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March 13, 2015

No LIP crisis here: All systems go with House tax cut

The House is allocating $2 ½ billion less than the $30.3 billion state economists are forecasting for general revenue next year, according to allocations for next year’s budget released on Friday.

That means the House is socking away for reserves and a tax cut package that House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says will exceed $500 million. But how much more than $500 million?

Well, last year, the House reserved $1 ½ billion for reserves. It that holds this year, then its tax package will have enough spare change to at least match Gov. Rick Scott’s $673 million that he proposes to cut.

But that also assumes the House won’t have to adjust for losing at least $1.3 billion that helps hospitals pay the costs of treating uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients. A federal official said last month that the Low Income Pool (LIP) program won’t get renewed next year, prompting the Senate to consider the expansion of Medicaid to ease the burden on hospitals who lose the money.

House leaders, at least so far, won’t consider expansion. And, so far at least, they don’t consider the loss of LIP revenue a likely outcome.

“I have faith that they’re going to (renew) it,” said House Appropriations Chair Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity. “All of this is hysteria because one guy said LIP won’t exist, but he didn’t say the funding was going away. And expanding Medicaid has nothing to do with LIP. California expanded Medicaid and still gets LIP.”

But because the House assumes the LIP money will get renewed, somehow someway, its allocations should be much different than the Senate’s, particularly in regard to that tax cut. The Senate's Appropriations Chair, Tom Lee, R-Brandon, has said that Scott's tax cut proposal was in doubt because of the LIP situation.

Katie Betta, spokesman for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the that chamber’s budget should be printed by the end of next week. Allocations typically aren’t released earlier in the Senate because the presidents like to give the chairs more flexibility in finding in appropriating money, she said.

Here are the House’s allocations:

Fiscal Year 2015-2016

ALLOCATION

(Millions of Dollars)

GENERAL REVENUE FUND

Recurring

NR

 

Total

Pre K-12 Education

11,109.3

 

109.6

11,218.9

Higher Education

3,852.2

 

19.7

3,872.0

Health Care

8,174.4

 

85.6

8,260.0

Justice

3,921.5

 

47.8

3,969.3

Transportation & Economic Development

73.6

 

63.0

136.6

Agriculture & Natural Resources/General Government

124.1

 

284.9

409.0

Government Operations/General Government

237.8

 

56.7

294.6

Administered Funds-Statewide Issues (includes Education FCO) Total

184.3

 

173.2

357.4

Total General Revenue Fund Allocations

27,677.3

 

840.5

28,517.8

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson pass Senate recognition of late Miami activist

@PatriciaMazzei

The U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution Thursday honoring the late Georgia Ayers, a longtime Miami community activist who died Feb. 17. The tribute was sponsored by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

The resolution highlights "the lifelong commitment of Georgia Jones-Ayers to bettering the lives of the people of South Florida" and offers condolences to her family. Ayers founded a local food bank and a renown program that provided first-time criminal offenders with an alternative to jail time.

"Ms. Jones Ayers dedicated her life to helping at-risk youth in South Florida, a career that touched countless lives and has inspired many others to carry on her work," Rubio, a Republican, said in a statement Friday. "Georgia will be missed, but her memory and the impact of her work will live forever on."

When the two senators introduced the resolution Feb. 24, Nelson, a Democrat, also issued a statement praising Ayers' life work.

"With the passing of Georgia Jones Ayers, we have lost a fearless community activist," he said. "Thanks to her efforts, many troubled youth were given a second chance for a better life."

Historically, it's a tough road for Florida members of Congress who run for Senate

via @learyreports

Rep. Patrick Murphy is moving toward a run for Marco Rubio's Senate seat, but an analysis from Smart Politics shows it's a tough road.

● Sitting or ex-Florida U.S. Representatives have won only two of 17 bids for the U.S. Senate since 1970 (11 percent) and just four of 21 since direct elections were introduced a century ago (19 percent).

● Six Florida U.S. Representatives have unsuccessfully attempted to win a U.S. Senate seat over the last four elections to the office: Republicans Bill McCollum (2004), Katherine Harris (2006), Dave Weldon (2012) and Connie Mack IV (2012) and Democrats Peter Deutsch (2004) and Kendrick Meek (2010).

● The long list of failed U.S. Senate candidacies by U.S. Representatives over the last four decades continues: Republicans Bill Cramer (1970), Louis Frey (1980), Bill Grant (1992), and Bill McCollum (2000) and Democrats Bill Gunter (1974, 1980, 1988), Buddy MacKay (1988), and Dan Mica (1988).

● There have been two success stories during this 45-year span, although interestingly both general elections featured major party nominees who had both served in the chamber: Republican Connie Mack III defeated Buddy MacKay in 1988 and Democrat Bill Nelson beat Bill McCollum in 2000.

● Prior to 1970, only four sitting or former Florida U.S. House members ran for the U.S. Senate: Democrats Mark Wilcox in 1938 (lost nomination), Lex Green in 1946 (lost nomination), and George Smathers in 1950 (won), and Republican Edward Gurney in 196 (won). Smathers is the only U.S. Representative from the state to oust a sitting incumbent (fellow Democrat Claude Pepper).

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Friday: Five things to (binge) watch

Not a single meeting is scheduled for Friday, the 11th day of the legislative session. Lawmakers are fried, having spent the week clashing over Medicaid expansion and complicated water proposals. So here are five things to (binge) watch this weekend:

House of Cards: Senate leaders seeking inspiration on how to pass an alternative to Medicaid expansion can take a cue from Frank Underwood.

