Capitol preview: What to expect this week in Florida politics

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Much of the attention in this holiday-shortened week will be on Washington, where the nation may plunge off a cliff into an economic abyss.

Things generally are quiet in Tallahassee, but with the new year come a number of changes in rules and laws. Among those, the high profile change to personal injury protection auto insurance and the annual automatic increase in minimum wage.

Meanwhile, talks can continue on keeping the state’s ports working. An 11th hour extension is keeping a strike from shutting down the gantry cranes over the weekend.

PORT TALKS

Talks may continue between the International Longshoreman’s Association and shipping companies, with the announcement Friday of a 30-day extension to their contract. The two sides are hoping to avert a dockworkers strike that would affect ports in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott has asked President Obama, urging him to invoke the Taft Hartley Act to prevent a work stoppage.

NEW CONGRESS STARTS: The 113th Congress will officially begin on Jan. 3, when senators and congressmen elected on Nov. 6 will be sworn-in.

TUESDAY

HIGHER MINIMUM WAGE: The minimum wage in Florida will increase 12 cents to $7.79 an hour on Jan. 1 for the estimated 210,000 minimum wage workers across the state. Under a 2004 constitutional amendment, Florida’s minimum wage is recalculated every year and is tied to the inflation rate. Florida is among 10 states that will increase the threshold on Tuesday. The number of minimum wage jobs is a small percentage of the 7.5 million employed in the Florida workforce. The increase is expected to boost annual incomes of minimum wage workers by about $370 a year, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that focuses on low-income wage issues. Ninety percent of the low-wage workers are over age 20; 85 percent work 20 hours per week or more; 46 percent have at least some college education, the institute indicated.

PIP CHANGES: Legislative changes to Florida’s no-fault car insurance law go into effect Jan. 1. The measure (HB 119 of 2012) is aimed at reducing fraud with the hope of at least reducing increases in premiums. The two main changes that start Tuesday are that in order for treatment for an injury to be covered under the Personal Injury Protection system, the treatment must be sought within two weeks of a car crash. The other change sets a limit on non-emergency treatment of $2,500, and limits the types of treatments covered. For example, massage therapy and acupuncture will no longer be reimbursed.

CITIZENS PROPERTY RATES: Rates for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. customers will begin to rise on Jan. 1. The state-backed insurer is allowed to raise rates up to 10 percent a year under a “glide path” approved by lawmakers that caps rate hikes for the nearly 1.5 million policyholders now insured by Citizens.

NEW FOOD CODE: New laws for food handling go into effect Tuesday, including new categories for safety and sanitation laws, a new inspection process. The new Florida standards put the state in line with a federal Food and Drug Administration-created code used elsewhere. More information is at http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/2009FoodCode.html

PRIMARY CARE REIMBURSEMENT RATES: The amount Medicaid pays primary care doctors goes up, effective Jan. 1. While federal approval may come later, the rate increase will be retroactive to Tuesday. The reimbursement rates for certain Medicaid services will go up to match what Medicare pays for the same service. The change is part of the federal health care overhaul.

DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL RESPONSE: The Florida Commission on Oil Spill Response Coordination has a Tuesday deadline for submitting its report regarding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. The commission’s draft recommendations were published in early December and can be found at: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon/files2/corc/120712_recommendations.pdf

FISCAL CLIFF: Without a deal, spending cuts and tax increases will automatically go into effect on Jan. 1, a deadline that would mean some fiscal discipline, but come at a big price. Some economists estimate that tax increases of more than $530 billion could plunge the country back into recession. It would also mean cuts to long-term unemployment benefits and potentially severe military cuts. Florida officials say the state would suffer from those military cuts, with communities around some of the biggest installations affected. Also, state economists have said the recovery is well under way, but that if the country doesn’t reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff, another economic downturn could hit the state.

THURSDAY

NEW CONGRESS SWORN IN: The 113th Congress officially starts Thursday when senators and congressmen elected Nov. 6 will be sworn-in. New members from Florida are Reps. Ted Yoho (R); Ron DeSantis (R); Alan Grayson (D); Patrick Murphy (D); Trey Radel (R); Lois Frankel (D); and Joe Garcia (D).

SUPREME COURT OPINIONS: The Florida Supreme Court releases opinions. (Thursday, 11 a.m.)

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.