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April 24, 2015

House postpones vote on Uber insurance bill

After the Senate passed a bill Thursday requiring drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to be insured, House leadership on Friday postponed a vote on its version.

The two plans present starkly different visions for regulating ridesharing companies in Florida. And House sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he was unwilling to change much of what’s in his bill.

Under both proposals, drivers would need to secure up to $1 million in coverage. That's where the bills' similarities stop.

The Senate plan (SB 1298), which passed by a 28-12 vote Thursday, requires ride-sharing drivers to have insurance regulated by the state, starting next year. It also requires insurance for properties listed on short-term home rental companies like Airbnb.

In the House, proposed legislation (HB 817) has a much wider reach, requiring deep background checks for drivers and opposing local regulations.

Gaetz is entering a larger debate, pitting Uber and Lyft against taxi companies and local governments.

Cities and counties, including Hillsborough County, have for the past few years tried to regulate or get rid of Uber and Lyft.

But Gaetz's bill bans local governments from doing that. It also allows ride-sharing companies to use insurers that aren't regulated by the state.

More here.

Miami-Dade schools to eliminate most tests

via @cveiga

Finally, some relief for the weary troops on the front lines of Florida’s testing battle.

Students who have been overwhelmed by glitchy exams now won’t face quite as many of them. On Thursday, the Miami-Dade school district decided to eliminate all but 10 of 300 course finals previously required under state law.

The changes come about a week after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill giving districts more leeway over how many tests students have to take.

The announcement came amid mounting frustration in the classroom over testing, particularly after the new Florida Standards Assessments (FSAs) were once again hobbled by computer glitches earlier in the week.

“I don’t understand the point of these tests,” said Antquanyia Williams, a freshman at Miami Jackson Senior High. “I honestly think we should just come to school to learn for our future. None of this FSA, FCAT stuff.”

The FSAs won’t go away under the new law, which was signed April 14. Nor will the statewide end-of-course exams in subjects like algebra and biology.

But many district-developed finals for courses will be eliminated. Miami-Dade will now only give 10 of them and only to a random selection of students as a field test. Broward won’t give any, other than those still required by the state for things like student graduation requirements or school letter grades.

More here.

Marco Rubio's claim about cap and trade and the economy

It’s no secret that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is skeptical of human-caused climate change. While he’s unsure of the effect humans have on the climate, Rubio is certain that addressing the problem would wreck the economy.

"If we do the things they want us to do, cap and trade, you name it, how much will that change the pace of climates change vs. how much will it cost to our economy?" Rubio asked rhetorically on CBS’ Face the Nation April 19. "Scientists can't tell us what impact it would have on reversing these changes. But I can tell you with certainty it would have a devastating impact on our economy."

We wondered about Rubio’s claim that it’s a "certainty" that cap and trade would "devastate" the economy.

Rubio has a point in that scientists can’t say exactly how much of an effect cap and trade would have on climate change trends. But predictions about cap and trade on the economy carry the same level of uncertainty -- a lot depends on the specifics of the policy. Additionally, most estimations show a modest -- rather than "devastating" -- impact.

See what Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact found and Rubio's Truth-O-Meter record.

April 23, 2015

Florida Senate president reiterates he won't confirm governor's agency heads

via @stevebousquet

Senate President Andy Gardiner says he has no plans to confirm a dozen of Gov. Rick Scott's agency heads before the May 1 end of the regular legislative session.

The Orlando Republican said two weeks ago he wouldn't play political games with Scott's agency heads, and he reiterated Thursday that he isn't. If they aren't confirmed, Scott can reappoint them within 45 days. If they're not confirmed in the 2016 session, they'll lose their jobs.

"Historically they have two years to be confirmed. I think some of our senators have concerns about some of the responses from secretaries," Gardiner told reporters. "By no means would we be playing games or threatening or anything like that."

Speaking one day after Scott threatened to veto Republican senators' bills and budget items if they reject his package of tax cuts, Gardiner said with a wry smile: "Certainly I hope nobody's threatening anybody in this process."

Two of Scott's agency heads have faced a particularly rough time in Senate hearings this session. Health Secretary and Surgeon General John Armstrong repeatedly sidestepped questions about Medicaid expansion and Secretary of State Ken Detzner is trying to block a bipartisan bill to create online voter registration in Florida by 2017. Corrections Secretary Julie Jones is also among the agency heads in political limbo.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Senate advances fracking bills that enviros say is 'Trojan Horse'

Despite warnings that they were creating a “roadmap” for companies to circumvent the state’s public records law, a divided Senate committee advanced a bill Thursday that could allow oil and gas companies to shield the chemicals used in the fracking process.

The measure, SB 1582, builds on legislation pending before the House and Senate that imposes new rules and penalties on oil and gas activities known as fracking, while banning local governments from prohibiting the controversial activity.

Both bills are heavily criticized by environmental groups, who warn that the proposed regulations are so narrowly written that they do not apply to chemical fracking, or acidization, which uses chemicals to dissolve rock rather than fracture it, a process they believe is most likely to be used in Florida because of its shallow rock bed.

“These bills are nothing more than ‘Trojan Horse’ legislation that will pacify the public, while forbidding local residents to decide whether or not they want fracking in their community,” said Kim Ross of ReThink Energy Florida, an environmental advocacy group.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-7 for a public records exemption bill that allows oil and gas companies to appeal to a judge to avoid disclosing the chemicals used in the high-pressure fracking process, as required in two bills pending before the House and Senate, SB 1468 and HB 1205.

