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May 29, 2015

Court orders state to recognize slot machines in Florida counties with voter approval

From the Associated Press:

Slot machines could be coming to several Florida dog and horse tracks if a far-reaching court ruling holds.

A Florida appeals court Friday ordered state regulators to award a license for slot machines to a north Florida facility located west of the state Capitol.

The First District Court of Appeal ruled by a 2-1 margin that the state improperly denied a slot machine license to a horse track located in Gretna in Gadsden County.

The court said the license should have been granted because Gadsden voters approved a referendum authorizing slots.

The ruling could have a wide impact because voters in several other counties including Lee, Brevard and Palm Beach have approved similar referendums.

State regulators had turned down the slot machine request due to a legal opinion by Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Feds say they're not quite ready to approve governor's LIP plan

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Friday that it has not signed off on the proposal by Gov. Rick Scott to rely on local governments and safety net hospitals to draw down money for the uninsured and raised concerns about the impact of the change on communities -- like Miami -- that provide the bulk of the funding for the Low Income Pool.

"CMS continues to be engaged with Florida regarding the state's LIP proposal and the May 26 letter but has not communicated approval,'' said Ben Wakana, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in response to a question by the Herald/Times. "CMS is reviewing the proposal and public comments, and working to understand the implications of the letter as well as the viability and sustainability of the proposed funding mechanism."

Under the governor's plan, announced by the Agency for Health Care Administration in a letter to the federal government on Wednesday, the state would offset the loss of $1 billion into the Low Income Pool by relying on local hospitals and local governments to raise $900 million in financing to draw down $1.2 billion in federal funds. The financing arrangements are known as intergovernmental transfers. 

As a return on their investment, hospitals would be rewarded a 10 percent profit -- a cost to the program of about $100 million. The state would then use the $1 billion promised by the federal government in Low Income Pool funding to reimburse teaching hospitals and increase patient reimbursement rates.

Continue reading "Feds say they're not quite ready to approve governor's LIP plan" »

UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'


Jeb Bush, who last week basked in the hometown embrace of Miami Cuban-American hard-liners, stayed loyal to their cause Friday when he again denounced the Obama administration for removing Cuba from a list of terrorism sponsors.

"Neither continued repression at home nor Cuba's destabilizing activities abroad appear sufficient to stop President Obama from making further concessions to the Communist regime in Havana," Bush said in a statement. "Today's news is further evidence that President Obama seems more interested in capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them. Iran's leaders are surely taking note."

He went further, referring to the action as a "mistake":

"The removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and the unilateral concessions to Havana, before it changes its authoritarian ways and stops denying the Cuban people their basic human rights, is a mistake," Bush said. "I call on Congress to keep pressure on Cuba and hold the Administration accountable."

Bush had taken a similar stance when lifting the designation was first announced. Congress had 45 days to try to block it but didn't try to do so. The change is effective as of Friday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the other 2016 Republican presidential hopeful from Miami, has called the decision "terrible."

UPDATE: Here's video of Rubio from Friday criticizing the decision as a "giveaway":


Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- also slammed the change in statements Friday. Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen have endorsed Bush, and Curbelo also seems likely to do so once Bush formalizes his candidacy.

Continue reading "UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'" »

Safety net hospitals blast governor's proposal -- say it helps for-profits at their expense

Florida hospitals that provide the bulk of the charity care in Florida said Friday that Gov. Rick Scott's plan to draw down federal health care money by relying on them to raise funds will slash revenue to the state's teaching, public and children's hospitals by $302 million and "could put some out of business."

The governor's proposal attempts to address the concerns of the federal government -- which wants federal money to follow the patients who seek health care, instead of following the hospitals that serve them. But, the so-called "safety net" hospitals say, that set-up now rewards for-profit hospitals that often intentionally avoid serving the uninsured.

The Herald/Times first reported that the governor's formula resulted in a net reduction in federal revenues of $214 million to hospitals in Florida, most of it from Jackson Memorial in Miami and North and South Broward hospitals.

Since offering the plan to the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services earlier this week, the governor's office has started telling lawmakers that the governor is willing to spend as much as $200 million in general revenue to offset those cuts and keep hospitals whole, sources have told the Herald/Times.

