Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

April 07, 2015

House folds its ambitious gambling bill

House Republican Leader Dana Young on Tuesday confirmed what has been speculated for months: this won't be the year for gaming expansion, destination resort casinos, or even new games for the Seminole Tribe.

Young released a revamped gaming bill, HB 1233, that signals her long-held goal: to end greyhound racing as we know it by ending the requirement that dog tracks operate live racing in order to offer card games or slot machines.

The proposal, quietly released on Tuesday, shrinks the 316-page bill to 59 and removes all opportunities for gaming expansion in Florida. 

It provides a lifeline, however, to the 12 remaining greyhound tracks whose owners increasingly say dog racing is costing them money and want the option of phasing out of the sport. State regulators also say that the cost of regulating greyhound racing is higher than the tax revenue it brings in.

Young, a dog advocate, also uses her bill to require tracks that continue to race greyhounds to adhere to strict new requirements to report all dog injuries. The provision, named after Victoria Q. Gaetz, the wife of former Senate President Don Gaetz, passed the Senate last year but failed to make it through the House on the final day of the legislative session. 

The previous version of Young's bill was the subject of a workshop of the House Regulated Industries Committee, where support for the ambitious overhaul appeared slim. 

Young's plan attempted to expand some gambling operations while contracting others. It opened up the opportunity for two destination resort casinos to operate in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, phased out dog racing and unused racing permits, capped any future gaming expansion, ended tax credits for pari-mutuels, and created a state gaming commission to provide streamlined oversight of the industry.

Young's revamped bill eliminates all those provisions, except the dog racing provisions and caps on permits. 

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on its scaled-back proposal to offer up a one-year extension of the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe. The compact is scheduled to expire on July 31.

Amendments to that bill, SPB 7088, if passed, could open the door to allowing some additional gambling -- such as slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club.

Another amendment, by Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, would track Young's proposal to end the requirement for live racing at dog tracks, a provision known as decoupling.

Senate panel declines to confirm Scott's pick for surgeon general

One day after Gov. Rick Scott came out against a Senate proposal to expand health care coverage to about 800,000 poor Floridians, a Senate panel declined to confirm Scott's pick for surgeon general.

The Senate Health Policy Committee postponed a vote on Surgeon General John Armstrong Tuesday after he repeatedly declined to give his opinion on the Senate plan.

"The question came up from both the minority leader and the former president," Majority Leader Bill Galvano said. "Chairwoman [Anitere] Flores had a similar question, and there was not an adequate answer. I think members were frustrated, and so, hopefully with temporarily postponing this confirmation, it will give the surgeon general some time to reflect and give us an answer on what the Department on Health's position is on our health exchange."

Tensions have been building between the Senate and the governor's office since President Andy Gardiner sent two senators to Washington last week to discuss the future of a $2.2 billion federal-state program known as the Low Income Pool. The program, which helps hospitals treat low-income patients, will expire in June unless the state and federal government can agree on a successor.

State Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek, a Scott appointee whose office had been leading talks with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said she had no knowledge of the Senate trip until after it happened.

Armstrong was immediately put on the spot during Tuesday's confirmation hearing, with former Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, asking his opinion on the Senate plan to expand coverage.

Continue reading "Senate panel declines to confirm Scott's pick for surgeon general" »

Capitol 'food fight' averted on Miami-backed rental car legislation

Trial lawyers were on one side of the room, and rental car industry lobbyists on the other.

Both sides were lawyered up and ready for a full-blown food fight Tuesday in the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee on an issue that never seems to disappear in Tallahassee: liability requirements for rental car customers. But the bill (SB 976), by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, was postponed, and in the sixth week of a nine-week session, that's a death knell.  So the 2015 version of "Car Wars" in Florida's capital appears to be over, with a victory for the industry.

Flores' bill would require out-of-state residents who rent cars in Florida to buy insurance, and trial lawyers say an existing "loophole" allows the industry to "avoid responsibility to the public ... and it's letting visitors injure, maim and kill Floridians." The industry claims rental car giants  are required to carry liability insurance, and that Flores' bill would be bad for tourism and bad for business.

