Sunburn for 3/5 – A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics

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A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

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GOOD NEWS FROM D.C. – HOUSE APPROVES BILL TO EASE FLOOD INSURANCE HIKES via The Associated Press

The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.

The bill would allow sellers to pass along their subsidized, below-market insurance rates to new buyers and lower the limit on how much flood insurance premiums can rise each year. The measure was approved 306-91.

The bipartisan bill would tone down a 2012 law aimed at weaning hundreds of thousands of homeowners off subsidized flood insurance rates. The federal flood insurance program is now some $24 billion in the red, mostly because of huge losses from Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. The 2012 law required extensive updating of the flood maps used to set premiums.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a measure in January delaying implementation of the insurance overhaul by four years.

TWEET, TWEET: @learyreports: Every member of Florida delegation voted yes on flood insurance bill. Rep. Corrine Brown missed vote but would have been a yes.

REAX

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson: “For the sake of policyholders facing massive rate hikes, I hope we can get a final version sent to the president quickly.”

Gov. Rick Scott: “The House’s action on this flood insurance fix tonight is an important win in our fight to undo the unfair flood insurance rate hikes that are hurting Florida families. … Our state is grateful for the work of US House Speaker John Boehner and the bi-partisan coalition for the passage of this legislation. Since 1978, Florida homeowners have paid $16 billion – nearly four times what we have received in claim payments. … This legislation will help to ensure the long-term viability of the NFIP by establishing a reasonable glidepath to rate adequacy without causing undue harm to its real estate market and continuing economic recovery.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirkas: “When Biggert-Waters was passed in 2012, its reforms were not intended to cause the dramatic premium increases that homeowners are currently experiencing. Some Floridians have been quoted annual premiums in the tens of thousands of dollars, which is an untenable financial burden, particularly during these difficult economic times. This legislation contains a number of important provisions that will provide relief for homeowners,” Bilirakis said. “After bipartisan and bicameral negotiations, the House passed legislation that will provide immediate relief to homeowners struggling to keep their homes, ensure that all participants in the program are treated fairly, and provide stability within our fragile housing market. I expect the U.S. Senate will take swift action in moving this legislation to the President’s desk because people need help now.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia: “Flood insurance reform has been a serious issue that has affected millions of people across the country, including those in my district. Soaring premium rate increases have placed harsh and unconscionable financial burdens on policyholders – some so severe they were forced to move from their homes. In an effort to reverse these damaging increases, I have been diligently working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help bring meaningful reform to the floor for a vote.”

U.S. Rep. Patrick Rooney: “This bill is an important first step toward giving Florida homeowners some relief from a massive, unaffordable hike in their flood insurance premiums. Passing this legislation is critical to maintaining growth in Florida’s housing market and its entire economy. I hope the Senate will follow our lead and pass this agreement quickly. … While this is a good first step, it does not solve the problem.  What we need is a long term solution to make flood insurance more affordable for middle class families and small businesses in Florida and across the country.  I am committed to working towards that goal.”

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross: “While we’ve made progress, our work is far from over. In order to fully protect both homeowners and taxpayers, we need to provide an opportunity for the private market to get involved in the selling of flood insurance. … Right now, the NFIP is really the only game in town, leaving homeowners with one choice and one price. The private market can take on more risk without putting taxpayers on the hook. Private insurance companies can offer homeowners more options and more affordable policies that the government cannot. While this bill takes a small step in the development of a robust private market, I remain committed to working on long-term solutions that will benefit homeowners and taxpayers across Florida and across the country.”

U.S. Steve Southerland: “I am pleased a bipartisan majority of the House has acted to continue putting the National Flood Insurance Program on a sustainable path while preventing dramatic flood insurance rate increases for coastal homeowners. In providing a cost-neutral, fiscally-sound solution, this legislation will protect hardworking families from crippling premium increases.  I look forward to the House and Senate coming together to provide long-term certainty for my constituents and ensure access to affordable flood insurance.”

