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25 posts from May 1, 2013

May 01, 2013

House passes texting while driving bill, now headed to Senate

The House on Wednesday voted 110-6 to pass a bill to restrict texting while driving, but it still faces an uphill battle if it’s going to become law.

On Tuesday, the House approved an amendment sponsored by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, which would allow cell phone records to be used as evidence only in the "event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury."  

The question now is whether the Senate will approve the amended version. If the Senate rejects this amended version and makes changes, the bill (SB 52) would have to go back to the House to be approved and its chances of being heard again in the House and approved by the time session is over looks unlikely. Complicating the matter, the Democrats, angered over inaction on health insurance reform, have demanded that all bills be read in their entirety, which has slowed the process.

Continue reading "House passes texting while driving bill, now headed to Senate" »

After bashing "spoiled" House Speaker Weatherford, Wasserman Schultz blocked from saying hi in person


Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sharply criticized Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford on Wednesday in Tallahassee only to get blocked from saying hi to the Republican when he was presiding over his chamber a half hour later.

“That’s OK. I’m a big girl. I was pretty pointed in my remarks about him directly,” Wasserman Schultz said when asked about the snub.

“Spoiled little children,” she said, repeating a line from her press conference when she bashed Republicans for not expanding Medicaid.

Weatherford suggested that an aide’s blocking of Wasserman Schultz’ from ascending the speaker’s rostrum wasn’t personal.

“I was tied up at the time ;),” he wrote in a Twitter reply to the Tampa Bay Times’ Katie Sanders, when she noted that “Jeff Atwater gets to approach @willweatherford on the rostrum. @DWStweets, not so much.”

“Thanks for coming by to see us @DWStweets Always a pleasure to see you. Hope you didn't get bored by the reading of the bills,” Weatherford wrote later.

Wasserman Schultz stops by Tallahassee about once a year and was in town to raise money for her campaign and raise awareness about Weatherford's role in stopping the state from expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.

“In my experience, when we duke it out in the arena -- the arena of ideas when I was here– people were able to separate these things. Unfortunately, because we have extremists who have a stranglehold on the Republican Party, apparently that has changed quite a bit since I was last here,” she said.

“Will Weatherford should be ashamed of himself," she said. "This is a guy who, in his own family, needed the benefit of Medicaid when his brother was ill and now is denying a million Floridians the same opportunity.”

The back-and-forth between the two is probably political gold for Weatherford. He gets to tussle with Wasserman Schultz, one of the nation's most-recognizable Democrats, and that can only raise his profile.

Wasserman Schultz hits Scott, GOP 'extremism' on Medicaid

It wasn't the Tallahassee homecoming Debbie Wasserman Schultz had hoped for.

The Broward County congresswoman and Democratic national chairman, who spent 15 years in the state Legislature, stood with Senate Democrats Wednesday in criticizing the House Republican leadership for its opposition to Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Wasserman Schultz was particularly critical of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who publicly endorsed Medicaid expansion in February but has not been aggressively pushing House members to approve it. By coincidence, she said, she passed Scott in a Capitol hallway and said hello.

"Gov. Scott was elected to lead this state," Wasserman Schultz said. "If he has a particularly strongly held view -- and he says he supports the acceptance of federal dollars to cover a million Floridians -- it seems to me he's sitting on the sidelines trying to have his cake and eat it too. You can't have it both ways ... You don't get to take credit for something you didn't go down swinging on."

She said Republicans in the House are acting like "spoiled children" on Medicaid, and noted that the health care law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and its champion, President Barack Obama, won re-election. "Because they didn't get their way, they're not going to let anyone benefit from this outcome. It's irresponsible," she said. The long-time congresswoman also called out House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, whose family once relied on Medicaid for health care assistance.

"Will Weatherford should know better," she said.

-- Steve Bousquet

With no deal on healthcare, Democrats continue into Day 2 of stalling tactics

Democrats in the Florida House continued to use procedural tactics to slow down the legislative process Wednesday, part of a protest against the Legislature’s non-action on healthcare reform.

Forcing all bills to be read in their entirety and reading full passages from the state’s Constitution, the minority party held firm on its insistence that Florida act on healthcare reform this year. 

When they weren’t reading from the Constitution in debate, the Democrats turned to shifting debate on all bills back to the issue of healthcare reform.

“We have one of the most healthy pensions in the world, so I can’t see why we’re not (focusing on) more important issues,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) speaking about a pension reform bill. “Like healthcare.”

Bills about everything from cancer treatment to home health agencies were used by Democrats looking to revive the debate over expanding health insurance under federal healthcare reform.

House Republicans, who have decided to reject billions of healthcare dollars from the federal government, sought to keep the process moving by limiting debate on bills to three minutes. They also used a robotic auto-reader, named Mary, to speed-read through all the bills.

“Sometimes demanding even a right, or an entitlement under the rules… requires resistance,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “We’re trying to address an unhealthy psychology. And I hope that in some way human being will humble themselves, honor the process, respect that which the will of the people stated when they elected us, and find a way to paint ourselves out of the corner.”

The stalling tactics could threaten several pieces of legislation in the waning days of the 60-day legislative session, which ends Friday. Wednesday is a key day in the House, procedurally, because after “Day 58,” the chamber can only take up bills coming over from the Senate.

House Speaker Will Weatherford said he thought the tactics were "disappointing" and "unbecoming." He vowed to get through the entire agenda despite the slowed process.

In Tallahassee Wednesday, Democratic National Chairman and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, praised House Democrats.

"It's important and the right thing to do," she said. Democrats' delay tactics are preventing Republicans from "just ramming through what their tea party extremist agenda thinks is important."

Five Things To Know for Wednesday's Legislative Session

Gov. Rick Scott will make at least three important decisions Wednesday. Here are five things to watch in the state Capitol:
* Scott has until midnight to act on three bills the Legislature sent him a week ago dealing with alimony, ethics in government and campaign financing. He hasn't tipped his hand on what he'll do, but he is firmly on record as pposed to raising maximum campaign contributions in campaigns, which the campaign finance bill (HB 569) does.
* If Scott vetoes any of the three bills, it is certain to strain his relationship with legislative leaders, and the question will be whether they will try to muster enough votes to override his veto.
* Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a member of Congress from Broward County and a former legislator, will return to the Capitol to join her fellow Democrats in criticizing the House Republican leadership for refusing to consider accepting billions of federal dollars to expand the Medicaid program.
* It could be a long day in the House, where for the second straight day Democrats -- frustrated by the GOP's refusal to take up the Senate's Medicaid expansion bill -- may insist that Republicans read bills word-for-word.
* The Senate is scheduled to take up a bill making an assortment of changes in highway safety laws, including the possible creation of new Democratic and Republican specialty license tags. "I love specialty tags," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sponsor of the bill. "I think they're great. It's a great way to make a statement."
- STEVE BOUSQUET (Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau)