June 30, 2015

Miami-Dade legislators to speak at Ramadan event

State Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, and State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, will speak at a Sharing Ramadan event at the Al Ansar Mosque in Miami on Tuesday from from 7 to 9 p.m.

The events are sponsored by Emerge USA, an organization that aims to engage Muslim, Arab and South Asian American communities in the political process. Emerge USA has a federal political action committee that has raised small amounts of money for candidates.

The mosque is located at  5245 NW 7th Ave, Miami.

May 07, 2015

Broward legislators, hospital execs to discuss Medicaid fallout

Broward state legislators, hospital CEOs and community leaders will discuss the financial impact of the state budget fallout over Medicaid expansion.

The meeting will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Broward County Governmental Center, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale

Participants include Broward legislative chairman Jeremy Ring, Mayor Tim Ryan, Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce President Dan Lindblade and officials from the county’s two public hospitals: Broward Health and Memorial Health Care.

Lawmakers plan on a three-week special session starting June 1 to finish the state budget by June 30. Broward's predominantly Democratic legislative delegation is unlikely to play any major role in hammering out a budget agreement in Tallahassee, but they can play the important role of the minority party in terms of raising issues.

Disagreement over how to handle the Low Income Pool money which hospitals use for charity care, which the federal government is phasing out, led to the stalemate last month. While Senate leaders want to expand Medicaid, the House leadership refused to do which led them to end the session a few days early in April.

Gov. Rick Scott met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Wednesday in Washington D.C. to ask her to approve the state's proposal for LIP funding, but that meeting led to no resolution.

December 11, 2014

Rep. Alcee Hastings escapes sex-harassment ethics charge, gets rapped for bad behavior

via @learyreports at Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog:

The House Ethics Committee today said it was clearing Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, in a sexual harassment case, brought by a female employee of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the
Helsinki Commission.

But the commission admonished Hastings anyway.

"Despite the fact that the conduct in this case does not rise to the level of actionable violations of the rules, the Committee does not want to leave the impression that Representative Hastings' behavior was at all times appropriate. He admitted to some conduct that, while not wrongful per se, certainly could be misunderstood. For example, Representative Hastings admitted that he hugged Complainant on a number of occasions. It is true that a hug, on its own, is not sexual harassment, and that a number of witnesses testified that (1) Representative Hastings hugs many people frequently; (2) when hugging others (including Complainant), Representative Hastings did not place his hands or body in such a fashion that indicated the hug was sexual or intimate in nature; and (3) given Representative Hastings' work with Complainant often occurred in Europe, such contact was within the customary forms of greeting for the relevant locale. Nevertheless, hugging is not the most professional way to greet coworkers, and different individuals have different comf01i levels for touching others.

"Similarly, Representative Hastings admitted to making two comments in the presence of Complainant: one about not being able to sleep after sex, and another about female Members of Congress wearing the same underwear all day. It is true that Complainant attempted to make more of these comments than appears to be supported by the evidence, and that on their own, they do not constitute sexual harassment. Nevertheless, the Committee finds it concerning that in the year 2014 it has to remind a Member that such comments show poor judgment."

The case file is here.

May 13, 2014

ALF reforms fail again in Legislature

TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders identified reform of Florida’s assisted-living facilities as one of their top goals this session, but once again lawmakers did not adopt measures to improve conditions in the 3,048 facilities around the state.

It is the third year the Legislature has not passed reforms proposed after a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed the neglect, abuse and death of residents at some in ALFs.

The most recent Senate and House proposals fell apart in the final days when the House attached other health care related bills to the Senate’s ALF bill and they couldn’t resolve their differences.

“We still have the same antiquated, dangerous system that was in place when the Miami Herald wrote its series,” said Brian Lee, executive director of Families for Better Care. The state “has not fixed the abuse and neglect, and residents are still in trouble.”

Getting rid of the “bad apples” in the ALF industry and adding more oversight affects not only the elderly who live in facilities that can house a total of more than 80,000 residents, but also Florida’s economy and future generations, said Jack McRay, advocacy manager for AARP Florida.

“Florida seniors pay more in taxes than they get back in services,” McRay said. “It’s essential that they are able to remain and stay in Florida... We need to get it right.”

What happened this session “is a classic example of politics again trumping policy,” McRay said. “It became part of a healthcare ‘train’ that became a train wreck.”

The Senate unanimously passed SB 248 early in the session. The House passed its version, HB 573, at the end of April. While House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz identified ALF reform as one of their session goals in their “Work Plan 2014” program, it failed to make any progress.

Gaetz blames the House, and the ALF industry, for the bill’s demise.

“It wasn’t the trains that killed the bill. It was the House that killed the bill,’’ he  told the Herald/Times. “Speaker Weatherford gave me his commitment they would try to do this. The ALF industry lobbied very hard against reforms. They lost a lot of credibility. It’s a real shame.”

He said that when the House bill began to be “picked apart” in that chamber, he urged the Senate prime sponsor, Sen. Eleanoer Sobel, D-Hollywood, to start attaching it to several high priority House bills. In retaliation, the House attached language to the ALF bill that the Senate didn’t want -- language about surgery centers and visitation rights for grandparents.

“Healthcare is a complex issue, and we just weren’t able to get agreement between the two chambers,” Weatherford said after the session ended May 2.

Gaetz said he vowed to be Sobel’s first co-sponsor and will work to pass the bill next year.

"Frankly,’’ he said. “Those of us who support her efforts need a little bit more enthusiastic help.”

Sobel and House sponsor, Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, both vowed to renew their efforts next session.

"I’m very disappointed,” said Sobel, who also blamed “special interests” for the bill’s failure. “I believe we were very close and got further than we have in previous years,” she said.

Ahern said the important thing for next year “is to agree on something the first month of session and get this done early.”

Among the provisions, the ALF bill would have required facilities with one or more, rather than three or more, state-supported mental health residents obtain a limited mental health license; authorized ALF staff members, with increased training, to perform additional medication-related duties; and to assist with the self-administration of medication with increased training.

The most contentious issue was a new rating system for all licensed ALFs, similar to the system used for nursing homes. It would help consumers pick the best home for their loved ones. Family members often find themselves in a quandary when the hospital discharges a patient who cannot go home, McRay said.

“The consumer doesn’t know where to go or which ALFs are good and which are bad. A rating system has worked very well with nursing homes.”

The idea of a ratings system rankled the ALF industry. One industry group, the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), raised objections that people could post anonymous, possibly damaging comments on a website that would be managed by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The ratings system, along with a change in the fine structure that FALA said could affect smaller homes, were among the group’s key objections, said  Shaddrick Haston, its CEO, but he contends that members were not trying to sabotage the bill.

“Actually, most of the bill had great things to help residents age in place,” said Haston, who is AHCA’s former head of licensing for assisted-living facilities. “The industry wanted an ALF bill this year.”

One concern of Lee's, director of Families for Better Care, was a change that would reduce monitoring visits for homes that met certain criteria. Even a home that has had a good reputation can falter, he said.

In the fall, he noted, the state fined the Royal Palm Retirement Centre, an ALF in Port Charlotte, $22,500 for several violations found during a visit. AHCA’s inspection report noted that among resident-care problems, the facility “failed to provide adequate nursing supervision in providing care for four insulin-dependent diabetic residents.”

AHCA, Lee said, “needs to put more boots on the ground in ALFs, not fewer.”

Herald/Times staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Rochelle Koff at rkoff@miamiherald.com

March 13, 2014

South Florida mayors visit Tallahassee to sign tri-county compact

Compact


Spotted in Tallahassee: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick.

The three elected officials were in the Florida Capitol on Thursday to sign a tri-county "legislative priority compact." The document states their intent to work together on state legislation with regional importance. 

Gimenez pointed out that the three counties have clout in Tallahassee.

"Sometimes, we felt that what happens here in Tallahassee is that we are divided and conquered," he said. "If we actually stuck together, we would have a tremendous block and the ability to bring the things that we need in our counties -- in our region -- to the people that we represent."

Rep. Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat, agreed.

"We do have a wonderful opportunity to work together," he said. "We can leverage a tremendous amount of voting in the entire Legislature."

This year's priorities include regional transportation projects; increasing the available number film industry tax credits; making sure enterprise zones are reauthorized; and funding for coastal flooding, beach restoration and the Everglades.

The compact represents the first time the three counties have joined forces in Tallahassee (formally at least) since 2003, when they worked collaboratively to created the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

 

September 18, 2013

Ethics commission dismisses charges against four local legislators

The Florida Ethics Commission has dismissed a series of ethics complaints against two local senators and two state representatives for failing to include financial information on their annual financial disclosure forms.

