $46 million, or about 13 percent of what it was expecting, under a bill that is scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate by the end of the week.

Jackson isn’t the only South Florida hospital that would take a hit, according to a preliminary analysis by the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida. Miami Children’s Hospital would face a $15 million cut to its anticipated Medicaid funding, the report concluded. And Memorial Healthcare System and Broward Health would each shoulder about $3 million in reductions.

All told, the state’s safety-net hospitals would lose out on an estimated $104 million, according to the analysis. For-profit hospitals, meanwhile, would benefit to the tune of about $81 million.

“This would put a tremendous roadblock in front of us,” said Carlos Migoya, CEO of Jackson Health, which would still receive about $315 million in Medicaid money.

Migoya and other safety-net hospital CEOs are running out of time to make their case. The proposal will be read on the Senate floor on Wednesday, and will likely receive a vote on Thursday.

Read more here.

Five Things To Know for Wednesday's Legislative Session

All eyes will be on the Senate on Wednesday as it takes up the budget for 2013-2014, discussing top issues like teacher pay raises, business tax breaks and member projects.

 Here are some other things going on Wednesday:

 The House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee will hear Scott’s manufacturing tax break (HB 391). Six weeks into session, Scott’s top legislative priority for this year gets its first hearing in the House.

 The Senate is scheduled for an all-day floor session, with lawmakers taking up a number of issues in addition to the budget. They include: Massive property insurance reform (SB 1770), restrictions on local police drones (SB 92) and more oversight for economic development deals (SB 406).

 The Florida Realtors will hold a “Rally for Homeownership” on Wednesday, as part of the Great American Realtors Days.

 The League of Women Voters of Florida host its annual Old Capitol Gala on Wednesday. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is keynoting and freshman legislators will be honored.

 Campaign finance reports for the first quarter are due on Wednesday, providing a peek into the early fundraising efforts of those eyeing election in 2014 and beyond.

- Toluse Olorunnipa, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Democratic women tell legislators: "We're watching"

Some of the young women carrying signs scrawled with slogans like "Time to ratify the ERA" weren't even born when the proposal was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972. But they, along with a couple women legislators, leaders and other Democratic women from around the state, came to the Capitol Monday to show they haven't given up on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. They also want legislators to know they're "watching" them on numerous key issues like the Parent Trigger bill, election reform, Medicaid expansion and women's healthcare.

"Despite the good things that have happened, we continue to be under assault here in this state," said Rep. Lori Berman, who with Rep. Janet Cruz has co-sponsored a bill (HB 8001) that would ratify the
ERA in Florida. The bill was workshopped Monday in the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee, its first of three stops, but the odds are against it passing with the clock ticking on this session.

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