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June 23, 2015

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson back advancing Obama trade bill

via @learyreports

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio helped a key trade bill clear a hurdle today, setting it up for final passage.

Both faced opposition.

Nelson was facing pressure from liberals and employee unions to oppose the deal for fear of hurting jobs and wages in the U.S.

Rubio was urged to oppose the deal from at least one tea party group in Florida. A message from the Martin 9/12 Committee urged members to call Rubio and say:

- You OPPOSE the Trade Promotion Authority, and do not believe President Obama can be trusted to negotiate anything that might affect immigration law.

- President Obama has already unilaterally usurped the power that belongs to Congress to change immigration laws, and Congress has NO business giving up more of its authority to him.

- Trade agreements have been used in the past to increase immigration and President Obama is currently negotiating several trade agreements that will encompass three-fourths of the world's economy!

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Andy Gardiner: budget vetoes are 'dreams shattered' for disabled

As lawmakers react to a whopping $461 million in budget vetoes today by Gov. Rick Scott, one very powerful senator is irate.

That's President Andy Gardiner, who issued an uncharacteristically harsh statement criticizing the governor's vetoes of programs meant to help children with special needs, the president's top priority.

“While Governor Scott will undoubtedly spend the next several weeks traveling the state touting his record number of vetoes as win for Florida’s families, there are many families across Florida who have seen their dreams shattered by his decisions today," Gardiner said in the statement.

“Families who had hoped their children born with unique abilities would have the opportunity to attend a post-secondary program, receive specialized job training and take part in the college experience, will see that dream postponed another year," it continues.

But Gardiner didn't stop there. Bringing back up the debate over health care funding that led to the budget being finished this late in the first place, he lambasts the governor for refusing to take federal Medicaid expansion dollars but then cutting health programs in the state budget.

This, said Gardiner, was an instance of Scott, "again depriving these families of the chance for proactive primary care and pushing more and more Floridians without health insurance towards hospital emergency rooms when they are at their sickest and most vulnerable."

And he chalks it all up to politicking by the governor's office.

"It is unfortunate that the messaging strategy needed to achieve the Governor’s political agenda comes at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our state.”

Looks like this rift between the Senate Republicans and Gov. Scott won't be endign anytime soon...

Putnam 'profoundly disappointed' in Scott's veto of firefighter pay raise


Firefighters who battle forest fires in Florida will not be getting pay raises because of Gov. Rick Scott’s vetoes.

The Legislature has set aside $1.6 million in the state budget to give the state’s 606 Forest Service firefighters each a $2,000 a year pay raise.

“I am profoundly disappointed,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said on Tuesday after learning of the veto. “Our forest firefighters put their lives on the line. They are demonstratively underpaid relative to peers.”

The vetoes come as Florida fire fighters are battling an unusually high number of fires. On Friday the state was fighting 90 active wildfires, Putnam said. And since January the state has dealt with 1,440 fires on over 30,000 acres. The Florida Panhandle, North Florida and Florida Atlantic Coast are all facing a high wildfire threat.

 Putnam questioned the lack of consistency in the vetoes, noting other government employees in less dangerous jobs will get raises, but not the fire fighters.

“I’m even more disappointed that it wasn’t applied consistently,”  Putnam said. The helpful people who take your drivers license photo were allowed to receive a pay raise. And our forest firefighters who put their lives on the line were not.”

Suffolk poll: Jeb Bush leads in New Hampshire -- with Donald Trump in 2nd place


A week after he officially became a 2016 presidential candidate, a new poll shows the former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush leading the Republican field in New Hampshire, a state his supporters eye as his best chance to do well in early 2016 primaries.

The public-opinion survey from Suffolk University Political Research Center shows Bush narrowly atop the field with 14 percent of support -- followed, surprisingly, by real-estate mogul Donald Trump, who also held a campaign announcement last week but has yet to file candidacy paperwork. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio came in fourth place in the poll, with 7 percent, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (8 percent).

"Jeb Bush continues to lead, but Donald Trump has emerged as an anti-Jeb Bush alternative in New Hampshire," said David Paleologos, the research center's director. "Many of those who like Trump are voting for him, and although many more dislike him, the unfavorables are split up among many other candidates. It's the politics of plurality."

The poll's error margin is 4.4 percentage points.

Latvala rails: The governor has declared war on the Legislature

With the ink barely dry on Gov. Rick Scott's veto of $461 million in legislatively approved projects, Sen. Jack Latvala railed against it in an interview Tuesday saying, "the governor has declared war on the Legislature." He predicted Scott will face continued deterioration of relations with the Republican-controlled body. 

"There’s stuff in there that he has approved in the past,'' said Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate budget committe on transporation and economic development. He cited the Miami project on paralysis research and the pay raise for forestry firefighters as examples of projects Scott has recommended in his budgets in the past but are now on the lengthy veto list. 

