Jenna BuzzaccoFoerster - 6/92 - SaintPetersBlog

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Philip Levine launches political committee, hires Matthew Van Name

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine appears to be inching closer to a 2018 gubernatorial bid, launching a political committee earlier this month and hiring staffers to help coordinate a statewide tour.

Levine launched All About Florida earlier this month. State records show the Miami Beach political committee filed its statement of organization on Feb. 10.

Levine has hired Matthew Van Name to work for the political committee. Van Name recently served as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and was formerly the Florida political director of the Service Employees International Union.

The news of Van Name’s hiring comes just one day before Levine is schedule to deliver remarks at the annual Cornerstone Award Breakfast sponsored by the Central Florida Urban League. Levine is expected to discuss his vision for Florida’s future.

Often mentioned as a 2018 contender, the rumor mill picked up in January when he announced he would not seek another term as Miami Beach mayor. In video, the Democrat said he looked forward to figuring out ways to “best to serve my community and my state; how to make Florida a 21st-century leader in the world economy.”

Around the same time, Christian Ulvert, one of Levine’s advisers, said the mayor would begin traveling the state to “listen to Floridians on how best to serve the state he loves.”

He is expected to make an announcement this spring about “his plans for continued public service.”

Appropriations committee votes to OK gambling bill, now cleared for Senate floor

A wide-sweeping gambling bill is now ready to be heard by the full Senate when the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off next month, after it cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning.

The bill (SB 8), sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, ratifies the 2015 Seminole Compact, subject to the approval of amendments to conform the agreement to provisions outlined in the bill and other actions to be taken by the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, and would expand the number of facilities where slot machines can be operated.

“Florida is a diverse state and our constituents have many different opinions, beliefs and convictions regarding gaming. This legislation does not attempt to make value judgments about the private activities of free, taxpaying Floridians, instead it presents a comprehensive approach to regulating a voter-approved industry that has contributed billions of dollars to our economy for education, health care and infrastructure, while providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to Floridians over the course of nearly 100 years,” said Galvano in a statement after the vote.

The bill passed 14-2, with Sens. Aaron Bean and Kelli Stargel voting against it.

“I don’t feel like we need to go down this path,” said Bean, who commended Galvano for his effort. “I see us going on the continued road of a slippery slope.”

The measure was amended Thursday to add a bingo provision for charitable organizations. Under the new section, veterans’ organizations may conduct instant bingo using electronic tickets instead of paper tickets.

The amended bill also appears to outlaw advance deposit wagering, a form of gambling in which the bettor must fund his account being allowed to place betters. The amendment makes it a third degree felony to accept those wagers on horse races, but not on dog races.

It also toughens standards for race animal doping; changes the name of the Office of Amusements, which would regulate fantasy sports, to the Office of Contest Amusements; and gives regulators no more than 45 days to approve “rules for a new authorized game submitted by a licensed cardroom or provide the cardroom with a list of deficiencies as to those rules.”

Several members expressed hesitation about what the bill could mean for the state’s future, before voting for it. Sens. Anitere Flores and Rob Bradley were among those who said they faced a difficult decision, but felt inaction was no longer an option.

“This is a difficult issue for me,” said Bradley. “If I could do one thing to wave a magic wand in our state government, I would get rid of the lottery and move on in a different direction on gaming, because I think Florida is about something different. We’re about beaches and sunshine. Not gaming. But ladies and gentlemen, I don’t have a magic wand, none of us do.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, called the measure a jobs bill and said he hoped it will be “one more place where the Senate comes down strong for jobs.”

The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d its own gambling bill Thursday.

Senate Finance & Tax Appropriations Committee OK’s ‘tampon tax’ exemption

A bill to repeal the so-called “tampon tax” cleared another hurdle, passing a key Senate appropriations committee Wednesday.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a proposal (SB 176) to make feminine hygiene products, like tampons, exempt from state sales and use tax. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, now heads to the full Appropriations Committee.

Only a handful — including Maryland, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — have created a tax exemption for these products, according to a June report by the Council of State Governments. That report noted the national push to create a tax exemption comes “amid criticism the tax unfairly affects women.”

