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Lightning prepared to raise Marty St. Louis’ jersey to rafters

Three years ago, he went away angry.

Three years ago, a lot of Tampa Bay Lightning fans felt he had pulled out on the team.

But tonight, Marty St. Louis returns home for the team’s first jersey-retiring ceremony before the game against Columbus. Finally, the team and its star have reconciled.

“I don’t think even when you’re done playing and you’ve done some great things” St. Louis said, “it’s nothing you hope for. This is an add-on you never felt coming. I’m so flattered and honored. I feel good about what I’ve done. But there are people who want to recognize me for it is something I’ll remember forever.”

St. Louis, an afterthought when he entered the league, always played with a chip on his shoulder, as if he had something to prove. He was undersized as a player, but he showed he was big enough.

“You always feel you have something to prove,” St. Louis said. “It’s hard to make it to the NHL, and it’s hard to be an elite player. It’s even harder to stay there. Every year, kids are pushing you trying to get to there. I took pride in that. I think I was my biggest critic. I was trying to show people I could still do it. I think I was an impact player longer because of that mentality.”

St. Louis looks back on his days in Tampa fondly.

“My wife and I talk about it all the time,” St. Louis said. “We grew up here. We had just gotten married. All of our kids were raised here at a young age. We have a lot of friends of the family who are here. I matured here. It will always be home. It was home. Always be a special place.”

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Bill Galvano files 112-page gambling bill for 2017

This year’s first big gambling bill has something for everyone: Lottery ticket sales at gas pumps, fantasy sports, more slot machines, and a provision to finally OK the long-delayed gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

As he promised, state Sen. Bill Galvano filed this year’s bill (SB 8) on Thursday afternoon, coming in at 112 pages – with a 16-page summary separately provided.

One notable highlight: It would expand blackjack from just the state’s Seminole casinos to South Florida’s pari-mutuels, including Pompano Park.

Coincidentally, the legislation came the same day that Atlantic City’s casinos posted “their first revenue increase in a decade,” according to The Associated Press, helped largely by internet gambling. New Jersey casinos “won $2.6 billion from gamblers in 2016, an increase of 1.5 percent from a year earlier.”

No Casinos, the state’s anti-gambling expansion organization, tweeted its opposition Thursday night.

“This bill massively expands gambling throughout Florida by legalizing new forms of gambling at tribal facilities, and legalizing slot machines outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties, allowing for two new casinos in South Florida and expanding blackjack,” the group said. “…We will vigorously oppose this bill and urge legislators to stop Florida from becoming the next Atlantic City.”

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, called his bill “an important step in the development of a comprehensive, statewide approach to reforming current gaming laws.”

“This legislation in large part builds upon Senate work that has taken place over the last several years,” he said in a statement.

“My goal has been to address all aspects of gaming in a comprehensive manner that balances the interests of an industry that has contributed to Florida’s economy for nearly a hundred years, our ongoing revenue-sharing agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the authority of local voters, while maximizing revenues to the state.”

To avoid complaints that the measure represents an expansion of gambling, Galvano – an attorney – included provisions to pare down the number of state gambling licenses, for instance.

The changes to gambling law “represent a myriad of ideas advocated by various Senators and address industry concerns regarding antiquated and ambiguous provisions of current law,” he added. “The bill balances the will of the voters who have authorized additional games and locations with a retraction of gaming permits across the state.”

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican who chairs the House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee, earlier Thursday had told reporters he hadn’t seen Galvano’s bill.

But he hoped “it would be the best deal for the citizens of the state of Florida, and we’ll see what happens,” La Rosa said.

In an email, spokesman Gary Bitner said “the Seminole Tribe prefers to carefully review the bill before commenting.” Expanded gambling is a condition for the tribe to stop sharing revenue from its casinos.

Galvano admitted “further negotiations to reach a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida are necessary … While this legislation represents an important step, there is still a great deal of work to be done.”

