April 10, 2014

Today in Tallahassee: Five Things to Know

TALLAHASSEE -- The controversial issue of pension reform will again take center stage at the Legislature Thursday. Here are five things to watch: 

* Teachers, police, firefighters, prison guards and others will mobilize to oppose a bill that would make major changes to the state pension system. The public employees claim two pending bills (SB 1114 and HB 7173) would create "risky retirement plans" and will testify before the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee and House Appropriations Committee. 

* More and more substantive bills are moving through the budget-writing Appropriations committees at this point in the session. The Senate Appropriations Committee will consider two dozen bills, including a package of sales tax breaks and bills dealing with hospital trauma centers and professional sports franchises. 

* State officials, legislators and religious leaders will speak at the Florida Faith & Freedom Council and Florida Right to Life 2014 Prayer Breakfast at the Tallahassee's Doubletree Hotel. Speakers include Ralph Reed of the National Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group that supports repeal of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. 

* Gov. Rick Scott travels to Pinellas Park to honor Florida veterans at an honor medal ceremony at the Congressman C.W. Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center. 

* Thursday is the next deadline for Scott and other statewide political candidates to report campaign-related contributions and expenditures. 

Steve Bousquet, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, 

April 09, 2014

House may bundle health care proposals in hopes of gaining Senate support


In hopes of improving the chances of final passage for several House initiatives that have either been languishing or watered down in the Senate, a committee will consider bundling several health care proposals into two omnibus bills Thursday.

The House Health and Human Services Committee will consider two "proposed committee substitutes" during its meeting Thursday morning. Both proposals tack on less popular measures to issues that have widespread support in the Senate: assisted living facilities reforms and allowing three HCA-owned trauma centers to remain open regardless of ongoing legal challenges.

If the committee and then the full House approve the new omnibus bills, they will be sent to the Senate for consideration. Meanwhile, the Senate is moving forward with its bills that keep the issues separate.

House Speaker Will Weatherford said he supports the decision of committee Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, to combine these various health care proposals into one.

"I wouldn't say they're necessarily the priorities, but I would say they're important pieces of legislation," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "I think Chair Corcoran just felt like some of these issues are related to each other and sometimes it's easier to send one omnibus package over to the Senate as opposed to a bunch of individual bills."

Rep. Mia Jones, the ranking Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, said she would have preferred keeping the measures separate. Asked about one of the proposals that takes the widely popular the trauma bill and adds language expanding types of services highly trained nurses can perform and regulation of virtual medical visits, Jones said she still needed to make up her mind.

Continue reading "House may bundle health care proposals in hopes of gaining Senate support" »

Can Florida match what Georgia has been passing in gun laws?


Look out Georgia.

Under a bill backed by the National Rifle Association and other gun groups, riots could be the newest safe haven for those carrying firearms without a permit.

HB 209, which is expected to be voted on Friday by the Florida House, would allow people with clean criminal backgrounds to conceal firearms without a permit during emergencies — including riots and civil unrest like the 1996 racial disturbances that rocked south St. Petersburg — declared by the governor or local officials.

"To allow people to go into a riot while concealing a gun without a permit is the definition of insanity," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "The bill is crazy. It's absurd."

Read the story.

Rick Scott stands by two misleading ads that bash Obamacare


Gov. Rick Scott is standing by two misleading campaign ads that falsely suggest 300,000 people in the state already lost their health insurance plans due to Obamacare.

“Clearly, the ad’s accurate,” Scott told reporters Wednesday in Miami, declining to elaborate.

The insurance company at the center of Scott’s claim, Florida Blue, said in an email that the Affordable Care Act has not resulted in 300,000 of its customers being forced out of their plans.

"To date, most of the members in our pre-ACA plans have kept their plans,” Florida Blue spokesman Paul Kluding said in a recent public statement.

Kluding noted that some customers chose to leave their old plans because new Obamacare plans offered a better deal "either because of potential subsidies, or because they would benefit from the new coverages and/or better premiums.”

