November 07, 2013

Bense admitted to Atlanta medical center in battle against nervous system condition

AllanbenseFormer Florida House Speaker Allan Bense has been admitted to Shepherd Center in Atlanta this week to undergo rehabilitation for neurological impairments related to Guillain Barré syndrome, according to a statement released by the hospital on Thursday.

According to a description by the Mayo Clinic, Guillain-Barré (ghee-YA-buh-RAY) syndrome is a disorder in which your body's immune system attacks your nerves. Weakness and tingling in your extremities are usually the first symptoms. These sensations can quickly spread, eventually paralyzing your whole body. In its most severe form, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization.

According to a Shepherd Center spokeswoman, Jane Sanders, Bense said his goal is to recover after months of rehabilitation under the guidance of a treatment team.

Shepherd Center specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury and neuromuscular disorders such as Guillain Barré syndrome. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center, a private, not-for-profit hospital, is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation.

Sanders said the Bense family is appreciative for the outpouring of support from friends and supporters in Panama City, Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. For updates on his progress and to post messages that cheer him on toward recovery, visit Mr. Bense’s CaringBridge website at

Bense was admitted to Shands Hospital in Gainesville in mid-September for the rare nervous system condition in mid-September. According to the family's online journal, Bense went to the ER on Sept. 8 after experiencing what felt like a heart attack.

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November 04, 2013

Panel: Economic impact of marijuana "cannot be determined"

Legalizing medical marijuana could cost the state in excess of $1.1 million to operate each year, but any other financial or tax impact of offering the drug to the seriously ill is still unclear, according to a state economic panel.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference finished its analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative on Monday and concluded that “increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined.”

Aside from the Department of Health, which estimated that it would cost an estimated $1.1 million yearly to regulate the medical marijuana industry, most agencies said the cost would not be significant or did not yet have any hard numbers.

The report stated the health department’s costs “will likely be offset through fees charged to the medical marijuana industry and users."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff's Association stated there will be increased costs based on the experience of other states, but did not offer any numbers.

The report estimates that about 417,000 to 452,000 will use medical marijuana based on figures from other states. It was also estimated that about 17,178 to 41,271 snowbirds may apply for ID cards to use medical marijuana.

The campaign to put a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot was launched by United for Care, spearheaded by high-profile, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, whose law firm employs Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

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October 04, 2013

Weatherford weighs in on flood insurance with letter to Boehner and Reid

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, added his voice to the chorus of Florida leaders pleading with Congress to get back to work and amend the flawed flood insurance reform act that took effect this week.

Weatherford highlighted a provision in the bill that effectively hits homeowners whose purchased older homes when the Biggert Water Flood Insurance Reform Act became law last July and only now are learning that the rate subsidy they thought would continued disappeared on Oct. 1, and their flood insurance rates are soaring.

"While other potential implementation problems deserve further review and improvement, Congress should not wait any longer to pass legisation to provide a reasonable rate glide pather for all primary residences,'' he wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have all called on Congress to fix the law. Scott wrote a letter to Florida's congressional delegation warning that the bill will have a devastating effect on Florida's recovering real estate market and he criticized the president for not leading on the issue. 

Rubio, who at first was reluctant to support a delay in the law, held a press conference with a bi-partisan group of senators and joined with them in urging a short-term fix to stop the chilling effect the rapid rate hikes will have on home buyers. 

"Unfortunately thse calls for sensible action went unheeded,'' Weatherford said, calling for phased in rates for the most dramatically affected properties. "This oversight should be corrected immediately, and the federal program should provide glide paths for all policyholders."  Download Weatherford on NFIP

September 27, 2013

Weatherford blasts Obamacare tax penalties on Fox News

Another day, another Florida lawmaker on Fox News attacking the Affordable Care Act. Last week, it was Attorney General Pam Bondi, who expressed concerns about enrollment advisors paid to help people find insurance. This morning, House Speaker Will Weatherford focused on the taxes and penalties associated with the health care law

"They said they weren’t going to raise taxes, but Obamacare is the largest tax increase on the American people and there are numerous taxes," the Wesley Chapel Republican said right out of the gate.

