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14 posts from April 12, 2013

April 12, 2013

State report says Medicaid expansion would save $430M in Medically Needy

State estimators say that expanding Medicaid, or creating a new insurance program that covers the same number of people, could save the state $430 million in general revenue funds. That is because more people would be insured and would not have to rely on Medicaid's Medically Needy program to cover emergency health care costs.

Other alternatives that cover fewer people would therefore save the state less money. Although the report didn't specifically reference House Republican's proposed alternative, it notes that a similar scenario would only reduce Medically Needy costs by $130 million.

That $300 million difference makes this analysis, first reported by Health News Florida, the latest ammunition for those who believe the state should expand Medicaid or implement Sen. Joe Negron's proposed alternative.

Read more here.

Jack Nicklaus drops in on Florida House

Jack nicklausThe "Golden Bear" made an appearance at the Florida House today. He spoke about raising his family and operating successful businesses in Florida and never having a green jacket of his own despite winning the Masters Tournament six times.

Jack Nicklaus, who lives in North Palm Beach, gave a short speech to the House where he praised Florida's friendly business climate and pointed out that most of his grandchildren live in Florida and attend local schools. The House gave him a standing ovation after presenting him with a resolution.

Speaker Will Weatherford then asked Nicklaus how it felt to win the Masters a record number of times, noting that the prestigious competition is currently underway in Augusta, Ga. Nicklaus responded by telling a funny story about how the jacket didn't fit him the first time he won in 1963 and that it took him 25 years to receive one that did.

Dolphins give Miami-Dade $4,784,337 check to pay for stadium referendum

Dolphins Check@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Dolphins CEO Mike Dee hand-delivered a check Friday to Miami-Dade County to cover the costs of holding a special May 14 election to ask voters to subsidize part of a $350 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium.

Total: $4,784,337. (It's the single largest check the Dolphins or the stadium has ever written, according to a team spokesman.)

The money is non-refundable -- even if Florida lawmakers fail to approve Dolphins-backed legislation by the end of the annual session on May 3, forcing the referendum to be canceled.

Miami-Dade needs prior state approval to raise the hotel-tax rate to 7 percent from 6 percent to help fund the renovation. The Dolphins, who officially launched their political campaign Thursday, have also asked for an additional $3 million state sales-tax subsidy.

Hand-written on the check's memo field is "TO KEEP MIAMI FIRST" -- the Dolphins' campaign slogan. 

Photo courtesy of Miami-Dade County

Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart to talk immigration with Univision's Jorge Ramos

Florida lawmakers – Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart – are key players in the debate in Congress over the contentious immigration issue.
This weekend, both men  will make an appearance on Univision’s Al Punto with longtime Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. The show airs Sundays at 10 a.m. on Univision (Channel 23).

Read more about Sunday's show ... 

Continue reading "Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart to talk immigration with Univision's Jorge Ramos" »

Tea party leader wants RPOF to 'step back' from Gov. Scott

The Republican Party of Florida's quarterly meeting takes place this weekend at the Disney Dolphin resort near Orlando, and Saturday's executive board meeting promises to be a lot livelier than usual.

Lake County Republican State Committeewoman Patricia Sullivan, who's also a leader of the local tea party movement, said she will ask RPOF chairman Lenny Curry and other party leaders to "step back" from Gov. Rick Scott and not provide financial, verbal or other support for him until after the 2014 party primary. Scott at the moment has no serious opposition for the GOP nomination.

Sullivan was an early and avid supporter of Scott, but she abandoned all support for the governor after he publicly endorsed an expansion of the Medicaid program last month. In an interview Friday, Sullivan added to her list of Scott grievances the fact that he supports the Common Core education standards, which the Republican National Committee is also considering opposing as a "one-size-fits-all" approach to classroom achievement.

"That is in complete opposition to what Rick Scott is doing," Sullivan said.

Scott has noted that 46 states have adopted the Common Core standards, which his website says were developed with input from teachers "that emphasizes analytical problem solving over memorization and simple recitation of facts."

Sullivan said she realizes it's an uphill fight to challenge the party establishment over a sitting governor's record, but added: "We have a new group who are not yes-men and yes-women. We'll have a little bit of a fight on our hands, but that's our job as men and women."

-- Steve Bousquet

Sweeping education bill heads to Gov. Rick Scott's desk

A bill that would revamp the requirements for high-school graduation and make dramatic changes to the state university system is headed to Gov. Rick Scott's desk.

On Friday, the House voted unanimously to support a Senate bill that would create different designations for high school diplomas: one for advanced students and one for students headed directly into the workforce.

The sweeping education bill would also designate a "preeminent university" based on student performance, retention rates, research spending, national rankings and endowment size, among other factors. That university would be required to create a fully online arm.

"This is a transformational bill," House Speaker Will Weatherford said after the vote. “It’s one that will change the trajectory of the education system… To be standing here on week six and sending this bill to the governor’s desk is a big deal.”

On the K-12 side, students would no longer need to pass the algebra II end-of-course exam to graduate from high school. A passing score would only be necessary for students wishing to have a "scholar" designation added to their diploma. Those students would also have to earn two credits in a foreign language, and pass at least one college-level class.

Students could also earn a "merit" designation by earning industry certification in one or more fields. 

Rep. Janet Adkins, who chairs the House K-12 education subcommittee, said the measure would help keep high-school students engaged in their studies by recognizing their diverse interests and needs.

"The whole purpose of this bill is to connect the skills of our students with the needs of our employers, and to recognize that not every student in the state of Florida is going to go to college," said Adkins, a Fernandina Beach Republican.

Adkins rejected concerns that the measure would create a "sub-class" of diplomas. 

"It’s the same standard high school diploma for both of these designations," she said. "Regardless of which designation is on their diploma, [students] are going to be college ready."

Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, the Miami Republican who chairs the House higher education committee, called the university preeminence provision "a catalyst for innovation."

The preeminent university would receive funding to create an online learning institute, expand its entrepreneurs-in-residence program, and institute a master's degree in cloud computing.

"We’re going to have highly recognized preeminent universities and we are going to have a high recognized online university," said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.

Last year, Scott vetoed legislation that would have allowed "preeminent" state research universities to raise tuition and fees at differentiated rates each academic year. Nuñez has said she expects this year's version to become law because it doesn't have that provision. 


Gov. Rick Scott honors Tim Tebow as a 'Great Floridian'

He may be just a benchwarmer on the mediocre New York Jets, and Monday-morning quarterbacks endlessly criticize his throwing mechanics. But to Gov. Rick Scott, football star Tim Tebow is "an inspiration" who's fully deserving to be the 67th person ever bestowed with the high honor of a "Great Floridian."

The governor planned to present the award Friday afternoon to Tebow, a former Florida Gator star, in a ceremony at the Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, the city where Tebow's high school gridiron heroics made him a national sensation. (For this photo opportunity, one wonders, who's the greater beneficiary, Tebow or the re-election minded governor?)

Speaking to reporters Friday in Broward, Scott explained why he nominated the 25-year-old Tebow for the award: "Tim Tebow is a great Floridian. If you look at what he's done, he's inspired young children to stay in school, to do well in school, to live a great life. He's an inspiration."

Great Floridians are chosen by the Secretary of State Ken Detzner from a nominating committee that also included Scott, three Cabinet members, the Senate president and House speaker.

Recent award winners have included retired FSU football coach Bobby Bowden, former Gov. Jeb Bush, inventor Thomas Edison (of Fort Myers), former Sen. Bob Graham and environmental leader Nathaniel Reed. To date, 66 people have been given the honor since the award was created in 1981.

-- Steve Bousquet

Explaining Florida's budget surplus

Florida lawmakers are doing something they haven't done in years: adding money to state programs.

The recession sent the state into multi-billion-dollar budget shortfalls that led to big cuts in education and state government payrolls.

But this year, lawmakers have money to play with. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a budget of more than $74 billion for the fiscal year that starts in July. That's about a $4-billion increase in spending over the current year.

So where did the extra money come from?

In his State of the State address last month, Scott credited two years of cutting taxes and red tape so businesses could grow.

“Because we made the hard choices over the last two years, we are able to make the smart choices now to keep our economy growing,” Scott said. “We have a projected budget surplus for the first time in six years.”

As the House budget chief, Lakeland Republican Rep. Seth McKeel will be a key player in crafting the state budget. He began his tenure as a lawmaker in 2006, as the economy was starting its descent.

“We have had to make unfortunate reductions over the last five years in important areas like transportation, education and public safety when we didn't have enough funds,” McKeel said. “We actually had some scenarios where we had to make up (for) budget deficits.”

Of course, the reasons for this turnaround in the state's finances vary depending on who you ask.

Continue reading "Explaining Florida's budget surplus"

FDLE goes on the offensive against Internet cafes

Internet cafe posterAlthough the ban on illegal gambling machines is expected to be enforced locally, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is taking the offensive distributing the following handout and poster to the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Association of Florida Police Attorneys and Florida State Attorney’s Offices. 

The posters warn that anyone who operates or visits Internet cafes and adult arcades will be subject to criminal prosecution.

FDLE asked law enforcement to distribute the documents to the Internet cafés and similar businesses to notify owners, operators, employees, and patrons that these activities are in violation of Florida law, and could result in prosecution.  Download Internet Cafe Handout  Download Internet Cafe Poster



In budget debate, House Democrats stand down

Despite promises of a showdown, there won’t be much debate Friday between Democrats and Republicans over the proposed $74.4 billion spending plan.

Democratic leaders met with Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford before Friday’s floor vote and told him that only Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, would debate the budget.

“That’s quite a departure,” said Weatherford, who has made including Democrats in the budgetary process one of his top priorities as Speaker. In recent years, Democrats would spend hours hashing out their differences before a vote, a contrast that Weatherford’s office wants to spotlight.

Friday’s limited debate didn’t mean Democrats necessarily will vote for the budget. But it does show how divided they are on how much the Affordable Care Act should influence their vote on the House’s budget.

Thurston said Democrats decided to limit debate to ensure that the party was delivering a unified message that opposed the budget.

“It’s the best way to talk about the budget,” he said. “We’re unified as a caucus and we’ll have one strong message going forward.”

During a Democratic caucus meeting Friday morning, Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach told party members that he personally was voting against it and they should do too, if they felt that way.

But after Republicans released a health care plan that would provide additional coverage for about 130,000 uninsured Floridians, House Democratic leaders lifted a plan to oppose the budget en masse as a 44-member bloc.

That allowed Democrats like Alan Williams of Tallahassee, who has been in close contact with Weatherford throughout session, to vote for the budget. There’s much in there for Democrats to like, such as $1 billion extra in education funding, $300 million restored to higher education, $1.2 billion more on transportation projects that will surely provide jobs in their districts.

Williams didn’t like a vote Thursday that reduced a planned raise for state employees from $1,400 across-the-board to $1,000, with a $400 bonus for merit. But he said by voting on the budget, it gave Democrats leverage on the budget for the remainder of session.

With Democrats pinning their hopes on the conferences between the House and Senate as smoothing over differences, there was just no good reason to make such a fuss Friday, said Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek.

“We looked at it and decided there is no reason to fawn all over the budget,” Waldman said Friday. “With the largest budget in the state of Florida, there’s a lot of good things here. We didn’t look at (the lack of debate) as an olive branch. We said, let’s move on and get to conference.”

-- Mary Ellen Klas contributed