Pam Bondi Archives - Page 4 of 27 - SaintPetersBlog

Pam Bondi touts $165 million recovered by state’s Medicaid fraud unit

Florida has proved to be one of the most effective states in the nation last year for recovering Medicaid fraud money.

A report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services revealed Florida recovered more than $165 million in otherwise lost funds through fraudulent Medicaid cases during fiscal year 2015-2016, the state’s attorney general said in a statement Thursday.

The report shows Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) is working, according to the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services.

“My Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigators work tirelessly to stop Medicaid fraud and recover stolen funds for taxpayers,” Bondi said in the statement. “This report sends the strong message that we will continue to aggressively pursue anyone trying to defraud Florida’s Medicaid program.”

According to the report, Florida ranked only second in the nation in total funds recovered for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with New York raking in the most at nearly $229,000,000.

Since taking office in 2011, Bondi’s MFCU has obtained more than half a billion dollars in settlements and judgments in total.

The unit investigates and prosecutes providers that intentionally defraud the state’s Medicaid program through fraudulent billing practices. In addition, the MFCU investigates allegations of patient abuse, neglect and exploitation in facilities receiving payments under the Medicaid program.

Each year OIG of the HHS publishes a report of the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit statistical data from the preceding federal fiscal year.

California and Texas ranked third and fourth, respectively, with California saving more than $136,000,000 and Texas saving more than $128,000,000.

To view HHS OIG’s report, click here.

State lawmakers applaud Florida TaxWatch during annual State of Taxpayer dinner

State lawmakers applauded Florida TaxWatch this week, hailing the organization for its role in the legislative process.

“The folks that formed Florida TaxWatch had a good focus in mind,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. “And as a result of Florida TaxWatch’s efforts, we’ve turned things around.”

The taxpayer advocacy group hosted its State of the Taxpayer dinner Wednesday. The annual event is meant to highlight issues affecting the average taxpayer, and features speeches from Latvala, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Jim Boyd and Rep. Manny Diaz. House Speaker Richard Corcoran was scheduled to attend, but was unable to make it, according to a spokesman for the organization.

While speakers used the event as a chance to promote the work they’re doing, some took a few moments to show their support for Enterprise Florida, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities.

Latvala, who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at some point the state needs to start thinking about how it can balance its desire to keep taxes low, while still meeting the needs of the state.

“I believe the way we do that, just like the governor believes, is by growing the economy organically,” said Latvala. “We need to bring in high paid employees and get them in to the Florida economy, get them buying homes. And that’s been a function that’s been performed admirably by Enterprise Florida.”

While the program has come under fire in recent years, Latvala told attendees the program was the “creation of Republican leaders.” And before Enterprise Florida, there was a “zero match” when it came to companies putting in dollars to recruit businesses.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “If we get rid of our (economic incentive) programs, we’re going into the world in a competition situation naked as a jaybird. And I don’t want to do that.”

Florida TaxWatch has opposed legislation by the Florida House that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The bill cleared the House Appropriations Committee last week, and is scheduled to get its first hearing in the full House on Thursday.

“The session has gotten off to a slow start, with not much happening in the next couple of days,” joked Lopez-Cantera.

Boyd, the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, discussed what his committee was doing, and said the House wants what is best for Florida.

“I do believe with all of my heart, and I know leadership of the House does as well, that we’re all out for the same thing. At the end of the day we want a vibrant economy, we want jobs, we want good education,” he said. “I know that as we move through this process … we share the same goal. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re getting closer every day.”

Florida Supreme Court considers voting rights amendment

The Florida Supreme Court is being asked to approve the wording of a proposed amendment that could allow convicted criminals to vote.

Backers of the amendment went before the high court on Monday. Justices must decide whether the amendment is misleading.

Florida’s constitution bars people convicted of felonies from being able to vote after they have left prison. Convicted felons must ask to have their voting rights restored.

The amendment would allow most convicts to have their rights automatically restored after they have completed their prison sentence. Felons convicted of murder or a sexual offense would not be eligible.