But the Safety Net Hospitals warn it could have a devastating impact -- for example, cutting revenue to Jackson Memorial in Miami by as much as $84.7 million in the first year and $135 million in the second year.  Download Spreadsheet of Governor's Proposal, 5.29.15

Under the plan, Miami Dade County would put up $320 million of its tax money to draw down $490 million in federal matching funds -- based on the 40/60 formula -- and receive only $100 million in return. 

 “While we appreciated Governor Scott’s recent unsuccessful efforts to retain current levels of LIP funding, we are disappointed to see that his proposal targets safety net hospitals and could literally put some out of business,” said Tony Carvalho, Safety Net Hospitals of Florida president in a statement. “We are urging the governor and his team to re-evaluate the harmful impacts of this proposed redistribution.”

Here's their press release:  Download SNHAF press release on Gov's LIP proposal 5.29.15

Continue reading "Safety net hospitals blast governor's proposal -- say it helps for-profits at their expense" »

Conservative Americans for Prosperity takes to TV to blast Florida lawmakers over Medicaid expansion


Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the industrialist Koch brothers, is continuing to campaign against Medicaid expansion under Obamacare in Florida.

The group plans to launch a new television ad timed with the start of the special Florida legislative session, which begins Monday (a longer web version of the spot is below). AFP has also sent fliers to voters to targeting Republicans in the state Senate who back Medicaid expansion.

"The Florida Senate's Medicaid expansion plan is wrong for Florida," AFP state director Chris Hudson said in a statement. "The only thing that is certain is that Florida families who depend on this already bloated program will have an even harder time getting care and, like other states' expansions, it could cost billions more than expected, ultimately forcing legislators to raise taxes or make cuts from other essential services."

Hudson's father is state Rep. Matt Hudson of Naples.

A Healthy Florida Works Coalition, which supports Medicaid expansion as proposed by the Senate, has been airing its own ad in support of those lawmakers.


Revisiting the Legislature's budget showdown

With the Legislature starting a special session June 1 to settle on a budget, the elephant in the room is still the debate over what to do about Medicaid expansion.

Gov. Rick Scott and the House refuse to budge on the issue, arguing that expanding the federal health coverage program for the poor is bad for the state. The Senate has proposed -- and since modified -- a private solution that aims to use federal money guaranteed through the Affordable Care Act.

The sides were so intractable on the $4 billion difference between their proposed budgets, the House adjourned three days early in April, a move the Florida Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional. Scott has issued dire warnings of a "government shutdown" and ordered state agencies to draw up lists of critical services that must continue if the Florida Legislature cannot pass a budget by July 1.

Tied up into the debate is a joint state and federal program called the Low Income Pool, a discretionary program started in 2005 that helps pay hospitals for uncompensated care expenses from low income patients that are uninsured or underinsured (including Medicaid patients).

Despite telling Florida in April 2014 that the $2.2 billion LIP program was going to lose about $1.3 billion in matching funds, Scott included the program’s federal money in his proposed budget. When Washington stuck to its timeline of ending the program’s federal match, budget talks were thrown into chaos.

Washington has since backed off its yearlong warning telegraphing LIP’s demise, suggesting instead the program could be gradually phased out. But questions that still remain about what to do with the budget, even with federal money coming back.

There have been plenty of arguments about both the LIP and Medicaid expansion, with PolitiFact Florida working hard to cover all the bases. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for a look back at our fact-checks related to Medicaid expansion.

Rallies planned for Everglades land purchase in advance of special Florida session

via @jenstaletovich

Conservationists who want Florida to preserve more land are holding rallies across the state Saturday in advance of the special legislative session that starts Monday.

The push follows a bitter fight during the regular session that included protests and a rally headlined by Jimmy Buffett to persuade lawmakers to buy U.S. Sugar land before a deal expired. Backers of Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment overwhelmingly supported in November, say the state needs to buy land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee and order the South Florida Water Management District to lay out a plan for designing and building a reservoir they say is part of the original restoration plans for the wilting wetlands.

A South Miami rally, including Mayor Philip Stoddard, Miami-Dade County Commissioners Rebecca Sosa and Daniella Levine Cava and Audubon Florida, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at South Miami's City Hall, 6130 Sunset Drive.


Florida GOP rolls out finance committee


The Republican Party of Florida has assembled a team to kick off fund-raising for the 2016 election.

