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27 posts from May 3, 2013

May 03, 2013

Senate Democrats choose Arthenia Joyner as next leader

Senate Democrats elected Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, to be their 2014-16 leader on Friday, the Florida Democratic Party announced.

FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant called Joyner "a tireless advocate for Democratic values and ally to Florida's middle class families."

Joyner, elected to the House in 2000 and Senate in 2006, is the first black woman to serve as Senate Democratic leader, the party said.

The current leader of the caucus is Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Marco Rubio gets Florida Legislature to eliminate early primary in 2016

@MarcACaputo and @MikeVanSickler

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio persuaded state lawmakers to make a last-minute change eliminating Florida’s early presidential primary – a race in which the Republican could be on the ballot.

Rubio’s main concern was shared by lawmakers and operatives from both parties: Ensuring that Florida’s 2016 primary vote counts. The measure, barely discussed, was tucked in an election-reform bill that passed the Legislature by wide margins Friday.

Right now, the Sunshine State’s early primary violates Democratic and Republican national party rules, which penalizes the state by severely devaluing the vote of its delegation to nominate each party’s presidential candidate.

Florida Republicans, for instance, would only have 12 delegates instead of 99 if the state kept its early primary in January or early February.

“We would go from being the third-largest delegation to being the smallest,” said Todd Reid, state director for Rubio.

Asked about Rubio’s potential bid for president in 2016, Reid said the changes had nothing to do with the senator’s political future and noted that Democrats support the changes as much, if not more, than Republicans.

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Cancer treatment legislation latest example of House/Senate divide

So many senators and representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act that even without another vote, the bill could pass each chamber. That is what the House and Senate have done, but in very different ways that threaten to make HB 422 one of the casualties of session.

This bill is a big deal for Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, whose mother died of lung cancer. She fought back tears last month as she explained the bill to her colleagues. It is intended to require insurance companies to provide the same coverage for orally administered cancer medications, mainly pills, as they would for those received intravenously.

On Thursday, the Senate refused to accept changes the House made to the bill earlier in the week. Instead, the Senate asked the House to confer with the laguage they originally sent over. 

But nothing has happened.

The House version grandfathers in existing insurance policies under the current rules, where oral cancer drugs can cost many times more than their intravenous counterparts. It also exempts some small group and out-of-state policies, caps co-payments for oral cancer drugs prescribed to state employees and delays implementation of the new law until January 2015.

The Senate disagrees with all of that. It's version makes the law effective July 1 and requires insurers to implement it by January.

The Senate is waiting to hear back from the House on whether it will agree to roll back some of the changes tacked onto the bill. Meanwhile, the House is waiting to receive the budget from the Senate.

Last-minute scrambles for the Dolphins as clock winds down without Tallahassee stadium deal

The Miami Dolphins’ proposal for a taxpayer-supported stadium upgrade was being ensnared in the last-minute legislative chaos on the final day of the session in Tallahassee. 

With two separate versions of the team’s proposal passed by the Senate and stalled in the House, Senators were preparing to attach stadium tax language to a massive transportation bill Friday.

The most recent stadium amendment, as of now, does not include language about the Dolphins’ hotel tax proposal, which could bring in up to $289 million for the renovation.

If the Dolphins’ original proposal manages to pass the Legislature at the last minute—and a referendum vote is approved—the tax money would come from an increase in the Miami-Dade hotel tax, from 6 to 7 percent. The proposal also offers the team up to $90 million in state sales tax rebates. The bill allowed other sports organizations to compete for state tax dollars as well.

If the hotel tax language is not included in the proposal and the bill passes, a referendum vote scheduled for May 14 would be called off. The Dolphins might be able to compete next year for up to $90 million in state sales taxes over 30 years. The team is looking to spend more than $350 million for a stadium upgrade. 

Continue reading "Last-minute scrambles for the Dolphins as clock winds down without Tallahassee stadium deal" »

Session end includes last-minute hopes, and many wishes

Florida legislators are in recess as they await a final vote on the budget but still unfinished are dozens of bills that had been expected to get a final vote today. Among them: A long list of Gov. Rick Scott's appointments, including Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar, and Department of Health Secretary John Armstrong, Veterans Affairs Secretary Mike Prendergast, Elder Affairs Secretary Charles Corley and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Also awaiting attention is HB 999, a bill relating to environmental permitting that includes putting into law a provision that allows the sugar industry to lease Everglades land for the next 20 years without any additional pollution clean-up criteria. 

Senate President Don Gaetz brought the chamber back into session briefly to handle two bills. He noted, as he attempted bring the session in for a landing: "Now I understand why pilots have to have so much training." 

Then, he brought up Sen. Arthenia Joyner's bill, SB 1682, that includes a primary care residence at Sacred Heart Hospital, a project sought by Sen. Joe Negron, as the bill became a train.