A great deal of work is already in the bill, however. In order, the bill would:

Allow lottery tickets at “point-of sale” terminals – This could include customers could buying lottery tickets at the gas pump, an idea proposed before.

Critics had worried about minors, lower-income Floridians and compulsive gamblers having easier access to tickets. Galvano’s measure restricts sales to minors and wouldn’t allow games to use “slot machine or casino game themes.”

Approve a new Seminole Compact – Gov. Rick Scott and tribal representatives agreed on a new deal for continued rights to blackjack in exchange for $3 billion over seven years. But that agreement couldn’t get to either floor for a vote last Legislative Session.

This year’s bill would ratify the new agreement – with conditions. The tribe must agree that all ongoing legal actions over the agreement will be dropped, and accept “revised exceptions from exclusivity” on slot machines and certain card games now being offered at pari-mutuel facilities with card rooms.

But the tribe would get craps, roulette, and could offer blackjack at all its casinos in the state.

Make clear that fantasy sports play is legal in Florida – The bill would “find that fantasy contests … involve the skill of contest participants,” and thus aren’t games of chance, i.e. gambling.

It sets up an “Office of Amusements” to regulate fantasy contests in the state, similar to Senate President Joe Negron‘s measure last year.

That means sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, now seeking federal approval of a merger, would have to have a state license and contract for independent audits.

Provide for ‘decoupling’ at horse and dog tracks – Under the bill, the state would no longer require dog and horse tracks to run live races if they wish to offer other gambling, such as slots or cards. The move is known as decoupling.

Pari-mutuels say they want decoupling because the audience for dog and horse races – and thus the money bet on them – continues to decline. But horse and dog interests say it will kill their industry.

The bill “would change Brand Florida to Brand Mississippi, would cost over 3,000 Florida families their small businesses and put over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds at risk,” said Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association.

Establish a pari-mutuel permit reduction program – It would authorize the state to buy back “and cancel active pari-mutuel permits.” The money would come out of the revenue share payments from the Seminoles, up to $20 million.

A pre-condition of a sale could be something “most likely to reduce gaming in Florida.”

Expand the availability of slot machines – The legislation amends the definition of “eligible facility” so that “any licensed pari-mutuel facility” could get slots.

But the tracks must be in a county where voters OK’d slots by referendum, such as Brevard, Duval and Palm Beach, and have “conducted a full schedule of live racing for two consecutive years.”

The bill could also allow for one extra slot machine license each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Expands blackjack beyond Seminole casinos – It OKs blackjack in South Florida pari-mutuels, but at no more than 25 tables per facility.

Wagers may not exceed $100 for each initial two card wager,” the summary says. “Each pari-mutuel permitholder offering banked blackjack must pay a tax to the state of 25 percent of the blackjack operator’s monthly gross receipts.”

Among other provisions, the legislation reduces the state slot machine tax from 35 percent to 25 percent, would allow slots and cards to be played 24 hours a day, and let “all cardroom operators … offer designated player games.”

In banked card games, players bet against the “house,” or the casino, and not each other. In traditional poker, people play against each other for a pot of money. Designated-player games are a hybrid, where the bank is supposed to revolve among the players.

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Obama scrapping ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy for Cubans

The Obama administration is ending the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that granted residency to Cubans who arrived in the United States without visas.

That’s according to a senior administration official, who said the policy change was effective immediately.

The official said the U.S. and Cuba have spent several months negotiating the change, including an agreement from Cuba to allow those turned away from the U.S. to return.

The move comes about a week before President Barack Obama leaves office and is likely the last major change he will make to his overhaul of the U.S. relationship with Cuba.

The official insisted on anonymity in order to detail the policy ahead of an official announcement.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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Marco Rubio quickly keeps promise to stand up to Donald Trump in U.S. Senate

Marco Rubio promised during his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate that he would stand up to Donald Trump when necessary.

“Necessary” didn’t take long to arrive.

