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April 16, 2015

Jeb Bush treats himself in New Hampshire

@PatriciaMazzei

CONCORD, N.H. -- He's said no to pizza. He's turned down barbecue sauce. But Jeb Bush couldn't resist a slice of blueberry pie Thursday.

He couldn't, really, not at an event titled "Politics and Pie" where he had shown up with two key lime pies from Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach to contribute to the spread.

So Bush, whose paleo diet (and personal trainer) have become famous for helping him slim down remarkably, broke the rules and dug in. He hadn't had pie since December, he said, and added that key lime is his favorite but he would "save that for the people of New Hampshire."

Then he went for the blueberry.

"To hell with the diet!" Bush proclaimed before a throng of cameras trained on his first bite.

"Slow news day," he added.

Bush pie

Jeb Bush: Feds, Tallahassee should 'try to forge a compromise' on Medicaid expansion, hospital funding

Politics and Pie

@PatriciaMazzei

CONCORD, N.H. -- He's been traversing the country building the foundations a juggernaut 2016 presidential campaign, but former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush still keeps an eye on Tallahassee.

Bush commiserated with Republican voters -- and enjoyed a piece of blueberry pie, breaking his ongoing paleo diet -- Thursday evening at a clubhouse on the outskirts of New Hampshire's state capital. Then he took questions from reporters, including one about what how the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott might overcome a stalemate over funding hospital charity care and expanding Medicaid. 

The standoff has effectively halted the annual lawmaking session, with no state budget deal in sight. Scott said Thursday he intends to sue the Obama administration over its threat to withhold federal funds for hospitals that treat the poor.

Bush hadn't heard of the yet-to-be-filed lawsuit, but suggested all sides sit down and find a solution.

"The feds and the executive branch and representatives from the House and Senate ought to get together and try to forge a compromise," he said. 

But would such a compromise involve expanding Medicaid, as proposed under the Affordable Care Act and rejected by the GOP-controlled Florida government in the past?

"I don't know," Bush said. "That's their job, frankly. Expanding Medicaid without reforming it is not going to solve our problems over the long run." Bush's spokeswoman told the Miami Herald on Friday that he opposes Medicaid expansion.

On Thursday, Bush touted reforms begun while he was governor that turned over control of Florida's Medicaid program to managed-care companies. He told voters gathered for a "Politics and Pie" event that the federal government should allow states to innovate on Medicaid to better fit their needs.

"We need to reform Medicaid, and there's a plan to do that in Florida that's a pretty good one, so if it was part of that, and there are trade-offs and all that stuff -- that's how you get past an impasse," he later told reporters.

This post has been updated to include Bush's spokeswoman.

Three guards plead guilty in federal court to abusing inmates

@jknipebrown

Three of the “Chipley Five,’’ a group of corrections officers accused of beating and kicking a handcuffed inmate at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley, have pleaded guilty to civil rights violations, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Former state prison guards William Finch, 35, of Wauseau, and Dalton E. Riley, 24, of Bethlehem, pleaded guilty Thursday before a federal judge in Panama City. A third ex-officer, Robert L. Miller, 48, of Lynn Haven, pleaded guilty on April 1.

The three admitted that they beat inmate Jeremiah Tatum, then tried to cover it up. According to the state attorney, Finch falsified reports by stating they attacked Tatum because he had spit on one of the officers.

Two other officers, James Perkins and Christopher Christmas, also face federal charges in connection with the Aug. 5 beating, which was allegedly planned in advance as retaliation against Tatum.

A captain, James Kirkland, allegedly orchestrated the assault after Tatum tried to block the chemical agents sprayed on him and, as a result, some of the gas dispersed onto Kirkland and another corrections officer, according to court documents.

More here.

GOP infighting and the partial-blind selection of leaders eight years out

Eric EisnaugleImagine electing one of the three most powerful people in the state based on a resume, a handshake and promise.

There’s no audition for the job. You don’t get a chance to see how the prospective leader performs under stress, how he resolves conflicts, or even how he feels about many issues. But you do know his political pedigree and which lobbyists and fundraisers back him.

That’s how Florida legislators designate their House speaker – six years before they take the official vote. It’s a precarious way to run a democracy and that’s part of the reason why Rep. Eric Eisnaugle and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia are scrambling for cover this week.