MORE GOOD NEWS …

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy announced on Tuesday that the president’s budget request for fiscal year 2015 includes $66 million for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program, including up to $38 million to finish phase 1 of the C-44 Indian River Lagoon South project and begin phase 2.  Once completed, C-44 will reduce the harm to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon by providing water storage and treatment areas.  Currently the first phase of C-44, the most vital component of the Indian River Lagoon South project, is under construction.  Funding for this project to move forward into its next and most important phase is especially crucial and the commitment from the administration marks the first funding for phase 2 of this critical project, allowing it to continue moving forward. 

SPOTTED: Jeb Bush, Jr., Slater Bayliss and the rest of the MavPAC’ers celebrating George P. Bush’s primary win on Tuesday. Great photo here.

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POOR IMAGE NOT HURTING GOP IN MIDTERMS 

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds Republicans “in a stronger position than Democrats in the states with Senate races this fall and more than holding their own in the battle for control of the House. In the 34 states with Senate races, 50% of voters say they favor Republicans and 42% favor Democrats.”

That is the case despite the Republican Party’s poor image nationally and its deficit on some important issues. About two in three Americans say the GOP is out of touch ‘with the concerns of most people in the United States today.

The poll also shows broad dissatisfaction with Washington politicians. Just 22% say they are inclined to reelect their representatives in Congress. Almost seven in 10 Americans (68%) say they are inclined to look around for someone new this fall.

STARTING TO LOOK UGLY FOR NAT’L DEMOCRATS via Charlie Cook

“At this point, eight months before the Nov. 4 election, it’s hard to see a lot of good news for congressional Democrats. No matter how you look at it, the House seems out of reach. Today, Republicans appear a bit more likely to gain than to lose seats; it would take a cataclysmic event for Democrats to score the net gain of the 17 seats they need to take the majority. What’s changed is that Democrats’ chances of holding onto their majority in the Senate is looking increasingly tenuous. There are now at least 10, and potentially as many as 13, Democratic-held seats in jeopardy. By contrast, only two GOP seats are in any meaningful danger, and that number hasn’t changed in six months. Things are starting to look grisly for Senate Democrats.”

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CD 13 SPECIAL ELECTION

191 ADS PER DAY! via Gregory Giroux of Bloomberg

About 200 political ads are running per day on television … ahead of a special election next week.

Democrat Alex Sink, Republican David Jolly and seven groups active in the March 11 election … together paid for ads that ran 2,668 times in a 14-day period ending yesterday —  a rate of 191 ads per day — according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.

Sink … and three groups backing her paid for 1,432 spots during the 14-day period, CMAG data show. Jolly … and four pro-Jolly organizations accounted for 1,236 spots.

Sink and Jolly combined to run just 765 of the 2,668 ads, or 29 percent, underscoring the role that outside groups are playing in the contest. Sink’s spots outnumbered Jolly’s by 468 to 297. Sink is attacking Jolly on abortion and Social Security in a district where 22.1 percent of residents were age 65 or older as of the 2010 census, the fifth-highest percentage in the nation. Jolly’s ad features his mother and aunt as he vows to protect Social Security and Medicare.

DCCC SLAMS DAVID JOLLY ON SOCIAL SECURITY (AGAIN) Full blog post here

A new ad hit the airwaves in CD 13 attacking Jolly once again on his positions on Social Security.

“Profiting At Our Expense,” is the newest 30-second spot produced by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, claiming the Republican would have Pinellas County seniors “paying more,” through Jolly’s support of  the budget put forth by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan,  which seeks significant changes to the Medicare guarantee,

It would cost seniors “over six thousand more a year,” the ad says.

Jolly also is slammed by the DCCC also for lobbying for a conservative organization wanting to privatize Social Security – while “protecting unfair tax breaks for his corporate clients and the ultra-wealthy.”

WHY THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IN CD 13 MAY BE OFF

The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo has an excellent crunching of the numbers in Congressional District 13 that is a must-read for anyone following the race.

In his post, Caputo concludes that the data indicates this race is Sink’s to lose.

