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April 24, 2015

Senate counter-offer: Expand health care coverage

The Senate doubled-down on its Medicaid expansion plan Friday, rejecting a proposal from the House to use $200 million in state money to help safety-net hospitals absorb a potential loss of $1.3 billion in federal health care funding.

The House made its offer -- which did not include expansion -- Thursday in hopes of jump starting stalled negotiations over the state health care budget. But Senate leaders insisted that providing coverage to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians was the better solution.

"(The House's) response indicates their continued unwillingness to deal with insurance coverage," said Senate Budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon. "And I understand that. I’m not surprised to see that. And our response indicates that we are not prepared to walk away from that."

Lee said using $200 million in state money to replace some of the Low Income Pool, a federal-state program that helps hospitals pay for uninsured and Medicaid patients, would be like charging Floridians twice for the same services, since Floridians already pay federal taxes.

"It is not an optimal situation," he said.

The LIP program is set to end on June 30, unless the federal government approves a proposed successor program. Federal health officials have said they are more likely to extend the funding if Florida expands Medicaid.

Continue reading "Senate counter-offer: Expand health care coverage" »

House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency

The investigative staff at the Department of Corrections would face an overhaul, officers who injure inmates could be subject to felonies, and the state would start a pilot project to put body cameras on prison guards, under a bill set to be given preliminary approval today in the Florida House.

The proposal is the first part of a bi-partisan agreement between the House and Senate to address questions of inmate abuse, allegations of staff cover-ups and evidence of organizational troubles that have been festering in the state’s prison system for years. The agency and its staff are also under investigation by both state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“There’s a lot of problems in the prison system and this is a monumental step forward – and it’s only the beginning,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who negotiated the compromise with Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

The changes are included in an amendment by Trujillo to SB 7020. The second element of the deal, not included in the bill, is a promise to create a select committee of legislators to provide oversight of DOC, review treatment of inmates, investigate grievance trends and monitor implementation of provisions in the bill beginning this fall.

Evers began investigating DOC in January in the wake of several reports in the Miami Herald and other news organizations that exposed suspicious inmate deaths, questionable use of force and allegations of agency cover-ups. 

Faced with opposition from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, the proposals no longer include elements that would have taken authority over the agency away from the governor. Evers originally proposed creating an independent oversight commission that would have the ability to investigation allegations of wrongdoing at the state’s largest agency. The Senate plan also would have required that DOC secretary to be appointed by the governor and Cabinet, with confirmation by the Senate. 

Continue reading "House poised to overhaul prison inspections, impose new requirements at troubled agency " »

Lawmakers push to extend statute of limitations on rape cases

Lawmakers have voted to extend the statute of limitations for rapes to be reported and prosecuted.

Dubbed the 43 Days Initiative Act in honor of Danielle Sullivan, who reported a rape 43 days too late, the bill (SB 133) will up the amount of time after a crime is committed that victims can report a rape and see the state take action.

The legislation — sponsored by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando — has passed both chambers, but lawmakers need to iron out the length of the new statute of limitations before it can be sent to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature or veto.

Senators on Friday passed an eight-year statute of limitations. The House had already passed a six-year time frame. The Senate's version has been sent back to the House for approval

Right now, victims have four years to report rapes. When the victim is a minor, charges can be filed and prosecuted at any time, and the bill doesn’t change that.

Supporters say the statute of limitations extension is important because victims often struggle with coming forward for some time.

The bill also corrects a 2011 error by the Legislature that made sexting an unenforceable crime. Attempting to stop charging minors with child pornography for sending inappropriate pictures of themselves, lawmakers made sexting a civil offense. No court has jurisdiction over juvenile civil crimes.

Now, sexting will be punishable by a small fine and community service for a first offense.

PolitiFact looks at claims by Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders

While Hillary Clinton has the Democratic field to herself right now, there are other Democrats making waves that they might run for president too -- and PolitiFact is keeping an eye on them. We have been busy fact-checking claims by Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Clinton said during an event at a college that "The United States invented the community college. Nobody else had ever done anything like it." This is largely correct, though Clinton’s terminology could have been more precise. Also, other types of institutions in Europe share characteristics of community colleges. Still, the specific U.S. system is was an innovation. Keep reading here.

O'Malley said on NPR "We're not allowed to read it (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) before representatives vote on it." 

Strictly speaking, he’s wrong -- Congress, and the American public, will be fully informed of what’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership before lawmakers vote to make the agreement part of United States law. But he has a point that lawmakers won’t know what’s in the Trans-Pacific Partnership before they cast a separate, precursor vote -- the vote to authorize Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership on a fast-track basis in the first place. Continue reading here to see how we rated O'Malley's claim.

Sanders said on Fox News that "99 percent of all new income today (is) going to the top 1 percent." 

Sanders is referring to pre-tax, pre-transfer income growth during the economic recovery from 2009-13.We found consensus among economists that the statistic and calculation offered by Sanders is credible, but it’s just not the only way to consider income inequality. Other measures may be equally valid and produce different results. But economists say specific data does not yet exist. Continue reading here to see how we rated Sanders' claim.

