A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
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FLORIDA NIXES EARLY PRIMARY via POLITICO
Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, was the driving force behind the change. If Florida had kept an early primary in 2016, its delegation would have been slashed from 99 members to 12.
“We would go from being the third-largest delegation to being the smallest,” said Todd Reid, Rubio’s state policy director. Reid said the change had nothing to do with Rubio’s political ambitions.
In a twist, it was Rubio who led the charge to move up Florida’s primary when he was speaker of the Florida House.
The primary will now be held “on the first Tuesday that the rules of the major political parties provide for state delegations to be allocated without penalty.”
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GOVERNOR WINS OK FOR PRIORITIES via The Associated Press
Scott came into his third legislative session as governor with a very short list of things he wanted to accomplish.
In the end he got most of them — but it didn’t come easy.
The Republican governor needed horse-trading and thinly-veiled veto threats in the final days before the Republican-controlled Legislature delivered. And it’s a sign that Scott may continue to have a rough road as he heads into a crucial re-election year, even with members of his own party.
The former health care executive turned politician was unable to convince House Speaker Will Weatherford and House Republicans to accept billions in federal aid to cover roughly 1 million uninsured Floridians despite his insistence it was the “right thing to do.”
Still the session end on Friday brought smiles between Scott and the two legislative leaders.
The governor and top lawmakers crowed they had passed a pay raise for teachers and approved a tax cut for manufacturers. The two items were Scott’s top priorities for 2013.
HEFTY BUDGET POSES STARK SPENDING CHOICES FOR SCOTT via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times
he Florida Legislature’s hard work is over and Gov. Rick Scott’s is just beginning.
Scott, who promised as a candidate to shrink government, will soon receive a $74.5 billion budget filled with line-item projects in every corner of the state that he has the power to veto.
The question for Scott is whether he seizes the moment or takes the easy way out.
As he surveys hundreds of grants for parks, trails, museums, aquariums, water projects and youth programs, Scott faces a stark choice. He can shore up his support among fiscal conservatives by slashing discretionary spending, or bless those projects and curry favor with legislators as he launches a difficult 2014 re-election campaign.
“It’s Floridians’ money. They expect it to be spent wisely,” Scott said Friday after the Legislature adjourned its 2013 session. “So I’ll be going line by line and making sure we don’t waste any dollars.”
Scott has 15 days to act on the budget after he receives it in the coming days, making this a “money year” for the governor in more ways than one.
Democrats renewed a call for a special session to expand health care coverage to cove more uninsured Floridians.
The Legislature adjourned Friday evening without passing legislation that had been filed that would have either used federal money to extend coverage to more than a million people or used state money for a smaller subsidy.
“By blocking passage this session of a plan that would dramatically help 1.2 million of Florida’s low-income and working families, many Floridians are disappointed and will continue, despite the session’s end, to expect the governor and Legislature to approve a bipartisan health coverage expansion compromise that relies upon available federal funds,” said House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston. He called on Gov. Rick Scott to call lawmakers back to Tallahassee “at the earliest convenience to pass a bipartisan health coverage expansion plan for Florida’s working families.
SCOTT INVITES NUTMEGGERS TO FLORIDA
Gov. Rick Scott has added business leaders in Connecticut to his mailing list. Scott, who recently sent letters of invitation to businesses in Illinois and California, has stamped his views on the economic differences between the Sunshine State and the Nutmeg State to business leaders in Connecticut. “We hope you book a trip to Florida soon, and we hope you make it a “one way” trip,” Scott wrote. Scott sent a similar letter to New York business owners in March 2012.
STORY THAT BRIAN BURGESS AND BRIAN HUGHES DIDN’T THINK I’D LINK TO: “A gay problem for Charlie Crist“
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ARTHENIA JOYNER TAPPED TO LEAD SENATE DEMOCRATS
Senate Democrats elected Sen. Arthenia Joyner to be their 2014-16 leader, the Florida Democratic Party announced.
FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant called Joyner “a tireless advocate for Democratic values and ally to Florida’s middle class families.”
Joyner, elected to the House in 2000 and Senate in 2006, is the first black woman to serve as Senate Democratic leader, the party said.