Sen. Rene Garcia included a provision to benefit Jackson Memorial Hospital to be exempt from having to enter into competitive bids when leasing office space to the Public Health Trust. "It's a very innocuous amendment,'' he said. Joyner said she didn't like it and it was defeated.

Following this, the Senate added an amendment to use a massive Department of Transportation bill, HB 7127, to attach the Senate's version of the stadium bill that includes the language not favored by the Dolphins. It passed and sent it to the House. The Senate recessed again. 

Senate won't confirm some Rick Scott appointees

Senators approved a slew of Gov. Rick Scott appointees on Thursday and are slated to do more today. However, a few notable names will not make the cut.

Unconfirmed appointments include state Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong, Florida A&M trustee (and former Pinellas County school board member) Glenton Gilzean, and the entire Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees.

The senator in charge of appointments, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said they will have to wait until next year. Armstrong fell out of favor with senators when he failed to show up for a conformation hearing, Latvala said.

"There were some issues with some members of the Legislature and the way he interacted with them. It's a little behavior management," he said. The unconfirmed university trustees can continue serving an additional year, as long as Scott reappoints them.

Latvala said Gilzean was not confirmed because his March 14 appointment came as session was already under way.

"The Poly appointments...we just paused on those," he said.

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Sine Die sausage making, Black-eyed peas, Ken Plante and harmony

Sine Die SausageThe Florida Legislature's turbulent week is on its way to a harmonious close as lawmakers put the final touches on the state's $74.5 billion budget and, in slow-moving fashion, finished up a handful of bills as lobbyists served up real sausage.

Lobbyist Wayne Bertsch brought in trays of sausage to the Fourth Floor rotunda and offered them up to hungry visitors. The sign, complete with a new Twitter handle, read: You've helped make sausage now have some @SineDieSausage. 

In the lobby, former Secretary of State Sandra Mortham was standing near a giant poster for long-time lobbyist and former senator, Ken Plante, who is hospitalized. Lobbyist and lawmakers signed the poster and stood next to the sign as Mortham snapped photos on her I-phone, whisking them off to Plante who responded back with a photo and thank-you sign of his own. 

Continue reading "Sine Die sausage making, Black-eyed peas, Ken Plante and harmony" »

House to spare Miami-Dade election chief. Will Senate agree?


Update: The House voted 115-1 to approve the measure, with Melbourne Republican Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne, dissenting in a failing effort to maintain Florida elections as joke.

The Florida House is about to take up the elections overhaul bill fixing early and absentee-ballot voting. And it looks as if the chamber decided to avoid a Senate plan that would give the state greater power to sanction and even remove "noncompliant" election supervisors.

Yesterday, it looked as if the House was shopping a compromise that would target only non-elected election supervisors. That is, a measure targeting only one county: Miami-Dade. Background is here.

But now all that language has been removed in an amendment (Download HB7013a)to be voted on today.

If adopted, the amended bill heads back to the Senate, where Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla wants the language. He notes that election supervisors in five counties, including Miami-Dade, had troubles in the last election. And they should be put on the spot for that.

Another issue: The House watered down a part of the law that would slap people with a felony for possessing more than two absentee ballots of others. The House bill downgraded that crime to a misdemeanor.

Chances are, the Senate will agree with the House bill and it'll pass.

Bill to ban 'unconstitutional' foreign law dies on last day

A controversial bill that critics say is rooted in anti-Sharia legislation and proponents say merely ensures U.S. and Florida rights are guaranteed in court is dead this session. It's the third year the bill, which called for American law to trump foreign law that isn't constitutional in family courts in Florida, has failed.

The bill was scheduled for a third reading Friday, but it would have taken a unanimous vote to advance the bill in the Senate. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, decided not to try for a unanimous vote because on Thursday, the bill (SB 58) failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to bring it to the Senate floor and the vote was 25-14, one vote short.

While its sponsors and supporters, including the Christian Family Coalition, say the bill isn't targeting religious groups or any particular country and was protecting rights of women, the bill was protested during the year by some Islamic and Jewish organizations as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and Family Law section of the Florida Bar. 

The bill passed the House April 18th by a vote of 79-39. 

Faster foreclosures bill speeds to Gov. Rick Scott's desk

A proposal to speed up foreclosures in Florida passed the Senate on a 26-13 vote and will soon head to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The third attempt at foreclosure reform in three years, HB 87 creates new options for expedited foreclosures and tightens up filing standards for banks.

Opponents claimed it would harm homeowners and favor banks, who have been accused of engaging in questionable foreclosure practices.

But proponents hailed it as a way to fix Florida’s nation-leading foreclosure problem, and return the state’s housing market back to normal.

Continue reading "Faster foreclosures bill speeds to Gov. Rick Scott's desk" »