"Technically, there were a couple of hundred members with unique plans that were not continued. We chose to migrate those plans to new ACA-compliant ones instead of making changes to their existing benefits," he said. "Other than those unique members, no one else lost coverage due to the ACA."

Story here


I shot video while talking to Scott. But so did a tracker with the liberal American Bridge group. He posted it sooner. So here it is

RPOF's Mostly True claim about Charlie Crist and taxes

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will cut auto tag fees and pointed the finger at his predecessor for raising them in the first place.

"We are going to right the wrong of the 2009 tax increase that Charlie Crist enacted," Scott said as he signed the fee rollback on April 2.

Scott, a Republican, is expected to face Democratic frontrunner Crist in November.

The Republican Party of Florida joined the Crist-as-tax-hiker chorus on Twitter: ".@charliecrist raised taxes in 2009 and won't rule out raising taxes again."

We’ll examine what type of taxes were raised under Crist in 2009 and what he has said about raising taxes in the future. Read PolitiFact's full report.

Truth-O-Meter tackles Medicare Advantage attacks

Gov. Rick Scott, like many other Republicans, has pinned part of his re-election strategy on criticizing the Affordable Care Act. He’s attacked President Barack Obama’s signature legislation time and again in campaign ads, especially the law’s effects on Medicare. The ads claim that rate cuts will drastically alter seniors’ access to the doctors and care they want.

But the ads aren’t  telling the whole story. The Scott ads are about changes to Medicare Advantage, in which private companies administer insurance plans for Medicare-eligible recipients. That’s not the same as what’s referred to as traditional Medicare, which is what most people think of when they hear the name of the program.

Confused? That’s probably the point. But don’t worry, PolitiFact is here to help. We’ll iron out the differences between the two programs, and why distinctions should be made when referring to Medicare. Read PolitiFact's full report for fact-checks on claims by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida.

My Lawmaker website helps find who represents you

Looking for an easy way to learn who represents you and how to contact them? We have re-launched My Lawmaker, a website where Floridians can plug in their street address and find out their federal and state representatives.

The site is updated with new district maps and we have phone numbers, websites and email addresses for your lawmakers.

Take a look and share with your friends. Post a comment here if you have any problems.

Old marijuana conviction snuffs out proposal to rename Miami-Dade baseball complex


Miami-Dade County commissioners were not so high about naming a portion of a West Kendall park Tuesday after a youth baseball coordinator who was once convicted of a pot-related charge.

The late Al Engle was the former president of the Kendall Hammocks Optimist baseball program and, according to Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, who knew him, was beloved by the community.

But in 1983, a U.S. district court in Illinois found Engle, who was born in 1936, guilty of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, a background search by a commission auditor found. (The search also found some financial issues, such as liens, that commissioners said mattered little to them.)

Yet the federal drug conviction, while more than three decades old, sparked opposition on the board, with all but two commissioners on the dais saying they couldn't support the "Al Engle Baseball Complex" name at Hammocks Community Park.

"Parks are for children, and children will learn the history of the person," Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said.

Zapata, who proposed the name change, stood by his legislation despite the finding, saying commissioners should not judge a person by a single mistake.

"I want to look at a man or woman, the totality of their existence and their life, and their dedication to what they did," he said.

But commissioners said they would not be burned again as they were last year when they learned the owner of a Hialeah sugar processing company had once pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge.

The county had named a street after the firm.

Miami-Dade commissioners: We might not support PortMiami soccer stadium site


Here's a lesson for investors looking to play ball -- any type of ball -- with Miami-Dade County: It's not enough to make nice with Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Thirteen county commissioners need to be persuaded, too. And on Tuesday, it looked like international football star David Beckham and his group, who are seeking a Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami, had not done enough to court them (at least, not yet).

The board wasn't scheduled to talk about soccer. Beckham's representatives are in early negotiations with Gimenez's administration, which has not yet recommended any site or stadium plan. Several other sites have also been under consideration.

But the port's debt came up. So did a plan to relocate a fuel-spill facility to make way for development -- a soccer stadium or otherwise -- on the port's southwest corner, which is too shallow for cruise and cargo ships.