Supporters of the efforts have argued the products should “be treated like other medical necessities, which are currently tax exempt in most states.”

In December, Passidomo said she filed the bill because it was “a common sense issue.”

“Florida imposes a sales tax on luxury items,” the Naples Republican said in a statement at the time. “These products are certainly not a luxury but a basic necessity and as such, we should stop taxing them.”

That’s also what prompted Rep. Katie Edwards to file a bill (HB 63) to repeal the tax. The Plantation Democrat filed the bill in November, and said she decided to do it after listening to a debate about a wide-ranging tax cut package last year and receiving “periods are not luxury emails.”

“It’s not something you choose,” she told in December. “It’s just something that a lot of consumers and taxpayers need and purchase.”

If approved, the Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the exemption would reduce general revenue receipts by $3.8 million in fiscal 2017-18 and by $8.9 million on a recurring basis. It would reduce local revenue by $1 million in fiscal 2017-18, and then by $2.3 million each year after.

Passidomo’s bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee; Edwards’ bill has not yet been scheduled for its first committee hearing.

Senate education committee approves mandatory recess bill

Mandatory recess could be on the horizon.

The Senate Education Committee voted 7-0 to approve a bill (SB 78) that requires school district across the state to provide at least 20 minutes of recess each day to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Under the proposal, the master schedule at each school containing elementary grades would need to reflect the requirement for 20 consecutive minutes of daily recess.

“It’s time for recess,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, the bill’s sponsor.

The measure, which has bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, is similar to one that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, but failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to support the proposal.

Former Sen. John Legg, who was the chairman of the Senate Education Committee at the time, declined to hear the bill, saying he considered it a local issue.

Supporters of Flores’ proposal said they tried to address the issue at the local level, but made little progress. Angie Gallo, the legislative chair for the Florida PTA, said after the 2016 session her organization went back to county councils to discuss options, but only one school district implemented a recess policy.

“Would we prefer this be a local issue, absolutely,” she said. “We’ve always asked for local control.”

According to a recent report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, 11 school districts across the state had a school board approved recess policy in 2015-16. Eight districts, including Miami-Dade and Lee counties, required recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; while while three district encouraged recess but did not require it.

But the report, which was presented to the Senate Pre-K through 12 Educations Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this month, found district policies regarding time and number of days varied from district to district.

“While many would argue we shouldn’t need the Legislature to intervene, we feel without a state mandate, many kids would be denied access,” said one mother who spoke to the Senate committee Tuesday.

The bill now heads to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee.

Matt Caldwell plans run for Agriculture Commissioner this summer

State Rep. Matt Caldwell is planning to file paperwork this summer in a bid for Florida Agriculture Commissioner.

Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, on Thursday said he has “every intention of filing to run in August.” Caldwell, first elected in 2010, will be term limited in 2018.

The 35-year-old, chair of the House’s Government Accountability Committee, has been rumored to be considering a run since former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced he wouldn’t seek the seat.

“I was fully ready to support Steve Crisafulli,” said Caldwell. “I never really thought about (running for the seat) until he suggested it.”

A lifelong Floridian, Caldwell has spent much of his career in the Legislature focused on environmental and agricultural issues, a background that could serve him well.

He organized a recent helicopter tour for reporters from the Miami Herald and POLITICO to view Everglades restoration efforts.

“It’s wonderful and I enjoy it, but we created the water conservation areas,” he told the Herald. “That’s former farmland that we turned back into marsh in the ’60s, so if I could just build a reservoir today and spend half as much, I could put it there on 60,000 acres.”

Last year, Caldwell – a real estate appraiser – passed on the race to succeed Curt Clawson in the state’s 19th Congressional District. Naples Republican Francis Rooney later won the seat. 

House panel weighs in on nursing home reimbursement proposal

The House Health Care Appropriation Subcommittee got the ball rolling on discussions about whether the state should change the way it pays nursing homes that accept Medicaid, with some members of the committee expressing concerns about parts of the plan.

