April 02, 2018

Proposal to end hospitals' certificate of need system pulled from CRC

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A proposal that would have ended the state's certificate-of-need process for approving hospitals was withdrawn Monday, just before it was set to move into the next stage of consideration for the November ballot as a constitutional amendment.

Proposal 54, which was sponsored by Constitution Revision Commission member Frank Kruppenbacher, would have linked the approval process for new hospitals to infection rates at other hospitals in the area. By doing so, it would have no longer allowed to state to limit hospital growth through the current certificate of need process. The CON process currently requires the state to approve hospitals and other health care providers like nursing homes to add more sites or services.

The proposed amendment did not reference the long-running certificates of need process directly, but it would have prohibited limiting hospital growth in any counties with at least one hospital with an infection rate above the state average. Deregulating the hospital industry by restricting or removing the program has long been a priority for some leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature and for Gov. Rick Scott, a past hospital executive.

When the proposal moved forward last month, Kruppenbacher — who Scott appointed to the seat — dismissed the possibility that such a measure might advance in the Legislature, saying overhauling the system had to happen through the CRC. The powerful 37-member committee meets once every 20 years to choose proposals to put directly before voters, which voters can then pass by a 60 percent majority.

He did not respond to requests for comment Monday on why the proposal was pulled before the commission meets this week to refine the language of the remaining proposed amendments.

The Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida, which represents public, nonprofit and teaching hospitals in the state, objected to the proposal and lauded its withdrawal Monday.

“Preserving Florida’s health care strategic planning process is vital for a strong safety net hospital system which provides the most highly specialized medical care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay,” said Lindy Kennedy, the group's executive vice president, in a statement. “With fewer commercially insured patients to help cover the costs of caring for the poor and uninsured, safety net hospitals would have been forced to cut vital services that benefit all Floridians, such as neonatal care, trauma, burn, and transplants."

The withdrawal is part of the further culling of dozens of proposal from the commission's consideration: Another health care proposal, which would have added a "bill of rights" for residents in long-term care facilities, was withdrawn last month after sponsor Brecht Heuchan conceded it was unlikely to have the votes in its current form.

No Casinos calls special session talk 'fictional crisis'; Tribe's lawyer says state loss of revenue is not imminent

CasinoFlorida legislative leaders are expected to decide this week whether to pursue a special session to expand slot machines in some counties while it asks the Seminole Tribe to renew its gaming deal with the state, but the head of the No Casinos effort on Monday called the idea a "last ditch effort by gambling interests" and a lawyer for the tribe s there is no need to hurry.

In a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, John Sowinski, president of the group that has put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that will inhibit gambling expansion, suggested it was "a fictional crisis manufactured by gambling lobbyists."

"The urgency of this matter is curious, since no facts have changed since the end of session that would now make this such an enormous priority that it could merit a call for a special session of the Legislature,'' he wrote. 

No Casinos has succeeded in getting enough signatures to put an amendment on the ballot to require a statewide vote to expand gambling options in Florida. If the measure succeeds, legislators will have less influence over all gaming decisions.

The amendment is backed by Disney Worldwide and the Seminole Tribe, both of which oppose any expansion outside of the tribe's seven existing casinos. The amendment exempts gaming expansion if it involves Indian tribes, such as the Seminoles and their Hard Rock casinos.

Last week, Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes and Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who has been designated by Republicans to be next Senate president, announced they are considering a special session because of budget concerns that the tribe may withhold payments to the state because of a legal settlement they reached as a result of a lawsuit in federal court over designated player games at pari-mutuel facilities.

Under the settlement, the tribe agreed not to withhold the more than $300 million in annual payments it now gives the state as part of its compact to operate casinos on its seven reservations until the end of March.

The settlement gave the Legislature enough time to outlaw the games, which the court said violated the tribal compact. Lawmakers adjourned without passing any gaming legislation and nothing has changed, except a newfound concern about the tribe stopping payment. 

Barry Richard, the Tallahassee lawyer who has argued the cases for the Seminole Tribe, told the Herald/Times Monday "the only reason the tribe would terminate payment is if they think there is a substantial impact on their financial circumstances, or they think they are paying too much money for the exclusivity -- given that it's been infringed upon. Then, they would terminate or reduce the payments."

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has been working to enforce the settlements, closing down designated player games at pari-mutuels that operated them, and "the tribe is satisfied that DBPR has been acting aggressively,'' Richard said. 