Commissioners took the opportunity to warn Gimenez, who was not at the meeting, that he might be talking to Miami Beckham United about a port stadium when not enough board members would actually support the site.

"Sometimes you need to see the concerns to make sure you don't lose time or lose the possibility of building a good stadium just because you wanted to build it in a place with so many difficulties," said Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, a critic from the start about the port location.

In December, a unanimous commission eagerly supported the stadium talks, though a few on the board raised questions about the port even then.

Read more from Douglas Hanks here.

April 08, 2014

So far, Senate favoring big beer over craft breweries

Under a bill that passed the Senate’s Community Affairs Committee on Tuesday, craft brewers will finally be able to sell their concoctions in 64 ounce containers that are legal in 47 other states and popular for home consumption.

Unfortunately, in exchange, the bill requires that before the specialty brewers can sell to their customers, they would first have to sell to distributors, who would then sell the beer back at a markup to the brewers, even if the beer never leaves the establishment.

“It comes down to, we want a simple bottle size, 64 ounces, that’s it, it’s very simple,” said Josh Aubuchon, a Holland & Knight lobbyist who represents the Florida Brewers Guild, a consortium that counts 90 local breweries in Florida, including 28 in the Tampa Bay region. “And instead you have these other forces wanting to pull this red tape and this bureaucratic nonsense on breweries that are growing at a very healthy rate...It’s ludicrous.”

By an 8-1 vote, SB 1714 passed with help from its sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Yes, craft breweries would have to sell the beers they produce to a distributor, and then buy them back, but Stargel said that’s meant to protect the industry’s three-tier system: manufacturer, distributor, vendor.

“The reason why we have the distribution system is to make sure that we have some certainty in what beer has been brewed and what beer has gone into the vendor system because each step alonog the way there are various taxes collected,” said Stargel, sounding quite unlike the small government, anti-regulation Republican she is. “The three tier system was established so that we had very trackable brew through the process. We know how much beer is brewed, it then goes to the distribution center and basically comes to rest so we know how much beer is there, the level of taxation there, and then there’s the beer that goes out to the vendors. In it’s purest form, the three tier system says you can’t be more than one of those. Either you’re a brewer, either you’re a distributor, either you’re a vendor.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was the only no vote and likened Stargel’s proposed “distribution” system to paying off crime syndicates. He proposed an amendment that would require distributors to actually buy the beer and move it to their warehouse before delivering it back to the brewer to sell to the customer.

“If (brewers) are going to have to pay this tariff, sort of like protection to Vinny in New York, then they should at least have to move the goods,” he said.

But the committee voted against the amendment. Latvala then tried some fancy manuevering to kill the bill. Although he spoke out against it, Latvala initially voted for it. But then he made a motion to reconsider the bill, which he could since he was on the prevailing side of the vote.

Yet rather than delay a vote, holding it for another meeting, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, moved that the bill be considered "instanter", which means "immediately."

When the committee voted a second time on the bill, Latvala voted no. Afterward, he walked over to Thrasher clutching a rules book. As the meeting continued, the two men huddled and whispered.

Finally, Latvala walked away, but not before telling Thrasher: "You don't make up the rules."

Latvala was gone by meeting's end. Thrasher was still there.

"He didn’t want to vote on it," said Thrasher, who happens to be the Senate's Rules chairman. "He thought by reconsidering, it would leave it in the committee, which would mean the bill is dead effectively because we’re not meeting."

If anything, the series of events underscores the might of Big Beer. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has already told the Associated Press that he supports the bill as a favor to Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor Lewis Bear, a major GOP donor.

And distributors are already contributing heavily to Stargel’s campaign finances. According to the Florida Division of Elections records of her 2016 Senate race, Stargel collected at least $6,000 from beer distributors since late last year, or about 12 percent of her total.

Last month, Aubuchon lobbied to water down a similar measure in the House. But the Senate version now only has one committee stop left, Rules, before it's up for a full Senate vote.