Staff Reports - 3/43 - SaintPetersBlog

Staff Reports

Senate bill would shake up state worker health insurance plans

Legislation filed in the Senate would let state employees decide between four levels of group health insurance coverage, so they could buy cheaper, stripped-down plans or pay for more comprehensive care.

“Our current plan offers limited choices and lacks the price transparency needed for employees and their families to make cost-effective health care purchases,” bill sponsor Tom Lee said in a written statement.

“This bill incorporates modern, innovative models for delivering high-quality health care at lower costs that will empower state employees to decide what benefits make the most sense for them,” the Thonotosassa Republican said.

SB 900 would allow state workers to choose between bronze, silver, gold, or platinum plans, depending on how many benefits they’d like to pay for.

If a plan costs less than the state’s share of a worker’s monthly premium, the worker could stash the extra money in a flexible savings or health savings account, or buy extra benefits — or take the extra money as a pay increase.

The measure would take effect in 2020.

“If an individual decides they don’t want or need the full coverage offered by the state’s traditional plan, why not give at least some of the cost back to them in another way — maybe in the form of increases in their health-savings accounts, maybe in the form of more take-home pay?” Lee said.

The State Group Health Insurance Plan covers more than 360,000 state employees through either preferred-provider organizations or HMOs. Workers pay $50 per month for individual coverage and $180 for families.

A little more than 1 percent choose in another option — a high-deductible, low-premium plan.

The Department of Management Services would submit recommended premiums to the Legislative Budget Commission for approval.

The bill would create a price transparency program to educate employees about their choices — including quality and price information for services and providers.

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Vern Buchanan to co-chair Florida Delegation meeting on water issues

The co-chairs of Florida’s congressional delegation, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, and Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings will hold a bipartisan delegation meeting on some of the state’s most pressing water issues.

The meeting is Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 8:30 a.m. in 2020 Rayburn House Office Building, in Washington, DC.

The delegation will discuss red tide, harmful algal blooms, beach renourishment and other water quality issues. This will be the first meeting of the 29-member bipartisan Florida congressional delegation in 2017.

“Our pristine beaches and rivers are a draw for Floridians and countless visitors each year,” Buchanan said. “That’s why it’s so important that our delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans and waterways are clean and healthy.”

Recently, red tide outbreaks left thousands of dead fish along the Suncoast’s shores. The tide produces a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the already endangered Florida manatee. It can also have devastating effects on humans, as shellfish from active red tide areas can cause poisoning.

Panelists will include Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw and representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Each year, red tide poses a serious threat to Southwest Florida’s wildlife, ecosystems and economy,” Buchanan said. “We need to do everything we can to stop future damage.”

This past summer, record amounts of toxic algae wreaked havoc across Florida, producing a bloom so large it was visible from space. The blue-green guacamole-thick algae, also known as cyanobacteria, forced many Floridians to wear masks near the water and some complained of skin rashes, headaches and respiratory issues, according to press reports.

Harmful algae blooms cause $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year in the U.S., according to NOAA.

Buchanan said he also looks forward to hearing from Mayor Shaw about beach renourishment. In 2007, the congressman secured $1.7 million in federal funding for beach renourishment projects in the 16th Congressional District.

 

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Larry Lee Shevrin Jones

Democrats issue statement on education funding

In response to Speaker Richard Corcoran’s pledge to increase funding for education, two Democratic ranking members called the statement “encouraging.”

State Rep. Larry Lee Jr. of Port St. Lucie, the ranking member on the Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, and state Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park, ranking member on the Education Committee, issued a statement Monday morning.

“Ensuring every child has access to a quality public education has been neglected for too long when it should always be a top priority of this legislature,” they said. “With Florida’s public education system still struggling to recover from the devastating $1.3 billion in cuts to their budget signed by Gov. Scott in 2011, it is encouraging that Speaker Corcoran has committed to increasing education spending in next year’s budget.

“Now that the Speaker has made this commitment, we are hopeful that our committees will move away from looking at ways to cut education funding and instead begin to focus on giving our hardworking teachers a raise, and increasing per-pupil funding to actually historic levels that take into account inflation.”

Over the weekend, Corcoran was a guest on Jim DeFede‘s Facing South Florida, where the speaker said there will be an increase in funding for public education in the 2017-18 budget.