The list so far includes well-known former statehouse leaders, as well as prominent GOP fund-raisers, according to a news release in which Chairman Blaise Ingoglia touted members from "the many geographic areas" of the state. Unmentioned: the party's tense relationship with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has his own fund-raising committee, and with the state Senate.

"Our fundraising efforts will be vital as we prepare for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats," Ingoglia said in the release.

Here's the list:

Continue reading "Florida GOP rolls out finance committee" »

May 28, 2015

Scott's LIP plan would cut $214 million from hospitals, most in South Florida

Gov. Rick Scott released details of his latest proposal to draw down $2.3 billion in federal Low Income Pool funds on Thursday. While the formula is higher than previously announced, it does not use any state dollars to backfill the loss but it cuts reimbursements to hospitals by $214 million.

Hardest hit are hospitals that do the bulk of the state's charity care. Among those facing the deepest cuts are: Jackson Memorial (-$34.5 million), Broward General (-$22.3 million), Shands in Gainesville (-$34.5 million), Shands in Jacksonville (-$36.5 million) and All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg (-$12.9 million.)

Under the plan, announced by the Agency for Health Care Administration in a letter to the federal government on Tuesday, the state would not lose $1 billion in federal health care money as previously suggested but the money would be offset by local hospitals and local governments, which would raise $900 million in financing to draw down $1.2 billion in federal Low Income Pool funds. The financing arrangements are known as intergovernmental transfers. 

As a return on their investment, hospitals would be rewarded a 10 percent profit -- a cost to the program of about $100 million. The state would then use the $1 billion promised by the federal government in Low Income Pool funding to reimburse teaching hospitals and increase patient reimbursement rates.

Continue reading "Scott's LIP plan would cut $214 million from hospitals, most in South Florida" »

Mayor Gimenez promotes from within for department chiefs


Tara Smith, a deputy in Miami-Dade's procurement department, will take on the top job there, Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Thursday.

Smith's appointment as Internal Services director puts her in charge of an 880-person department that manages county facilities, runs its auto fleet and -- of great importance to County Hall's lobbyist corps -- oversees purchasing for a $6 billion budget. It was also the department at the center of the recent parking-services scandal, when Internal Services officials stumbled onto an alleged embezzlement scam.

Smith is a relative newcomer to Internal Services, having joined the department in 2013 after nine years in county government. An assistant director at ISD, she succeeds Lester Sola, who was tapped earlier this year as director of the Water and Sewer department.

Also on Thursday, Gimenez named  long-time aide Inson Kim to the county's Community Information and Outreach Department (often known as CIAO).

The 202-person department includes the 311 Answer Center, oversees the county's website and runs a 12-person television channel. Kim worked for Gimenez when he was a county commissioner, and continued as a top  aide when he was elected mayor in 2011. She recently left the mayor's office to run external affairs for the Regulatory and Economic Resources Department. 

CIAO faced its own scandal last summer when Henry Sori, then the department head, was suspended over an internal "team-building" video that featured employees air humping  and performing other antics. Sori, who left his post earlier this year, was suspended for five days after Channel 10 revealed the video's existence. 

Smith's yearly compensation will rise from $150,000 to $180,000 a year, and Kim's will go from $128,000 to $155,000, said Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández.

The announcement said the appointments were effective immediately. County commissioners don't need to approve mayoral appointments, but can veto them with a 2/3 vote. 

Miami groups petition for Medicaid expansion at state Rep. Jose Oliva's office

via @chabelih

At a busy corner in the ZIP code with the highest number of Obamacare enrollments in the nation — 33012 in Hialeah —demonstrators armed with 30,000 signatures knocked on the door of state Rep. Jose Oliva’s office Thursday hoping to gain his support on the issue that has polarized Florida’s lawmakers: Medicaid expansion.

About 30 people showed up for the rally led by SEIU Local 1991, a union representing 5,000 healthcare workers in the Jackson Health System. They sought to convince Oliva — who was not in his office — and other House Republicans opposing expansion to change their minds before the start of the legislative special session next week.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, includes a provision to expand Medicaid. Florida is among the 18 states that have not chosen to expand and a bitter dispute between Republicans in the House and Senate over the issue forced an early end to the regular session.

