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7 posts from September 19, 2013

September 19, 2013

Undaunted by odds, Scott to appeal drug testing ruling to SCOTUS

From AP:

Gov. Rick Scott intends to take his fight for random drug tests of tens of thousands of state employees all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a lawyer for the Republican governor told a federal judge Thursday.

But Charles Trippe, who was previously Scott's general counsel and is now in private practice, could not persuade U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro to delay further proceedings in the case while the state appeals. Ungaro said she did not want to become "a political tool" in the controversial issue — and she also said Scott has "probably about zero" chance of winning a Supreme Court case.

"I just don't think it has likelihood of success," said Ungaro, who previously declared Scott's January 2011 drug-testing executive order an unconstitutional violation of the workers' privacy rights.

The case affecting some 85,000 state employees as well as many job applicants is back before Ungaro because the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded her April 2012 ruling in was too broad. The appeals court said in May of this year that some workers can legitimately be tested — such as those in law enforcement and sensitive safety jobs — and Ungaro planned to appoint a special master to come up with a proposed list of those positions. More here. 

Jeb Bush, the politics of confronting "mediocrity," and saying what you mean


Back in the day, we had a Florida governor who, though he didn't much like the press, appreciated the role of reporters and the idea of advancing ideas – even if it meant soiling his hands with the ink-stained wretches.

Jeb Bush never seemed to shy away from speaking a mind full of facts and figures, sharpened by study and by challenging himself and others. His talking points were his own, not those cooked by others in some faraway political kitchen and then handed to him a la carte.

Press availabilities with Bush were always news events. And reporters who didn’t bring their A game, who didn’t study up, got dismissed, dissed, ripped up by Bush, whose disdain for the press was matched by his interest in debating it, like a cat toying with rats.

A stark reminder of all this is below in a video clip of a press conference with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal where Bush lets loose with his defense of Common Core education standards, which have become the new fluoride for some on the far right and the new Bush bugaboo for left-leaning union types who never much liked anything from the mind of Jeb (or “Jeb!” as his campaign signs read).

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Nan Rich's claim about ed funding gets a Half True from PolitiFact


As he faces re-election next year, Republican Gov. Rick Scott says he wants to put money back in taxpayers’ pockets. He touts aproperty tax cut he got in 2011 (in reality, a smidgen), a pay hike for teachers in 2013 and now his proposal to cut $500 million in taxes or fees.

Scott hasn’t released specifics on his next tax cuts, but his overall message is clear: He wants voters to see him as the guy in their corner saving them money.

Former Democratic state Sen. Nan Rich who is running against Scott, calls his idea a re-election gimmick in light of Florida’s pressing needs -- including education.

"We need to be taking a long hard look at funding the critical needs of the state," she said Sept. 11. "We’re 48th in K-12 funding and 50th in higher education." Rich said more funding for education would be a better way to help the middle class.

Florida has often gotten a bad rap for education spending -- but just how bottom of the barrel are we?

PolitiFact Florida examined the state’s K-12 education funding ranking in 2010, but we wanted to see if the numbers had changed and if Rich had done her homework. Read more from PolitiFact.

Hillary Clinton's image control: Security swipes man's phone, erases pic of her at speech


Hillary Clinton quietly slipped into Miami on Thursday to address a travel agents convention in a speech where the former secretary of state said little about troubles abroad or the future ambitions of the likely presidential-race frontrunner.

Clinton slipped a question about what it would take for the United States to elect its first female leader, Clinton was quick with a joke.

“Well, it’ll take a crazy person,” she said, drawing laughs from the crowd at the American Society of Travel Agents’ global convention

Though ostensibly not political, Clinton’s address had the makings of an introductory campaign speech. Campaigns are often highly controlled events, but the ASTA conference at Hyatt Regency Miami kicked it up a notch.

At one point, a member of the audience, Andrew Rothberg, had his Galaxy Note II smartphone taken from him by security, which removed his picture of Clinton onstage and then gave his device back in front of a Miami Herald reporter in the auditorium stands.

“It’s crazy,” Rothberg said.

“That’s American politics,” said a docent, one of a handful of hotel security and volunteers who roamed the aisles looking for people taking pictures or making recordings. None was allowed.