Eisnaugle, an Orlando Republican, had reportedly sewn up pledges from 17 of the 19 House freshmen to become their speaker designee for 2020-2022 term -- until this week, when word got out that he’s being targeted in an attempted coup.

Rumor is that as many as six of the 19 freshmen have withdrawn their support from Eisnaugle, allegedly leaving him only 11 supporters. The suspected culprit: Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, who was also elected Republican Party of Florida chairman in January.

Ingoglia told the Orlando Sentinel this week that he is not putting his name forth as a rival to Eisnaugle and denied rumors, first reported in the SaintPetersblog, that other freshmen Republicans supporting Eisnaugle, who live in potentially vulnerable districts, may not get party support in 2016.

But former RPOF chair Leslie Dougher called Ingoglia out in a widely-circulated letter last weekend and that was followed by a blistering scold from Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver.

Continue reading "GOP infighting and the partial-blind selection of leaders eight years out" »

Jackson employees push for Medicaid expansion

Jackson1Several dozen nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals from Jackson Health System made the case for Medicaid expansion Thursday in a creative way.

They said it with shoes.

A few weeks ago, powerful House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran characterized the forces pushing for health care expansion as "Gucci-loafing, shoe-wearing special interests." The remark inspired Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez to file a tongue-in-cheek proposal to tax Gucci shoes sold to lobbyists. 

On Thursday, the team from Jackson lugged a bag of well-worn tennis shoes to the Capitol to show what they wear to work.

"We don't exactly wear Gucci loaders and we are trying to save lives every day," said Martha Baker, a Jackson Health System nurse and president of SEIU Local 1991. "We want Medicaid expansion."

They used colorful flip flops to make their next point: that Gov. Rick Scott should again reverse his position and support Medicaid expansion

"We need you to flip back," Baker said.

With time running out in the 60-day legislative session, the House and the Senate remain gridlocked over the issue.

Jackson2

Legislative leaders agree 'in concept' on prison reform deal

A panel of legislators would be empowered to investigate and subpoena staff at the Department of Corrections in an effort to provide aggressive oversight and demand reform at the troubled agency, under a compromise prison reform plan being floated by top negotiators for the House and Senate.

The tentative deal was hatched Thursday between Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, as they huddled together in the House chamber during the morning legislative session.

The proposal would replace a provision in the Senate’s prison reform bill, SB 7020, to create a nine-member independent oversight commission approved by the governor, Evers said.

The compromise would create a legislative select committee with at least four investigators. It would have the power to subpoena staff, monitor inmate and staff grievances, investigate complaints, take public testimony, meet regularly and monitor DOC’s ability to follow performance standards.

“It’s everything the commission would be but made up of House and Senate members,’’ said Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee who spearheaded the call for prison reform. SB 7020 has passed the Senate and is awaiting approval in the House. "We have an agreement in concept but it's a far cry from where we were six months ago when no one was even talking about this, and nobody would have even considered an oversight board." 

The compromise still must get conceptual approval from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and then be approved by the full House and Senate.  

Continue reading "Legislative leaders agree 'in concept' on prison reform deal " »

Fact-checking Jeb Bush's claim about median income falling

Jeb Bush is making economic opportunity a major theme of his not-yet-official presidential campaign. One of his main gripes with the economy is that income isn’t going up.

"If we grew at a far faster rate, the middle would no longer be as squeezed as they are," Bush said. "We are in the sixth year of recovery, and median income is below what it was at the start of the recovery."

Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, made the remarks during a recent visit to Ohio, where he talked with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review political writer Salena Zito before addressing the Ohio Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting. (Zito paraphrased part of Bush’s quote in her article, but she provided us with the full text of Bush’s comment.)

We knew that the national employment picture has improved, slowly but surely, since the official end of the recession in mid 2009. But has the typical household income in the United States really fallen since the end of the recession? If true, that would be pretty startling.

See Louis Jacobson's fact-check from PolitiFact and see Bush's full Truth-O-Meter record.

House won't backfill hospital funding program with state dollars

The Florida House will not backfill the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool program with state dollars if the federal government fails to renew funding, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said Thursday.

"Florida is not in a position financially to backfill a program that was created out of Washington," Criasfulli said. 

Using the reserves to fill the gap, he added, would be "irresponsible."

But Crisafulli said the House would be open to considering new ways to help Florida hospitals that serve large numbers of uninsured, under-insured and Medicaid patients. Some of those safety net hospitals have said they would have to close or dramatically reduce services if the federal-state LIP program is not renewed.

