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5 posts from April 16, 2014

April 16, 2014

Bill Nelson seeks local solution to expand Medicaid in Florida


Expanding Medicaid to cover thousands of uninsured Floridians has mostly been ignored by Republicans during this year's legislative session, but U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is making a last-ditch effort to get it done.

Medicaid is a joint state-federal program, though most of the expansion called for under the Affordable Care Act would be funded by Washington. Still, Florida Republicans have balked, claiming that in the future, the burden on state funds would be too great.

Politics may be an even bigger problem than money, since Medicaid expansion is key to the success of President Obama's signature health law.

For months, Nelson has sought a way around the opposition while still meeting federal requirements. He thinks he has found it in a never-tried-before plan: Using health care dollars raised by counties to get the $3.5 billion needed to draw down $51 billion in federal funding.

"If you really want to get it done, and if your reason for opposing it really was that you didn't want to commit state tax dollars in the out years to expanding Medicaid, then this is the opportunity to do that," Nelson said Wednesday.

Read more here.

Udonis Haslem makes pitch for the "Uber bill"

With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, Uber is making an aggressive push to get its priority bills across the finish line.

The luxury-car mobile-dispatching service is throwing its considerable heft behind SB 1618 and HB 1389.

Originally, the proposals sought to let companies like Uber to circumvent municipalities and win approval from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But the bills were watered down in committee, and now would help Uber only in Hillsborough County.

Still, Uber considers the bills an important first step toward changing the regulatory landscape in Florida. So far, the company has only been able to establish itself Jacksonville. It has met roadblocks in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa.

The company's latest campaign includes an online petition (www.FloridaNeedsUber.com), a Twitter hashtag (#MOVEFLFORWARD) and a new radio ad.

Lending his voice: Miami Heat Forward Udonis Haslem.

In the radio spot, Haslem asks his fellow Floridians "to help to make sure Florida isn’t left standing on the curb while other states pass us by."

"We need choices in Florida, like Uber, that smartphone app where with a push of a button a car shows up to take you wherever you want to go," he says. "You’ve probably seen it used in other states, giving consumers more choices and lower costs, but it’s being blocked here in Florida."

Haslem then makes the pitch for SB 1618 and HB 1389.

Listen to the radio ad here.

The so-called Uber bills will be closely watched in the closing days of the session.

The House version, by Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, survived two close committee votes and is now poised for a hearing on the floor. Its companion in the Senate passed through only one committee, but is still in play.

Expect resistance from taxicab companies, who argue Uber should have to play by the same rules as traditional cabs. Local governments will fight the measure, too, saying they should have the authority to regulate transportation services. 


Rick Scott's latest positive ad: Navy


Upbeat and bearing an inspirational story in just 30 seconds, Gov. Rick Scott's latest TV ad is the kind that makes you want to vote for him. Plus, it's not misleading.

So far the governor has spent more than $5.2 million on TV since March 12. This latest spot, the fourth this spring, indicates he's not just mixing it up (positive-negative-negative-positive), he's on pace to unleash an ad campaign that the state has never seen before.

Cash keeps rolling into Florida's Congressional District 26 race


You know it's getting closer to election season when the two leading candidates for a congressional seat both send news releases touting their fundraising totals.

The incumbent, Miami Democrat Joe Garcia, said he received $463,083 in the first three months of the year, bringing his overall total to $2.3 million and his cash on hand to $1.6 million. His campaign bragged that its contributions and cash on hand have far exceeded his opponents'.

"I am proud to have earned the support of the people of Miami-Dade who share my commitment to prioritizing hard work, problem solving and bipartisan leadership over ideological bickering," Garcia said in part in a statement.

His nearest opponent, Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican, said he received more than $310,000 in contributions in the last quarter, bringing his total to more than $950,000 and his cash on hand to about $800,000.

Curbelo's campaign trumpeted that more than half of its contributors reside in the district, which spans Kendall to Key West, and that it is "approaching" the $1 million mark in funds raised.

"We have strong support from our home district and from national conservative leaders such as Governor Jeb Bush and others," Curbelo said in part in a statement.

The other Republicans seeking the post are, in descending order of how much cash they have reported to have on hand: former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez, Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall, lawyer Lorenzo "Larry" Palomares-Starbuck and Key Largo resident Jose Felix Peixoto. None has more than $50,000 cash on hand.

DEO challenges a local permit. Yes, that's news

From Bruce Ritchie of the Florida Current:

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is appealing a development permit in Lake County in what is the first challenge or appeal to a local land use decision since the department was created.

DEO was created in 2011 when the Legislature eliminated the Department of Community Affairs and shifted its planning division to the new economic development agency. The Legislature that year also rolled back most state oversight of local growth management decisions.

The new department still has not challenged any of the more than 29,000 comprehensive plans or amendments that have been proposed since 2011, according to DEO data. But the department is appealing to the governor and Cabinet a Lake County decision to approve 490 homes on 24 acres along with the removal of 3 million cubic yards of sand and soil from the property.

"The agency is near death but it's good to know there is still an ounce of breath in the body," said Tom Pelham, a land use attorney who twice served as secretary of the Department of Community Affairs. "They have finally challenged a local permit." Story here.