“I wanted to take pictures for my girls; I have four girls,” Rothberg, who was writing a piece about the conference for Boca Raton-based Grey Matters Magazine, told the Miami Herald. “I think Hillary Clinton who is probably running for president in 2016 would want all the publicity she could get and I think it’s kind of ironic they would take the camera away.”

Rothberg said he was more puzzled than upset. He said he guessed at one point that Clinton’s handlers might have wanted to control the event to keep activists from infiltrating the event and raising awareness about issues like the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. But he wasn’t sure.

Clinton’s speech came a day after congressional Republicans led another hearing into the attacks and faulted her and the administrations preparations am response to the Sept. 11 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, security officers and former Navy SEALs.

Clinton didn't address the topic.

Breaking news story on the address is here

Supreme Court weighs role of public advocate in rate cases

Florida's Supreme Court justices heard arguments Thursday in a case that could set the precedent for how much of a voice the office that represents customers in utility cases will have in influencing rate decisions before the state's utility board.

At issue is the $350 million rate increase approved in 2012 by the Public Service Commission for Florida Power & Light. The Public Service Commission circumvented a full rate hearing when it approved a settlement between FPL and the company's largest industrial users that allowed the company to charge customers higher rates in 2013 and automatically increase rates again in 2014 and 2016 when new power plants come online.

The agreement was approved by regulators despite the objections of the Office of Public Counsel, the legislatively appointed lawyer whose office represents customers in rate cases. Public Counsel J.R. Kelly had opposed the rate increase, saying that FPL's financial projections indicate that rates should be reduced not increased. He also objected to the settlement because it allowed the company to receive an automatic boost in revenue in the future without having to justify its expenses now. 

It was the first time the PSC had approved a settlement without the public counsel's consent, so Kelly, and his office, filed suit. They are asking the court to invalidate the rate increases and require the PSC to start over.

They say that state law gives the public counsel the same veto authority over a settlement agreement that a utility has and the settlement set a bad precedent and hurt customers. They also claim that the due process rights of more than 99 percent of FPL's 4.6 million customers were violated when regulators gave the advantage to the company's commercial users, who comprise less than one percent of the customer base but use a proportionately higher amount of the electricity. 

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Scott considering executive action to address Common Core controversy


Florida Gov. Rick Scott is considering an executive order to address growing controversy over the Common Core State Standards.

Scott provided few details Wednesday, but hinted that the order would involve the new tests aligned to the education standards.

Florida was planning to use national exams created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. But Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have said Florida should develop its own plan for testing.

“PARCC is too expensive and it takes too long,” Scott said. “So I’m looking at a variety of things, whether it’s an executive order, some administrative and some legislative, to try to fix that.”

Scott also said he would try to address what he called “too much federal involvement” — an overture to tea party groups who consider the new benchmarks and tests an example of federal overreach.

Scott’s remarks came one day after state Board of Education members blasted him for failing to provide clear direction on the standards and exams, which will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

Read more here.

Sobel, Hudson talk up health care law in DC

From the News Service of Florida:

Two Florida lawmakers --- one who supports the 2010 federal health-care law and one who opposes it --- testified in a congressional hearing about problems that states are confronting as a Oct. 1 deadline approaches for implementing a key part of the law known as Obamacare.

State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and state Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, took very different approaches in their testimony before a joint meeting of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements and the U.S. House Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs.

The two Floridians joined five other witnesses from Kansas, Louisiana and South Carolina, who also represented opposing views.

Sobel, vice-chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, said 25.3 percent of Florida residents are uninsured --- the second-highest percentage of any state. Despite this, she said, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature blocked Medicaid expansion and passed a law removing the authority of the state insurance commissioner to approve rates for new health insurance plans for the next two years. 

She also noted that last week the Scott administration banned outreach counselors known as "navigators," who are supposed to help Floridians shop for coverage, from the grounds of county health departments. 

"This is a desperate attempt to prevent access for those who need health insurance the most," Sobel said.

Hudson, who is vice-chairman of the House Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, said the health-care law's Medicaid expansion would lead to poor care and cost overruns. He also said it would exacerbate Florida’s health-workforce shortages, noting that 13 percent of the state’s 44,804 active physicians plan to retire within the next five years, whereas Medicaid expansion would drive up the demand for doctors and nurses. Hudson also said the state Office of Insurance Regulation projects that Obamacare would drive premiums higher for small-group and individual policies by an average of between 5 and 40 percent.

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