“Aggregate and average out the polls taken in the Pinellas County seat since late January,” writes Caputo, “when absentee ballots were sent out, and Sink edges Republican David Jolly by as little as 0.63 percentage points to almost 4 percentage points, depending on how you slice the data.”

Some of the data Caputo reviews are from polls commissioned by this blog, so far be it for me to quibble with Caputo’s conclusion based on these numbers.

But what if the conventional wisdom, as it applies to CD 13, is off?

The CV holds that Jolly and the GOP, as it did in 2010, needs to build up a healthy lead with early, mail-in voters. This is so the Republican can hold off the expected Election Day surge from independent voters. This is how elections in Pinellas County have worked for a decade-and-a-half.

But two forces are/may be at work in CD 13.

First, it’s no longer true that Democrats in Pinellas aren’t voting early at the same pace as Republicans. In fact, according to some back-of-the-envelope arithmetic, there are actually more 4-over-4 and 3-over-4 Republican “super voters” still on the Republican side than there are on the Democratic side. In other words, the early vote is the election more than ever before and there won’t be a Democratic surge on Election Day.

Democrats argue that there are so many Republican ballots not returned/not going for Jolly because he’s a flawed candidate and these GOP voters are just going to sit this race out.

That’s doubtful.

Actually, what is driving the undervote is the fact that there are several hotly contested municipal elections in CD 13, including in Clearwater, Safety Harbor and Pinellas Park. These voters are, presumably, as interested in who will be their mayor or city council member as they are their U.S. Representative. (Trust me, the voters in Safety Harbor care a lot more about their mayoral race than Jolly vs. Sink).

The data bears this out: In parts of CD 13 where there is no municipal election, turnout is at 51.3 percent, but in Clearwater it is 44 percent, Pinellas Park it is 43 percent and Safety Harbor is at 47 percent. These municipalities represent 23 percent of total early-vote requestors in CD13.

Of those who have not voted, many more are Republican “super voters” than Democratic ones. By one estimate, there are just under 19,000 4-over-4 and 3-over-4 GOP voters who have yet to vote, while there are approximately 9,600 Dem voters with this performance history.

Bottom line: Alex Sink is likely ahead, but, as Caputo concludes, albeit for different reasons, the race is not over. Believe it or not, the battle for CD may come down to Republican turnout on Election Day.

MEANWHILE … A SHOCKING POLL IN CD 19

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls commissioned by SaintPetersBlog, Curt Clawson is at 38 percent, while Lizbeth Benacquisto is at 32 percent. Former state Representative Paige Kreegel is at 9 percent. Two other candidates, Michael Dreikorn and Timothy Rossano, are in low single digits, while 17 percent of voters are undecided.

Those polled were active Republican voters who said they intended to vote in the upcoming special election.

Clawson, a former college basketball star turned auto executive, launched his campaign with a major TV ad buy during the Super Bowl. In the commercial, Clawson challenged President Barack Obama to a shooting contest on the basketball court.

Since that first ad, Clawson has reportedly been writing six-figure checks to pay for television ad time in CD 19.

CURT CLAWSON RECEIVES CONNIE MACK’S ENDORSEMENT via Abby Livingston of Roll Call

Former Rep. Connie Mack endorsed Clawson. … Mack cited the candidate’s endorsement of the former congressman’s “Penny Plan,” a proposal to reduce the federal budget by 1 percent every year.

“Simply put, I am concerned that most politicians don’t have the strength of their resolve in order to make these tough choices,” Mack said in a statement. “It will take an outsider to help us accomplish this goal and ultimately pass the Penny Plan. For these reasons, I endorse Curt Clawson for Congress and look forward to working with him to make the Penny Plan a reality.”

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GOVERNOR DECLARES FLORDA BETTER, AND TAKES CREDIT via Frank Robles of the New York Times

In a surprisingly personal speech reflecting his campaign for a second term, Gov. Scott focused his State of the State address on tax cuts, job creation and his contention that he was making significant progress in tackling the hardships that Florida families face.