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Housh Ghovaee asking voters for full term on Madeira Beach Commission

Local businessman Housh Ghovaee is asking voters for a chance to serve a full term on the Madeira Beach City Commission.

Ghovaee, owner of Clearwater’s Northside Engineering, was appointed to replace Pat Shontz, who had resigned Seat 4 last year during a battle over two controversial development projects, which led to ethics complaints levied against several city officials.

“My love for America is greater than my love for self-preservation. That is why I want to do this,” Ghovaee told the Tampa Bay Reporter. “My love for America translates into my love for my city. Public service is something I strongly believe in.”

Ghovaee’s appointment sparked a suit accusing the commission of violating Sunshine Laws. Although he would not discuss the matter with reporters, Ghovaee did say it was over disclosures at the time he filed paperwork, which he said was at the direction of the city clerk.

“There’s really no issue,” Ghovaee told the Reporter. “There are many ethics complaints. They’re all being thrown out one at a time. This is just another sound bite … from people who really have no interest in the city.”

If voters give him a full term on his own, Ghovaee is looking to meet with Madeira Beach residents frequently, as well as hold a series of workshops and public comment sessions. Among his top issues: street beautification, a walking/bike trail connecting Archibald Park and War Veteran’s Memorial Park, and safety improvements on 150th Avenue.

Ghovaee has an extensive record of community activism, serving on dozens of boards over his 30-year career, including the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, Southwest Florida Water Management District Anclote basin board, Florida Holocaust Museum board and as chair of the Pinellas Park Chamber of Commerce Board.

Ghovaee faces John Douthirt and David Allen Hitterman. Voter registration for the March 14 election ends Monday.

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Charlie Crist names Gershom Faulkner as Outreach Director

Congressman Charlie Crist has hired Gershom Faulkner as Outreach Director, to serve as the St. Petersburg Democrat’s liaison throughout Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“Gershom is a great addition to our team,” Crist said Friday. “His dedication to service is unwavering – as a Marine defending our country, and through positions with former Rep. Frank Peterman and Congresswoman Kathy Castor. As a veteran, small-business owner and community leader, Gershom is uniquely qualified to serve as Outreach Director and we are excited to have him come on board.”

After graduating from high school in St. Petersburg, Faulkner joined the Marines where he served honorably during the Gulf War, receiving several commendations. After four years of active duty, he returned to St. Petersburg and began his service to the community, working with Frank Peterman, Jr. during his tenure as both a city councilman and state representative.

Before mounting a run for city council, Faulkner worked on several local and statewide campaigns, including Betty Castor‘s 2004 senatorial campaign and Kathy Castor‘s successful 2006 congressional campaign, afterward joining her office as Outreach Director.

During the 2016 cycle, Faulkner volunteered on the Crist for Congress campaign.

Faulkner expressed his thanks to Crist in a statement:

“I am pleased and honored to accept Congressman Charlie Crist’s offer to become our Representative’s Outreach Director. This is a position I did not seek but am honored to accept since I have a passionate desire to serve the community and have a firm faith in Congressman Crist’s ability to represent all people in our community in Washington.

“As President Obama evolved on the issue of gay marriage and LGBTQ issues, so too have I evolved. Like Congressman Crist, I am a strong advocate for equal rights and equal protection under the law for the LGBTQ community. I understand that in this ever-changing world, it is imperative to have a representative who is sensitive to the needs of everyone, not just the few or the privileged.

“Regardless of a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identification, I will work collaboratively with the community as a member of the Congressman’s staff to ensure that every voice is heard and that the needs of all the people are always my first priority.

“I am a veteran of the Gulf War who served in the United States Marine Corps. I was honorably discharged as a Sergeant. After leaving military service, I served as a legislative aide to former State Representative Frank Peterman Jr., and Outreach Director to Congresswoman Kathy Castor, I truly believe that my knowledge of how government works and my strong relationships within the district, will serve Congressman Crist well as his Outreach Director.

“The challenges facing African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, refugees, labor unions and women’s rights, are ALL issues that I stand ready to tackle – relaying solutions to the Congressman as articulated by his constituents.

“I am honored and excited to begin this new chapter of service to my community and my country. I will do everything in my power to live up to the trust placed in me by Congressman Crist. I am looking forward to helping citizens find solutions to their issues and restore the notion that government is an instrument of good for all people.”