It came Wednesday during a confirmation hearing for Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for Secretary of State.

Rubio responded with what I thought was his finest hour as the junior senator from Florida. He showed plenty of backbone, conviction and passion in relentlessly hammering Tillerson about his stance (or non-stance) on Russia’s appalling human rights record.

It was a bold gambit, but it’s one I believe Rubio made on principle. In so doing he risks the wrath of the incoming president, not to mention his own Republican Party.

That showed a truckload of gumption.

Now, I may have to amend the previous sentence if after all that Rubio toes the GOP line and votes to confirm Tillerson. I can’t imagine that happening now, though, and as it stands now, Rubio could be the swing vote that would lead the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee to turn thumbs-down on Tillerson.

That wouldn’t necessarily doom his appointment, as the full Senate could confirm him with a simple majority vote. Republicans hold a 52-46 edge there (with two independents, who caucus with Democrats).

Taking the political intrigue out of it for a second, though, Rubio’s action during Wednesday’s hearing backed up his full-throated condemnation of nations like Russia and Cuba who rule with torture, murder and a disregard for human life.

I haven’t agreed with Rubio’s persistent hard-line stance on Cuba, mostly because I believe the U.S. policy of sanctions has succeeded only in bringing misery to the Cuban people. But there is no such ambiguity with what’s happening with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Rubio placed himself squarely on the front line in the battle to oppose him.

When Tillerson said “I would not reach that conclusion” after Rubio asked if the nominee considers Putin a war criminal, what followed was a statement of fact that was a stinging indictment of what appears to be president-elect Trump’s position.

“Let me describe the situation in Aleppo, and perhaps it will help you reach that conclusion,” Rubio said. “In Aleppo, Mr. Putin has directed his military to conduct a devastating campaign (assisting the Syrians). He has targeted schools, markets, and other civilian infrastructure that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians.

“This is not the first time Mr. Putin has been involved in campaigns of this kind. Based on all that, and what’s publicly in the record about what has happened in Aleppo … you are still not prepared to say Vladimir Putin and his military have violated the rules of war and conducted war crimes in Aleppo?”

Tillerson said those were “serious charges” and he needed more information.

Rubio shot back, “It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin and his military have conducted war crimes in Aleppo. It is never acceptable, you would agree, for a military to specifically target civilians, which is what’s happening there. … I find it “discouraging” your inability to cite that…”

But he wasn’t done, following up with, “Do you believe Vladimir Putin and his cronies are responsible for the murder of countless dissidents, journalists and political opponents?”

Tillerson said didn’t have enough information, so Rubio gave him some.

“Are you aware that people who oppose Vladimir Putin wind up dead all over the world – poisoned, shot in the back of the head? Do you think that is coincidental, or do you that it is possible – or likely, as I believe – that it was part of an effort to murder his political opponents?”

Tillerson said he needed more information.

“None of this is classified, Mr. Tillerson. These people are dead,” Rubio said.

It was a promise kept by Rubio. In Washington, that is especially unexpected and refreshing.

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Tampa City Council to discuss amending ordinance on public feeding of the homeless

Five days after the arrest of seven members of the group Food Not Bombs for feeding the homeless in Gaslight Park without a permit, the Tampa City Council agreed Thursday to hold a workshop to discuss the possibility of amending its current ordinance on the issue.

“What if we create Sunday as the one day where they can come in – and not just Food Not Bombs (but) a church or another non profit – to set up some tables, feed some homeless people, and not have to worry about being trespassed or arrested and can truly do so?  asked Councilman Guido Maniscalco in proposing the workshop, which his fellow council members voted unanimously to support.

Food Not Bombs members were found last Saturday to be in violation of  City Ordinance 16.43, which states that, “No person shall conduct any activity or utilize any department managed land in a manner which will result in commercial activity, as defined in this chapter, or provide for the distribution or sampling of any materials, merchandise, food, and/or beverages to the general public, without prior written approval from the department.”

