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March 04, 2015

Committee OKs transgender 'bathroom bill'

After passionate debate on both sides, a House subcommittee approved a bill that would block Floridians from using single-sex facilities like restrooms that don’t correspond with the sex listed on their drivers licenses or passports.

The bill (H.B. 583) by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, was proposed in response to a Miami-Dade County ordinance intended to introduce protections for transgender individuals. Artiles argued that the ordinance proposed a public safety risk by allowing men to enter women’s restrooms and commit crimes and say they did so because they “felt female” that particular day.

But opponents have said the bill would discriminate against transgender people by forcing them to use restrooms and locker rooms different from their gender identity.

“If i go to use the restroom, everybody in that restroom has the right to sue me,” said Cindy Sullivan, 45, a trans woman from St. Petersburg, at a House Civil Justice Subcommittee hearing Wednesday afternoon. “You all just don’t get it...You could put me in jail for being me.”

Others have argued that the language in Artiles’ bill would cause unintended problems, including banning female reporters from entering male locker rooms after sports events. “We can make a sports exemption,” he said.

The bill OK’d by a 9-4 vote, with all Republicans supporting and all Democrats opposed.

“I will be in support of the bill with major questions on issues raised today,” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.

Earlier in the day, Democrats in the House, alongside activist group Equality Florida, announced their opposition for the bill.

AIF's Feeney gets love from ... Senate Democrats?

FeeneyAs Jeb Bush's original running mate, House speaker and Republican member of Congress, Tom Feeney was a conservative firebrand and constant critic of the federal government. But times have changed.

As the public face of Associated Industries of Florida, a business lobby group, Feeney is pushing Medicaid expansion in Tallahassee, and on Wednesday he preached to the choir of the Senate Democratic Caucus on the issue. The double whammy of no Medicaid expansion and the loss of federal low income pool money could result in a potential $1.5 billion tax on businesses, he said. AIF has been pushing Medicaid expansion in Tallahassee for two-and-a-half years to no avail, he said.

"We can't ignore the fact that there are so many uninsured," Feeney told Democrats at their lunchtime meeting. "Florida ought to take its share of federal resources." He said he won't use the phrase "Medicaid expansion" because it's a "dead letter" in the House that he led from 2000 to 2002. "They're still my friends," he said of House Republicans, "but I get grief."

Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea

As the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and his colleagues on the Cabinet revived the debate today over crafting a new policy about how to evaluate the performance of agency heads who report to them in the wake of the governor’s botched firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, some history:

If they had asked their predecessors, they would have learned that the practice had been in place for years and, on occasion used by this governor and Cabinet. 

Records and transcripts of Cabinet meetings reviewed by the Herald/Times show that the governor and Cabinet had a record of requiring a “performance review” of officials who reported to them.

The practice continued for the first year Scott and the three Cabinet officials came to office but then waned. DOR Secretary Lisa Echeverri did not have one in 2012 and her replacement, Marshall Stranburg, has never had one.

Continue reading "Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea" »

Scott won't backfill federal LIP funding

If the state and federal government can't reach an agreement on Florida's Low Income Pool program, Gov. Rick Scott won't backfill with program with state dollars, he said Wednesday. 

"Florida taxpayers fund our federal government and deserve to get a return on their investment," Scott wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama. "Moreover, we have worked hard to turn Florida's economy around and cannot afford to fund programs started by the federal government."

The Low Income Pool is key to Florida's budget.

The $2 billion program, which reimburses hospitals that treat large numbers of poor and uninsured patients, is scheduled to expire on June 30. The state Agency for Health Care Administration is hoping to reach a deal with the federal government to keep the federal portion of the funding in place.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, has made it clear that the program will not continue without significant changes.

Scott is open to restructuring LIP.

"In our current discussions with CMS, Florida is not proposing to continue the LIP waiver in its present form, but to maximize the value of our tax dollars to further the same goals for the Medicaid program that we have shared with CMS over the last four years," he wrote in the letter.

If the program were to end, Scott added, it would "hamper future efforts to improve health care services for low-income individuals."

"As with previous negotiations, we are optimistic that you will not terminate LIP and we will be able to reach an agreement on how best to structure this program in a way that protects both our state's most vulnerable residents as well as state and federal taxpayers," he wrote.

Scott's Cabinet agency review plan hits roadblock

Facing a pending lawsuit alleging violations of Florida's open meetings law, aides to Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members refused Wednesday to discuss how to make their work more transparent. The decision came at a meeting of Cabinet aides in advance of the next Cabinet meeting March 10.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's aide, Rob Johnson, cited "ongoing litigation" in postponing any talk among the aides of whether minutes of aides' meetings should be kept and training aides in compliance with the Sunshine Law, calling it "premature." But the issue remains up for discussion by Scott and Cabinet members next week.

Scott and the three Cabinet members are defendants in a lawsuit by Florida media outlets that accuses the four elected officials of secretly orchestrating the December ouster of Gerald Bailey, the former commissioner of the state law enforcement agency.

The aides then held a tense discussion of how to set new performance measures for 10 state agency heads who, like Bailey, report to the governor and Cabinet.

Continue reading "Scott's Cabinet agency review plan hits roadblock" »

Miami-Dade high on drones, despite unfortunate Hialeah crash


Miami-Dade County's drone initiative this week collided with some local drone news out of Hialeah. 

On Tuesday, County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata won support for a resolution that declares the area around the former Tamiami airport a "Drone and Robotic Hub." The idea is to build upon nearby technological initiatives, including the drone program that Miami-Dade College is starting out of its aviation school at the county-owned airport. (Drones can't actually take off at the newly renamed Miami Executive Airport, so MDC will launch them elsewhere.)