Three years into his first term and trailing narrowly in early polling in what is expected to be a tight race with his predecessor, former Gov. Charlie Crist, Scott began his 30-minute speech in Tallahassee by citing the economic problems he had inherited.

“Four years ago, people were down on Florida: high unemployment, shrinking home values. Florida was in retreat. For the first time in decades, more people left the state of Florida than moved in from other states,” he said, without referring to Mr. Crist, formerly a Republican and now running as a Democrat. “Now we are on the rise. Jobs are coming back, career opportunities are growing and home values are improving.”

… He boasted of cutting taxes 24 times and eliminating some 3,000 small-business regulations, underscoring the theme of his conservative administration and campaign, which emphasize cutting taxes, holding down tuition increases and eliminating obstacles to job creation.

Scott said he hoped the next budget would cut taxes by another $500 million. He also proposed rolling back business taxes so that four out of five businesses would not have to pay them.

Critics disputed many of the governor’s claims, noting that economists believed the decline in unemployment was more likely because of people dropping out of the job market. Florida has one of the country’s highest long-term unemployment rates, and many of the jobless have given up looking for work.

SCOTT’S BEST SPEECH EVER, SAYS WEATHERFORD via Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel

Speaker Weatherford told reporters the speech was probably Scott’s best ever.

That’s mainly attributable to Scott’s personal story shared at the end of the speech, about how had Christmas without presents, saw his stepfather lose his job, and used camping equipment that was a wedding gift for living room furniture when he was first married.

Scott said he wanted to share the story because his mother, Ann, had passed away just over a year ago, and he wanted an excuse to talk about her — but also so Florida voters would see why he cared so much about creating jobs.

“I thought he gave a great speech. I, frankly, toward the tail end of it, his personal story, I’ve never heard that side of the governor,” Weatherford said.

“I thought it was very compelling, and I thought it was probably the best speech he ever gave on this floor.”

DEMS BRACKET SCOTT’S SPEECH

Gwen Rocco, American Bridge: “Rick Scott has a history of election year pandering that Florida voters should expect to see on full display during his State of the State speech today. Whether he’s making dubious job creation claims, flip flopping on his promise to protect education funding, campaigning on divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric, or running from questions about raising the minimum wage after saying it makes him “cringe,” Rick Scott has shown he’s committed to putting his re-election prospects above what’s best for Florida’s middle class. American Bridge will be watching Scott’s speech with a close eye today and sharing the truth about some of his most dubious promises and claims.”

HOW THE STATE OF THE STATE PLAYED

TCPalm, Gov. Scott giving his State of the State message – first day of the session begins with a State of the State address from Gov. Rick Scott to a joint session of the Legislature… First Coast News, Excerpts offer glimpse of Scott’s state of the state – the fourth time the first first-term Republican has made the speech since he was elected to office in 2010… Tampa Bay Times, Gov. Rick Scott’s personal, campaign-style State of the State takes aim at Charlie Crist – contrasted his own “courage” in handling Florida’s improving economy with the “terrible mess” left behind by his predecessor… NBC6 South Florida, Florida Gov. Rick Scott Gives State of the State Speech – The speech reflected more on Scott’s accomplishments than it laid out a vision for the final year of his first term… WESH Orlando, Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State speech marks opening of legislative session – tells lawmakers that he wants to continue cutting taxes, including proposals for $500 million in cuts this year… Bay News 9, Gov. Scott trumpets achievements in State of State address – began his speech about 40 minutes late. After the requisite introductions and acknowledgments, HE launched into a litany of claims that his administration has created jobs, cut crime and brought about gains in education… Palm Beach Post, Florida Legislature opens today with Scott speech, votes on sex predator, G.I. bills – Helped by a $1.2 billion budget surplus this spring, Scott’s single biggest tax-and-fee cut proposal would eliminate motorist fee increases enacted in 2009… Associated Press, Gov. Rick Scott State of State speech highlights economy – cited 24 tax cuts and the elimination of nearly 3,000 regulations since he took office as examples of how Florida has become more business friendly… Tallahassee Democrat,Scott touches on own struggles as he pushes tax-cut agenda – bragged about the state’s economic achievements, discussed his own early years as a struggling businessman and took a jab at his opponent in the 2014 governor’s race during his state of the state address.

