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207 posts from September 2013

September 27, 2013

Weatherford blasts Obamacare tax penalties on Fox News

Another day, another Florida lawmaker on Fox News attacking the Affordable Care Act. Last week, it was Attorney General Pam Bondi, who expressed concerns about enrollment advisors paid to help people find insurance. This morning, House Speaker Will Weatherford focused on the taxes and penalties associated with the health care law

"They said they weren’t going to raise taxes, but Obamacare is the largest tax increase on the American people and there are numerous taxes," the Wesley Chapel Republican said right out of the gate.

Politifact has rated similar statements before, each time ruling them false or even "pants on fire."

Weatherford elaborated later in the interview, looping in higher insurance premiums as he repeated his "biggest tax increase" claim. Later, his spokesman Ryan Duffy cited this piece by conservative columnist Merrill Matthews to back the speaker's claim up.

For the most of the three-minute interview, Weatherford talked to host Brian Kilmeade about several provisions intended to provide the federal government revenue to pay for new health care choices and benefits.

For example, he called the so-called "Cadillac" tax on high-cost employer health plans "ridiculous." The tax is intended to encourage employers to chose cheaper coverages and spend their savings to boost employer pay, meaning more income for the federal government. Some unions and other large employers say it's forcing them to chose less benefit-rich insurance plans to their workforce.

Weatherford also criticized the medical device tax, caps on flexible spending accounts and the law's tanning tax -- which resulted in a reference to MTV's now shuttered reality show "Jersey Shore."

Continue reading "Weatherford blasts Obamacare tax penalties on Fox News" »

September 26, 2013

A candid moment with Senate President Don Gaetz

Don gaetz new

I've been operating the Tampa Bay Times' Instagram account all week, posting anything I saw interesting as the Legislature returned to Tallahassee for the first committee meetings of the 2014 session. I realized Wednesday night I didn't have any pictures of Senate President Don Gaetz, so I arranged to pay him a visit.

As luck would have it, Gaetz wasn't doing anything "interesting" when I stopped in this afternoon. The office was quiet and he was simply sitting at his desk working on upcoming speeches. So I spent a few minutes talking to him and trying to decide what to shoot.

I noticed a large poster on the wall. A guy named S.J. "Jerry" Gaetz was running for lieutenant governor in North Dakota. The poster was positioned in a way that Jerry would always be watching over Don as he worked at his desk.

"Is that your father?" I asked. Yes, Gaetz replied. "Did he win the election?" No.

The story that unfolded from there was sad and touching. We wrote about it in this 2008 profile of Gaetz, but it's worth telling again.

Continue reading "A candid moment with Senate President Don Gaetz" »

FMA pushes back on federal judge's ruling on medmal, urges Bondi to appeal

The Florida Medical Association is urging Attorney General Pam Bondi to appeal the ruling Wednesday by Federal Court Judge Robert Hinkle that invalidated a part of the medical malpractice reform law passed by legislators last spring.

The provision related to "ex parte" communications and would have allowed the lawyers for a doctor who is being sued by a patient to talk to other doctors for the patient without the patient's consent. Hinkle ruled that the law violated the federal health care privacy protections. 

"The FMA is disappointed in the recent ruling by Judge Hinkle regarding the ex parte provision of the 2013 Florida Legislature's medical liability reform law,'' said Alan Harmon, M.D., president of the Florida Medical Association in a statement.

"The FMA reviewed the entire law and we still feel that the Florida Legislature took great pains to ensure that this legislation was fully compliant with federal law. The FMA disagrees with this ruling and stands ready to assist with an appeal.  We are confident that this law will be upheld upon appeal."

Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said they are reviewing the case. 

From the FMA news release:

Continue reading "FMA pushes back on federal judge's ruling on medmal, urges Bondi to appeal" »

Marco Rubio puts toe in water of flood-insurance morass, joining Nelson, Scott and Atwater


Flood-insurance rates are set to spike Oct. 1 and Florida politicians don’t really know what to do.

Ultimately, a potential solution – as well as some off the problem – resides in a gridlocked Congress, where a number of National Flood Insurance Program plans to avoid rate-shock are floating around without consensus.

In response to letters from Gov. Rick Scott and state CFO Jeff Atwater, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio pledged Thursday to help, but he stopped short of signing on to any specific solutions – including a call for rate-hike delays made by fellow Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and others.

“While we should pursue all options, I am concerned that some of these proposals do not offer long term solutions or, in the case of the House of Representatives’ language, only address rate changes relating to flood maps and not the imminent rate increases facing some policy holders in Florida,’ Rubio wrote.