However, a new threat to the tribe's bottom line has emerged: a new kind of slot-machine look-alikes that have proliferated at strip malls and convenience stores. The tribe is now suing the owners of those games and their landlords in Jacksonville and, Richard said, it is likely the tribe will let those lawsuits play out before it would withhold payments to the state. Those cases are not set for trial until June. 

But, Richard added, "something is going to have to happen. They are not going to let these machines proliferate."

So is there a need for a special session? 

Richard said the tribe is always open to listening. "If the legislature wants to bring them a proposal that's been signed off on by everybody, they are happy to look at it,'' he said. 

But, he warned, "the tribe doesn't want to have non-productive conversation with one chamber or the legislature, or some members of leadership, and then have it go back to others who disagree with it."

Galvano confirmed Monday that he has not had any substantial talks with the tribe about the compact. 

Meanwhile, Sowinski notes that many perceive the talk of a special session is more about the potential for legislators to raise money from the parimutuel industry, who are among the most reliable contributors in the state.  Corcoran is a likely candidate for governor and several others are pursuing state Cabinet positions and could benefit from a special session that would attract the industry's money.

But, Sowinski argued, convening a special session could have the opposition effect if the industry wants to defeat the proposed amendment. 

"You can tell the gambling interests and assure the people of Florida that public policy is not for sale in Tallahassee by resisting gambling lobbyist pressure for a special session,'' Sowinski wrote. "Convening a special session that will be seen as a genuflection to the gambling industry would provide voters with a perfect illustration of why Amendment 3 is so badly needed."

Read Sowinski's letter here:  Download No Casinos letter re special session 4-2-18

 

March 30, 2018

Gov. Scott signs 'resign to run' bill, forcing lawmakers to choose to keep their seats or run for Congress

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks after the end of the legislative session at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee on March 11, 2018. Flanking Scott are Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and Senate President Joe Negron. Mark Wallheiser AP

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a bill that would require local and state lawmakers to resign from their current seats in order to run for Congress.

The so-called "resign to run" bill now forces nearly a half-dozen local and state lawmakers to choose between holding onto their current seats or take the risk of running for the Miami congressional seat that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring from.

Scott also vetoed his first bill of the year, obscure legislation that involves expanding the Palm Beach County Housing Authority from five seats to seven.

Normally, seats on the board are filled by the governor, but the bill allowed the Palm Beach County Commission to fill the two new seats. County commissioners were pushing for the bill so they could have more oversight over the troubled agency.

But Scott vetoed it, saying that the new seats should be filled by the governor.

The governor on Friday signed HB 215, a motor vehicle bill which included a controversial amendment that allows Florida International University to open a road to its Biscayne Bay campus through an environmental preserve in North Miami.

The university had cited the Parkland shooting in its arguments that the current campus, which only has one road in and out, needed a second entry and exit point for school safety. Efforts to open up a second road through the preserve have been brought repeatedly before the Legislature since at least 2011.

Despite opposition from local officials, the FIU language was successfully added to the motor vehicle bill in the waning days of session.

Herald staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

March 29, 2018

After data scandal, Florida attorney general's office wants in-person meeting with Facebook

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

One of Attorney General Pam Bondi's top deputies is demanding an in-person meeting with executives at Facebook to talk about the release of more than 50 million users' personal information.

In a Wednesday letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Bondi's Privacy Bureau chief, Patrice Malloy, wrote that she expects a meeting set up by the end of the week.

"Please contact me by the close of business on Friday, March 30, to arrange for a mutually agreeable location, date and time with the goal of facilitating further discussion regarding this time-sensitive matter," Malloy wrote.

She included a list of nine questions she wanted answered after the New York Times revealed that Facebook users' information was harvested by a company called Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Malloy called the release "troubling," and she asked to know the type of data that Facebook released, whether the company was paid for the data, which third-party applications also used the data, and how Facebook learned its policies were violated.

Attorneys general in 37 other states and territories sent a similar letter to Zuckerberg earlier this week, but Bondi did not sign it. A spokeswoman for Bondi said the office wasn't given enough time to join the letter.

March 27, 2018

FDLE investigating missing hard drives from state Department of Revenue

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Florida's Old Capitol, seen from North Monroe Street in Tallahassee.

State police are investigating the possible theft of three external hard drives containing personal information held by the Florida Department of Revenue.

In a press release, the department said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Inspector General were now investigating, after the drives were found missing from employee workstations in Tallahassee.