What is certain: Crisafulli remains committed the House's proposed $690 million tax cut package.

"Our goal is to try to find ways to provide Floridians with tax breaks, and we intend to do that," he said.

And he remains adamantly opposed to a Senate plan that would use federal dollars to expand private health care coverage to more than 800,000 low-income Floridians.

After Thursday's floor session, a reporter asked Crisafulli what he would say to "constituents who are suffering" because they lack coverage.

"I don't have any constituents that are suffering," Crisafulli replied. "We have a constituency out there that is engaged with our hospitals. They go to our hospitals, they use those hospitals, and there is not a denial of care."

"Are you saying you don't have one constituent that needs better health care?" another reporter asked.

"That's not what we're saying," Crisafulli replied. "What we're saying is whether it is a program that we have right now in place or a growth of a new program or something we put in place, we're going to put it out there so that we can provide opportunities for people to access it. Sure, there are people out there suffering, but no different from what they will have with LIP or without LIP. For us, now, it's about moving forward and trying to find an opportunity for those that can fit into a plan that we can have right here in Florida." 

Crisafulli later sent an email to reporters saying he could have answered the question "more precisely." 

"There are Floridians, including Floridians in my district, who are suffering," he said. "However, those individuals currently have access to hospitals and there is no denial of care to them. To that point, I do not believe constituents are suffering due to the threats from Washington, D.C. I do believe they could suffer greatly if the federal government fails to fund the Low Income Pool. The Florida House remains committed to job creation, low taxes, affordable healthcare, and quality education. Our efforts are aimed at creating a state where every Floridian can prosper."

Scott's voting chief says 'forces of evil' can derail online registration

Gov. Rick Scott's elections chief got roughed up again Thursday in the Senate as he continues to oppose a bipartisan bill for an online system of voter registration by 2017, which already exists in 20 states.

Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner said his agency has no plan to implement the change and he's worried about having to work with 67 county supervisors of election, 67 tax collectors and the state highway safety agency.

He raised a flurry of potential problems, including "distractions" from the 2016 presidential election and the "high risk" of computer hacking, cyber-attacks and "the forces of evil" that seek to disrupt Florida elections.

"I would prefer to have a plan in place before I knew that I had an implementation date," Detzner said. "This is too important to get wrong."

None of the 20 states with online voter registration have reported problems. Florida election supervisors say electronic registration will save money and reduce the possibility of human error and voter fraud.

As he did last week in another Senate committee, Detzner did not want to testify, which only riled senators even more. When a young aide to Detzner said the Department of State "waived in opposition," Sen. Don Gaetz quickly insisted that Detzner testify, and things rapidly went downhill from there.

In resisting online registration, Detzner also has picked a fight with one of the Senate's most popular members and the bill's co-sponsor, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and one of its most tenacious members, Gaetz.

Citing rumors in the Capitol, Gaetz directly asked Detzner if his opposition was directed by Scott himself. Detzner said no: "I have never been told what my position is."

"This isn't your first rodeo," Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told Detzner, a long-time friend. Detzner worked in the Department of State decades ago.

The Senate bill (SB 228) passed with four no votes, from Republicans: Sens. Anitere Flores, Rene Garcia, Dorothy Hukill and Joe Negron. The Senate and House have agreed to give Detzner's agency $1.8 million to start planning for online registration, but a minor disagreement over the source of that money prompted the bill (HB 7143) to stall Thursday, temporarily delaying a House floor vote.

Checking in on the Scott-O-Meter: Rick Scott's promise to be No. 1 in graduation rates

As part of a group of promises to invest in education, Gov. Rick Scott promised in his second term to "be No. 1 in nation for high school graduation rates."

There are a few different ways to measure graduation rates, but the one the state Department of Education points to is the federal government's cohort method, which examines how many students who enter 9th grade graduate four years later with a standard diploma.

By that measurement, Florida's rate was 76 percent in 2012-13, below the national average of 81 percent. Only seven states had a lower rate -- Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon -- while two, Mississippi and Washington, were tied with Florida.

When we asked about this promise, Scott spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante pointed to  Scott's proposal to increase K-12 per-student funding to $7,176, which is about a $261 increase compared to the current year.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida's Scott-O-Meter to see how we rated Scott's progress.