The groups delivered the signatures, collected over several months from around the state, to Oliva’s second-floor office at a shopping center, urging him to listen to his constituents.

“His constituents are telling him: ‘We want healthcare. We are buying healthcare under the Affordable Care Act,’” said Martha Baker, president of the local SEIU, before leaving the petition with Oliva’s secretary.

More here.

Scott on Senate's latest health care plan, FHIX 2.0: 'I'm not doing it'

@scontorno @MaryEllenKlas

Gov. Rick Scott all but threatened a veto Thursday of a Senate plan aimed at expanding health insurance coverage to more than 800,000 uninsured Floridians by drawing down federal money into a privately run insurance exchange.

"I'm not doing it," Scott told the Herald/Times after a meeting of the Enterprise Florida board of directors in Tampa. He repeated his claim at the Senate's Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange (FHIX) program is a tax increase but, when asked, he refused to explain how he reaches that conclusion.

"I can't think of many health care programs that have no cost," Scott said. "I mean there's nothing free out there, right? The study out there says it's going to cost $5 billion over the first 10 years and look at history, if you look at Medicare, how much more Medicare costs today than what they anticipated -- Medicaid."

Under the FHIX plan, the state would pay $5 billion over 10 years to draw down $50 billion in federal revenue to cover the uninsured. By contrast, the governor does not have the same complaint about using local taxpayer dollars in counties with healthcare taxing districts to spend as much as $900 million to draw down $1.2 billion in federal revenue to pay for health care for people who can't afford insurance or don't quality for it in Florida. 

Under the latest proposal from Scott's Agency for Health Care Administration, the state would rely on local taxpayers to draw down the federal money to raise reimbursement rates and pay for services for patients who cannot afford their own health insurance. His office released the impact on hospitals of that proposal on Thursday.  

A contrary point of view to the governor's was offered by Legislature's chief economist, Amy Baker, testified before a Senate committee last month. Baker said her analysis showed that, rather than raising taxes, the FHIX plan would result in a state surplus over time.

Here’s the full exchange between Scott and Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Contorno in Tampa today:

Continue reading "Scott on Senate's latest health care plan, FHIX 2.0: 'I'm not doing it'" »

Fact-checking Jeb Bush's claims about ISIS, Al-Qaida

After former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush faced a tough couple of weeks related to hi scomments about whether he would have invaded Iraq even if he had known about faulty intelligence, he used a new tactic in New Hampshire: Blame President Barack Obama.

"The world is radically different, and so the focus ought to be on ‘knowing what you know now, Mr. President, would you, should you have kept 10,000 troops in Iraq?’ " Bush said at a roundtable event in Portsmouth May 20.

Bush noted that the Iraqi city of Ramadi had been taken over by ISIS the day before his roundtable. He then continued:

"ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al-Qaida in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president. There were mistakes made in Iraq for sure, but the surge created a fragile but stable Iraq that the president could have built on....." He then criticized how Obama has handled Iraq.

We decided to fact-check Bush’s claims that ISIS did not exist under President George W. Bush and that al-Qaida was wiped out in Iraq. (The Washington Post's The Fact-Checker examined this issue as well.)

See what PolitiFact Florida found.

In gesture to Cuban Americans, Obama visits Our Lady of Charity shrine in Miami


President Barack Obama extended a symbolic olive branch Thursday to Miami’s Cuban Americans by paying his respects to the shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Coconut Grove.

Earlier in the day, Obama visited the National Hurricane Center and met privately with the Pinecrest family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist slain last year by the Islamic State, to offer condolences.

The surprise afternoon stop at the shrine by the sea, better known by its Spanish name, La Ermita de la Caridad, comes at a time when many Cuban exiles remain miffed by the president’s decision last December to restore diplomatic relations with the communist island, especially since Obama made no effort to reach out to Miami leaders prior to his announcement.

Obama is the first president to pay his respects to the shrine, according to the Archdiocese of Miami. It’s named after the patroness saint of Cuba.

Hola,” he told 13 worshipers seated in the church pews when he walked in. The Rev. Juan Rumin Dominguez guided the president, along with Cristina Brito, who served as interpreter.

More here.

This post has been updated.

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush sound open to more oil drilling

via @learyreports

Efforts to open up oil dilling off both Florida coasts could inject the issue into the race for president, and home state contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are generally supportive of more production.