A Senate staff report raised red flags about the constitutionality of Flores' bill, citing limitations on a state's ability to treat residents and non-residents differently. The House version (HB 819), by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, is also going nowhere.

Rubio: Teachers in my family say we test too much

Rubio Tallahassee-Breakfast-Invite-4-7-15-2_Page_1 (1)U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the soon-to-be presidential candidate, flew in and out of Tallahassee Tuesday for a modest fundraiser attended by about two dozen of his Tallahassee acolytes. 

Rubio spent about two hours at the $1,000 per person event hosted by a handful of lobbyists and former Reps. Adam Hasner and Ellyn Bogdanoff at the Governor's Club. After the event, Rubio visited with members of the Florida Insurance Council and a handful of legislators,  including freshman Rep. Mike Miller of Orlando, who worked was a fundraiser and consultant for Rubio's 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. 

The Florida Republican was not too eager to answer reporters' questions, directing them to his expected campaign announcement scheduled for April 13 at Miami's Freedom Tower.

Does Florida test students too much? "I have a lot of teachers in my family. They think so,'' Rubio replied,  addressing what may be one of the most vulnerable issues facing likely rival and former Gov. Jeb Bush. "But I do believe it's important that we have a standard that we measure student gains by."

Rubio is all but ready to say he's jumping into the presidential ring. He was asked what impact will your decision have on your family?

"If we move forward with this it's going to be difficult,'' he answered. "If we move forward it's because our family has made the decision that we have a unique opportunity to serve the country." 

Rubio reportedly raised bigger bucks Monday evening, at a fundraiser at the Panama City home of a Florida shipbuilder Brian D’Isernia, who is competing for a multi-billion dollar contract from the Coast Guard, according to Politico. 

Gov. Rick Scott on Medicaid expansion: What we have now works

Scott at gov's clubGov. Rick Scott on Tuesday continued to refuse to answer direct questions about whether he continues to support the expansion of Medicaid but, in an interview with the Herald/Times, the governor all but said he has abandoned that position in support of the reforms enacted during his term.

"We don’t have a Medicaid program that would be exactly the way I would do it,'' said Scott, after a morning appearance before the Florida Insurance Council at the Governor's Club in Tallahassee, an event that was left off his public calendar. "I go back to what I proposed in 2009. If you want to fix health care, fix the cost of health care."

Scott repeated the talking points of Florida House leaders, who have said they can't trust the federal government after it has indicated it may not renew the federal cost sharing program for low income Floridians, known as the Low Income Pool, leaving a $2 billion hole in the state budget.

"Why would you trust them?,'' Scott said. "It’s a federal program that they’re now just walking away from for our medical schools and our low income families...What I said yesterday was what I believe. We’re watching the federal government how they act. They have a federal program that they are walking away from so how can we feel comfortable doing anything else with them until they live up to their side of the existing part."

We asked: If the federal government shows up with some LIP money, where would you be on Medicaid expansion?

Scott answered: “They are totally separate. What I’ve been told from AHCA and their conversations with CMS is that the LIP program is totally separate from  whatever happens on Medicaid."

We asked what happens if the federal government decides not to renew the LIP funding: “I’ll be really disappointed. This is a program that the federal government started. It’s a federal program for our medical schools and for our low income families and for our departments of health and they are just going to walk away from it. I’d be very disappointed and everybody who sends money to the federal government as a taxpayer should also be disappointed."

So would you like to see Medicaid expanded? “I like the program we have right now," Scott replied. "I like what we did, where we got the waivers.”

So there’s no need to keep pushing for that? “I like the program we have,'' he repeated. " …Remember when I walked in? We had the Medicaid program that was I think was growing three times our general revenue – I could be off a little bit probably – that we couldn’t afford.

"We passed historic reform in 2011. We got the waivers done in 2012/2013. We now have a program we can afford. We have a program where we have someone who is responsible for the care of our Medicaid recipients, so that program’s working.” 