The department is "working swiftly to identify the information contained on these devices," which were used only by "authorized employees," the release states.

"If, after the full investigation, it is found that any employee did not take the proper steps to protect taxpayer information, they will be held accountable," the release states.

A department spokeswoman would not elaborate on the type of personal information contained on the drives, citing the ongoing investigation. The Department of Revenue collects taxes and manages the state's child support system.

March 26, 2018

Rick Scott signs bills requiring generators in nursing homes, assisted living facilities

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SCOTT KEELER | Times Gov. Rick Scott describes what can be done further in Florida to avoid more shootings like the one in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.


Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation today requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup generators, following the deaths of a dozen people at a Broward County nursing home that lost power during Hurricane Irma last year.

The bills require the facilities to keep backup generators capable of running air conditioners when the power goes out. They must provide at least 30 square feet of cool space for each resident - at a temperature of no more than 81 degrees - and keep several days worth of fuel on hand.

The bills made permanent emergency orders Scott put in place after the deaths at a Hollywood nursing home, where a dozen elders overheated and died.

"As we near the 2018 hurricane season, families can now know the facilities responsible for caring for their loved ones will have the resources needed to be fully prepared ahead of any potential storms," Scott said in a statement Monday.

Major school voucher expansion proposals won't be on November ballot

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Commissioner Erika Donalds speaks during a CRC meeting last week on the floor of the Florida Senate. | Florida Channel

When the members of the Constitution Revision Commission were appointed by Florida's top political leaders, the list was full of prominent school choice advocates. It seemed the CRC was gearing up to amend Florida's constitution to finally allow for the major expansion of school vouchers the Legislature has long sought.

Instead, the 37-member commission dropped its two major voucher expansion proposals last week — and the CRC only meets every 20 years to determine constitutional amendments to put on the ballot.

"There is somewhat of a consensus this is going to be resolved by the courts," said CRC member Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member who helped found a charter school there. Her husband is state Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican member from Naples.

"In both cases, I think there is great support for both of those ideas on the CRC which is what makes it even harder not to move forward with it ... (but) I try to step back and look at the big picture at what can only be fixed through the constitution."

Proposal 4 would have struck the Blaine Amendment from the state constitution — which prohibits public money from going to any religious institution, and thus any religiously affiliated private school.

After a short but robust debate on Wednesday, that proposal was "temporarily postponed."

Donalds said they will not bring it up again.

She also withdrew proposal 45, which would have added language to the constitution saying "nothing herein may be construed to limit the Legislature from making provision for other educational services ... that are in addition to the system of free public schools."

Both proposals would have paved the way for a major expansion of vouchers by the Legislature, which have so far been limited to students with particular needs, such as being low-income, a victim of bullying or having a disability.

Donalds said several recent actions by the U.S. Supreme Court — including the a decision last year allowing public money to go toward a playground at a church — have made school choice advocates confident that the justices will eventually undo the 2007 Florida Supreme Court decision, Bush v. Holmes, that declared the state's voucher program unconstitutional.

For that to happen, someone must again challenge Florida's voucher programs.

But any proposals that make it to the ballot in the general election must receive at least 60 percent support to make it into the constitution, and recent polling done by Clearview Research found that Proposal 4 fell far below that threshold. Clearview often does work for Democratic causes but this poll was not done for any particular client, according to president Steven Vancore.

Only 41 percent of respondents said they would vote "yes" on the proposal and 51 percent of respondents declared they would vote "no." The research firm did not conduct polling on proposal 45.

The Florida Education Association opined that the polling was more likely the reason for the proposals' removal from consideration by the CRC. A similar amendment was also on the ballot in 2012 and it was defeated.

"There was no reason to submit the same proposal to the voters again especially after  polling was released that shows the voters really haven’t changed their minds on funding religious programs," said FEA president Joanne McCall.

Whatever the reason, Floridians won't be voting on voucher expansion on November's ballot. Instead, the remaining education proposals include term limits for school board members and a program for high-performing districts to have charter-like flexibility on certain regulations for hiring and facilities.

March 23, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott signs child marriage bill, daylight saving time into law

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott, shown here at the end of the legislative session on March 11, signed a $88.7 billion budget, just days after receiving it, on Friday, March 16, 2018. Mark Wallheiser AP

Gov. Rick Scott signed more than 70 bills into law on Friday, including one that would limit child marriages and another asking Congress to make Daylight Saving Time year-round.