Latvala directed the blame directly at the governor's staff and, primarily, his chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, who formerly worked for Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

"The governor is not being well served by these kids from Louisiana,'' Latvala told the Herald/Times. "I don't recall a governor's office as unresponsive as that one is. They’ve got him totally isolated. You can’t have a meeting without Melissa sitting there. She totally controls the agenda but what are her credentials to do that? She won a campaign."

Latvala criticized the governor for delegating to staff who have little understanding of the budget, the legislative process and make little effort to understand the details.

"The advice is dead wrong,'' he said. "There are so many inconsistencies in the ways those things are applied. They don’t even know what he asked for before."

He noted that at the advice of staff he is "in campaign mode all the time.'' He accused the governor of "rushing" the budget announcement. (It was announced on the same day that Scott and the Cabinet approved using more than $228,000 in taxpayer money to end a lawsuit against them for violating the state's open meetings law.)

"Some times you have to be in a public service mode,'' Latvala huffed. "Some times you have to be in a governing mode. That's what Charlie Crist's problem was. The campaign is over and you have to start governing."

He predicted Scott "is going to have problems with the Legislature now, worse than he’s had in the past, and these people will go off and take jobs in presidential campaigns and he’ll be left holding the bag."

Feds announce 'agreement in principle' and approve Florida's LIP model

The federal government has given preliminary approval to the funding formula prepared by state lawmakers regarding the Low Income Pool, putting an end to the long-awaited conclusion over the future of federal money paid to hospitals for charity care. 

In a letter to the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid told the state that they negotiations with state officials and legislative leaders have led to an agreement that the federal government will give Florida $1 billion this year, $600 million next year and expect that the money follow patient care, not be a substitute for Medicaid expansion.  Download 6_23_15 Lettter to Florida (2)

 “CMS reached an agreement in principle with Florida on the size, duration, and distribution of funds of the state’s Low Income Pool that reflects our best assessment of the appropriate contours for the Florida LIP,'' said Ben Wakana, press secretary for CMS. "As stated previously, CMS will approve a LIP amendment only after the federal comment period concludes.”

The elements of the agreement were first detailed in the April 14 letter to the state from CMS including 1) uncompensated care pool funding should not pay for costs that would be covered in a Medicaid expansion, 2) Medicaid payments should support services provided to Medicaid beneficiaries and low-income uninsured individuals, and 3) provider payment should promote provider participation and access, and should support plans in managing and coordinating care.

The agreement also acknowledges that the state budget directs $400 million in general revenue to increase Medicaid provider rates for hospitals to offset the cuts from the reduction in federal LIP funds.

Read the full list of what Gov. Scott vetoed from the budget

Gov. Rick Scott issued $461.4 million in vetoes for next year's state budget.

On the list of axed items are local turkeys like $2 million for IMG Academy, a private, for-profit sports academy associated with some NFL stars.

But he's also nixing more than a third of the local water infrastructure projects (read: sewers and drainage) lawmakers included. And South Florida will be hit particularly hard, as 82 percent of water project funding for Miami-Dade and Broward counties is cut.

In Tampa Bay, a Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Pinellas County will lose out on $240,956 for renovations.

Download Final-Veto-List

June 22, 2015

As Scott and Cabinet end one Sunshine lawsuit, governor negotiates settling another

For the second time in a month, Gov. Rick Scott is negotiating a settlement to use taxpayer dollars to end a lawsuit alleging he violated state Sunshine laws.

According to documents filed in First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee this month, the governor is negotiating with Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews over a lawsuit accusing Scott of skirting state public records laws by using private email accounts to conduct public business. The negotiations began after a California judge ordered Google to turn over information that could reveal whether Scott’s top staff set up the private email accounts to allow the governor to circumvent the state public records law.

How much taxpayers will be on the hook under the settlement has not been disclosed, but it comes on the heels of another settlement in a Sunshine law violation case expected to be approved by the governor and Cabinet on Tuesday. Records show that fees in that case will cost taxpayers in excess of $228,000.

The lawsuit was brought by St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew Weidner and several media organizations, including the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, who accused Scott and the Cabinet of violating the state’s open meeting laws when they allowed staff to use back channels to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey with no public discussion or vote.

In that settlement announced last week, Scott and the three members of the state Cabinet – Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – would agree to pay $55,000 to the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Andrea Mogensen. They would also agree to revise their policies to operate with more transparency, including turning over their private emails promptly when they conduct public business.

Continue reading "As Scott and Cabinet end one Sunshine lawsuit, governor negotiates settling another" »

'Bailout Bush,' claims attack video from pro-Rand Paul Super PAC

via @learyreports

A Super PAC aligned with Rand Paul says it’s paying for an attack ad on Jeb Bush to run online in early primary states. “If you love bailouts,” a crazy, bearded man says, “you’re going to love Bailout Bush.”

It seeks to link Bush’s support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, and his paid work for Wall Street firms.

We've asked the Bush campaign for a response.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times