Neither Republican seems receptive to legislation Sen. Bill Nelson filed to block a proposal from Gulf state lawmakers that would end the ban on drilling within a certain distance of the coast. The current prohibition, ranging from 125 miles to 235 miles, expires in 2022. Proponents, led by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., say increased drilling would create jobs.

Nelson last week declared that Florida is “under siege” and filed counter legislation.

“We’re still reviewing the bill, but Senator Rubio supports developing our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively, including offshore drilling and oil exploration,” said Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush sound open to more oil drilling" »

No public events on Hillary Clinton's Florida swing


Remember how Hillary Clinton's campaign had said she might do a public event as part of her two-day fund-raising swing through Florida this week?

Looks like that won't be happening.

No public event has been scheduled, according to her campaign.

It's certainly possible that Clinton could still make an unscheduled stop somewhere, but that's hardly the same thing as an event open to voters -- and to reporters. Clinton has generally shunned the news media, saying she's "listening" to voters. She's also asking flush political donors to open their checkbooks.

Clinton will be in Miami on Thursday and in Parkland and Orlando on Friday.

President Obama tours National Hurricane Center in Miami


78Obama 052915 Hurricane ADD

To mark the June 1 start of another storm season, President Barack Obama toured the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Thursday, learning about storm chasing and forecasting, and urging people to stay vigilant.

He visited the windowless hollows of the Hurricane Center, where the walls are covered with maps and computer screens showing storm forecasts and models. Obama asked staff questions, particularly about advances in technology.

He also wanted to know how pilots collect storm measurements. They fly into the weather systems -- not over them -- he was told. 

"Seems dangerous," the president said. "Ever scary?"

Rick Knabb, the center's director, assuured him the trips were "generally" safe -- though Knabb recounted one incident in which a pilot lost altitude and was forced to make an emergency landing.

Jamie Rhome, leader of the center's storm surge unit, showed off a new storm surge model forecasters began using last November. Scientists also have better computers to crunch data from the radar they drop into storms, so they can make more accurate models once a system forms. 

Continue reading "President Obama tours National Hurricane Center in Miami" »

In Miami, Obama meets with family of slain journalist Steven Sotloff


As part of his visit to Miami, President Obama met Thursday with the family of Steven Sotloff, the journalist who was killed last year by Islamic State.

According to the White House, Obama met with Sotloff's parents, Art and Shirley, and Sotloff's sister Lauren. The family is from Pinecrest.

"The President expressed his and the First Lady's condolences for Steven's death," the White House said. "He appreciated the chance to hear from the Sotloffs more about Steven's work as a journalist, including his passion for bringing the stories of people who are suffering to the rest of the world in the hope of making a positive difference, including in Syria.

"The President also recognized the family's '2Lives: Steven Joel Sotloff Memorial Foundation,' which was created to provide support and assistance to journalists reporting from conflict torn areas of the world."

Miami cops couldn't get uniforms, played basketball


For three weeks, and perhaps longer, about a dozen Miami police officers played basketball and twiddled their thumbs because the department couldn't get them uniforms, according to Police Chief Rudy Llanes.

Speaking Thursday during Miami's bi-annual commission meeting, Llanes acknowledged that 13 officers went weeks without uniforms recently after the department's vendor defaulted on a contract. He said the problem delayed the officers' "scenario-based training," but the department has now contracted with an emergency vendor.

Llanes acknowledged the problem after Commissioner Marc Sarnoff noted the city's police union had raised the issue. Fraternal Order of Police president Lt. Javier Ortiz then said there are two female officers who have been waiting since January, which Llanes couldn't confirm or deny.

"They are sitting around. They are waiting," he said.

There are about 1,150 officers in the Miami Police Department.

Jeb Bush flubs stat on bond ratings

Not-quite-yet Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush continues to sell potential voters on his eight years as Florida’s governor.

"Florida was the only state during my eight years to go from AA to AAA (in its bond rating)," Bush told business leaders in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 20, 2015. He added the change followed years of increasing the state’s cash reserves from $1 billion to $10 billion.

A state getting its bond rating upgraded is a relatively rare occurrence, so we wondered whether Florida was the only state to jump to a top rating while Bush was in office from 1999-2006.

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found and see Bush's full Truth-0-Meter record.