PIC DU JOUR: The State of the State selfie via Rep. Jose Felix Diaz here.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will attend the groundbreaking ceremony of Cheney Brothers new distribution center in Punta Gorda. 10:30 a.m.

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: Gov. Scott will make a transportation announcement regarding the Tampa International Airport.  Aviation Authority Boardroom. 2:00 p.m.

GOV. SCOTT STARTS NEGOTIATIONS WITH SEMINOLE TRIBE OVER GAMBLING COMPACT via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald

What the governor decides to do could determine the fate of gambling in Florida. He could renew the existing agreement and little will change. He could modify it to allow more competition for the tribe — such as additional gambling at racinos in South Florida and the arrival of resort casinos — and accept less revenue from the tribe; or he could give the tribe additional games — such as roulette and craps — in return for higher guaranteed annual payments to the state treasury.

Scott would not give many details on the direction that he’s headed.

“We’re early, but we’re in the middle of negotiating the compact,” he said on Tuesday. “I’m not going to talk about what we’re going to do in the middle of the negotiation.”

At the heart of the negotiations is the question of what to do about so-called “destination resort casinos” in South Florida. If the state allows for the Las Vegas-style casinos, sought by the Malaysia-based Genting Resorts World and the Las Vegas-based Sands Inc., the tribe can reduce its payments.

The governor, who has met privately with Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson and has received $250,000 in campaign donations from him, has never ruled out allowing the casino giants to come to Florida. He has always said he would want any expanded gambling to have local voter approval, however.

Seminole Tribe spokesman Gary Bitner confirmed that negotiations are underway.

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SENATE PRESIDENT GAETZ SAYS DON’T EXPECT A QUIET ‘SECOND HALF’ FROM HIM via Tia Mitchel of the Miami Herald

Gaetz began the second session of his two-year term by telling his colleagues they should be proud of what they have already accomplished while still striving to fulfill their 2014 agenda.

Among his priorities for 2014: revising the state’s sexual predator laws; creating more career and professional opportunities for Florida’s veterans; assisted living facility reforms; expanding the tax credit program to fund vouchers; tying university funding to performance; ethics reforms; Gov. Scott’s proposed tax cuts.

Gaetz said one issue that is a priority of Speaker Weatherford may need a new approach. Weatherford wanted new state workers to be enrolled in a 401-K style retirement plan instead of the state pension, but the Senate rejected that proposal.

WILL WEATHERFORD ON POVERTY: THE ANSWER IS A PAYCHECK, NOT A WELFARE CHECK via Michael Van Sickler of the Tampa Bay Times

Speaker Weatherford laid out his agenda for the next 60 days of the 2014 legislative session, and it sounds much like his vision for the previous year — making great social progress with as little government as possible.

In a 20-minute speech to the House and others, like Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Weatherford made the elimination of “generational poverty” a focal point for his final 60 days as speaker.

“The answer is a paycheck — not a welfare check — that’s the ticket to economic and personal freedom,” Weatherford said. “Because a job is more than  just pay. Work gives us a sense of dignity. Of self-actualization. Of purpose.”

… Along with the free enterprise system, education can assist, he said.

Weatherford is pushing a GI Bill that would expand free tuition for members of the National Guard, as well as streamline professional licensing for veterans in a bill that’s expected to be the first to be passed in the 2014 session. By “redistribution of knowledge”, Weatherford is talking about school choice and the further expansion of vouchers, a very popular concept with Republicans.

FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS IN 2014, HOUSE PASSES FLORIDA GI BILL Full blog post here

Education and career development of veterans received a considerable boost on the first day of the 2014 legislative session today as the State House unanimously passed the Florida GI Bill.

