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207 posts from September 2013

September 30, 2013

Congressional inaction -- on flood insurance -- also spawns trouble Oct. 1

On the same day the federal government grinds to a halt, more than 268,000 Florida homeowners will face a hit to their pocketbooks because of federal inaction on another front — rising flood insurance rates.

Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Sen. Bill Nelson have appealed to congressional leaders to delay the Oct. 1 start date of a key provision of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, a new law that phases out subsidies on older properties in flood zones. Scott is planning a news conference in Clearwater on Tuesday to demand Congress fix “the unfair national flood insurance rate hikes on Florida families.”

Under the law, 13 percent of the 2 million homeowners who carry flood insurance in Florida will be affected by the rate increase — compared to 20 percent of all policyholders nationwide.

Those homeowners will see their rates rise 25 percent upon renewal until they decide to sell their homes, then the new buyer will have to pay the full cost of that insurance — in some cases as much as 3,000 percent more than current rates — to reflect the true flood risk of their property.

The result is having a chilling effect on real estate sales as buyers balk at closing on purchases of older homes that now carry the subsidized rates, said John Sebree, senior vice president at the Florida Realtors Association. Story here. 

Movers & Shakers

State Insurance Consumer Advocate resigns

Robin Westcott, the state's Insurance Consumer Advocate, is leaving her job after two  years to work in the private sector.

Westcott turned in her resignation Sept. 24th, effective Nov. 1. She'll become vice president of the Illinois-based American Association of Insurance Services.

CFO Jeff Atwater named Westcott  to the job in July 2011. Previously, she was acting deputy of Property and Casualty in the Office of Insurance Regulation. She served on the board of Citizens Property and Casualty Corp. and served on committees looking at changes in Florida's no-fault auto insurance and workers' comp.

Sheila Hopkins leaving Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops

After 11 years, Sheila S. Hopkins is retiring from her position of director of social concerns/Respect Life for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

During her term, she has represented the bishops on issues of "human life, dignity and social justice before the legislative and executive branches of government and community organizations," according to a press statement.

Prior to joining the Conference, Hopkins served as the Associate Director for Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida.

She'll be replaced by Ingrid M. Delgado, who previously served as a grants specialist and case manager for Catholic Charities of Central Florida Refugee Services.

Jim Scott appointed to transportation authority

James "Jim" Scott, who served in the Florida Senate for 24 years, has been appointed to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Miami Congressman Joe Garcia clears remaining staff in ongoing absentee-ballot investigation


With two of his former staffers under criminal investigation for allegedly submitting phony absentee-ballot requests, Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia released his own internal review on Monday and concluded that no one else on his staff was aware of the ballot scheme.

Both former Chief of Staff Jeffrey Garcia and former Communications Director Giancarlo Sopo declined to participate in the review, which was carried out by attorney Brian Tannebaum, a political contributor to the congressman’s campaigns. The two staffers resigned after the Miami Herald reported prosecutors were looking into a plot last year to sign up hundreds of unsuspecting voters for absentee ballots.

“I could find no evidence that any one else knew of or participated in any illegality regarding absentee ballots,” Tannebaum concluded in his nine-page report released to the Herald.

Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, resigned on May 31 after admitting to the congressman that he orchestrated the ballot-request ploy. No charges have been filed yet by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. Joe Garcia has not been implicated.

“The report speaks for itself,” Garcia said in a statement Monday. “The moment I was informed of the situation, I took action. Our current congressional staff had no knowledge of any wrongdoings.”

More here.

Rick Scott attacks Barack Obama's leadership over likely government shutdown


Gov. Rick Scott accused President Barack Obama today of not showing enough leadership to end Congress's impasse over the budget and avoid a government shutdown. Scott is siding with Republican members of the U.S. House, who say the president refused to negotiate with them to resolve the deadlock.

Of course what the GOP wants is something Obama is unwilling to do: agree to further delays to the Affordable Care Act.

Reading Scott's criticism of Obama gave us a bit of déjà vu. Isn't Scott criticizing Obama in much the same way he was criticized earlier this year?