During the two-hour committee meeting Wednesday, the panel heard from Navigant officials about their proposed Medicaid nursing facility prospective payment system. Under the Navigant plan, nursing homes would be reimbursed using a per diem rate calculated based on four components, of which patient care would account for the largest portion, 80 percent, of total reimbursement.

The proposal creates a quality incentive component, which would equal about 6 percent of the total reimbursement. Each facility would be assigned a score based on a variety of criteria, such as process measures and outcome measures, and facilities would have to have a quality score in the 30th percentile or better to qualify for an incentive payment. According to the Navigant presentation, quality add-on payments could range from $13.85 to $44.85 per resident, per day.

“The question is, with this methodology, may we be dooming certain high quality performers to failure? You could have a facility that’s performing well on personnel staffing issued, but could be exposed to a $1.2 million reduction in revenue,” said Rep. Cary Pigman. “I reckon a $1.2 million reduction could translate into 30 FTEs. Staffing is so clearly correlated with a couple of these outcome measures, so if these facilities are required to cut staff are we not going to make a 20 become a 15 become a 14 than have a category that is harmed by intervention.

Malcom Ferguson, a Navigant official, said the firm’s research has showed there are facilities across the state meeting the measures, and are able to do it at lower costs. That, Ferguson said, showed “it can be done.”

“We are hoping that … if there is a decrease in reimbursement that’s not necessarily going to result in a significant decrease in quality,” said Ferguson.

Opponents of the Navigant plan have said it will shift money from high-quality nursing homes to lower-quality nursing home, threatening the quality of the care offered in facilities across the state.

“Under the Navigant proposed plan there are 143 4- and 5-star nursing homes in Florida that would lose money,” said Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida. “There are 86 1- and 2-star nursing homes that would gain money. And some of that is significant; a million dollars or more in both directions. I’ll hope you’ll consider that as you think about the complexities of the system and the complexities of the study.”

While LeadingAge officials have said they are not in support of the Navigant plan, the Florida Health Care Association has called the proposal a good start.

Officials with the statewide organization said they support moving to a prospective payment system, but would like any proposal to include a three-year transition period and additional funding for hands-on care, among other things.

“The current cost-based system is antiquated. It involves multiple audits, with some of those audits looking at books dating back several years and resulting in underpayments with no ability to financially recoup those monies paid out to cover resident care costs,” said Andy Weisman, president of NuVision Management which operates six nursing centers in Florida, in a statement Wednesday. “We support a prospective payment system, where we will know the amount of our payment to cover the cost of care – and the state will have budget predictability, as well.”

While there appears to be some support for a move to a prospective payment plan, where it goes from here remains up in the air.

“There is no requirement we implement this,” said Rep. Jason Brodeur, the committee’s chairman. “We are evaluating it.”

Fundraiser shows agriculture industry lining up behind Denise Grimsley

The Central Florida citrus industry appears to be coming out in full force to support Sen. Denise Grimsley’s bid for Agriculture Commissioner.

Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales on Feb. 28. While the invitation notes a host committee is still being formed, the backers listed on the invitations reads like a who’s who of the Central Florida agriculture and political leaders.

Among Grimsley’s supporters: Bob Behr, the former commissioner and CEO of Florida Natural; Ben Hill Griffin III, an industry leader and a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame; Ellis Hunt, the current chair of the Florida Citrus Commission; Marty McKenna, the former president of Florida Citrus Mutual; and John Barben, the current preside of Florida Citrus Mutual.

The invite also lists Florida Citrus Mutual PAC, Florida Cow PAC, Polk County Farm PAC, and Southeast Milk, backers.

She has already earned the support of former Sen. JD Alexander, announcing this week he will hold a fundraiser for her on Friday. Many industry leaders were believed to be encouraging Alexander to jump in the race.

Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, was first elected to the House in 2004, before heading to the Senate in 2012. She filed to run for Agriculture Commissioner on Feb. 1.

She is currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid. As a registered nurse, Grimsley has been certified in trauma and pediatric advanced life support.