But other cities, like St. Petersburg, do allow small-scale food distribution without a permit. Maniscalco is calling for a workshop so that the city’s legal department can research St. Pete’s code and offer their own suggestions on how to possibly accommodate the public feedings. He said he also wants other council members to weigh in as well with their own ideas.

After hearing a steady stream of citizens criticizing the city for “criminalizing the homeless,” Councilman Harry Cohen felt the need to tell the audience at Thursday’s council meeting that “we’re all compassionate people up here, and we want to find a way to express that compassion in the types of rules and laws that we pass in the city.”

Two of the seven members of Food Not Bombs that we’re arrested last weekend told the council that the city’s current ordinance is a form of government overreach, and should be considered an embarrassment.

“The idea that city government has the authority to prevent us from caring for each other  is absurd,” said Jimmy Dunson. “We are going to bring about a better world, we are going to make this city bold, we are turning on our porch lights and calling the homeless back home. We just ask that the city doesn’t ask its police force to stand in the way of that.”

“This is like the Wizard of Oz, where rather than permits, fees and handcuffs, the city needs some a heart, a brain and some courage,” added FNB member Dezeray Lynn. “It’s time for the city and TPD stop pretending that two small tables in a public park where our taxes already pay for the public use of that park is what is making this into a problem.”

Tampa is certainly not the only city around the country that has ordinances on the books that restrict the practice of public feedings in city parks.  Two years ago, Food Not Bombs sued the city of Fort Lauderdale after it passed a similar law as Tampa’s ordinance. The group claimed the city law would “have a chilling effect on plaintiffs’ exercise of free speech and association,” but a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of Fort Lauderdale last fall.

Nevertheless, several speakers at Thursday’s meeting told Council members how the arrests were a blot on the image of Tampa.

“I have actually been rather astonished and dismayed with the way that the city of Tampa deals with its homeless population,” said Aaron Walker, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Tampa, referring back to the issue the council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn had in dealing with panhandlers several years ago. He said he wasn’t in Tampa last week when the arrests occurred, but “it seems to that the optics of this particular problem are not in our favor, something we need to deeply consider.”

City Attorney Sal Territo said that the media attention from the arrests, which took place as thousands of people descended into Tampa for Monday night’s national college football championship, was an unfair depiction of the city’s attitude towards the homeless. He called it “an unfortunate situation.”

“It wasn’t because they were feeding people in the park,” he told the Council. “They were there without a permit, and the parks are supposed to be available to everyone. And this park does not have facilities for people who were eating in the park. So it really wasn’t the mean spirited way it was being portrayed.”

Tampa resident Susan Simpson said she was a supporter of Tampa Food Not Bombs. She said as a Christian and and as an employee of a church, her motto is to love God first, “and love thy neighbor as well.”

Speaking to SPB after the meeting, Maniscalco himself invoked his Christian background as to why he wants to find a way to move forward on the issue.

“I go to church every Sunday,” Maniscalco said. “I call myself a Christian. Yet we criminalize the essence of what we’re taught in church, which is to help your fellow man. So I feel like a hypocrite as a compassionate human being.”

Mayor Buckhorn was quoted in Thursday’s Tampa Bay Times as saying he is open to compromise with FNB, but added, “You can’t destroy a neighborhood in order to make your conscious feel better, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

The workshop is scheduled to take place on Thursday, February 23 at 9:00 a.m.

 

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Tampa Realtor president sues neighbor for access to ‘landlocked’ property

Andrew Scaglione

The owner of a landlocked private property in Tampa is suing his neighbor to create an easement allowing access to the land.

ANMF, managed by Andrew Scaglione, is suing neighbor, Henry Robertson Jr., on two counts “to establish an Implied Way of Necessity” and “to establish a statutory way of necessity.”

The company owns a five-acre parcel located in Millan de Avila, an exclusive Tampa neighborhood.

