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March 04, 2015

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

As 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.

FeeneyAs 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. 

Prison employees detail troubles in letters to lawmaker

In the last month, a series of letters from worried employees at the Florida Department of Corrections arrived in the mail box of Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Employees detailed tales of corrupt officers, onerous staffing conditions, being coached to answer an employee survey, and an atmosphere in which anyone faced retaliation if they spoke up about allegations of agency corruption.

Evers, R-Baker, who has conducted nearly a dozen surprise visits to prisons around the state, said he confirmed the identity of the anonymous employees by speaking to them on the phone but agreed to shield their identities. He said he solicited none of the letters, though he gave people his email and cell phone number. He is now considering having some appear under oath before the committee.

“I want to be sure there is a good working environment at DOC and ease employee fears that if there’s something wrong they can come forward without retribution,’’ he told the Herald/Times.

At his committee meeting Monday, Evers got assurance from DOC Secretary Julie Jones that her agency would not retaliate against any corrections officer who comes forward. “They will have free passage,’’ Jones told the committee when asked by Evers.

More here.

March 03, 2015

Ready for Hillary PAC to host Miami fundraiser


Ready for Hillary, the super-PAC acting as a campaign-in-waiting for Democrat Hillary Clinton, is inviting supporters to a fundraiser next Saturday in Miami.

The event, at Florida International University, would cost $20.16 to end (or $201.60 to be named a "host"), according to the invitation.

Organizing the reception are Daisy Black, former mayor of El Portal and president of the Democratic Women's Club of Miami-Dade, and Aaron Darr of Ready for Hillary.

Other hosts are: Jacqui Colyer, Jacques Despinosse, Doyle Durando, Scott Herman, Andrew Korge, Maritza Matos, Daniel Mulieri, Pablo Nobre, Jonathan Oriole, America Schroh, Daniel Sohn and Venghan "Winnie" Tang. Former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston is listed as a "special guest."

The PAC held a similar small-dollar fundraiser in Tampa last week.

Chris Christie will speak at Palm Beach GOP fundraising dinner


Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor and possible Republican presidential candidate, will deliver keynote remarks Friday at the Palm Beach GOP's annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

Some 600 people are expected at the event, to be held at the Mar-A-Lago Club owned by another Republican testing the 2016 presidential waters, Donald Trump.

Christie will cross paths with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, who interviewed him last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Ingraham will present an award to fundraiser Gay Hart Gaines. Also expected are Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Earlier Friday, Christie's Leadership Matters for America PAC will host a private fundraiser, according to Bloomberg Politics.

Miami Herald wins Goldsmith Prize for 'Innocents Lost' project

Miami Herald reporters Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch won the 2015 prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting for their series, Innocents Lost, a year-long project that chronicled how nearly 500 children died of abuse or neglect over six years in families who had a history with the Florida Department of Children & Families, the state agency designed to protect children.

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School announced Tuesday night it had awarded the $25,000 prize to Marbin Miller and Burch. Also recognized: reporter Mary Ellen Klas, designers Lazaro Gamio and Kara Dapena, videographer and photographer Emily Michot and investigations editor Casey Frank.

The series led to sweeping changes in child-welfare laws across the state. The project included a searchable database detailing the children’s stories.

More here.

Hillary Clinton email controversy raises questions about Jeb Bush, Rick Scott

via @learyreports

News that Hillary Clinton used a private email account during her time as Secretary of State draws contrasts and similarities to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Gov. Rick Scott, both of whom have drawn criticism for using private email.

Bush, a leading Republican contender for president, quickly jumped on the news against an expected rival, whom critics have long cast as secretive.

“Transparency matters,” Bush wrote Monday night on Twitter. “Unclassified @HillaryClinton emails should be released. You can see mine, here.

Earlier this year Bush released several hundred thousand emails covering his eight years as governor, a massive archive that gave insight into his handling of sensitive issues such as the Terri Schiavo saga and into his assertive leadership style.

The records were already available but Bush, putting them in an easy-to-read format, touted his commitment to transparency.

But the public cannot see everything.

Bush, who used a private account, removed from the record those emails related to politics, fundraising and family matters.

“He’s being a bit disingenuous because he decided what we saw and didn’t see,” said Barbara A. Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a group that is supported by news organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald.

More here.

Marco Rubio to unveil tax-reform plan written with Utah senator

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

Sen. Marco Rubio is teaming up with another conservative senator to release a tax overhaul bill that would reduce the number of tax brackets for individuals and drop corporate tax rates, all in an attempt to boost economic growth.

While details of the proposal by Rubio, R-Fla., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, won’t be released until Wednesday morning, information on the proposal has trickled out over recent days.