Faulkner currently serves on St. Petersburg’s Civil Service Board and previously sat on the Southside St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) ad hoc Planning Committee. He is also President-elect of the St. Petersburg Midtown Rotary Club and serves on the board of the Neighborly Care Network.

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Report: Randolph Bracy considering 2018 U.S. Senate bid

Sen. Randolph Bracy could be eyeing higher office.

The Florida Times-Union reported Thursday that Bracy is considering a run for U.S. Senate in 2018. If he decides to jump into the race, Bracy would face sitting U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in a Democratic primary.

“I’m considering it; I’ll leave it there,” he told the paper.

First elected to the Florida House in 2012, Bracy won his Senate District 11 seat in November. The 39-year-old serves as the chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee and vice chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Nelson is the only Democrat in Florida elected to statewide office, and is widely expected to run for re-election in 2018. When asked about Bracy’s possible run by the Times-Union, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party indicated Nelson would have the establishment’s backing.

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Tobacco bond repealer is again postponed, this time in House

A House bill (HB 6011) that would repeal the cap on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds was “temporarily postponed” Thursday.

With its Senate companion (SB 100) also indefinitely put off, the proposal’s fate is uncertain for the 2017 Legislative Session. The House version was slated to be heard in the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee, records show.

Tobacco companies are required to put up bonds before they appeal unfavorable damages awarded to former smokers, but the state places limits on how much those bonds are.

Tobacco companies say a repeal would be unfair because, without a cap, bonds would fall under the “150 percent of judgment” rule.

With some verdicts in the billions of dollars, bonds could be unreasonably large under that standard, they say.

The state’s trial lawyers back the cap repeal, saying it will force settlements and end decades-long litigation over plaintiffs’ claims of irreversible illness or early death from smoking.

A CSX Transportation spokesman previously told a Senate panel that a repeal of the tobacco companies’ bond cap would be an “erosion of reasonable tort reform” taken by the state in recent years.

Bob O’Malley said it could lead to “repeal of the general bond cap, (which) would be a disaster for businesses.”

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican who sits on the committee, and state Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, filed the measures for their respective chambers.

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Robert J. Luck elevated to appeals court judge

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday appointed Circuit Judge Robert J. Luck to the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami.

Luck, 37, of North Miami Beach, has served as a circuit judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit since 2013.

He previously was an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Deputy Chief at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

Luck received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. He fills the vacancy created by the Jan. 3 retirement of Judge Frank A. Shepherd.

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Alan Abramowitz reappointed head of Guardians ad Litem

Gov. Rick Scott reappointed Alan Abramowitz as head of the state’s child advocates program.

The Governor’s Office announced the appointment Wednesday night for a term of Feb. 8, 2017-Feb. 8, 2019.

Abramowitz, 54, of Tallahassee, has been Executive Director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program since 2010.

Guardians ad litem represent the interests of children in court proceedings, especially in divorce and juvenile dependency matters.

Abramowitz, who served in the Florida National Guard and the United States Army from 1983-98, was state director for family safety for the Department of Children and Families.

He’s also been chief legal counsel for the Department of Children and Families’ Central Florida area and Assistant General Counsel for the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Abramowitz received his bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University, his law degree from Florida State University, and his master’s degree from the University of Central Florida.

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Senate advances Excellence in Higher Education legislation

Senate Bill 2, the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act, and Senate Bill 4, Faculty Recruitment, both sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano Wednesday passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education.

“As these key bills continue to move through our committee process, I am encouraged by the feedback from and focus on our college and university students,” said Senate President Joe Negron. “The opportunity to hear from students and learn about the challenges they face as they work to complete their degrees is extremely valuable. Like many students today, I worked throughout college and law school, and I understand the challenge of working and balancing difficult coursework. I am confident this package of policy enhancements will help more students graduate on time while maintaining the flexibility some students need as they balance their studies with family and work obligations.”

“This legislation prioritizes on-time graduation as a goal for our system of higher education, while still recognizing that, for a variety of reasons, not all students will be able to complete their programs within the traditional timetable,” Galvano said. “The legislation makes it clear that schools are only evaluated on the graduation rates of our traditional, full-time, first-time-in-college students. No student is penalized in any way by this policy. In fact, this pro-student legislation removes institutional barriers and helps to ease financial insecurities that lead students to delay graduation.”

Senate Bills 2 and 4 are key components of the Senate’s Excellence in Higher Education Agenda for the 2017 Legislative Session.

Senate Bill 2, the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act, promotes on-time graduation by expanding student financial assistance and support, establishing tuition and fee incentives, streamlining 2+2 articulation, and strengthening mechanisms that keep colleges and universities accountable to Florida taxpayers.

Senate Bill 4, Faculty Recruitment, expands policy and funding tools universities can leverage to recruit and retain the very best faculty, enhance professional and graduate schools, and improve aging infrastructure and research laboratories.

SENATE BILL 2 – THE FLORIDA EXCELLENCE IN HIGHER EDUCATION ACT

Expands Student Financial Assistance and Support

Reinstates Highest Bright Futures Scholarship Program Award (Florida Academic Scholar) to cover 100 percent of tuition and certain tuition-indexed fees, including the summer term, plus $300 for textbooks and college-related expenses during the fall and spring terms.

Expands the Benacquisto Scholar Program to provide awards for qualified out-of-state students, as funded in the General Appropriations Act (GAA), equal to the highest cost of resident student attendance at a state university. The student must physically reside in the community of the university he or she is attending.

Revises the First-Generation Matching Grant Program to provide two to one (state to local match versus one to one), as funded in the GAA.

Establishes Tuition and Fee Incentives

The Legislature has authorized state universities to implement flexible tuition policies to assist students in accessing higher education in our state. To date, no state university has implemented a block tuition policy.

Requires universities to implement a block tuition policy, which must specify an in-state block tuition rate and an out-of-state block tuition rate for full-time undergraduate students. The university board of trustees and the Board of Governors must publicly approve the block tuition policy in time for implementation by no later than the fall 2018 semester.

Streamlines 2+2 Articulation

Establishes the 2+2 targeted pathway program to strengthen Florida’s 2+2 system of articulation and improve student retention and on-time graduation in four years with a baccalaureate degree.

Requires each community college to execute at least one 2+2 targeted pathway articulation agreement by the 2018-19 academic year. The articulation agreement must provide students who meet specified requirements guaranteed access to the state university and baccalaureate degree program in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

Requires district school boards to notify students and parents with accurate and timely information about how college credits generated in high school will apply toward a college degree.

Strengthens Mechanisms That Keep Colleges and Universities Accountable To Florida Taxpayers

Incentivizes full-time student graduation in four years by focusing institutional efforts on initiatives that reduce student time to, and costs of, on-time degree completion.

Upgrades State University System (SUS) Performance Metrics in Preeminence and Performance Funding programs: 

Tightens graduation rate expectations to four-year (from six-year) for a baccalaureate degree. (Note: Universities are only evaluated based on the graduation rates of students who are enrolled full-time, beginning in the fall semester, and who have not previously enrolled.)

Repeals pre-eminent university authority for a six-credit set of “unique courses” that consume time and money for non-transferable credit.

Upgrades Florida College System (FCS) Performance Metrics in Distinguished College and Performance Funding programs:

Tightens degree (associate and bachelor) graduation rate metrics to 100 percent (versus 150 percent) of normal-time completion. (Note: Colleges are only evaluated based on the graduation rates of students who are enrolled full-time, beginning in the fall semester, and who have not previously enrolled.)

Adds a college affordability metric, which must be adopted by the State Board of Education.

Specifies that the job placement metric must be based on wage thresholds that reflect the added value of the applicable certificate or degree.

SENATE BILL 4 – RECRUIT AND RETAIN ELITE FACULTY

Establishes a World Class Faculty Scholar Program to fund university efforts to recruit, recognize, and retain star faculty and teams, as funded in the GAA.

Establishes a University Professional and Graduate Degree Excellence Program to promote quality and excellence in university professional school and graduate study outcomes in high-impact fields of medicine, law and business, as funded in the GAA.

Links education to job opportunities by expanding university responsibility to identify internship opportunities for students to benefit from industry experts and mentors, earn industry certifications and become employed in high-demand fields of unmet need.

For more information, please visit www.FLSenate.gov.

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