According to the suit, filed December 14 in Hillsborough County’s 13th Circuit Court, ANMF suggests the only practical access point to the land is through Robertson’s property. The property cannot be used to its full potential without such access.

ANMF seeks for a 38-foot wide easement to be established, offering to pay $100 as compensation for the use of the roadway.

A diagram attached to the suit outlines the property owned by ANMF. It depicts the property to be surrounded by cement walls to the north and west as well as a wooded wetland just west of the property. South of the property is where Robertson’s land is located. An easement currently stretches from Indian Head Drive to the end of Robertson’s property.

The land was previously owned by Robertson before losing it to foreclosure. Two years after that, ANMF purchased the land.

Scaglione, 55, also serves as president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, a nonprofit association representing more than 9,000 real estate professionals. He also is a board member of USAmeriBank, a director and former chair of the Tampa Sports Authority, and the owner of Empire Commercial Realty Service.

Scaglione lives in Avila, directly north of ANMF’s property.

The diagram suggests a possible access to the property could be obtained via Scaglione’s property. However, it also appears to show a cement wall separating the two properties.

Image courtesy of BayLawsuits.com

 

Enhanced map with the home of Andrew Scaglione in green. Image courtesy of BayLawsuits.com
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Ratings agency warns in brief against ‘dramatic expansion’ of Sunshine Law

An insurance organization that proposes workers’ compensation coverage rates in Florida defended itself in pleadings to a state appeals court this week, seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that it had violated open-government laws.

Attorneys for the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, submitted their arguments in a brief filed Wednesday with the 1st District Court of Appeal. The state office of Insurance Regulation is also a party to the suit, filed by Miami workers’ compensation attorney James Fee.

“The trial court’s order is flawed in numerous respects, fails to follow decades of binding precedent, ignores the plain language of relevant Florida statutes, and makes factual findings that lack record support and are directly contrary to the uncontradicted evidence,” the brief says.

“Florida’s Sunshine Law applies only to boards or commissions of governmental entities,” the document says. “NCCI is a private corporation, not a governmental entity, and no governmental entity has delegated the performance of its public, rate approval purpose to NCCI.”

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled in December that NCCI and the insurance office had violated the Sunshine Law in formulating a 14.5 percent in workers’ compensation premiums that will take effect through the end of this year.

Gievers pointed to statutory language requiring state-sanctioned rating agencies, like NCCI, to conduct their business in the sunshine. NCCI, she said, had been obligated to open its internal committee work on the rate to the public, as well as relevant documents.

The 1st DCA allowed the rate to begin to take effect pending the outcome of the appeal.

In its brief, NCCI argued that it lacks the sort of committee contemplated in the law. It once maintained such a panel, the summary says, comprising of representatives of Florida insurance companies. But it dropped the board in 1991 over antitrust concerns.

“Undisputed record evidence demonstrates that NCCI does not now, and did not at any time relevant to this proceeding, have a committee with responsibility for Florida workers’ compensation insurance rates,” the brief says.

Instead, a single employee — Jay Rosen, NCCI’s lead actuary for Florida — was the sole “decision-making authority” for the filing, although he worked on it with his staff.

He submitted his findings to peer review within the organization and to employees who would explain it to state regulators.

The brief says NCCI posted on its website, in advance of regulatory hearings, “hundreds of pages of documents” that the organization relied upon.

“The OIR’s process allowed for significant public participation during the hearing, as well as before and after. The OIR received substantial input from interested stakeholders and the public, including persons in favor of, and opposed to, NCCI’s filing.”

Ultimately, regulators approved a smaller rate hike than NCCI had proposed.

“If allowed to stand, the trial court’s order will mark a dramatic expansion of the requirements of Florida’s Sunshine and Public Records Laws, as well as an expansion of (the insurance code) beyond their plain language, in violation of clear binding precedent,” the NCCI brief says.

“Any such expansion would greatly inhibit the ability of private entities, as well as government entities, to conduct business in Florida.”