Politifact has rated similar statements before, each time ruling them false or even "pants on fire."

Weatherford elaborated later in the interview, looping in higher insurance premiums as he repeated his "biggest tax increase" claim. Later, his spokesman Ryan Duffy cited this piece by conservative columnist Merrill Matthews to back the speaker's claim up.

For the most of the three-minute interview, Weatherford talked to host Brian Kilmeade about several provisions intended to provide the federal government revenue to pay for new health care choices and benefits.

For example, he called the so-called "Cadillac" tax on high-cost employer health plans "ridiculous." The tax is intended to encourage employers to chose cheaper coverages and spend their savings to boost employer pay, meaning more income for the federal government. Some unions and other large employers say it's forcing them to chose less benefit-rich insurance plans to their workforce.

Weatherford also criticized the medical device tax, caps on flexible spending accounts and the law's tanning tax -- which resulted in a reference to MTV's now shuttered reality show "Jersey Shore."

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September 23, 2013

Read Rick Scott's Common Core letters, order. A Jeb Bush dis? Not quite. Will Legislature abide? Yes


Gov. Rick Scott today made a surprise decision to try to remove Florida from a consortium of states working to create unified tests benchmarked to what are known as Common Core standards (background here).

In between Scott's letters and an executive order (below), it's see some of this as helpful to former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose education foundation has made Common Core a top issue and who has gone out of his way to knock back suspicions that the standards amount to federal overreach.

Conservative activists fear, among other things, that the national consortium of 45 Common Core states and the involvement of the U.S. Department of Education amounts to potential federal control. And Scott echoes the concern at the top of his executive order, which begins:

"WHEREAS, the Federal government has no constitutional authority to unilaterally set academic standards for Florida, nor any authority to unilaterally direct local school board decisions on curriculum and instruction; and

"WHEREAS, Floridians will not accept government intrusion into the academic standards that are taught to our students in our classrooms and will not tolerate the Federal government using such standards to coerce policy decisions at the state or local level on the issues of assessments, curriculum, and instructional materials, which are within the Constitutional purview of Florida's state and local governments...."

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September 18, 2013

Despite new ethics law, Precourt a candidate for Orlando toll job

Well that didn’t take long.

SB 2 was dubbed the most “comprehensive ethics reform package since 1976” when it was signed into law with widespread support from lawmakers earlier this year.

The centerpiece of the far-ranging 64-page bill was a new provision prohibiting lawmakers from taking a job with another public agency and another one that banned lawmakers from lobbying the governor’s office and executive branch agencies for two years after they leave office (lawmakers were already banned from lobbying the legislative branch). The intent was to prevent lawmakers from using their positions for their own private gain.

So just four months after Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law, a lawmaker is up for a job that, if he takes it, would appear to be a major violation of the law.

According to The Orlando Sentinel, Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, is being mentioned as a possible replacement for Max Crumit, who is resigning from his job as executive director of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority on Oct. 1. Crumit was forced out on Aug. 28 when the board voted 3-2 to oust him.

This wouldn’t be the first time Precourt, 52, was mentioned as a possible director of the agency, which is currently overseeing a $1 billion construction campaign. A professional transportation engineer, Precourt was considered in 2011 for the job. But he had another conflict at the time. He was a principal in an Orlando engineering firm Dyer, Riddle, Mills & Precourt, now known as DRMP Inc., and still had financial ties to the firm. DRMP has gotten $10.5 million worth of contracts from the authority from 2008 to 2011.

Are these just rumors? If so, why do they keep popping up? Precourt couldn’t be reached.

Precourt was elected to the Florida House in 2006. Term limits will force him to leave office next year. He served one year as Majority Leader for Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, but was replaced in late July by incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

Weatherford said he hasn’t heard from Precourt about his plans.

“I am planning on him being here through next year unless he tells me otherwise,” Weatherford said. “So far, I haven’t heard anything.”