After announcing in February that he supported Medicaid expansion, Scott seemed to show very little leadership in actually persuading House Republicans to get it done. In fact, lawmakers who wanted the state to expand Medicaid said Scott refused to play a more active and public role during the height of debate. Remember, the "Health Care for Florida Families" sticker he refused to wear on the House floor?

He refused to hold Republican leaders' budget priorities hostage and later declined to call a special session to iron out a compromise. That's what Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, did successfully.

Just like Obama, the governor was plenty vocal about what he thought the Legislature should do. Anytime he was asked, he said he favored Medicaid expansion and an alternative plan by the Senate that would use $51 billion in federal funding to reduce the number of uninsured. 

But he also made it clear that he had bigger priorities during the session and that, ultimately, the decision was up to the Legislature. The issue ended in stalemate (déjà vu, again) and roughly 1 million Floridians remain uninsured as a result.

We've asked Scott's office to explain how he showed any more leadership on that issue than Obama has now in the face of a government shutdown. We also asked why Obama being vocal on the importance of averting a shutdown wasn't enough in the governor's eyes. We'll update the post when we receive a response.

Here is Scott's full statement about the budget stalement and pending federal shutdown:

Continue reading "Rick Scott attacks Barack Obama's leadership over likely government shutdown" »

Marco Rubio course-correction: downplays 'govt. slowdown' in Miami, blasts Dems for shutdown in DC


Sen. Marco Rubio spent Monday morning flying from Miami to DC, downplaying the effects of a partial government "shutdown" that passengers asked about.

"Not really a shutdown, more of a slowdown," a passenger quoted Rubio as explaining. "Not a good way to do business."

The business in Washington right now: the blame game over the failure to reach a budget deal. Polling indicates Americans are inclined to fault Republicans more than Democrats.

Once he was off his plane and back in Washington, Rubio ditched the apparent talk of a "slowdown," played up the failures of the budget deal and sought to blame Democrats.

The Democratic-controlled Senate quickly voted down a House Republican budget plan Monday because it targeted Obamacare. It then sent the House a so-called "clean" resolution to continue funding the federal government at current levels, starting at midnight.

Rubio issued a press release that bashed the vote of his chamber but said nothing about the House's refusal to give the Senate's measure an up or down vote:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio course-correction: downplays 'govt. slowdown' in Miami, blasts Dems for shutdown in DC" »

PolitiFact examines Bill Nelson claim that Navigators are nothing new

From @amysherman1 and PolitiFact Florida:

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has a message for Republican Gov. Rick Scott who doesn’t want Obamacare "navigators" spreading the word about the health care law: Relax. We’ve had similar folks helping Floridians navigate health care programs for many years.

Scott has sought to ban Obamacare navigators from county health departments and has faced some blowback: Broward and Pinellas counties have refused to comply and Miami-Dade may follow their lead.

Nelson portrayed Scott as a hypocrite because he said there are already similar navigators who help Floridians with questions about health insurance.

"State officials have so far failed to mention that these ‘consumer helpers’ have been serving the people of Florida in various ways for years -- and, yes, even with the current governor's full backing," Nelson wrote in a Tampa Bay Times op-ed Sept. 19. "In fact, many state and federal agencies have such ‘navigators’ involved in helping folks maneuver through the often complex processes associated with filing benefits claims, for example -- even buying health insurance. That’s right: even when buying health insurance created by the state. From Medicaid to Medicare, from veterans' organizations to the state's own KidCare insurance program, navigators are available to make sure Floridians get assistance."

Are there already similar navigators who help the public access health insurance and other services? PolitiFact went in search of the examples cited by Nelson.

HCA wants trauma center fight bumped to state Supreme Court

From the News Service of Florida:

Hospitals affiliated with the HCA health-care chain are seeking a rehearing in the 1st District Court of Appeal after a ruling this month cleared the way for challenges to the continued operation of trauma centers at Blake Medical Center in Manatee County and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Pasco County.