Meanwhile, sources told the Herald/Times that the governor has privately complained that discussions over the LIP funding were disrupted last week after the Senate sent Sens. Garrett Richter and Rene Garcia to Washington to discuss with their position on LIP funding and Medicaid expansion. 

Rand Paul is running for president

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

LOUISVILLE — Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky made it official Tuesday – he is running for president.

“I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government,” Paul announced on his website, randpaul.com.

Paul, a freshman Republican senator and ophthalmologist who made his home in Bowling Green more than 20 years ago, is scheduled to personally announce his bid for the White House at noon Tuesday at the Galt House in Louisville.

The senator plans to follow his announcement by participating in a question-and-answer session on Facebook, then attend kick-off events in the early-voting states of New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada in coming days.

Paul is the second Republican candidate to officially enter the race, following Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who jumped in two weeks ago.

More here.

Jeb Bush PAC cuts checks for Miami members of Congress

@PatriciaMazzei

For the second time, Jeb Bush's political action committee has disclosed donations to Republican parties and members of Congress as he rakes in the cash for his all-but-declared 2016 GOP presidential bid.

Among this round's recipients from Right to Rise PAC: Miami's three Republican representatives, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Curbelo is the only one of the trio who has yet to publicly endorse Bush's likely candidacy.

"I'm proud to support conservative leaders who are dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for all and restoring America's place in world," Bush said in a statement.

View the full list after the jump.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush PAC cuts checks for Miami members of Congress" »

North Miami, Tampa among cities backing Obama's executive action on immigration

via @learyreports

The cities of Tampa and North Miami have signed onto a friend-of-the-court petition asking for "immediate implementation of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration."

Tampa and North Miami are the first cities in Florida to join the effort, according to the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which estimates 253,000 Florida residents would benefit. Obama's action is designed to prevent the deportation of otherwise law abiding people.

A number of states, including Florida, have sued the federal government to prevent the executive action. More than 70 cities have joined the counter effort.

"We commend the Mayors from Tampa and North Miami for taking this step in favor of our families, workers and economy; more cities and counties should make similar statements,” said Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Why would Attorney General Pam Bondi go out of her way, with our taxdollars, to add Florida to this lawsuit? This temporary relief from deportation for parents of U.S. citizens represents a life-changing measure for tens of thousands of Floridian families. To stop this relief is hurtful to not only our families, but to our pocketbook. We urge her to reconsider her position and withdraw from the lawsuit for the well-being of Florida’s families and economy.”

Critics say Obama exceeded his authority.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Miami doctor presses lawmakers for needle exchange program, but faces long odds

Nearly three years have passed since Hansel Tookes' first trip to Tallahassee.

Armed with research he had conducted as a student at the University of Miami’s medical school, Tookes hoped to convince state lawmakers on the need for a needle exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County.

But the Florida Legislature rejected his proposal in 2013, and said no again the following year.

Tookes is now a resident in internal medicine at Jackson Memorial Hospital. And he's more determined than ever to see the bill become law.

"We have seen the outbreak of a heroin epidemic in Miami," he said. "We are seeing more and more patients hospitalized for infections directly related to use of dirty needles: heart infections, sepsis, abscesses. These infections are all preventable."

He faces long odds.

State law prohibits programs that let drug users exchange used needles for clean needles. And many members of the Republican-dominated Legislature oppose such programs on moral grounds.

More here.

Students advocate for charter schools

CharterschoolsIf the Florida Capitol seems busier than usual today, there's a reason: About 300 charter school students are making the rounds.

Eighteen groups of students have meetings with lawmakers Tuesday.

Their goal: to build support for charter schools. 

"We're here because we love our charter schools and we're trying to get some changes," said Hampton Toole, 15, a sophomore at North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City.

Specifically, charter school advocates are hoping lawmakers will designate a steady stream of revenue for construction and maintenance. The House included a funding mechanism in its charter school bill (HB 7037), but the Senate has yet to take up the issue. 

Hampton said students are also encouraging lawmakers to scale back standardized testing.

They had a successful meeting with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

"He told us that believes in the vision of charter schools, and that he's advocating for some of the changes that are important to us," Hampton said.