Meeting in a closed-door meeting last week, the commission dismissed a complaint against Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, for failing to include a $278,000 home she owns in The Villages on financial disclosure forms she filed between 2006 and 2011. The commission had dismissed a previous complaint that she failed to properly report her ownership of a Tallahassee condo as well.

The commission also dropped claims that Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, filed an incomplete financial disclosure form in 2011, concluding that “the public interest would not be served by further proceedings because the addresses of properties were readily discoverable through public sources.”

The commission found probable cause that while Rep. Jose Raul Oliva, R-Miami, failed to properly identify an asset on his 2011 disclosure form, it will take no action.

And the commission voted to close its file and dismiss a complaint filed against Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, because the complainant “denied filing the complaint, and was unresponsive to a written request for clarification.” The commission said the allegations contained in the complaint are the same as matters already pending final action by the board.

In December, the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Fresen failed to properly disclose his annual net worth, assets, and liabilities from 2008 to 2011 after a lender filed a foreclosure suit against him. Fresen is fighting the ethics charges, calling the allegation a “baseless” political attack by a political opponent.

Here's the link to the commission's release. 

August 30, 2013

Florida has second-highest rate of uninsured in nation

@dchangmiami

Florida has the nation’s second-highest rate of uninsured residents younger than 65 — a total of about 3.8 million people, or about 25 percent of the state’s population, including more than 500,000 younger than 19, according to U.S. Census data released Thursday.

And out of all 67 counties in Florida, Miami-Dade has the second-highest rate of uninsured for the same age group at 34.4 percent, trailing only Hendry County, with an uninsured rate of 35 percent or about 11,500 residents. Miami-Dade also is home to the largest number of residents without health insurance in the state younger than 65 — an estimated 744,000 people.

Broward County’s uninsured rate is 26 percent, or about 392,000 people.

Steven Marcus, chief executive of the Health Foundation of South Florida, a public charity that funds healthcare initiatives in the region, attributed Miami-Dade’s high rate of uninsured residents to the county’s large number of small businesses, many of which do not offer health insurance to their employees — the most common method for Americans to receive coverage.

“We’re a very small-business, service economy,’’ Marcus said. “Our small businesses have never supported healthcare.’’

More here.

July 24, 2013

Residency of all legislators under review

From the News Service of Florida

Legislative leadership wants to know where House and Senate members are when they say they're at home.

With Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, raising questions about a number of Democratic lawmakers living outside the districts they represent, the top attorneys for the House and Senate have been directed to recommend standards for residency.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will be asked to get a list of where all 160 legislators are registered to vote.

"Neither the House nor the Senate has historically developed a clear set of principles to determine the residency of our members," House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in letter Wednesday to Latvala. "The recommended guidelines should draw on any past rulings of the House and Senate on this question, as well as decisions from other bodies in related legal contexts."

Continue reading "Residency of all legislators under review" »

April 15, 2013

Senate committee calls for a Baker Act study instead of expanding nurse practitioner role

The state's nurse practitioners were hopeful that a Senate vote on Monday would bring them one step closer to what they see as a crucial need in Florida's mental health care system: having the authority to initiate involuntary examinations under the Baker Act. Instead, what the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee passed was the formation of a "work group" to figure out how to improve the 41-year-old Florida Mental Health Act before giving other groups the ability to commit a patient who could hurt themselves or others.

The committee passed an amendment to Senate Bill 110 by 8-0, requiring that a group be established to determine the revisions necessary to improve the "efficiency and effeciveness" of the Baker Act and file a report by Jan. 1, 2014.

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April 11, 2013

Senate passes bill to tighten oversight of assisted living facilities

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that aims to tighten oversight of Florida's nearly 3,000 assisted living facilities passed  by a 38-0 vote. "It's a work that we've all put a lot of effort on,'' said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, sponsor of  HB 646.
  The bill was  prompted by a 2011 Miami Herald investigation that revealed years of abuse, neglect and even death of ALF residents, said Sobel, D-Hollywood.
 "Legislation failed in the 2012 session," Sobel said during the bill's second reading Wednesday. "We have a more targeted approach this year. We are attempting to better enforce existing regulations. I know this bill significantly improves the lives of over 80,000 residents in ALFs in Florida."
  

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