(Fact-checks by Louis Jacobson and Katie Sanders.)

Party-line Senate vote sends abortion waiting period to Gov. Scott

After the most emotionally-charged debate of the session, the Florida Senate on Friday passed a requirement for a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can undergo an abortion. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it.

The vote was 26-13, as every Republican voted for it and every Democrat present voted against it. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, was excused Friday to attend a funeral.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, revealed for the first time that his wife Victoria was seriously ill 29 years ago and was four months pregnant at the time and was advised to have an abortion. She considered it, refused to have an abortion and gave birth to their daughter, Erin.

"I'm glad she had 24 hours to think about it," Gaetz said.

Democrats said the bill represented the annual assault on women's rights by the Republican controlled Legislature.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, called the bill "unnecessary government intrusion into the lives of women." Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, criticized a provision that a woman who was raped must prove it with a police report to obtain a waiver from the 24-hour wait.

The House passed the bill earlier on a 77 to 41 vote. The version headed to Scott's desk, HB 633, is sponsored by the Legislature's youngest member, freshman Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a 23-year-old Republican from Mount Dora. Sullivan's mother, Patricia, is a long-time conservative activist in Central Florida who founded the North Lake Tea Party.

PolitiFact looks at one of Rick Scott's environmental promises

As part of his environmental agenda during his re-election campaign, Gov. Rick Scott promised that he would "issue an executive order to provide a foundation for bringing together stakeholders to plan with his administration for additional needed actions."

We'll note that he didn't promise to create a foundation as in an organization -- he put that promise under the header "executive order to protect water quality" in his environmental campaign plan.

We how PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's progress and here is our entire Scott-O-Meter.

After three years of debate, Legislature passes growler bill

On Friday, the Florida House voted unanimously to legalize 64-ounce growlers, which, though a standard size in the industry, have long been illegal in this state. The Senate approved the legislation (SB 186) last week.

The legislation, which is awaiting Gov. Rick Scott’s signature or veto, allows craft breweries to sell the half-gallon jugs of beer, a move they say is necessary to foster growth.

“This day has been a long time coming,” House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, said on the floor Friday. “It was a lot harder than it should have been, and a lot of you have lived through this craziness with me.”

The bill passed Friday does more than allow growler sales, although that’s where the debate started three years ago. Beginning July 1, breweries will also be allowed to open up to eight tap rooms, where customers can sample beer, buy a pint or fill their growlers.

Brewers have been doing this for some time by way of an exemption in state law meant to encourage tourism.

Limits to purchases from craft distilleries will also be raised under the bill.

Growler legislation has been a priority for Tampa Bay legislators for three years. The bill passed Friday was sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and in the House by Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and Young.

Mayor would take over MDX chairmanship under state plan

Miami-Dade's mayor would seize the chairmanship of the county’s controversial toll authority under a Tallahassee proposal that is part of a larger fight over how Miami-Dade makes decisions on transportation funding.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday he backs the idea of becoming chairman of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, a panel better known as the MDX and best known for recent toll expansions on the county’s main east-west highway.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, a Republican and chair of the Miami-Dade delegation, would shuffle membership of the authority, which uses toll revenue for highway construction throughout Miami-Dade.

"I think it needs some accountability," Gimenez said of MDX during a County Hall interview Thursday. "My presence would bring the MDX more into the sunshine."

As of Thursday night, the MDX plan appeared stalled in Tallahassee as Flores hit opposition when she tried to add language to a bill involving the Central Florida Expressway Authority. She said she would explore other ways to get the legislation onto the Senate floor for a vote.

The effort is the latest twist in a legislative session that has local state lawmakers trying to change the make-up of county transportation boards.

The county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which maps out spending priorities for federally-funded transportation projects, on Thursday formally objected to proposed state legislation that would sharply reduce the number of county commissioners who serve on the board. Sponsored by Miami Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, the proposal by the Republican lawmaker so rankled the commission that one commissioner this week briefly threatened to pull funding of a county staffer that runs the Miami-Dade delegation office while the Legislature is in session.

"We are paying for staff for a delegation that doesn't even support us," Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

More here.

Florida House makes offer to help hospitals

In a last-ditch effort to end the budget stalemate, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Thursday offered to set aside $200 million in state money for the hospitals and county health departments that would be hurt by the end of a federal-state program known as the Low Income Pool.

It doesn’t back down from the House’s position, now 3 years old, to not expand Medicaid.

The House offer of extra money, which would come from reducing proposed tax cuts and spending on K-12 education, could be used to draw down an additional $305 million in federal funds, Crisafulli said, meaning about $505 million would help hospitals shoulder the cost of treating uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients.

Crisafulli conceded that the amount would be less than the $1.3 billion Florida hospitals had hoped to receive from the federal government.

"It's a conversation starter," he said.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said that Senate President Andy Gardiner hadn't yet had time to review the proposal. But earlier in the week, Gardiner recommended dedicating as much as $600 million in state money in the absence of the LIP dollars.

Read more here.

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.