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Larry Ahern files bill to provide commercial sales tax relief

Larry Ahern

State Rep. Larry Ahern filed a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the state sales tax that Florida business owners pay on their commercial leases.

The legislation would provide a sales tax exemption on the total rent paid for the right to use or occupy commercial real property.

 “Florida is the only state that imposes a standard, statewide sales tax on commercial real estate leases” the Seminole Republican said. “This bill will have a positive and direct effect on the bottom line for small businesses first and larger businesses in the coming years.”

A few highlights of the bill:

— The exemption for the first year will be for businesses that pay up to $10,000 per year in state sales tax; businesses that pay up to$20,000 would be eligible for the exemption in the second year; and businesses that pay up to $40,000 would be eligible in the third year.

— It would cover all leases and contractual agreements with rent and license fees regardless of terms and length of agreement.

— The exemption would increase by $10,000 each year for the ensuing six years until the total exemption is $90,000 and the remainder repealed completely in the 10th year.

More than 300,000 businesses owners who rent space will benefit the first year and more than 1 billion in all will benefit, Ahern said.

“This will give our state another competitive advantage in attracting new businesses, and provide some much-needed tax relief for the job creators currently affected by this additional overhead,”  Ahern said.

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Citrus crop production trending down again slightly

The latest estimates show “a slight decrease” in Florida orange production to 71 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, according to the Florida Department of Citrus.

The department on Thursday shared the results of the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast, the first in 2017.

The state’s citrus industry has been hurt by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

“Despite the decrease, (the) crop size projection remains above the 70 million boxes the USDA initially estimated in October,” its press release says. “The report also projects a slight decrease in the state’s grapefruit production to 9 million boxes.”

Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director, attributed the changes to “the slight fluctuations this industry is accustomed to historically in a season.”

“We see this as a positive sign that we are gaining ground on (citrus greening) and getting closer to a stabilized industry,” Shepp said in a statement. “We continue to see growers invest in the future of Florida Citrus by putting new trees in the ground.”

The FDOC, funded in part by taxes paid by the state’s citrus growers, “serves as the chief marketing and promotion arm for the industry,” it says.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was more guarded about the updated forecast.

“Because of citrus greening, production of our state’s signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago,” he said in a statement. “The future of Florida citrus, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, depends on a long-term solution in the fight against greening.

“Our brightest minds are working to find a solution, but until then, we must support our growers and provide them every tool available to combat this devastating disease.”

Putnam has asked the federal government to consider approving antimicrobial treatments to fight greening, which is caused by a  jumping plant louse and the bacteria it hosts.

The tiny bugs feed on citrus leaves and infect the trees with the bacteria as they go. Researchers have been looking into ways to cure the disease or to grow a strain of citrus resistant to the bacteria.

Putnam “has requested more than $17 million in state funding to continue critical research and support Florida’s citrus industry,” his office said.

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Marco Rubio votes to repeal Affordable Care Act

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has cast his vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Early Thursday morning, the Senate GOP took a first step towards a repeal of the law – which they’ve long said was a goal of theirs and which President-elect Donald Trump made a campaign promise to do. In a marathon voting session, they approved a budget resolution that would speed through the repeal of the law.

Rubio was right on board with that.

“ObamaCare has led to rising premiums, a collapse of the individual insurance market and fewer choices for patients,” Rubio said. “The law is an absolute failure, and its proponents insist it must be salvaged with a taxpayer-funded bailout of health insurance companies. We’ve now taken an important first step to repeal this law and replace ‎it with a patient-centered approach that expands access to providers and lowers costs of care.

“It is my hope and expectation that the transition to a replacement program can be done relatively seamlessly and minimize disruptions to patients.”

Opponents of the measure say a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be disastrous and leave many people without health care, as well as leaving people with pre-existing conditions unable to find coverage.

The GOP and Trump say they’ll work towards implementing a replacement for the law that will be better, though no details on what that plan will be have surfaced.

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