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20 posts from April 16, 2013

April 16, 2013

Some tea partiers aren't buying Marco Rubio's explanations about immigration


After a brief lull, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is again hitting the right-wing media circuit to sell the so-called Gang of Eight's immigration-reform plan, which has all but been released. His office this afternoon sent out a transcript of an interview with Michael Medved.

But Rubio's office didn't send out a copy of a letter that, according to the conservative Breitbart website, Rubio issued to the Tea Party Patriots who protested at a Florida office and accused him of supporting a bill that's going to be rammed through Congress.

The Martin County 9/12 Tea Party Committee also protested. And not all tea partiers are upset, as Rubio's office points out. Indeed, there's a faction of the extreme right (as with the left, but not to as great a degree, it seems) that's never satisfied.

From Breitbart:

“First, there is absolutely no truth to the idea that I will support any immigration legislation that is rushed through Congress in typical Washington fashion,” Rubio wrote. “Already, I have fought and continue to fight to secure commitments for greater transparency through committee hearings and mark-up sessions that will allow senators on the Judiciary Committee ample opportunities to review and amend any immigration legislation before it is considered by the full Senate for additional debate and scrutiny. As a result, not only has the Judiciary Committee agreed to delay its first hearing on this issue, it has agreed to add an additional one next week.”

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Counties wary of proposed Medicaid billing system

Now that Florida is implementing a new system for billing hospitals for Medicaid, the state must also change the way it bills counties for their share of the costs. It's up to the Legislature to come up with that formula just one year after a massive Medicaid billing fight with counties that took months to resolve.

So far, only the Senate has released a plan, which was approved by the Health Policy Committee Tuesday. That proposal, currently known as SB 7156, would require counties to pay a share of the Medicaid costs proportionate to the percentage of Medicaid enrollees that reside there.

The Florida Association of Counties has expressed concern about how the new billing system would impact some smaller counties and has asked the Senate to revise its estimates and put a cap on how much a counties' Medicaid costs can increase from year to year.

Here is more from the News Service of Florida:

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Fate of nuclear fee depends on whether House or Senate prevails

Florida legislators continued to fast-track two proposals to rework the unpopular nuclear fee on customer utility bills Tuesday but activists warned that the two plans could have drastically different impacts on customers.

The House bill (PCB 13-01) will allow Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy to continue collecting the controversial nuclear fee to pay for the development of power plants, even if the plants never get constructed. The Senate plan, SB 1472, could end the fee if the utilities fail to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- a process that the federal government has currently put on hold.

Since 2006 when lawmakers passed the nuclear cost recovery statute to encourage development of nuclear power, Florida customers of Tampa-based Progress Energy and Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light have paid an estimated $1.5 billion in fees to pay for the development of future nuclear power plants.

Both the Senate and House bills could put an end to development of additional nuclear power plants outside of the existing proposals but each takes a different approach to the current projects.

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Miami-Dade reaches agreement with DOJ to improve jail conditions


Miami-Dade County has agreed to a long and expensive list of ways to improve how it treats its inmates — particularly those who are mentally ill or suicidal, bringing to an end an investigation the U.S. Department of Justice launched five years ago that found civil-rights violations at county jails.

As part of two agreements approved by county commissioners Tuesday, Miami-Dade must construct a mental-health treatment facility for inmates, which is estimated will cost between $12 million and $16 million to build and more than $29 million a year to operate.

The county must also install a $6 million electronic jail management system that will cost an additional $500,000 a year to maintain, install an additional $1.2 million in video monitoring equipment and spend $1.3 million more a year to train corrections employees.

“It’s time that we change the way we’ve been dealing with this problem,” said County Judge Steve Leifman, a longtime critic of the jail system and reformer who for years has pushed for the mental-health facility. “This is an excellent step in the right direction.”

The DOJ wrapped up its three-year review in 2011, concluding that Miami-Dade’s jail system — the eighth-largest in the nation — engaged in a “pattern and practice of constitutional violation” against inmates housed in deplorable living conditions under abusive, inadequate or limited care.

Since then, officials in the county’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and in the Jackson Health System, which provides medical care for inmates, have been negotiating with the feds, noting improvements they have already made and hashing out the final accords.

More here.

Florida Senate Republicans crack down on foreign-language interpreters for voting


Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old North Miami voter who became a symbol of Florida’s elections woes, could again find it tough to cast a ballot now that the Republican-controlled state Senate voted Tuesday to keep a crack down on foreign-language interpreters at the polls.

The Senate maintained the last-minute measure on what appeared to be a party-line voice vote while debating a bill designed to reverse the effects of an election law that helped create long lines and suppress the vote in 2012.

On Election Day at Victor’s polling station, there weren’t enough interpreters for the Creole-speaking native of Haiti and hundreds like her. Turnout was heavy. And lines lasted for hours — partly due to a slew of proposed state Constitutional amendments placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature.

“My mom is a victim of this problem, if they’re going to change something it should be to make voting easier. Just make it easy,” said Victor’s godson, Mathieu Pierre-Louis, whom she raised as her own child.

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Trauma center fight shifts to Legislature

In recent years, for-profit hospital company HCA has opened trauma centers statewide, including Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson and Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. But HCA's trauma push has been opposed by longstanding trauma hospitals who argued they would be hurt not only financially, but because fewer patients would mean trauma teams wouldn't have enough patients to keep their skills at their peak.