Amendment supporters still must gather more than 700,000 signatures to place the amendment on the 2018 ballot.

An attorney for Attorney General Pam Bondi said she is not taking a stance on the amendment wording.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Richard Corcoran, Rick Scott still holding on constitutional panel picks

With the 2017 Legislative Session fast approaching, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott still have not released their appointees for the upcoming Constitution Revision Commission.

It’s the panel that meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Senate President Joe Negron have already announced their combined 12 picks. (Those appointments are here and here.)

Corcoran last week said he planned to disclose his nine picks next Monday, the day before Session begins. Scott’s office has not said when he plans to announce his 15 selections. His received applications can be seen here.

The state constitution says the commission must be “established … within (30) days before the convening of the 2017 regular session of the legislature.”

The “commission shall convene at the call of its chair, adopt its rules of procedure, examine the constitution of the state, hold public hearings, and, not later than one hundred eighty days prior to the next general election, file … its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it,” it says.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran, as House Speaker, gets nine picks, as does Negron as head of the Senate.

Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

The nonprofit Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution has suggested several issues the commission could address this year, including transportation, natural resources, crime and justice, representation, and “youth, elderly & the underserved.”

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Florida prosecutors can seek death penalty despite questions

Florida prosecutors can seek the death penalty in ongoing cases despite a state Supreme Court ruling that found a new death penalty law unconstitutional.

The court ruled Monday that the death penalty can be applied as long as there is a unanimous jury recommendation.

The court ruled last October that a new state law requiring at least a 10-2 jury recommendation is unconstitutional.

But Monday it said other aspects of the law are constitutional and prosecutors can proceed in capital punishment cases.

Prosecutors had been in limbo wondering whether the death penalty could be applied. Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the court to clarify.

The court released an opinion last month saying the death penalty couldn’t be applied in pending cases, but then withdrew the opinion hours later.

Appeals court rules for Perry Thurston in matching funds case

Perry Thurston Jr., now a state senator, has won the latest round in a court battle over state matching funds for his failed 2014 bid for Attorney General.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach Wednesday reversed a decision by the state’s Division of Elections, under Gov. Rick Scott, to deny Thurston matching funds for that race.

Thurston, Perry, SD 33
Thurston

Thurston, a former House Democratic Leader who was term limited in 2014, lost that year’s primary to George Sheldon, who lost to incumbent Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi in the general election.

Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, was elected to the Florida Senate last year.

For the attorney general’s race, Thurston had applied for state matching funds from the Election Campaign Financing Trust Fund, according to the opinion by Chief Judge Cory J. Ciklin and Judges Spencer D. Levine and Alan O. Forst.

“The Division rejected some of the documents—photocopies of checks—because necessary information contained on the face of the documents could not be read,” it said.

After his primary loss, he “submitted new, legible photocopies of the required documents, which the Division declined to review.”

Because state law “and administrative rules do not impose a deadline on curing defective paperwork submitted prior to a primary election in support of a request for matching funds, we reverse and remand,” the opinion said.

The state now must “determine whether Thurston met the threshold for distribution of matching funds. If so, the Division shall distribute the funds.”

Otherwise, it “would subvert the purpose of the (matching funds program) to permit the Division to refuse to determine whether the candidate met the threshold,” according to the opinion.

“We are reviewing it,” said Meredith M. Beatrice, spokeswoman for the division.

Gaetz Smith

Don Gaetz, Chris Smith among Joe Negron’s constitutional review panel picks

Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and former Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are among those tapped by current Senate President Joe Negron to sit on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, announced his list Wednesday in a press release.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican in the Senate 2006-16, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who served 2008-16, were selected along with seven others. Under the constitution, Negron gets nine picks as the president of the state Senate.

“Florida is fortunate to have so many private citizens willing to take time away from their families and careers to serve the public in this important capacity,” Negron said in a statement.

“My goal in selecting the nine Senate appointees was to choose individuals who represent a diverse cross-section of our state in terms of their personal, professional, and political life experiences,” he added. “The most serious and important issue for me, and a common thread among our Senate appointees, is a fervent commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions.