She also served as vice president and chief operating officer of her family business, Grimsley Oil Company, as well as being involved in the citrus and ranching industry. She’s a member of the Peace River Valley and Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

Mark Wilson calls House push to eliminate Enterprise Florida ‘a political conversation about ideology’

Addressing what he called the “obvious elephant in the room,” Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson criticized Florida House members who backed an effort to end economic incentive programs, calling the move political.

“I want to be blunt for a few minutes,” said Wilson. “This is not a Legislature trying to seek how to diversify the economy and how to grow trade. This is a political conversation about an ideology that frankly is silly.”

Wilson made his comments during the 2017 International Days hosted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The annual event brings together policy experts and business leaders to talk about economic diversification and foreign investment, and comes as the Florida House is in the midst of discussions about whether to eliminate a slew of other economic incentive programs.

The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee last week voted 10-5 to approve a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization; Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and a slew of economic incentive programs.

The proposal was backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has been a vocal opponent of incentives, equating them to corporate welfare and vowing they would not be in the House budget.

The Florida Chamber opposed the plan, and Wilson used introductory remarks to criticize members, many of whom the Chamber endorsed during the 2016 election cycle, for their decision. Wilson noted some of the members who said they “thought targeted incentives were important” during endorsements discussions, are now writing op-eds calling them immoral.

“The Florida Chamber scores votes by legislators,” he said. “We are scoring every one of the votes in the Legislature and it will be factored into endorsements. That doesn’t make a lot of friends, but (we’re) fighting for free enterprise.”

The Chamber endorsed Reps. Halsey Beshears, Randy Fine, Julio Gonzalez, Mike La Rosa, Alex Miller, Paul Renner, and Jay Trumbull in 2016. All seven voted in favor of the House bill. They were joined by Reps. Dane Eagle, Roy Hardemon, and Shawn Harrison.

Wilson encouraged members to be in “constant contact” with their legislators back home, saying that’s where the calls and emails might make more of an impact.

“You have to share what you learn today to all the elected representatives you know. They need to hear from you,” he said. “Enterprise Florida deserves all the resources to survive.”

Wilson wasn’t the only one making a pitch for Enterprise Florida and incentives during 2017 International Days. The morning session also featured a discussion with Chris Hart IV, the president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, and Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, both of whom encouraged the business community to speak out in support of incentive programs.

“We can’t personalize it the way you can when you tell stories,” said Hart, before launching into his own story about starting and growing a company.

Hart said he and his partners were looking to expand elsewhere in North America, and were approached with the opportunity to expand into Canada. Hart said he didn’t know much about the process, but reached out to Manny Mencia, the current senior vice president for international trade & business development at Enterprise Florida, who walked them through it.

“I can’t tell that story in the Legislature with the same effect,” said Hart, citing his ties to the agency.

Proctor, who has spent much of the week touring the state with Gov. Rick Scott talking about economic development, said Enterprise Florida helps connect Florida businesses to international partners.

“The assistance Enterprise Florida provides is extremely important to their business, (because of) the ability to work with their businesses to find new markets and what services to provide,” she said. “They understand how to make connections.”

The Florida Chamber’s 2017 International Days continues through today.

House panel to discuss changing how nursing homes that accept Medicaid are paid

Nursing homes that accept Medicaid could see changes in how they are paid in the coming fiscal year, but exactly what those changes will look like remain to be seen.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to begin discussions about new payment plans Wednesday, when Agency for Health Care Administration officials give members a presentation detailing the Navigant recommendations for a new payment method.

The Navigant proposal would move the state away from its current cost-based model and into a prospective payment system. While some industry officials appear supportive of a move to a prospective payment system, there are varying degree of concern about whether the Navigant proposal is right for Florida.

“We think the Navigant proposal is a good starting point,” said Tom Parker, the director of reimbursement for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents 82 percent of the state’s nursing centers. “It gets us 90 percent of the way we’d like to see it.”

Parker said a prospective payment system is “good for the industry and good for the state” since facilities have a good understanding of what the rates will be year-over-year. Still, Parker said his organization has several changes it would like to see made before a plan is adopted.