These hospitals — including Tampa General and Bayfront Medical Center — won at least a temporary victory late last year when Florida courts declared invalid a 20-year-old rule used to justify the new HCA programs. State health officials are now rewriting the trauma rules — efforts that could be undone by the Legislature through a series of last-minute bills.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved legislation Tuesday that was filed just hours before the vote and retooled on the fly with amendments scribbled by hand. A companion Senate bill that could see its first public airing on Thursday is also being rushed through in the waning days of the session.

"This is a contentious issue, but it shouldn't be," said House sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, acknowledging the legislation aims to create more lenient standards for approving new trauma centers. "We have this protectionist system that punishes people in the greatest need of acute medical care."

Read more here.

Legislature doesn't look far for gaming expert to do study

After a nationwide search, the Florida Legislature didn't end up far with its plan to hire a national gaming expert for $400,000 to write its report to lay the groundwork for expandingi gambling in Florida.

The House and Senate last week signed a contract with Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based company that sponsors the annual Florida Gaming Congress attended by Florida legislators and lobbyists. The company has repeatedly been tapped by the same companies that want to expand Florida's gambling options to present reports to lawmakers in the past.

The group will write two separate reports that study the economic, fiscal, and social impacts of expanding gambling in Florida, including the addition of destination resort casinos. It will also examine the impact of existing games, from state-sanctioned lottery and casinos run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida to the slots casinos run by the pari-mutuels. 

“Spectrum has extensive experience in providing independent studies of gaming in a variety of jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Ohio,” said Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, in a statement. “I look forward to reviewing their report as we take a holistic view of the role gaming plays in Florida's economy.”

Here's more from the Senate press release:

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Sen. Gaetz on Medicaid expansion compromise, the feds, and special session

Senate President Don Gaetz said Tuesday that as the House and Senate work to seek a middle ground on Medicaid expansion the final product that emerges may be a melding of the two extremes that puts Florida at odds with the federal government’s “all or nothing approach.”

“I’m not a lawyer, but our analysis is is that law is not an all or nothing law,’’ Gaetz told reporters Tuesday, after the Senate floor session. “We believe there is and there ought to be flexibility for states to design and implement plans that are not all or nothing.”

He noted that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in her letter to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services “took an all or nothing position” to state’s decision to provide health insurance to low-income Floridians to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. In other words, they must accept all federal funds, or reject them all, he said.

“Frankly, we believe there is more flexibility in the law that the secretary thinks there is,” he said. 

Does this mean the Republican-led Legislature is prepared to pass something that could result in a legal conflict with the feds?

The Senate is considering two widely different approaches, both of which will be heard on Wednesday in the Senate HHS Appropriations Subcommittee. One bill is by Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is known as the Healthy Florida program and would draw down $51 million in federal money over the next decade to help qualified low-income Floridians buy health insurance with subsidized “premium assistance.”

The other proposal, by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, rejects any federal money and would instead use state money to help people below 100 percent of the federal poverty level pay for health services. The plan is called the Health Choice Plus program and is similar to a House plan proposed by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, which also rejects federal funds.

Gaetz said Tuesday that while both proposals will get a full hearing in the Senate, “there may be permutations of those options.”

But, he noted, that may set up a conflict with the federal government.

Sebelius “speaks for the administration,’’ Gaetz said. “My guess is CMS works for her. They’re going to listen to them, not me, and I don’t think it should be all or nothing.”

Gaetz has said that he hopes to reach a middle ground that limits premium assistance to certain groups of people that are considered the most vulnerable.

“I think that probably the sweet spot is somewhere near premium assistance for certain groups of people that are the most vulnerable,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz said that he was confident the House and Senate would reach agreement before the end of session on May 3 and dismissed the prospect that they will need a special session to get the work done.

“No I don’t think there’s a strong chance of a special session unless the governor decides to call one,’’ he said. “I don’t think Speaker Weatherford and I believe that there would be any need for a special session. But I certainly hope that we could come to some conclusion on health care coverage issues before the end of the session. We have three ideas, three seriously developed concepts that have been moving through the process.”

Group warns that Senate bill could draw a voting rights act lawsuit

Gihan Perera, executive director of the Florida New Majority, warned that the Senate elections bill (SB 600) which now includes a provision that limits people assisting voters at the polls violates the provisions of the federal voting rights act and  is likely to draw a legal challenge. 

"Section II of the Voting Rights Act says any voter who can’t read or write has a choice of who gets to help them,'' Perera said. "This, we believe, clearly contradicts that section of the federal Voting Rights Act."

State law currently requires that anyone who assists a voting in the polling place sign an affidavit. Those protections shield voters from fraudsters, Perera said. "We are currently in compliance. This would put Florida out of compliance.''

He said the provision in the bill harm what was intended to be an improvement in Florida's botched elections system. "This is one of the worst thing for us when we're trying to go and heal the problems of the last election law. One of the few things that really worked well was to train people and to assist people in a very non-partisan and clean way."

Will Weatherford, Erik Fresen et al blasted over Medicaid in "Typical Tallahassee" ad campaign


House Speaker Will Weatherford and some of his fellow Republicans in the Florida House are being targeted in a cable ad campaign by SEIU over their refusal to accept federal Obamacare money to expand Medicaid (column about that here).

A sample of the ads is below (Erik Fresen, Manny Diaz is the first and Weatherford is the second). One quirk: Only Weatherford's ad accuses him of playing "Typical Politics" while the others say "Typical Tallahassee."

The press release:

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