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14 posts from April 15, 2013

April 15, 2013

Latvala uses confirmation hearing to go after Sachs' residency

State Sen. Maria Sachs, a Boca Raton Democrat, came under fire from the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee on Monday for her decision to rent a condominium from Judith Stern, a Broward political consultant, and her daughter, as her means of establishing residency in the county.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who backed Sachs’ rival in a bitter general election fight, accused Sachs of not living at the condo and, as a result, “violating the law.” He used the incident to lay the groundwork for rejecting the appointment of Stern’s daughter, Barbra Stern, to the Florida Elections Commission.

Said Latvala: “The issue here for me to determine today is: Is this Elections Commission participating in flouting the Constitution?’’

Sachs responded in a statement: “I have fully met the requirements of the law regarding legal residency in District 34.”

“Politics ended the day that session began,” she said, noting that she is focused on other issues.

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Senate committee grills, then approves, Edgar for third term on PSC

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee grilled Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar about the regulatory board's role in charging customers a nuclear cost fee Monday and then voted to unanimously to approve her for a third term.

Edgar, who is the commission’s longest-serving member, said she believes that consumers have been well served by the commission and the 2006 law that allows consumers to be charged a fee to pay for nuclear plant development in advance of the plants being built. 

“If those projects go online, then consumers here in Florida will have saved millions and millions, and maybe even billions, over the course of the project,’’ she said.

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Senate committee calls for a Baker Act study instead of expanding nurse practitioner role

The state's nurse practitioners were hopeful that a Senate vote on Monday would bring them one step closer to what they see as a crucial need in Florida's mental health care system: having the authority to initiate involuntary examinations under the Baker Act. Instead, what the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee passed was the formation of a "work group" to figure out how to improve the 41-year-old Florida Mental Health Act before giving other groups the ability to commit a patient who could hurt themselves or others.

The committee passed an amendment to Senate Bill 110 by 8-0, requiring that a group be established to determine the revisions necessary to improve the "efficiency and effeciveness" of the Baker Act and file a report by Jan. 1, 2014.

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Florida immigrant advocacy group join hundreds pressing Congress on immigration overhaul bill

The Senate immigration bill, which is expected to introduce as early as Tuesday, is drawing lots of attention.

Consider the Senate letter penned by 267 national, state and local religous, immigrant and labor organizations from 38 states, including Florida. They are pressing lawmakers to make sure that the "path to citizenship" undocumented immigrants must travel be "direct, inclusive and accessible."

Signers on the letter include Scott Reed, PICO National Network, Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change, Cristina Jimenez, United We Dream, Mary Kay Henry, SEIU, and Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO.

The Florida groups signing the letter are Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Miami); South Florida Jobs with Justice, Miami; PICO United Florida, Orlando, FL; FOCUS-PICO, Orlando, FL


Michelle Rhee pushes the parent trigger in Tallahassee

Rhee2Despite mounting criticism over a possible cheating scandal in Washington, D.C., education activist Michelle Rhee was in Tallahassee Monday to discuss a flurry of schools-related proposals in Florida.

"We're here to answer questions and lend our support in any way possible," Rhee said while waiting to meet with House Speaker Will Weatherford.

When asked which bills she was lobbying for, Rhee directed a reporter to the website for her education nonprofit, StudentsFirst. The organization lists performance pay for teachers, expanding school choice, and empowering parents as its top legislative priorities.

It's no secret that Rhee supports the Parent Empowerment Act, better known as the parent trigger. The proposal would let parents demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools, including having the school converted into a charter school. 

Teachers' unions, parent groups and school districts oppose the measure, and Democrats have voted against it at almost every stop. Still, the bill has already won the support of the House, and is awaiting a final committee hearing in the Senate.

In a brief interview Monday, Rhee said opposing the bill is "an unconscionable position to take."

"We talk to members [of StudentsFirst] everyday who are frustrated because their children are trapped in failing public schools..." she said. "In my mind, we have to empower our parents to be better advocates for our kids."

Rhee made the same argument to House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston and Democratic Leader pro tempore Mia Jones earlier in the day, Thurston said. 

"I told her our concerns," Thurston said. "We think there are already ways for parents to get involved, and we don't need our public schools being taken over by for-profit organizations."

Is Rhee's visit to the Capitol a sign that the trigger is in trouble? 

"I hope so," Thurston said, noting that the proposal could die for a second year in a row in the moderate Senate.

Rhee, who led the Washington D.C. school district from 2007 to 2010, has long been a lightning rod for controversy. She's back in the news this week, after a memo surfaced purporting to show evidence of cheating during her chancellorship. The Washington City Council will hold a hearing on the issue later this week.