Scott had urged the senators to back the House plan because it delays rate increases for a year.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio puts toe in water of flood-insurance morass, joining Nelson, Scott and Atwater" »

Rubio remains non-committal to flood insurance delay but wants 'a better way'

By Alex Leary

Sen. Marco Rubio says he doesn't want to see flood insurance rates go up on Floridians but he doesn't like the proposals kicking around Congress to prevent the spikes.

"While we should pursue all options, I am concerned that some of these proposals do not offer long term solutions, or in the case of the House of Representatives’ language, only address rate changes relating to flood maps and not the imminent rate increases facing some policy holders in Florida," Rubio wrote in a letter today to Gov. Rick Scott and Florida CFO Jeff Atwater. "That is why l will continue working with my colleagues on solutions that work for Florida families, ensure affordability, and preserve a path to solvency. We must find a better way, and I welcome your feedback and assistance in this effort.

Sen. Bill Nelson has legislation to prevent the offset the increases, which go into effect Oct. 1, but Rubio has not signed on. Nelson wrote his own letter this week to Scott and Atwater saying he needed their help getting Republican support (Rubio?).

Atwater today sent Nelson a letter accusing him of partisanship. "I am very concerned by your reference to the 'current state of gridlock in Congress caused by a small minority' that is preventing corrective legislation from  being passed and your indication that you need Governor Scott and I to convince Republicans to get this done," Atwater wrote.

"We are facing these rate hikes not because of a small minority that helped pass a bill. Rather, a large majority in Washington voted for the present legislation, doing so without warning their constituents of its consequences. In fact, not a single democrat in the House or Senate voted against the current policy that is the source of the rate hikes. The small minority when this policy passed were Republicans who voted against the bill.”

Below, Rubio's full letter. The limited government Republican may be in a bind on this one. While the flood hikes are unpopular in Florida, others say the practice of holding rates low, despite greater risk, is a costly government subsidy.

Dear Governor Scott and CFO Atwater, 

Thank you both for writing me and sharing your concerns about the National Flood Insurance Program and the rate increases that some Floridians are facing. Rest assured that l am committed to working with my colleagues to prevent the massive rate hikes and provide a long-term  

Over the last several weeks, l have heard legitimate concerns from thousands of Floridians and people who represent them, and l am increasingly concerned that the scheduled rate increases would have a devastating impact on Florida’s economy and housing market. I oppose these sharp rate increases because they will hurt working families by throwing another obstacle to economic 
prosperity and security in their way. 

There is no doubt that we should reform the NFIP and bring financial stability to the program, but there must be a more sensible way to do it. We must enact reforms that ensure manageable rate increases and give working families adequate time to plan for unavoidable rate increases, provide phased in rate increases to avoid devastating our real estate markets, and clarify 
the premium adjustments that Floridians could face. 

As you both reference, proposals have been put forward in Congress to delay rate increases. While we should pursue all options, I am concerned that some of these proposals do not offer long term solutions, or in the case ofthe House of Representatives’ language, only address rate changes relating to flood maps and not the imminent rate increases facing some policy holders in Florida. 
That is why l will continue working with my colleagues on solutions that work for Florida families, ensure affordability, and preserve a path to solvency. We must find a better way, and I welcome your feedback and assistance in this effort.

BuzzFeed: Allen West out at PJ Media amid "Jewish American princess" controversy

Former Broward U.S. Rep. Allen West, who lost last year's congressional race to Patrick Murphy in part due to his loose-cannon style, is leaving the conservative Pajamas Media site after allegedly calling a female staffer a “Jewish American princess,” BuzzFeed reported.

From BuzzFeed:

“In order to focus on political interests, Allen West will transition from his full-time role as director of programming for Next Generation.TV to a twice-a-month contributor of written commentary on PJMedia.com, effective October 1, 2013,” PJ Media financier Aubrey Chernick wrote to staff in an email from September 16. “I wanted our staff and consultants to have this information first. However, PJ Media is not announcing this publicly for several weeks, so please do not share this news with anyone outside of the company until you see our public announcement.”

In a message to staff, West wrote: “Shortly, I will be giving up my position as director of programming at Next Generation.TV to get back on the front lines to expand the message of constitutional conservatism across our country.”

Rep. Castor Dentel: Hit the pause button on testing

State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, a Maitland Democrat and veteran teacher, weighed in on the Common Core controversy Thursday, calling for Florida to hit the pause button on testing while transitioning to the new benchmarks.

"We don't have to test that year," Castor Dentel said. "We can pause."

State education officials must choose (or develop) new tests to accompany the new Common Core State Standards. Florida had planned to use exams being created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. But Gov. Rick Scott ordered the state to withdraw from the multi-state consortium, citing concerns about federal intrusion.

Castor Dentel said she welcomed Scott's decision because the PARCC tests would have required too many days of testing. But she questioned whether Florida could create new tests before the 2014-15 school year.

"I would be suspect of any test they tried to create to make that deadline," she said. 

