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446 posts from February 2016

February 29, 2016

Local safety net hospitals take a hit in budget as federal program shrinks

Late Monday, lawmakers released the additional payments some hospitals will receive in next year’s state budget.

The plan, released at 9:30 p.m. Monday, is among the most anxiously-awaited parts of the state’s health care budget, as it included more than $1 billion in supplemental money for hospitals.

Across the board, hospitals took hits owing to a $400 million reduction in the Low Income Pool, a pot of state and federal money that pays for uncompensated charity care. Among the hardest hit by the drop in LIP: the state’s safety net hospitals, which include public hospitals, specialty children’s hospitals and teaching hospitals.

“We weren’t given a lot of latitude,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, the House’s health budget chairman. “At the end of the day, there’s going to be winners and losers.”

Lawmakers say their hands were tied by the federal government’s decision to cut LIP. And while they tried to shore up some hospitals using other programs, as well as a $75 million budget item for children’s hospitals, local facilities are still likely to be hurt.

“We’re working in an environment where we have $400 million less and next year we might not have anything,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, the Senate’s health care budget chairman. “This was the best we could do with the federal guidelines.”

Under the plan, there are four tiers for LIP, with the hospitals that see the most charity patients receiving larger sums of money. What’s more, lawmakers were able to ensure that the hospitals whose communities contribute the most tax dollars to the LIP program would receive their investment back at the very minimum.

Here’s the impact on safety net hospitals in South Florida, after taking into account tax dollars they contributed:

* Jackson Memorial Hospital, $187.5 million, a 29 percent drop from the current fiscal year
* Broward Health system, $82.1 million, a 24 percent drop
* Memorial Healthcare System, $82 million, a 24 percent drop 
* Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, $53.6 million, a 7 percent drop 
* Mt. Sinai Medical Center, $12.7 million, a 33 percent drop

VIDEO: students in tears over Mattia College closure



Read about the closure here

House sends 'love note' to Senate and agrees to expand gambling outside South Florida

CasinoIn a long-shot bid to keep a gambling overhaul bill alive, the House Finance & Tax Committee sent a “love card to the Senate” on Monday, accepting its proposal to allow dog tracks to operate slot machines in at least five counties where voters have approved them.

The plan would require the governor to renegotiate the agreement he struck with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and would likely result in a lower guarantee of revenues than the $3 billion the tribe has already authorized.

It also means that one of Florida's oldest industries, greyhound racing, would be replaced by slot machines in Palm Beach, Brevard, Gadsden, Lee and Washington counties. A handful of other counties could conduct voter referendums by January 2017 to be allowed to replace dog tracks, quarter horse tracks or jai alai frontons with slot machines.

Only parimutuels within a 100 mile radius of the Seminole's most profitable facility — the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa — would be exempt from being able to seek voter approval for slot machines. That would affect parimutels such as Tampa Bay Downs, Tampa Bay Greyhound Track,, St. Petersburg Kennel Club and Sarasota Kennel Club.

The compromise was an attempt by the House's lead compact negotiator, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, and the House Finance & Tax Committee chairman, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, to find a way to win enough votes for the compact in the Senate before lawmakers end the session in two weeks. But Senate leaders have indicated that the deal may be too complicated to resolve with the time remaining.

Continue reading "House sends 'love note' to Senate and agrees to expand gambling outside South Florida" »

Medical marijuana debate highlights moneyed special interests


Debate in the Capitol over expanding medical marijuana has turned to a touchy subject: Money.

Senators on Monday considered a proposal to expand the state’s existing marijuana laws — which allow some patients, including children who suffer from intense seizures, to use pot low in high-inducing THC — to let licensed growers sell full-strength marijuana to terminal patients.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the sponsor of the legislation (SB 460), says the proposal would also speed up the process to get the low-THC variety to sick kids, who have waited two years since the Legislature authorized it.

But that argument angered Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who said the Legislature already voted in 2014 to help those kids. He called Bradley’s bill an attempt to expand the potentially lucrative medical marijuana market to the existing five growers who have been approved by the Department of Health.

“I think the most repugnant thing is that we’re using the guise of helping these kids for a special interest food fight to expand the people that can offer this, that can make money on it,” Latvala said, adding that “This is about making money as much or more as it is about helping sick people. That’s my moral imperative to vote ‘no.’”

He was the only member of the Senate Rules Committee to vote no after Democrats added a provision clarifying that black farmers can apply for licenses if they are expanded in the future. The measure now heads to the full Senate.

But the medical marijuana legislation has been tied up in special interests’ pocketbooks throughout session, even if it hasn’t been at the forefront of the debate.

Costa Farms, one of the five growers licensed by DOH pumped $270,000 into political committees controlled by lawmakers and state parties in December and January, up until the Jan. 12 start date of session, when all fundraising has to end.

Their biggest checks — $25,000 — went to committees run by Bradley and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the House and Senate sponsors of medical marijuana legislation; Gov. Rick Scott; House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island; and Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who sits on the Senate Rules Committee. The Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is controlled by President Designate Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also received $25,000.

Costa cut $10,000 checks to three key committee chairmen in the House and Senate, as well as the Florida Democratic Party.

Bradley said he “could care less who makes money” on medical marijuana.

“Any political contributions I have received have played zero role on any decisions I have made on this or any legislation,” he said.

Special interests, Bradley said, have slowed the process of getting low-THC marijuana to the people who need it. His bill would speed that process up by allowing additional licenses to be granted to some groups that meet the qualifications to be a grower but weren’t initially selected by DOH.