If approved by Congress, Floridians would see darker mornings and brighter evenings year-round. The state would become the third, after Hawaii and most of Arizona, to exempt themselves from a 1996 law that set a uniform time for all time zones across the country.

Sen. Marco Rubio has already introduced a bill in Congress a bill to make the time change permanent in Florida - and the rest of the country.

Scott also approved on Friday new law stripping Pinellas County's embattled construction licensing board of its independence, following a series of Tampa Bay Times stories detailing how the licensing board's leaders and staff operated without oversight or accountability, disregarding agency rules and state law.

The law puts county commissioners in charge of the board.

"We're glad he signed it," Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch said. "We can start to move forward and offer better services to residents."

Scott also approved the nation's strictest ban on child marriages, limiting them to people 17 or older.

Previously, 16- and 17-year-olds could marry with their parents' consent, and county judges could approve marriages with even younger minors if there is a pregnancy involved.

Scott also signed off on allowing the City of Tampa to pay Ramiro Campanioni, Jr. $5 million for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident caused by a City of Tampa Water Department truck 22 years ago.

March 22, 2018

Proposal encouraging district-charter school competition moves closer to ballot

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The proposal to amend Florida's constitution has been championed by Miami leaders, including Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. C.M. GUERRERO cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com


A proposal to loosen requirements on the state's highest-performing school districts so they can better compete with charter schools moved forward Wednesday, putting it one step closer to being on the ballot in November.

The measure, Proposal 93, was approved by the obscure yet powerful Constitution Revision Commission, the 37-member body that meets every 20 years in Florida to put constitutional amendments on the ballot. All proposals that have made it this far still have to be officially passed in another vote in April to be on the ballot.

This proposal would allow high-performing districts, graded an "A" or "B" for example, to become designated as an "innovation school district" (changed from its previous name of "charter districts"). Those districts would have more autonomy over their curriculum, facilities and hiring practices, for example, that charter schools already enjoy.

"I believe in choice ... it's also a choice to go to a public school," said Roberto Martinez, an influential Miami attorney and a Republican, who sponsored Proposal 93. "What this proposal seeks to do is to provide public school systems that are high-performing the same flexibility we are giving charter schools ... to give them the flexibility and innovation to allow them to excel."

This proposal nearly died in committee in January, as some members of the CRC expressed concern that this was too radical a step to put directly into the constitution. But on Wednesday it moved forward with a 24-9 vote, signifying enough support to possibly bring it to the finish line.

Previously, the Florida Education Association — the statewide teachers' union — said they agreed with the concept but were cautious about the wording and interpretation. One of the proposal's biggest supporters is Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Martinez said he has not heard from any district in opposition.

March 20, 2018

Parkland families push for progress in Washington before the March for Our Lives

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@alextdaugherty

The families of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington right now.

Lawmakers from both parties are willing to rearrange their schedules for an in-person meeting with a group of people who have already successfully shepherded a gun bill through the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature that was opposed by the National Rifle Association.

But the Florida Legislature is a part-time body, bound by time constraints to pass bills within a few weeks. Congress is under no such pressure, so many bills that have strong support from both parties can still languish for years.

“We don’t move as fast as Florida legislatures do,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. “This Congress, with 500-something members, represents a vast and diverse country and as a result there are people in different parts of the country that have different views on these issues.”

The families of the Parkland victims have varying beliefs about access to firearms. Some, like Fred Guttenberg, want to ban all assault-style weapons. Others, like Ryan Petty, are concerned that a debate about banning assault weapons will shift the conversation into a partisan fight where nothing gets accomplished.

But the victims’ families are united behind three bills in Washington, and they’re pushing to get two of them passed before the March for Our Lives on Saturday. The families are discussing legislation through Slack, an instant messaging application that allows users to break different topics into channels of discussion.

“We’re probably one-upping the kids on that,” Petty said of the parents’ use of technology. “We put a proposal in one of the channels and then discuss it. I’ve been the liaison this past week, so as I was speaking with [Sen. Orrin] Hatch, Rubio, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell’s office, I posted the messages into our group.”

Petty said the parents come together and read the various bills and proposals in Slack, then one of them will write a statement either in favor or against the proposal before a final vote. The families don’t come out in favor or against something unless there’s a consensus.

But he acknowledges lobbying for legislation in Washington is “absolutely tougher” than trying to pass bills in Tallahassee. 

Read more here.