House of Cards (BBC edition): What government would be like if we all had British accents.

Scandal: It's always good to know what Olivia Pope would do.

The West Wing: A nice escape for Florida Democrats, who are used to being in the minority.

Game of Thrones: Westeros has nothing on Tallahassee.

Scott Walker sizes up Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush

via @adamsmithtimes

MANCHESTER, N.H. --- We sat down this morning with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is making his first New Hampshire campaign swing as a likely presidential candidate this weekend along with Jeb Bush. Naturally we asked him how he can compete against Bush, who appears to be raising immense sums of money, and about Marco Rubio's suggestion that, as a senator and foreign relations and intelligence committee member, Rubio has a key advantage over current or previous governors on foreign policy.

Walker on foreign policy: "I think (Rubio's) great at foreign policy and other issues, but I just think there's a difference. In my lifetime, the most significant president in terms of foreign policy was a governor -- Ronald Reagan. The most important ingredient in foreign policy is leadership."

On Bush and his support from GOP establishment: "We had Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney. If it's just whoever's next up, that hasn't worked so well for the Republican party in the past. ... Jeb's a good man. You're not going to hear me speak ill will of Jeb. He's a friend of mine, He called me two days before (announcing) his PAC, I think highly of him. I just think voters are going to look at this and say, 'If we're running against Hillary Clinton, we'll need a name from the future -- not a name from the past -  to win.' "

On Bush's fundraising: "Yeah, he'll have by far the biggest report. There's a lot of people who are loyal to that family because of an ambassadorship or an appointment or something like that, so those people are going to show up big on his first report. What we're hoping going forward are not donors of obligation but donors of passion, people who are passionate about the reforms we bring to the table."

--ADAM SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

March 12, 2015

UPDATED New rules for limited medical marijuana in Florida met with legal challenge

@PatriciaMazzei

Rules to implement Florida's limited medical marijuana law, already mired in bureaucratic red tape, became further entangled this week by a new legal challenge.

A Jacksonville attorney representing a 4-year-old girl with an inoperable brain tumor argued in a filing with the state Division of Administrative Hearings that the proposed regulations for a cannabis strain known as Charlotte's Web are inadequate to help suffering patients. Lawmakers in 2014 authorized Charlotte's Web -- which has low amounts of THC, the chemical that induces a high -- for people with  cancer and severe epilepsy.

An administrative judge rejected the initial draft of regulations for the drug last year. And while the state defended its new proposal earlier this year, the challenge filed Monday by attorney Ian Christensen on behalf of young Dahlia Barnhart -- who would qualify for the treatment, according to the document -- criticizes the way Florida would select five companies to grow and dispense the marijuana, contending that there would be no minimum standards to ensure statewide access to the pot. 

The proposed rule is invalid, Christensen wrote, because it "fails to provide any assurances that there will be reasonable access to this medicine, leaving this critical delegated authority left up to a group of five nursery owners who have absolutely no experience growing cannabis, let alone a medicine."

The new wrinkle is a sign that approving Charlotte's Web did not do enough to address patients' needs, said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, the group that put a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana on the 2014 ballot. It received support from nearly 58 percent of voters, just missing the 60-percent threshold required to pass.

"This recent challenge further demonstrates the need to pass meaningful and comprehensive medical marijuana legislation this session," he said. The Charlotte's Web legislation was "well intentioned," he added, "but the continuing issues with its implementation should give legislators good reason to start from scratch and pass a law that actually works and one that will help a broader group of sick and suffering Floridians."

Some legislators have said that Tallahassee should wait until Charlotte's Web is implemented before allowing for other marijuana strains to treat a broader range of medical conditions.

UPDATE: In a statement posted on its website Friday, the Florida Department of Health said the legal challenge will further delay giving patients access to Charlotte's Web. The department has been responsible for drafting the rules to use the medical marijuana strain.

"We have maintained an unprecedented, open process for developing this rule framework," Patricia Nelson, director of the department's office of compassionate use, said in the statement. "The department will take every possible action to minimize the delay this rule challenge has created in getting this product to Florida's children who need it."

Florida school uniform proposal advances

Florida lawmakers want to help kids across the state with an age-old quandary: what to wear to school.

A House panel on Thursday gave its approval to a plan that would encourage school districts to adopt a standard attire policy for students in grades K-8.

The bill includes a cash incentive — $10 per student —for school districts that comply.

That could mean as much as $1.4 million for the Broward district, and $2.25 million for Miami-Dade. The money would be earmarked for school safety initiatives.

"We think this would streamline morning activities for moms and dads, and help improve the climate at schools across the state," House K-12 Education Committee Chairwoman Janet Adkins said Thursday.

More here.

How one Florida congressman reacted to state's distaste for using 'climate change'

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, took to Twitter on Thursday to jab Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott over his administration's aversion to using the terms "climate change" and "global warming" in writing. (The state says it's not true.)

John Kerry takes on Rick Scott over avoiding 'climate change'

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that elected officials who ban the words "climate change" are unwilling to face the facts, a non-so-subtle dig at Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration.

Kerry, a longtime champion of combatting climate change, said the officials were ignoring the scientific facts.

"Now folks, we literally do not have the time to waste debating whether we can say 'climate change,'" Kerry said during a speech at The Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. "Because no matter how much people want to bury their heads in the sand, it will not alter the fact that 97 percent of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is happening and that human activity is largely responsible."

Kerry did not refer to Scott by name but said that he had read in the last "couple of days" reports about the ban.

More here.