Zapata's proposal came on the heels of a widely-covered incident where a drone apparently crashed into a bedroom in Hialeah days earlier. Commissioner Rebeca Sosa pointed out the accident as a cautionary tale.

“They break your windows, they turn your alarm on, your children get afraid,” Sosa said of drones buzzing residential areas. “I’m just bringing that up.”

Rubio, Lee offer details on tax plan that would cut corporate, individual rates


Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah offered details of a tax overhaul that would reduce the number of tax brackets for individuals and drop corporate tax rates, all in an attempt to boost economic growth.

While the proposal has been in the works for months, Wednesday is the first time the two Republican senators have put details to many of the proposals they envision.

It’s not yet a formal bill, however, and Rubio’s office said this week that legislation won’t be introduced at this time.

Rubio, a potential presidential candidate, and Lee were scheduled to hold a press conference on the proposal Wednesday morning.

The details of the plan, provided in advance of the press event, describes a broken tax system: “Perhaps no function of our government is more antiquated and dysfunctional than our federal tax system,” the proposal says.

According to the senators’ proposal, the Rubio-Lee plan would:

Continue reading "Rubio, Lee offer details on tax plan that would cut corporate, individual rates" »

Gov. Rick Scott targets President Obama in op-ed for Politico

Gov. Rick Scott has an op-ed column in Politico this morning, squarely taking aim at President Barack Obama. Here's an excerpt (full column here):

President Obama should come back to Florida and make another speech. This one should map out a plan for how our low-income citizens can access healthcare at a cost they can afford. If President Obama is serious about driving down healthcare costs (which he said was the goal of Obamacare), he will reform the exchange system so around $5 billion in federal funding flows directly to 1.6 million individual healthcare accounts, like Health Savings Accounts, where Floridians currently on the exchange can each receive the $297 a month the Obama administration today pays to the 14 insurance companies who sell policies on the federal exchange in Florida.

To drive down healthcare costs, you simply need to increase competition. Today, there is very little competition within the federal exchange because there is only one person paying—the federal government (HHS). And, this single payer is deciding what plans to sell. We should let individuals decide how they want to spend their healthcare dollars. By setting aside the same amount of money the federal government is spending today in 1.6 million individual healthcare accounts, the President would move the purchasing power from one person, Uncle Sam, to 1.6 million low income people who can best make their own healthcare decisions. High income Americans get to select the healthcare that fits their needs. Shouldn’t the 1.6 million low income Floridians currently on the exchange be given the same right?

Wednesday: Top five things to watch in Tallahassee

Wednesday marks the second day of the 2015 legislative session. Here are five things to watch:

 * The long-running legal battle over the 2012 redrawing of Florida's political boundaries shifts to the state Supreme Court, as the League of Women Voters will challenge the Legislature's redrawing of two of the state's congressional districts based on the so-called "fair districts" amendments adopted by voters. Republican legislative leaders are privately bracing for a defeat in the state's highest court.

 * A meeting of Cabinet aides will be held in the Capitol. The public gatherings of the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and three Cabinet members have taken on significance following the removal of a top state police official, Gerald Bailey, after the aides held private discussions. Those talks triggered a lawsuit by media outlets, accusing Scott and Cabinet members of secretly violating Florida's Sunshine Law.

 * The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice takes up a sweeping bill (SB 7020) aimed at improving conditions in Florida's troubled prison system.

 * The Senate Community Affairs Committee takes up a bill (SB 290) by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to allow a person without a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun for 48 hours following a mandatory evacuation order in an emergency. A similar bill was blocked on the Senate floor last year, but sheriffs support the new version.

 * The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee considers a bill (HB 4023) to legalize the sale or manufacture in Florida of a "slungshot," a weapon that's usually made of a small mass of stone or metal tied to a strap or rope. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Herald/TimesTallahassee Bureau

Scott takes to the airwaves to promise tax cuts


Gov. Rick Scott may be treated like a lame duck in Tallahassee, but a new television ad from his still abundant campaign account shows he's acting like he's still -- or wants to be -- a candidate.

Scott's Let’s Get to Work political committee is sponsoring a 30-second ad that will start airing this Thursday in all Florida markets and include broadcast, cable  and satellite, said Brecht Heuchan, of the Labrador Company. 

The ad is also a subtle push to promote the governor's $500 million plan to cut communications and other taxes -- a notion that has not been embraced by the GOP-led Legislature which faces the prospect of having to fill a nearly $2 billion budget hole because of the potential loss in federal health care funds known as the Low Income Pool. The governor made no mention of the potential budget holes in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, but he did tout his proposed tax cut. 

"We are expanding our industries, investing in our ports, making a record commitment to you, devoting more resources to education,'' Scott says in the ad, as he walks across a map of Florida. "Now, working with your legislators, we plan to cut taxes by half-a-billion-dollars. We believe you can spend your money better than government can. That's a dream come true, and that's your Florida."

The governor's political committee has not reported how much he's spent on the ads. He paid media consultant Nelson Warfield's company $42,469 in January. 

Scott won his narrow victory in November, but he's still been cashing in the contribution checks, even with no foreseeable political campaign in site. The largest -- outside of a $580,000 check from the Republican Party of Florida on Jan. 16 -- was a $90,000 contribution on Dec. 19 from the Geo Group, the Boca Raton-based private prison company that operates two thirds of the state's privately-run prisons. 

In light of the recent complaints about the governor's decision to short the budget for the state run prisons, and chronic troubles in the prison system, rumors abound that the Geo Group is ready to expand and take over. Meanwhile, the governor has been silent about the problems festering at the Department of Corrections.