September 17, 2013

Former House Speaker Bense hospitalized, will fully recover says Weatherford

Former House Speaker Allan Bense is being treated at Shands Hospital in Gainesville after getting admitted Monday, according to WJHG, Channel 7, the NBC affiliate in Panama City.

Bense, who served in the Florida House from 1998 to 2006 and was Speaker from 2004 to 2006, had a “serious bout with a pancreatic disease a few years ago” but there was no word on whether this current hospital stay was related, WJHG reported.

Bense, 61, currently serves as the chairman of the board for Florida State University’s board of trustees. A successful road contractor, he is the father-in-law of current Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who married Bense’s daughter, Courtney, in 2006.

Weatherford released this statement about Bense:

“Speaker Bense is recovering at Shands. Tonie, Courtney, the entire Bense family and I are grateful for the tremendous care and expertise he is receiving. We hope that everyone will respect the family's privacy as he makes an expected full recovery. Let me tell you, Allan Bense is one tough man, and God is with him. Everyone’s prayers are appreciated.”

September 12, 2013

Task force takes shape to study mandatory paid-sick-leave

UPDATE: House Speaker Will Weatherford sent over his list of appointees to the task force.

  • -Florida State University economics professor Randall Holcombe, filling the slot set aside for a business economist.
  • -Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.
  • -Walter Carpenter, an Orlando real estate appraiser representing Florida business owners with less than 50 employees.
  • -Gregory Riehle of Wesley Chapel, the owner of Saddlebrook Resorts representing Florida business owners with more than 50 employees.
  • -Marcia Gonzalez, Political Director of the Florida Carpenters Regional Council, a labor union.


Senate President Don Gaetz has announced the first four members of a task force that will study how state law affects the benefits companies can offer employees. The group will eventually grow to 11 people to bring recommendations to the Legislature next year in hopes of creating one statewide standard regarding mandatory paid-sick-leave.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed House 655 into law a bill, which temporarily banned cities and counties from requiring local employers to offer paid-sick-leave. Companies like Disney and Darden Restaurants, as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, argued the ban was needed to avoid having to deal with a patchwork of different rules.

The outcome of the law was to block efforts pushed by liberal organizations and labor unions in Orange County to enact mandatory paid-sick-time there. The issue was scheduled to be included on the county's ballot in August 2014 after supporters collected 50,000 signatures to trigger the referendum.

Gaetz, who says his fifth pick will be a doctor, and House Speaker Will Weatherford will appoint a total of 10 people to the task force. The president of Workforce Florida, Chris Hart, will serve as the 11th member and chairman.

Here is the full press release from Gaetz: 

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September 10, 2013

Greer remained on voter roll six months after plea

Gov. Rick Scott's administration will soon launch a new statewide hunt for suspected non-citizens on the voter roll, a process that last year led to lawsuits and lots of frustration in county elections offices because of a flawed "purge list." But if the state wants a clean roll, it might find out why it takes so long for a voter to be removed after a felony conviction.

Case in point: Jim Greer, the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida who pleaded guilty last Feb. 11 to five counts of grand theft and money laundering, but was still listed as a registered voter until last week, when we started asking questions. Now there was no election for Greer to vote in, and no chance of him obtaining a ballot at the Gulf Forestry Camp near Port St. Joe, where he's serving an 18-month sentence. The question is the reliability of the state voter database.

Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said he was still waiting for the state Division of Elections to send the paperwork necessary to initiate removal, including a certified copy of Greer's guilty plea and other documents.

"Good question," Ertel said when we asked him why Greer was still on the roll more than six months after he pleaded guilty. "We have flagged his record and are beginning the process of removal." Greer is now listed as "inactive" on the Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS), the state voter database.

In an earlier email, Ertel said: "Our office has yet to receive the information packet from the Department of State concerning Greer’s conviction. We are well aware of his conviction, and have been on the lookout for the packet from the state."

Ertel is removing Greer's name from the roll based on a provision in law that allows his office to remove a voter based on information from a source other than the state. "To be clear, Jim Greer will not be casting a ballot in any election anytime soon," Ertel said.

-- Steve Bousquet