The bill expands the  Education Dollars for Duty Program to pay for Florida National Guard members to earn four-year degrees at a state University or College System schools, either through in-class or online courses. It also waives out-of-state tuition and fees for honorably discharged veterans of the United States Armed Forces, the United States Reserve Forces and the National Guard.

Sponsoring HB 7015 was Rep. Jimmie Smith, with support from Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, both Republicans. Smith is a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant. Renuart is a retired Colonel of the Florida Army National Guard and Chair of the House Veteran and Military Affairs Subcommittee.

When signed into law, additional military personnel would automatically be included in employment preferences, adding previously excluded classes of veterans and family members. The GI Bill also extends the current Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) professional licensure-fee waiver program from 24 months to 60 months after an honorable discharge.

The bill will create a nonprofit corporation, Florida Is for Veterans, to encourage veterans to stay in Florida, offers employment opportunities, promotes the hiring of veterans, and provides additional relief from the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Some of the funds for the program will come through the sale of commemorative bricks used in the Florida Veterans’ Walk of Honor and the Florida Veterans’ Memorial Garden.

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WILL JOHN THRASHER LEAVE THE SENATE TO BECOME FSU PREZ? Via Tia Mitchell of the Tampa Bay Times

Does Sen. John Thrasher have his eye on the presidency at Florida State University, his beloved alma mater? That’s what everybody seems to think.

Board of Trustees members are gearing up for a national search. They will name an interim president, identify the members of the search committee and hire a firm during a meeting on Friday.

Once that happens, the search could unfold quickly if FSU follows the example of other state universities that recently hired new executives. Florida Atlantic University and Florida A&M University named new presidents within two weeks after applications were due.

Thrasher, who earned a bachelor’s and law degree from FSU, is one of the school’s most prominent alumni and supporters. He is a former House speaker, former chairman of the state Republican Party and currently one of the state Senate’s leaders. During his time in the private sector as a lobbyist, Thrasher served as chairman of FSU’s Board of Trustees.

He has helped funnel millions in state and private funding to the school. The FSU School of Medicine building was named after him.

AMANDA MURPHY THANKFUL FOR REPUBLICAN DYSFUNCTION via Michael Van Sickler of the Miami Herald

Newly sworn-in Rep. Amanda Murphy, a lifelong Democrat, drew grimaces in the Republican dominated House in her opening comments to the chamber.

“I want to thank Gov. Scott for appointing Mike Fasano tax collector,” Murphy said before breaking into a giggle fit. “He may regret doing so, but I thank him.”

Republican Fasano alienated many Pasco County Republicans, including House Speaker Will Weatherford, when he served in the House, a reliable critic of far right legislation during the past few sessions.

Scott and other Pasco County Republicans, including Rep. Richard Corcoran, who is set to become Speaker in 2016, orchestrated Fasano leaving the House to take the tax collector job last year, opening up his New Port Richey seat. Rather than support the Republican candidate, Bill Gunter, to succeed him, however, Fasano backed Murphy — further alienating Corcoran and Republicans and helping her to victory last year

Murphy, however, didn’t dwell on Fasano.

“Kidding aside, I appreciate the warm welcome,” Murphy told her new colleagues in the House. She stressed her eagerness to work with Republicans on issues that affect her New Port Richey district: low wages, homelessness, sink holes, flood insurance.”

ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The League of Women Voters, State Sen. Rene Garcia and members of the business community will hold a press conference at the Capitol to discuss the need for Legislature to “act now” to accept the $51 billion in federal money to extend healthcare coverage.

EMAIL I DIDN’T OPEN: ” ‘Walking Dead’ Wage Thieves are at it again” — via the Florida AFL-CIO.

LEGISLATURE IN FULL SWING TODAY Full blog post here

Now that the 2014 session is well underway, wide ranges of issues face committee review, with lawmakers addressing everything from juvenile sentencing and prepaid college costs to Citizens Property sinkhole policies, early learning and concealed weapons.

In addition, the Senate will also consider the state’s new technology agency, as well as in what cases a woman can terminate a third-trimester pregnancy.