The idea she pitched is similar to what's being done in California. State lawmakers recently voted to eliminate the old state assessments, even though the new Common Core tests aren't ready. That means California could go at least one year without testing data.

The federal government has threatened to withhold some funding if Gov. Jerry Brown approves the measure.

Florida education officials don't expect that to happen here.

State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has promised to have a plan for testing by March.

"We are on schedule to have an assessment for 2014-15," education department spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said Thursday. "No one has waivered from that."

Retiring Miami city attorney proposes to 10-year partner at City Hall


At her last commission meeting Thursday as Miami’s city attorney, Julie Bru carried the microphone to the front of the dais at City Hall, opened a small black case with a sparkling ring inside – and asked Miami Police Officer Suzy Izaguirre to marry her.

Izaguirre, tears streaking down her cheeks and caught by surprise, agreed to make the couple’s 10-year relationship legal as commissioners, legal staff, and audience members rained applause.

“Even though we can’t do it in the state of Florida, we’re going to move to New York to live together as wife and wife,” Bru said.

Izaguirre hugged Police Chief Manuel Orosa. Bru hugged everyone else.

It was a fitting end to Bru’s five years as city attorney, years filled with ups and downs and child-rearing and the loss of a son. Looking around the chamber, Bru said she wasn’t sure if she would have survived the city’s top legal post without the support of her Miami family. She began at the city attorney’s office in 1989.

With Bru’s retirement, Victoria Méndez will take over next week as the new city attorney.

Bru, barely keeping her composure, said Miami leaders “not only tolerated our alternative lifestyle, but accepted it.”

Just before the surprise announcement, Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff declared Thursday Julie O. Bru Day.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones told Bru she’s been an inspiration. Then the commissioner spoke directly to Méndez.

“You have some pretty tough pumps to fill,” she said.


September 25, 2013

Dems pick Pafford to lead Florida House caucus

After months of inner turmoil over who would lead them during the 2014 elections, Florida House Democrats on Wednesday chose Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach as their next minority leader.

By a 29-12 vote, with one person abstaining, Pafford, 47, beat Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee for a job that earlier in the week had belonged to Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg.

"The first thing is getting everybody comfortable, understanding that we've hit the reset button and we are one," Pafford said to reporters after the vote, acknowledging the disarray that awaits him. "I have some work to do immediately."

Pafford heads a 44-member House Democratic caucus heavily outnumbered by 75 Republicans. Along with the removal of Rouson by a 24-17 vote Monday night, the staff director overseeing fundraising for 2014 House races was fired earlier in the month, leaving oversight of a critical special election in a New Port Richey district in question.

Rouson lost the confidence of a majority of the caucus after he opened a campaign account that only he could control without informing party leaders.

Much of the frustration with Rouson spilled out into the open via emails from members leaked to reporters and during Monday's closed-door meeting during which he was removed.

While not a proven fundraiser like Williams, who has raised twice as much money since both joined the Legislature in 2008, and more to the left of most Democrats, Pafford was viewed as someone who could bring the caucus together.

"Mark Pafford is a unifier," said Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa. "He can make us the strong, dedicated Democrats that we are."

A graduate of Florida International University with a bachelor's degree in public administration, Pafford is a bit of a policy wonk.

But he's also steeped in party politics. He was Bill Nelson's driver during his campaign for governor in 1989, and in 1996 and 1997 served as the legislative aide for U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel when she served in the Florida House.

The media attention and ribbing from Republicans about their feuding left Democratic members eager to put on a happy face for the cameras during Wednesday's heavily scripted meeting.

Williams was the first to stand and applaud when the vote was announced, and the two men hugged each other. After thanking his wife and children, Pafford thanked Rouson, who nodded in support.

"We've had a rough week," said Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation, a Rouson supporter. "It's unfortunate that we had to be here. But like The Godfather says, whatever this war is, it ends now."



Florida says farewell to Frank Brogan

BroganfrankBefore university system Chancellor Frank Brogan steps down at the end of the month, elected officials and educators turned out tonight for a reception in his honor at Gov. Rick Scott's mansion. House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz, over a dozen lawmakers and a handful of university presidents were among the 200 guests who attended.

The speeches were mostly routine stuff. The top elected officials thanked Brogan for his decades-long career in public service. Brogan gave a humble speech about how much he'll miss the state and the people he will leave behind.

The funniest line of the night came from Scott in response to a comment by Gaetz about finally having a lieutenant governor back in the mansion.

"Is John Thrasher here?" Scott quipped, a nod to the rumors that Thrasher will serve as his re-election running mate.

Gaetz was making a joke about the six-months (and counting) vacancy since Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned in March. He was actually referring to Brogan, who served as Gov. Jeb Bush's second-in-command.