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August 26, 2015

New House committee to focus on health care afordability

The first sign is here that health care costs could play a starring role in the next legislative session: House Speaker Steve Crisafulli is creating the Select Committee on Affordable Healthcare Access.

Chaired by Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, the likely future House speaker, the committee has been tasked by Crisafulli "to explore policy options to reduce the cost of health care for consumers and improve the transparency of health care information, make recommendations for legislative action, and propose legislation to implement those recommendations."

It's in addition to the existing committees and subcommittees on health and human services, health quality, health innovation and health care appropriations.

The group combines several of the House's leading voices on health care issues, including Reps. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford; Matt Hudson, R-Naples; Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park; and Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville.

This select committee comes in the wake of the 2015 session, which was derailed by disagreement over a health care affordability plan proposed by the Senate that would have drawn down federal Medicaid expansion money to subsidize health insurance for poor Floridians. House Republicans opposed the plan, voting it down in a special session on the state budget in June.

It's likely the committee's focus will be on questions surrounding the state's certificate of need program and scope of care, as well as Medicaid, all issues that came up in the affordability fights last year.

Suspected Va. shooter has close Tallahassee ties

The man suspected of shooting and killing two journalists in Virginia Wednesday morning has close ties to the Florida capital city.

For a year in 1999 and 2000, Vester Flanagan worked as a reporter, anchor and producer for WTWC, an NBC affiliate in Tallahassee.

While working in Florida, he made allegations of racial discrimination in the workplace.

In February 2000, one month before his LinkedIn profile says he left the station, he filed a discrimination lawsuit against WTWC. The Leon County clerk’s office destroyed the court filings in 2009, after state laws no longer required they be retained.

The suit alleged that Flanagan was being fired because he had complained about racial discrimination at the station, according to reports in the Tallahassee Democrat from 2000. WTWC faced staffing reductions at the time, but Flanagan said he was targeted.

Flanagan said he and other black employees were called “monkeys” and told that “blacks are lazy.”

The case was settled out of court in 2001, according to court records.

Negron claims to have votes for Florida senate presidency despite uncertainty


Florida Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is declaring he has secured enough votes to become the Senate president in 2016 even though there is major uncertainty over who will even be in the Senate.

Negron put out a list of 13 senators who have pledge their support to him, even though some of those members are certain not be in the Senate in 2016 because of term limits. And others could lose their seats due to a special session on redistricting that is set to begin on October.

Still Negron was unequivocal in his declaration that he has more votes than Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who has been his main rival for the position.

“I am also gratified that the overwhelming majority of announced candidates in the 2016 open Senate seats have already formally pledged their support to me and our team,” Negron said. “It is clear that the Caucus is ready to formally designate its next Senate President.”

Latvala called Negron's statement a ploy designed to pressure Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, into calling a caucus of all 26 Republican senators to make Negron the next president. Latvala said Negron is "losing momentum" because three senators pledged to him cannot run again, and that those open seats could alter the competition for president.

"I think he's trying to gain a semblance of momentum," Latvala said. "Most people believe that if the maps are fairly drawn, that I do a whole lot better."

Continue reading "Negron claims to have votes for Florida senate presidency despite uncertainty" »

Chris Christie bashes Jeb Bush for...speaking Spanish?


Chris Christie, who is not bilingual, apparently doesn't think Jeb Bush should flaunt that he speaks Spanish fluently. (Or at least he shouldn't do that, and then criticize Asians.)

Fox News' Megyn Kelly asked Christie Tuesday night how Republican candidates should try to appeal to Hispanic voters without alienating their conservative base.

"By telling the truth and enforcing the law," Christie said. "I mean, the fact is that you don't need to be pandering to one way or the other. I'll tell you the way you don't do it. You don't do focus group-tested trips to the border, speak Spanish and then criticize Asians."

"He's referring to Jeb Bush, for those of you who are at work the last couple of days," Kelly added.

Bush visited McAllen, Texas, on Monday and later held a news conference in which he fielded questions in both English and Spanish. He was asked about using the term "anchor babies," which he tried to explain as referring to "fraud" by "mostly Asians" who come to the U.S. to give birth.

Christie has been struggling in the polls far behind Bush. His underdog campaign appeared pleased with the New Jersey governor's TV performance: It sent reporters video and a transcript of the exchange with Kelly, highlighting the hit on Bush.

Later in the interview, Christie noted Bush's trouble trying to clarify his "anchor baby" position, which offended both Hispanic and Asian groups.

"We don't need a candidate who's looking backwards who can't even answer a question on anchor babies," Christie said. "We need to have someone who is going to be looking forward and doing things the right way. And I'm not trying to be coy about it. The fact is that if Governor Bush cannot stand up to answer those questions with two or three tries at it, what's going to happen when he has to look at Vladimir Putin?"

Christie might not speak Spanish himself -- or find it helpful for other Republicans to do so -- but his reelection campaign in 2013 made a point of releasing at least one Spanish-language ad geared at Hispanic voters. 


This post has been updated.

Feds refer to 'corroborated 'allegations of sex with underage prostitutes by New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez

via @jayhweaver

This summer, the defense team for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy South Florida doctor accused the Justice Department of directing a “tainted” corruption case against the close friends.

They claimed the probe was initially based on “false” and politically motivated allegations of their having sex with underage prostitutes.

The Justice Department punched back this week, asserting those “specific allegations” were “corroborated” — or proven — in early stages of the investigation, even though the New Jersey Democrat and Dr. Salomon Melgen were not charged with that offense in the corruption case filed in Newark.

However, federal prosecutors in Miami, who initially reviewed the salacious sex-related allegations anonymously lodged against the pair, found the FBI’s evidence so lacking that they never presented an indictment to the grand jury here in 2013, according to law enforcement sources.