8:30 a.m.: Educational Enhancement Trust Fund Outlook Statement, the Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund Outlook Statement, and Unclaimed Property/State School Trust Fund Outlook Statement. 9 a.m.: Change sentencing laws for juveniles convicted of committing murders and changes to lower costs in the Florida Prepaid College Program. 10 a.m.: Deliberations on unemployment appeals. 11 a.m.: Considering Florida’s IT agency, sinkhole repairs through Citizen’s Property Insurance and adding sales tax exemptions for Major League Soccer and National Basketball Association all-star games. 1 p.m.: Student financial aid. 1:30 p.m.: Changes in ethics laws for special district lobbyists, Citizen’s policies, third-trimester abortions. 3 p.m.: Examination of the numbers in the voluntary pre-kindergarten program.

Other Florida events:  9 a.m. — Citizens Property conference call, Florida Supreme Court cases. 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Florida Department of Environmental Protection in West Palm Beach public comment meetings.

FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF HEALTH PLANS ANNOUNCES GUIDING PRINCIPLE FOR 2014 SESSION

On the first day of the 2014 Legislative Session, the Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc. (FAHP) announced a guiding principle that it will use to drive support for legislation: promote accessible, affordable quality health care in the State of Florida.  In the announcement, FAHP also stated that it would encourage lawmakers this session to keep the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program intact and not make changes to fragment the program, which is on the verge of being fully implemented.

“With the Florida Legislature convening for the 2014 Legislative Session today, the Florida Association of Health Plans has established a singular, overarching guiding principle – promote accessible, affordable quality health care in the State of Florida – that the association will use to drive support for legislation,” said Audrey Brown, President & CEO of FAHP.  “Simply put, FAHP will support legislation that we feel ultimately serves Floridians by increasing the accessibility and affordability of quality health care in the Sunshine State.”

Brown also touched on telehealth saying: “This innovative technology has the ability to provide health care to Floridians who currently do not receive adequate care – especially those Floridians residing in our state’s rural counties.  This is an exciting avenue that lawmakers are exploring, and we look forward to working with them, as proposals make their way through the legislative process.”

In addition, Brown commented on scope of practice saying that: “FAHP also encourages lawmakers this session to carefully consider proposals that will allow our state’s health care professionals to perform the duties they have been educated on, and extensively trained for, to the full scope of their abilities.  The benefits of this expansion of scope is wide-ranging – it will decrease the likelihood of future physician shortages, as well as increase access and reduce costs for Floridians who would be well served by these medical professionals.”

“We look forward to being a resource and a staunch advocate for legislation that meets our guiding principle of increasing the accessibility and affordability of quality health care, as lawmakers look to shape the future of health care in Florida this session,” Brown concluded.

***Representatives from Florida’s aerospace industry will visit Tallahassee on March 12, 2014, to participate in Florida Space Day and share with legislators the opportunities the industry brings to Florida and the nation’s space program. During Space Day, industry leaders and other aerospace supporters will meet with House and Senate members and Gov. Rick Scott to discuss growing areas of the state’s $8 billion space industry and determine the best strategies for leveraging these markets for Florida’s benefit in the years ahead.***

APPOINTED: Rosemary S. Wilsen to the West Orange Healthcare District.

POOR FLORIDIANS FALL INTO MEDICAID GAP via FloridaToday.com

Roughly 1 million uninsured Floridians — including about 18,000 in Brevard County — who repeatedly heard affordable health insurance was just around the corner for them, thanks to President Barack Obama’s new law, are finding a harsh reality — they’re too poor to qualify.

In Florida, generally only children, pregnant women, the disabled and single parents or caretakers of underage children are eligible for Medicaid, the government’s free health plan for the poor.

The Affordable Care Act called for the working poor to get health coverage through an expanded Medicaid program, while offering tax subsidies to those earning above the federal poverty level or $23,550 for a family of four.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states couldn’t be required to expand Medicaid coverage. Twenty-five states — including Florida — opted against the Medicaid expansion.

That has left the working poor in the state without access to Medicaid and with no tax subsidies that would make it affordable for them to buy insurance through the online marketplace.