“The Senate appointees are all women and men of good judgment.” Besides Gaetz and Smith, they are:

Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a Miami lawyer who practices real estate and commercial litigation, and a past president of the Cuban American Bar Association.

 Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the school choice organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

 Sherry Plymale, a past chair of the State Board of Community Colleges, chief of staff to state Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, a trustee of Florida Atlantic University and St. Leo University.

 William “Bill” Schifino Jr., the 2016-17 president of The Florida Bar.

— Bob Solari, an Indian River County Commissioner, former Vero Beach City Council member and retired businessman.

— Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a former teacher “with years of classroom experience instructing middle and high school students” who also was mayor of Sewall’s Point.

— Carolyn Timmann, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller for Martin County. She also has been a legislative assistant to former state Rep. Tom Warner, worked in the Governor’s Office, and was a judicial assistant.

They now join former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville; former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat; and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez of Miami, who are Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga‘s three picks to the commission.

The commission is supposed to hold its first meeting in the 30-day period before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session on March 7.

Representatives for Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have not yet announced their decisions.

As governor, Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Corcoran also gets nine picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Pam Bondi steps into federal case over state’s abortion law

A federal case on the state’s new abortion law has taken another twist with a filing from Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office.

Late Monday, her office notified the court of proposed rules related to the law that could affect Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle‘s consideration of a pending request for a preliminary injunction.

The controversy in question involves part of the law that requires those engaged in abortion referral or counseling services to pay a fee to register with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and provides for criminal penalties for not registering.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing several Florida reverends, rabbis and nonprofit organizations, is seeking the injunction to prevent enforcement of the provision. The plaintiffs say it infringes on their constitutional free speech and privacy rights.

Bondi, through Special Counsel Blaine Winship, asked the judge to take “judicial notice … of (a) proposed amended rule and registration form” newly developed by the agency.

Bondi’s filing says the new rule “clarifies that registration is only (required from those) ‘who are paid for the particular purpose of providing advice or assistance’ ” and “who provide advice or assistance to persons ‘in obtaining abortions or pursuing alternatives to abortion.’ “

Hinkle, during last month’s oral argument on the injunction, had raised questions on who was required to register. Bondi’s filing suggests, at the least, that the law does not apply to volunteers.

The rule and a “proposed registration form clarify that only registration is provided for, and not licensure, for which AHCA’s permission would be required,” it adds.

Another question in oral argument was whether the registration requirement constituted a form of licensing by the agency. The form sets the registration cost at $200.

“Moreover, neither the proposed rule nor the proposed registration form requires registration prior to advising or assisting persons,” the filing says.

Last month, Hinkle had mused that abortion counselors “can’t speak unless they’re registered (with the state, and) if they don’t pay, they can’t speak.”

An ACLU attorney in Miami declined comment on the filing until staff there reviewed it further.

Hinkle already has chipped away at the law, passed last year, striking down a section that would have banned abortion providers from receiving state funding for non-abortion services.

Florida’s drug laws are giving me a pain in the ass

No one disputes that opiate addiction is a national problem. Statistics show that over 52,000 Americans died because of drug abuse, or about 142 people a day. One-third of those deaths are from opioids prescribed by doctors.

Although a national problem, Florida led the nation in opioid abuse until recently. Individuals from all over the southeastern United States flooded into Florida to visit our “pill mills.” I-75 was known as the gateway to easy drugs. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration referred to I-75 as the “Oxy Express.”

A single pill mill in Tampa wrote scripts for over 1 million oxycodone pills in a six-month period in 2010. Of the top 100 doctors in the nation prescribing oxycodone, 98 resided in Florida.

The situation was so bad in Florida that Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi created the Florida Regulatory Drug Enforcement Task Force to combat drug abuse in Florida and crack down on the pill mills.

The Task Force had great success in reducing the abuse by pill mills. The number of oxycodone pills prescribed dropped from 650 million in 2010 to 300 million in 2013. Almost 4,000 individuals were arrested including 67 doctors. Over 848,000 pills were seized, as well as $10 million in cash. 254 pill mills were shut down.