One such change would be to tweak the “Fair Rental Value System” outlined in the Navigant proposal so that providers are incentivized to do renovations or make replacements. That could be done by bumping up the minimum square footage per bed used in the FRVS parameters to 350 square feet, up from the 100 square feet per bed current recommended in the report.

Parker also said the FHCA would like to see changes as it relates to the Quality Incentive Payment Program. According to a Dec. 29 report, Navigant came up with an incentive program after “significant discussion with the Agency and considerable stakeholder input.”

That incentive program, according to the Dec. 29 report, would calculate scores based on several process and outcome measure, and each facility would be able to receive a maximum of 40 points.

The Navigant proposal recommends awarding quality incentive payments to facilities “scoring above the 30th percentile in total quality points,” but Parker said FCHA would like to see that changed to the 20th percentile. That change, he said, would allow “as many providers as possible” to take part in the quality incentive payment plan.

While the Florida Health Care Association sees the Navigant plan as a good starting point, LeadingAge Florida would would like lawmakers to scrap the model and consider an alternative. The association represents a wide variety of communities serving the state’s seniors, including nursing homes and retirement communities.

According to prepared comments posted on ACHA’s website, LeadingAge officials on Dec. 8 said “despite improvements made in an effort to adequately recognize and reward high quality care care and redistribute available funds equitably, we are convinced that the basic structure of the proposed models is fatally flawed and stated objectives for the new payment plan … cannot be obtained without a complete model redesign.”

Among other things, LeadingAge asked that the Navigant proposal include Palm Beach County in the South Region. Under the Navigant proposal, the South region is defined as Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

In December, the organization also asked that the 30th percentile threshold “exclude points awarded for year-to-year improvements,” and asked that the American Health Care Association Quality Silver and Gold Awards be removed from the Quality Matrix.

Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said in an interview last week, the Navigant proposal “shifts $109 million in Medicaid funding from the highest quality nursing homes to the lowest quality nursing homes.”

LeadingAge officials contend the shift in funding threatens the quality of care delivered by the state’s nursing home and would “devastate many of the state’s 5-star and Gold Seal providers.” According to the organization, 143 nursing homes with a 4- or 5-star rating would lose funding; while 86 facilities with a 1- or 2-star rating would gain funding.

“We don’t oppose a prospective payment plan,” said Bahmer. “We just oppose the model.”

LeadingAge is supportive of legislation by Sen. Aaron Bean. Filed last week, Bahmer said the proposal (SB 712) “creates a better way to pay for care without devastating the highest quality” facilities.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss the recommendations during its meeting at 1 p.m. in 404 House Office Building.

House panel approves changes to state employee health insurance program

A House panel OK’d a proposed committee bill Tuesday aimed at tweaking the state-employee health insurance program.

The House Health & Human Services Committee approved the bill (PCB HHS 17-01), which, among other things, would lead to the state plan offering four different levels by 2020. The idea, said Rep. Jason Brodeur, is similar to one that has been heard at some point over the seven different legislative sessions.

“It’s a way to return some consumerism to health care, which I believe will help everyone have access and return to costs,” he said.

Under the proposal, the Department of Management Services would be required to contract with at least one company that provides online health care price and quality information, including the average price paid for health care services and providers.

Beginning in 2020, the bill would allow state employees to pick a health insurance plan from one of four benefit levels. Under the proposal, if the state’s contribution for a premium is more than the cost of the plan selected by an employee, employees can use the remainder to fund a flexible spending arrangement or health savings plan; purchase additional benefits; or increase salary.

That provision left some members concerned that employees would opt for the lower plans, so they could get more money, but then not have enough coverage in case of an emergency.

Some Democrats also expressed concern that now might not be the time to make changes to health plans, especially since federal health care law is in flux under the new administration.

“I don’t think given the landscape that we’re facing with significant changes with the Affordable Care Act now is when we should be doing this bill,” said Rep. Lori Berman.

Supporters of the proposal called it innovative, and Rep. David Santiago said it allows “people to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to health care like they haven’t been before.”

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