Documents filed Friday also request that the appeals court send two questions about the case to the Florida Supreme Court --- a process known as certifying questions of "great public importance."

Four hospitals in the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville areas have waged long-running legal battles against the trauma centers at the HCA hospitals in Manatee and Pasco. The Florida Department of Health allowed the trauma centers to open in 2011, despite a ruling by an administrative law judge that the department had used an invalid rule in approving the facilities.

The department later denied an attempt by the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville hospitals to challenge the approvals, saying those hospitals did not have legal standing. But the 1st District Court of Appeal this month rejected the department's position and said the challenges should be heard in the state Division of Administrative Hearings. The Tampa Bay and Jacksonville hospitals --- Tampa General Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and UF Health Jacksonville --- have long operated trauma centers.

In the documents filed Friday, HCA attorneys took issue with decisions made by a three-judge panel of the appeals court. One of those issues involves the impact of the new trauma centers on the older facilities.

"It is inevitable and unavoidable that the opening of a new trauma center will divert some trauma victims to a newly established, closer facility; by the same token, those very trauma victims receive trauma center services more quickly than they would otherwise,'' one of the documents said. While the HCA hospitals are seeking a rehearing, the Department of Health did not file any similar motions before a Friday deadline, an agency spokesman said in an email.

UPDATED Government shutdown? Marco Rubio gets 'slowdown' turbulence on flight


Sen. Marco Rubio probably wished he was a face in the crowd rather than the face of Florida Republicans in Congress when he boarded his flight Monday morning from Miami to Washington D.C.

Passenger after passenger recognized Rubio and gave him an earful about the looming federal government shutdown being precipitated by Congress, a source on the flight tells us.

Except Rubio sought to downplay the issue and sympathize with constituents.

At one point, a flight attendant asked him if the partial government shutdown would, in fact, begin at midnight.

Rubio responded by calling the likely impasse "not really a shutdown, more of a slowdown -- but not a good way to do business."

UPDATE In an email, Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon denied the passenger's version of the events, though she declined to elaborate. She also said Rubio was unavailable to tell his side or to discuss the shutdown vote. He has issued a statement blasting Democrats over the shutdown.

George Sheldon to leave Obama admin and return to Florida

George_SheldonGeorge Sheldon, former Secretary of Florida's Department of Children and Families who was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced he is returning to Florida. He has served as acting assistant scretary for the Administration for Children and Families.

Sheldon, a Democrat who was also a long-time aide and deputy attorney general under former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, has been rumored to be considering a challenge to Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2014.

Here's the note from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week about Sheldon's decision:

Continue reading "George Sheldon to leave Obama admin and return to Florida " »

Ed Rendell to keynote Florida Democrats' state conference


Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor with a gritty voice and blue-collar demeanor, is scheduled to headline the Florida Democratic Party's state conference at the end of the month.

Here's Rendell's announcement Democrats are receiving in their email:

I want you -- the grassroots who are fighting every day to defeat Rick Scott -- to be the first to know: I am honored to be the keynote speaker at your 2013 State Conference on October 26, 2013.

It’s an honor to be a part of this Conference, the largest gathering of grassroots Democrats this election season.

As the governor of Pennsylvania for eight years, I was proud to be a Democrat who would work with anyone to move my state forward. We invested in the infrastructure that communities and businesses need to thrive. We invested in public schools and colleges, because education is the surest path to the middle class for millions of Americans.

Unfortunately, Republicans like Rick Scott don’t agree. They think the way to grow our economy is by giving wealthy special interests more tax breaks. They want to give the big corporations ever-larger handouts. Working people suffer, but Rick Scott doesn’t notice a thing.

Let’s do this together. We can defeat Tea Party Republicans like Rick Scott and elect a Democrat who will stand by the middle class, and everyone working to get into the middle class. We need a Florida Governor who will fight for Florida’s middle class.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at the State Conference in Orlando. Let’s do this together.


Edward G. Rendell
45th Governor of Pennsylvania