Medicaid expansion may be a dead deal before the legislative session even begins today. Scott said he supported the expansion, but never made it a priority and nothing has signaled that’s changed. Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford has been adamant about turning down any proposal that relies on federal dollars. In a recent editorial, Weatherford showed no sign of changing, calling the decision not to expand a flawed Medicaid program “a common-sense, quality solution to address our health care challenges.”

Full funding for the Medicaid expansion percent of the poverty level is available only for 2014, 2015 and 2016. That means a state that expanded Medicaid this year will get three years of full federal funding, but a state that expands Medicaid in January 2015 will get only two years of full federal funding.

***The Public Affairs Consultants Team of Jack Cory, Keyna Cory and Erin Daly guide their clients through the legislative, state agency and local government process. They do so by providing governmental consulting, lobbying and professionally coordinated grassroots programs for businesses, professionals, non-profits, local governments and associations. Recently named a Leading Association LobbyistThey Cover Florida Like the Sun.***

BLOG POST OF THE DAY via Team JB

It is time to “Come Together” for the 2014 Legislative Session. Every session is different and every session is the same. It is hard to explain until you have lived through a few sessions.  Sessions are a reminder of what is really important on a lot of levels. Some issues are the result of someone else’s tragedy, some issues are an attempt to make Florida a better state, some issues are petty and personality driven and some issues we have no idea why they are on the agenda. The long hours limit time with our families, but at least it is only 60 days. Session also provides us more time to spend with good friends who live elsewhere. At the same time, it is also a reminder of dear friends who are no longer with us.  We are ready and are looking forward to the next 60 days and as we always say “It can’t end until it starts.”

IN THE DEPARTURE LOUNGE

The beginning of the legislation session often sees a flurry of personnel moves in the world of government and politics. Continuing this occasional series, we update you on who’s in the Departure Lounge.

First up is veteran lobbyist R. Z. “Sandy” Safley. The former state Representative from Pinellas County left lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group at the end of last month. The parting was amicable with Safley taking with him a handful of the clients he first brought with him to the firm, such as Florida Surplus Lines.

Making a big arrival after a moment in the Departure Lounge is Tim Meenan.

Also in the Lounge but headed for a big arrival is Tim Meenan, one of the name partners at Blank & Meenan.

Meenan and eighteen of the other 20 employees (including eight lawyers) have formed Meenan P.A., a regulatory and legislative law firm representing clients including Met Life, Nationwide Insurance Group, AFLAC, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and Tower Hill Insurance Group.

The firm’s practice will focus on insurance regulation and legislative lobbying, both in Florida and nationally.  In addition, the firm serves as general counsel for many entities, including several nationally active trade associations like the Service Contract Industry Council, the Guaranteed Asset Protection Alliance, and the Motor Vehicle Ancillary Products Association.

“Meenan P.A. will continue our tradition of being both Regulatory and Legislative lawyers,” said Tim Meenan. “We are excited about our prospects for growth, and are blessed to represent many well-known companies both here in Florida and nationally.

Continued Meenan: “Once we move into our new 9,400 square foot space on top of the Florida Institute of CPA’s building late this summer, our transition will be complete. We are adding new lawyers and have several staff additions to announce in the coming weeks and months.”

In addition Meenan, partners of the new firm include Joy Ryan and Tim Schoenwalder.

NEW LOBBYING REGISTRATIONS

Paul Bradshaw, David Browning, Towson Fraser, Stacey Webb, Southern Strategy Group: Friends of Miami-Dade College; Ucompass

Bobby Brantley: Swire Properties, Inc.

Micahel Cusick, Associated Industries of Florida

D. Ty Jackson, Todd Steibly, GrayRobinson: Northwood Centre

Ron Pierce, RSA Consulting: Pittsburgh Pirates

MUST-SEE MEME: “Meet the Times/Herald bureau” here.

SPOTTED: Jim Magill at The Governors Club Lounge h/t Richard Reeves and Alan Suskey.

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.