Continue reading "Senate advances fracking bills that enviros say is 'Trojan Horse'" »

Death, polls and jobs: Fact-checking claims about Medicaid expansion

A feud over Medicaid expansion that stretches from Tallahassee to the White House means the Florida Legislature may not pass a budget by the time the session ends on May 1. PolitiFact Florida has been fact-checking the fight over whether more poor Floridians will be able to qualify for heavily subsidized health insurance.

The federal government is offering billions if Florida expands Medicaid, paying 100 percent of the expansion at first and gradually downshifting to 90 percent in later years. The program currently eats up a sizable portion of the state budget.

The state Senate has supported the idea of some type of expansion, while the House remains opposed. Gov. Rick Scott has taken different positions on Medicaid over the years, but has settled into opposition during the session. He’s upped the ante on that by declaring he intends to sue the federal government.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the rest of our article about our Medicaid fact-checks.

Backyard gun range ban finds new life

After a House committee in March killed a bill to limit shooting rights on residential property, the full House revived it Thursday by tacking it onto another piece of legislation.

The original bill was filed by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, after a local man started constructing a gun range in his yard, much to the dismay of his neighbors.

Currently, it’s legal in Florida to shoot a gun on residential property unless it’s done “recklessly or negligently.” Gun rights activists have said this is sufficient to cover any dangerous gun activity.

Despite loud opposition from the National Rifle Association, the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, passed easily Thursday in the House.

In debate, Rouson said he was thankful the ban on what have been called backyard gun ranges could possibly be passed into law.

“This bill will take care of those types of situations,” he said. “It’s about public safety, and I’m so grateful that the NRA and Police Chiefs Association have worked together to make this a good product.”

The amendment makes shooting in residential areas — including for target practice or in celebration — is a first-degree misdemeanor unless it’s for defense or “does not pose a reasonably foreseeable risk to life, safety or property.”

But even that language required bringing people together who had taken opposing stands in the original committee hearing in March. Among them, Marion Hammer, the NRA’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, whose big personality Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, referred to on the floor.

“(Trumbull) did something in this session we thought would never ever get done,” Pilon said, “in bringing all the stakeholders together, especially one lady we all know.”

Sen. Alan Hays volunteers for hospital funding commission

HaysSen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, wants to serve on Gov. Rick Scott's Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding, he said Thursday.

That's assuming such a commission is created, of course.

Scott proposed the idea earlier this week in light of the gridlock over Medicaid expansion and the potential end of the Low Income Pool, a federal-state program that helps hospitals treat uninsured and Medicaid patients.

Scott, who became a millionaire buying and selling for-profit hospitals, said the commission would "examine the revenues of Florida hospitals, insurance and healthcare providers and how any taxpayer money contributes to the profits or losses of these institutions in Florida.

"A thoughtful analysis of how taxpayer money supports Florida hospitals, insurance and healthcare providers will guide us in a Special Session and aid in the development of the Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget," he said in a statement. "This analysis will also help us prepare for the loss of LIP funding if the federal government decides to decline our amendment request before October."

On Wednesday, Scott called senators into his office and showed them the data on profit margins for local hospitals.

Hays, who supports the Senate plan for expansion, raised his hand to serve on Scott's new commission Thursday.

"I met with Gov. Scott yesterday and told him that I fully support his idea to form a commission to better understand the use of our tax dollars in the health care industry," Hays said in a statement. "If a commission is convened, I wish to serve on it and believe this could be a helpful tool as we work to address the health care challenges facing our state."

Hays noted that the House and Senate have until June 30 to pass a budget.

Beer growlers poised for House passage

The Florida House is poised for a Friday vote to allow the sale of half-gallon growlers of beer.

The 64-ounce jugs can’t be sold by craft brewers in Florida but are a common industry size. If the House assents, the bill (HB 301/SB 186) will head to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk for approval, after three years of failed attempts in the Legislature. The Senate last week passed the bill unanimously.

“What we’re trying to do is take the uncertainty and create certainty for the industry,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who has shepherded the legislation along with other Tampa Bay lawmakers House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

O Canada! Gov. Scott and Florida pay Quebec firm to lure new jobs

Gov. Rick Scott's two-day job-poaching jaunt to Philadelphia in February ran up a tab of more than $43,000 in public and private money -- and nearly half of it went to a company based in Canada to attract jobs to Florida.

The cost of the 36-hour trip was shared by Florida taxpayers and private money that's controlled by Enterprise Florida Inc., the public-private partnership that promotes economic development in Florida. Enterprise Florida paid $16,500 in private funds to Research on Investment (ROI) to develop business leads and set up meetings with at least eight employers.

ROI is based in Montreal, Quebec.

"We already have a contract with them to represent Florida in Canada. They are our arm in Canada," said Enterprise Florida senior vice president Melissa Medley. She dismissed questions about whether Florida should hire a U.S. company to create jobs, and noted that ROI has offices in the U.S.

"I don't think that's even a point," Medley said. "They are in this country and they are in Canada. It makes perfect sense to use them for this service."

The use of a non-Florida company directly contradicts a policy set down by EFI's new chief executive, Bill Johnson, who got the job after the firm was hired and who also accompanied Scott to Philadelphia.

Continue reading "O Canada! Gov. Scott and Florida pay Quebec firm to lure new jobs" »