“The reason why we haven’t delivered on the promise to those families and it’s two years later is because of money,” Bradley said. “People are fighting over getting these licenses, and with every day that goes on while people are in court, that’s another day that goes by that people aren’t getting the relief that’s promised to them.”

From here, the medical marijuana legislation will go to the House floor Wednesday and the Senate floor whenever the chamber’s leaders decide to schedule a vote. It’s likely to attract a large number of amendments.

Rubio's presidential campaign opening more offices in Florida

In advance of the March 15 presidential primary, Republican Marco Rubio's campaign has announced the opening of more campaign offices in Florida. 

Rubio already has opened a Miami headquarters and his state co-chairman Adam Hasner has said another will be open in Boca Raton today. 

In Tampa Bay, the campaign said they have opened an office at 1602 Oakfield Drive, Suite 109, Brandon, 33511.


House, Senate agree to fund new positions in mental hospitals


Lawmakers have agreed to fund additional staff in the state's mental hospitals, where years of cuts have contributed to dangerous environments.

Health care budget chairmen agreed Monday to fund another 37 positions in the hospitals. The commitment of additional workers comes in the wake of reporting by the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune that revealed violence and neglect in the state's mental hospitals, which have seen budget and staffing cuts.

"I think this committee has taken a priority of ensuring we protect our most vulnerable residents, and that's what we're doing," Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, the Senate's health budget chairman said.

Garcia said he and his House counterpart, Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, set aside money for the 37 jobs after Secretary Mike Carroll of the Department of Children and Families asked them for help.

The additional workers were not in either the House or Senate's original budget proposals, nor were they in Gov. Rick Scott's, although the Times/Herald-Tribune reporting found that investing in more clinical staff could be one of the most important steps toward solving the violence in the hospitals.

Former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez endorses Marco Rubio


Marco Rubio keeps rolling out mainstream Republican Party endorsements -- including on Monday the one from former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez.

Martinez was the first Cuban American elected to the U.S. Senate, in 2004. He held his seat until 2009; Rubio was elected the following year to fill the post. Like many other recent Rubio Florida backers, Martinez had initially supported former Gov. Jeb Bush for president. He'd hinted that Rubio would be his likely backup.

"Just like Marco's family, this country changed my life and my family's history forever, and the best way to repay the debt I owe America in this election is to help Marco Rubio become our next president," Martinez said in a statement provided by Rubio's campaign. "Our country deserves to have Marco Rubio as our next president, because he will unite us and move us toward the common purpose of making the American Dream a reality for more Americans than ever before."

More from Martinez:

"Marco understands better than anyone in this race what a special place America is and why, and he has all the right ideas and leadership abilities to make sure it remains that way. The stakes have never been higher in a Republican primary, and we need to stand with Marco as the only leader capable of uniting our party and our country. 

"Marco is ready to lead this country as our president, and I will do everything I can to make that happen."

House Democrats running out of reasons to vote against budget

In Tallahassee, it's as predictable as dogwoods in March: House Democrats will vote against the Republican majority's budget. But this year could be different, and that speaks volumes about how awful a session this is becoming for Gov. Rick Scott.

House Democrats simply are running out of reasons to vote against the budget. You won't likely be hearing them describing a "tea party train wreck" budget as they did a few years ago.

Democrats hate big tax cuts and Republicans don't like them this year either. Democrats don't like spending tax money to lure private companies to Florida and Republicans flatly refuse to support this signature priority of Scott's. Democrats don't like Republicans paying for a school budget increase on the backs of property taxpayers -- and Republicans changed that too. In an historic policy shift and over Scott's objections, they will pay for the boost in per-pupil spending with state tax revenue instead.

"They have responded to a lot of things that we've complained about," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, the House minority leader. "The big difference is that they're actually putting together the kind of budget that we wanted to do."

Pafford is one of 28 House Democrats who voted against the budget when it came off the House floor Feb. 11. He and his colleagues still have one huge problem with the House budget, and that's the attempted defunding of Planned Parenthood. That provision has not yet been agreed to by the Senate.

There's a backstory to this burst of bipartisanship. House Republicans want an overwhelming vote for the budget (say, 115-5) to send a blunt signal to Scott that if he gets too aggressive with his veto pen, the House has more than the two-thirds it needs to override him. In other words, Democrats and Republicans in the House now have a common enemy: Scott.

Bill Clinton rallies black voters in Miami Gardens


Bill Clinton praised the hard work of mothers who have lost children to gun violence in a speech Sunday in Miami Gardens.

King Carter, a first-grader at Van E. Blanton Elementary, died a week ago in crossfire among teenagers at an apartment in Northwest Miami-Dade.

Clinton told hundreds of Democrats that the mothers who have lost children could choose to essentially shut down.

"Instead they decided to try to start a movement to stop people like 6-year-old King Carter from dying before their time," Clinton said at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex.

Keep reading here.

Marco Rubio makes fun of Donald Trump's small...hands


Marco Rubio has pledged to be the Republican presidential candidate who won't "embarrass" voters, the one who will run a campaign his four young children can be "proud" of.

But, you know. "We gotta have fun with it," he said Sunday of front-runner Donald Trump, continuing an assault he began in Thursday night's debate and ramped up Friday, where things also got, um, anatomical.

Rubio added new lines Sunday: "He's gonna make America orange!" he joked about Trump's apparent spray tan.

And then there was this:

"He's always calling me 'Little Marco.' And I'll admit, the guy, he's taller than me. He's like 6'2". Which is why I don't understand why his hands are the size of someone who's 5'2". Have you seen his hands? They're like this! And you know what they say about men with small hands." He paused for effect. "You can't trust 'em!"