Rubio and Lee outlined the general principles in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last September, writing that “the current tax code taxes too much, taxes unfairly and conspires with our outmoded welfare system to trap poor families in poverty, rather than facilitate their climb into the middle class. Our reforms seek to simplify the structure and lower rates.”

The proposal has a slim chance of becoming law, experts say, as Democrats would be likely to block tax-law changes in the Republican-controlled Senate.

More here.

Election records show Jeb Bush skipped '08 presidential race

via @adamsmithtimes

Miami-Dade elections records indicate that Jeb Bush did not cast a vote in the 2008 presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain, even though he campaigned for the Arizona senator. Bush's spokeswoman insisted to the New York Times, which first reported on the discrepency, that Bush and his wife voted absentee in the election.

Lord knows mistakes happen when it comes to South Florida elections, and Bush is not the first prominent politician to insist the elections office records wrongly list them as non-voters. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jim Davis had to explain days before the 2006 election why Hillsborough County listed him as not voting in the virtually tied 2000 presidential race in Florida.

Meanwhile, the Democratic opposition research firm American Research pulled the records that suggest it has not been all that rare for bush to not bother voting in elections. Since 1996, county elections records indicate he missed voting in six of the 39 elections he was eligible to vote in. In other words, it appears he did not vote 15 percent of the time.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Updated: No meeting scheduled between Rick Scott, black caucus

UPDATE: Jackie Schutz, spokesperson for Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Wednesday that members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus did request a meeting with the governor via phone.

Staff in Scott's office asked for additional information on the meeting request via email, she said, and they didn't hear a response.

EARLIER: The first day of the legislative session is over, and Gov. Rick Scott hasn't yet met with members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus to discuss issues they say are important to minority communities across the state.

Continue reading "Updated: No meeting scheduled between Rick Scott, black caucus" »

U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC sending 'young leaders' to D.C. to fight new policy


A group of young Cuban-American conservatives from Miami plans to travel to Washington D.C. this week to oppose President Obama's rapprochement with Cuba.

Members of the hard-line U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee's Young Leaders Group -- all under age 35 -- want to make their case to federal lawmakers that closer ties to Cuba won't help democracy efforts on the island.

They plan to meet with Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, all Democrats who recently visited Cuba. Also on tap are meetings with one of the U.S. facilitators of the talks that led to the new policy, Ricardo Zuñiga of the National Security Council, and with Mark Wells of the office of Cuban affairs at the U.S. State Department.

"We are going to Washington because we cannot accept our government abandoning Cuba's brave democracy activists in favor of sitting down with a repressive Cold War dictatorship," Rudy Mayor, director of the Young Leaders Group, said in a statement. "We need to invest in Cuba's democratic future, not it's 80-year-old totalitarian leaders."

Before the trip, the group met with Cuban dissidents Jorge Luis García Pérez (better known as Antúnez) and Rosa María Payá.

College student says Miami lawmaker punched him


Pip_FraudA college student spending Spring Break in Tallahassee didn't expect to get punched in the face by a Miami lawmaker.

But that's what happened sometime between late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, hours before the start of the annual legislative session, according to the student.

Peter Alberti, a Connecticut native who studies in Charleston, said state Rep. Frank Artiles decked him at Clyde's and Costello's, a downtown Tallahassee bar steps from the Florida Capitol.

"He was trying to get by, up at the bar, to get drinks," Alberti told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday. "He punched me in the face."

Artiles, 41, denied the accusation.

"Didn't happen," he said in a text message to the Herald after learning from a reporter that the newspaper had spoken to Alberti. "It is a set up."

It's the second time Artiles, who represents deep Southwest Miami-Dade County, has been whispered about in the Capitol over a purported punch. One of Artiles' friends, former state Rep. Doug Holder, even joked in his farewell House of Representatives speech last year that he would leave Artiles former state Rep. Rob Schenck's punching bag.

"Aides aren't so good for that," Holder said, referring to a rumored, earlier scuffle between Artiles and another lawmaker's aide.

Tuesday's incident was made public at 1:37 a.m., when L.J. Govoni, a former aide to U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Tampa Republican, tweeted at Artiles:

Continue reading "College student says Miami lawmaker punched him" »

Activists unveil liberal agenda to counter Rick Scott's

Pointing to inequality and “self-delusion” by Gov. Rick Scott after his State of the State address Tuesday, a group of liberal activists called Awake the State outlined their proposals for the legislative session.

“We’re here to unveil a bold, progressive agenda that works for all Floridians, not just the wealthy and well connected,” said Barbara DeVane of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Town of Cutler Bay, headlined the announcement, which brought together activists on five central agenda items.

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