Out-of-state group airs TV ads as the trauma battle moves to Tallahassee

 A dispute between Florida hospitals over who should treat the most critically injured patients has hit the  airwaves.
"Powerful special interests are keeping us from the emergency care we need, restricting access, risking lives," says an advertisement depicting a car crash that has begun airing in Tallahassee. Viewers are urged to call their legislators in support of "life-saving" trauma care.
The advertisement was paid for by the 60 Plus Association, a Virginia-based organization that bills itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP.
Trauma care has been the subject of legal wrangling ever since the state Department of Health allowed the HCA hospital chain to open new trauma programs around the state. This provoked a lawsuit from several existing trauma centers, mostly located in the Tampa Bay region.
Late last year, Florida's second-highest court declared invalid a 20-year-old rule used to justify new trauma programs, handing at least a temporary victory to established programs that argued they would be hurt by the loss of trauma patients. The department of health is now in the process of rewriting the rules by which trauma centers are approved.
-- Letitia Stein, Tampa Bay Times

Seniors, health groups fight The Villages nursing home bid

Florida's long-term care industry and the nation's leading voice for the elderly joined forces Monday to criticize pending legislation to allow a nursing home on the grounds of The Villages, the giant
retirement community in central Florida.

The Florida Health Care Association and AARP urged defeat of bills that would grant a single
exception to the state's process for evaluating the need for new nursing  home beds. The Villages is a mecca for Republican votes and is owned by  Gary Morse, a major Republican Party donor, so its agenda is never taken lightly in the state Capitol.

"We hope the Legislature recognizes the need for a more inclusive approach," said Deborah
Franklin of FHCA, "and not just the needs of private developers."

Jack McRay of the AARP said giving special treatment to a single developer is bad policy because it would drive up the costs of nursing home beds elsewhere and make home- and community-based services less attractive to consumers. "Let's not distort the long-term care market," McRay said.

Also  speaking out against the proposal was Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, who said: "We should protect all seniors, not just one community." Two weeks ago, the Senate leadership removed the Villages legislation from Garcia's health appropriations subcommittee where his opposition would
have been formidable.

Joining the opponents was Steve Bogomilsky, operator of a 120-bed skilled nursing care facility located right outside The Villages, one of two nearby homes that have opened in the past year. He said 20 percent of the existing beds within a five-mile radius of The Villages are empty.

The bills to grant The Villages a nursing home exemption have been filed by local lawmakers:
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake. Hays'  bill (SB 1482) passed on a 6-3 party-line vote Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee and O'Toole's bill (HB 1159) faces a hearing Tuesday in the House Health & Human Services Committee. 

-- Steve Bousquet

A primer on Miami Dolphins' stadium redo deal


Let’s face it: Very few voters who will cast ballots in the May 14 referendum asking the public to help subsidize a $350 million Sun Life Stadium renovation will have read the 80-plus-page accord between the Miami Dolphins and Miami-Dade County. And all its details hardly fit into a brief ballot question.

So we did the legwork, and broke down the elements of the deal into handy questions and answers to guide voters in what will be a sprint of a political campaign.

The countywide referendum is still iffy: It will be canceled if Florida lawmakers don’t approve Dolphins-backed legislation before the session ends May 3. But absentee voting begins April 23 and early voting later in the month, so it helps to start learning the numbers — and understanding the fine print — sooner rather than later.

Read the Q-and-A here.

Consumer groups slam Citizens Insurance bill as 'damaging' and 'devastating'

Pro-consumer groups and a Florida lawmaker protested a major insurance bill Monday, saying it would lead to major rate hikes and devastate the housing market.

“Unfortunately, we think the final product is very damaging and unnecessary,” said Jay Neal, president of Florida Association for Insurance Reform. 

Neal, along with Sean Shaw of Policyholders of Florida, Rep. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) and others, said SB 1770 had cruised through the legislative process without adequate scrutiny to its provisions. 

The 96-page bill includes many proposals, but its most controversial one would force Citizens Property Insurance to increase rates for all new policyholders to rates that are at least "actuarially sound." 

“In some areas, people buying a home now would have up to 90 percent higher property insurance rate than the person that’s in the house now,” said Neal, whose group represents a wide swath of stakeholders. “We know that that would be extremely devastating to the real estate markets." 

The supporters of the bill said it’s a way to bring fiscal “sanity,” to Florida’s state-run property insurance system, which relies on “assessments” on all consumers after a major hurricane. SB 1770 will be up for a vote on the Senate floor on Tuesday. A less ambitious House bill is also up for a committee vote this week.

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Poll: Majority of undocumented immigrants already have ties to U.S. citizen relatives

A new poll of undocumented immigrants released Monday morning by Latino Decisions reveals that a large majority have a relative - a spouse, a son or daughter or other relative - who is already a legal U.S. resident or U.S. citizen.

The "groundbreaking" poll was conducted for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO) and America's Voice Education Fund. It included interviews with more than 400 undocumented immigrants across the country. The interviews were done in English and Spanish from March 4-29.

The poll finds undocumented immigrants "have deep roots in America, with strong family and social connections to U.S. citizens, painting a portrait of a community that is very integrated into the American fabric, and hopeful of a chance to gain legal status and ultimately citizenship," said Matt Barretto and Gary Segura, the pollsters with Latino Decisions.

Latino Decisions, based in Seattle, Washington, is a national polling polling company specializing in research of Hispanic issues.

The poll was released a day before a group of eight senators, including Sen. Marco Rubio, are set to unveil a massive immigration bill - some suggest it could 1,500 pages - that would provide millions of undocumented immigrants a path, albeit lengthy, to citizenship, impose stricter border security measures and create a nationwide electronic system for employers to verify the legal status of all workers.

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