Nonetheless, the high-profile investigation regained steam when the Justice Department's public integrity section pursued influence-peddling charges against Menendez and Melgen in April.

The indictment accused the veteran lawmaker of helping Melgen with his multimillion-dollar Medicare billing dispute and other political favors in exchange for the Palm Beach County doctor’s array of gifts — including several unreported trips on a private plane to Melgen’s resort home in the Dominican Republic.

In response to a defense motion to dismiss the indictment, Justice Department prosecutors bristled over claims that they presented misleading corruption evidence to the grand jury in Newark — after the initial tip about allegations of the defendants’ having sex with underage prostitutes failed to pan out.

In their filing, prosecutors cited numerous witnesses’ grand jury testimonies and statements to the FBI, but those documents were sealed in the court record.

In their response, Justice Department prosecutors wrote that the defendants’ “corruption charges are not tainted by unproven allegations they solicited underage prostitutes.”

More here.

Donald Trump thinks Jeb Bush should call Marco Rubio 'disloyal'

via @learyreports

Donald Trump has found a way to knock Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, together.

During a rally yesterday in Iowa, Trump said Bush should go after Rubio for having the gall to run against his mentor. “People thought it was very disrespectful to a person that brought him along — slowly,” Trump said.

“If I were Bush and I brought somebody along … and all of a sudden the guy, the young guy that I brought along, said: ‘I’m running against you and it's not my turn but I don't care because I'm really anxious, I'm really driven’ … I would really go after that guy. I’d say ‘He’s the most disloyal guy. He’s a terrible person. He’s horrible and I hate him.’ ”

Trump couldn’t believe how Rubio and Bush were friendly at the first GOP debate. “They're hugging and they're kissing and they’re holding each other. Very much like, actually, what Chris Christie did with the president."

Hugging and kissing?

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Jeb Bush: 'The federal government right now does not deport criminals'

Jeb Bush says that the federal government needs to start deporting criminals.

"The federal government right now does not deport criminals," he said at a town hall in New Hampshire on Aug. 19. "I don't believe that we should take people that are here in the shadows and deport them all -- the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, it would rip up communities -- it's not appropriate. But criminals should be deported, and right now the Obama administration is not doing that."

Bush was essentially bashing GOP frontrunner Donald Trump for his immigration plans, which include deporting millions of illegal immigrants. But is Bush correct that Obama's administration is not deporting criminals? In a word, no.

See what PolitiFact Florida found.

From Colorado, Gov. Scott bring briefed on Tropical Storm Erika

ErikaTSAs Tropical Storm Erika moves on a path toward the Florida peninsula, state, county and city emergency planners are watching closely, especially in South Florida. Gov. Rick Scott is still on vacation in Colorado, and his office says Scott will be briefed twice Wednesday by phone from Bryan Koon, the state director of emergency management, at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Below is the detail for the first briefing as it appears on Scott's official state schedule.


The latest advisory, at 8 a.m. Wednesday, has the storm on a track to make landfall, possibly in South Florida, late Sunday or early Monday.

Florida has been remarkably hurricane-free during Scott's nearly five years as governor. Three years ago this week, Scott skipped many events at the Republican National Convention in Tampa to focus on the effects that Tropical Storm Isaac was having on the state, mainly in the Florida Keys.

There's no word yet from the governor's office on whether Scott will cut short his Colorado vacation to return to Tallahassee to more closely monitor weather-related developments. Scott's office has declined Times/Herald requests for details of his vacation.

Alan Grayson boasts of his bill-passing record in web ad

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson is out with a new ad in the U.S. Senate race -- this time boasting about his own legislative record.

“In the past two years in Congress, I have written more bills, passed more amendments on the floor of the house and enacted more of my bills into law than any other member of the House.”


In July, PolitiFact Florida fact-checked the same claim by Grayson when he stated it in his announcement video.

It’s true that Grayson is No. 1 in writing bills and resolutions but Grayson omits some caveats. The 10 bills he sponsored ended up passing as part of other bills, not as stand-alone measures. Of those 10, all but one ultimately landed in the same bill that passed with a fairly wide margin. He had 21 amendments pass, largely on voice votes, which suggests they were not controversial matters. Congressional experts say that the sheer number of bills or amendments written and passed doesn’t tell the full story of a member’s accomplishments.

PolitiFact Florida rated his claim Mostly True.

The Orlando Democrat is battling U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter in the primary for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat.

Grayson released his first online ad attacking Murphy’s legislative record earlier this week -- leading to push back from Murphy’s campaign.

Grayson’s campaign wouldn’t divulge details about the ad buy.

Donald Trump: many great scholars say 'anchor babies are not covered' by 14th Amendment

Donald Trump says his plan to roll back birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants will pass constitutional muster because "many of the great scholars say that anchor babies are not covered."

"Many of the great scholars" -- really? That comment caught our attention.

In case you need a refresher on birthright citizenship: As it stands now, any person born on U.S. soil is a citizen -- regardless of the parents’ immigration status -- because of the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. Trump has recently advocated for pulling back citizenship for illegal immigrants’ children. Some, like Trump, refer to these children as "anchor babies."

"The parents have to come in legally," Trump said, talking to reporters in New Hampshire Aug. 19. "Now we’re going to have to find out what’s going to happen from a court standpoint. But many people, many of the great scholars say that anchor babies are not covered (by the 14th Amendment). We’re going to have to find out."

Considering that about 300,000 babies are born to illegal immigrants and become citizens every year, we wondered if Trump is right to say that "many" scholars think this isn’t necessarily a constitutional right.

We won’t dig into who’s a "great" scholar, but we will look at how widespread this position is and if "many" say the 14th Amendment isn’t an impediment to Trump’s plan.

See what Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact found.