Changes in the Florida drug laws now require patients to see a certified pain specialist monthly in order to receive prescriptions for pain meds. Where 98 out of the top 100 doctors prescribing oxycodone resided in Florida in 2010, that number was zero in 2013.

Florida had great success in closing the pill mills and eliminating much of the drug abuse that existed. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that individuals with chronic pain have a very difficult time getting their pain meds in a timely fashion. Pain specialists can write a prescription for a 30-day supply of pain meds. You can’t have your next prescription filled before you use your 30-day supply. The problem is that pharmacies, at least 25 percent of the time, do not have pain meds in stock.

I visited my pain specialist last week and received my script for a 30-day supply to be filled Feb. 13. I went to five different pharmacies before finding one that would fill my prescription. It took almost two hours and driving over 25 miles in order to get the meds I was entitled to receive. There is enough stress with chronic pain; I do not need the additional stress of trying to find a pharmacy that will fill my prescription.

My pain started at age 12 and was related to disc and nerve problems in my back. At age 20 I had my first back surgery. It helped, but never ended the pain problems. For the past 30 years my left leg has been numb and the muscles have atrophied. At the present time, I have had seven surgeries, including three back operations and a total knee replacement.

Because of chronic pain, I often can’t stand for more than a few minutes and have problems walking more than a short distance. The pain meds help me to function. I would much prefer no pain and no pain meds, but that option is out of my control. The best I can hope for is to have my pain meds available.

About 25 percent of the time the pharmacy I use does not have the pain meds available. I am forced to make the trek to pharmacies hoping to find one that has the meds available. The problem with that, in addition to wasting my time, is that the state of Florida may look at this pharmacy hopping as an attempt to game the system. It is merely an attempt to get the drugs I need.

Many pharmacies won’t carry pain meds for fear of being robbed or because they are frustrated with the record-keeping involved with pain meds. Other pharmacies have told me that they will only fill orders for regular customers; one pharmacy told me they will fill my order, but only if I transfer all my prescriptions to them. That would cost me a great deal more because my insurance provides lower prices for medicines through their supplier.

Those who have never experienced chronic pain, which is most of the population, have little sympathy for those suffering from chronic pain. Those suffering from chronic pain don’t want sympathy, but they do want your empathy. They want you to understand that chronic pain is real and we want to receive the medicines that will help us function.

Florida had an opioid epidemic and dealt with it. That is a good thing. But, Florida also has an obligation to make sure its citizens receive the medical care they need. Those with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating ailments expect to get the meds they need to live a healthy and productive life. Those suffering from chronic pain expect the same thing.

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

Politics, food and fun: Florida State Fair kicks off

With a mix of old and new, the annual Florida State Fair kicks off Thursday.

In addition to obligatory references to artery-clogging fair fare by local reporters (Deep-fried butter! Spaghetti Ice Cream!), Opening Day of the Fair is the setting for the yearly Governors Day Luncheon, where every man and women in Hillsborough County who is even thinking of running for office in 2018 already have their ticket.

All Cabinet members are expected to appear, with Gov. Rick Scott scheduled to give the keynote speech, as will Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, already considered to be looking ahead to succeeding Scott in the governor’s mansion in 2018.

For the second consecutive year, there will be no formal Cabinet meeting, formerly part and parcel of activities of the Fair’s first day.

Last year, the meeting was canceled outright because of a lack of urgent business with state agencies.

The last time the Cabinet did meet at the Fair was in February 2015, with plenty of drama as it was the first time that Scott had to answer to Putnam, Pam Bondi and Jeff Atwater over the ousting of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

After a one-year absence, what has returned this year is a new super slide; in the past, both Putnam and Bondi have slid down in a post-luncheon tradition/photo-op.

Originally called “The Super Bowl Toboggan,” the mega slide was first unveiled in Times Square in the lead up to the 2014 Super Bowl. The Italian-made slide is 60 feet tall and 180 feet long and contains an LED package that gives off a light show at night.

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