Juston Johnson will be the new executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, party chairman Lenny Curry announced Friday. Johnson most recently worked as a National Field Director for the Republican National Committee. He also worked as campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party. “
It’s an honor to help lead the effort in re-electing Rick Scott to a second term as governor, as well as holding our Cabinet and legislative majorities, (and) working for GOP victories across the Sunshine State,” Johnson said.
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COURT DISMISSED SUIT AGAINST TEACHER TENURE AND MERIT PAY LAW via contributor Karen Cyphers
A measure to end automatic tenure and require merit pay for teachers was proposed for years, forwarded by Governor Jeb Bush, passed by the Legislature in 2010, vetoed by Governor Charlie Crist, passed again by the Legislature in 2011 and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott, only to be challenged in court by a Florida Education Association lawsuit which was dismissed by a circuit court judge and deemed fit to stand as law. That was a long sentence — but perhaps this ruling may be the last major punctuation mark in the timeline under which Florida school boards begin to implement the measure.
In dismissing the case with prejudice, Judge John C. Cooper ruled in favor of the state, finding the law “facially constitutional” and prevented plaintiffs from filing the suit again on the same claim. The suit was brought by the FEA on behalf of six teachers who felt the law wrongly dictates contracts between school boards and unions, and unfairly evaluates and rewards teachers based on student growth. The suit further alleged that law represents a wrongful delegation of legislative authority by failing to provide proper guidelines to the State Board of Education. Cooper disagreed, stating that the law constitutes a lawful delegation of authority in that it “details specific requirements for the evaluation system and the development of performance levels.” Further, he ruled that there is nothing in the law that prevents collective bargaining, stating, “because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a constitutional violation, their challenge must fail.
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EPILOGUE – PART 1: BILLS THAT PASSED LATE
CHANGES COMING TO COUNTY MEDICAID PAYMENTS, HOSPITAL REIMBURSEMENT FORMULAS AND GRADUATE MEDICAL EDUCATION via contributor Karen Cyphers
A bill that revamps the state’s method of billing counties for Medicaid care passed Friday, attempting to resolve problems between counties and the state and ensure that back payments to the state can be recouped in future years. SB 1520 included a number of other measures, including the requirement that AHCA implement prospective payment methodology for hospital inpatient stays that categorize admissions into Diagnosis Related Groups (DRGs) and assign relative payment weights to adjust the base rate according to a measure of hospital resources used to treat patients within each category. Further, the bill created a Statewide Medicaid Residency Program (SMRP), with the goal of directing more state resources toward developing GME programs and retaining medical residents and physicians in state. These measures passed by a vote of 33-6 in the Senate and 79-38 in the House.
LAWMAKERS SCRAMBLE TO PASS WIDE-RANGING HEALTH BILL via News Service of Florida
In a deal cobbled together in the final hours of the legislative session, Florida lawmakers approved a bill that could clear the way for a controversial Miami hospital project and help lead to a trauma center and new nursing homes in other parts of the state.
The wide-ranging bill (HB 1159) also would make oral medications more affordable to cancer patients and funnel money to a drug database that is used in the fight against prescription-drug abuse.
Debate also was intense about another part of the bill aimed at preventing health insurers from requiring cancer patients to pay higher costs for oral medications than they do for intravenous medications. The issue was a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, but critics contended it would be a coverage “mandate” that might increase insurance costs.
In the end, lawmakers agreed to a compromise that would exempt certain types of health-insurance plans and delay putting the requirement into effect until July 1, 2014. Along with Benacquisto, Senate President Don Gaetz, and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, also took home victories.
The bill would tinker with the state’s trauma-center approval process and could make it easier to open a trauma center in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa or Walton counties.
Also, the bill included a compromise that could help speed up approval of new nursing homes at The Villages in central Florida and some other large retirement communities, such as the On Top of the World community in Marion County.
Finally, in a late-emerging issue Friday, lawmakers also added $500,000 to the bill to help pay for the continued operation of a prescription-drug database. The database, which is aimed at preventing “doctor shopping” by drug abusers, has not received state funding in the past. But Rep. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who has championed the database, said state money is needed to ensure the operation of the database.
EPILOGUE – PART 2: SESSION REAX
ACLU HITS ON SESSION ‘LOWLIGHTS’
Maintaining its well-known role, the ACLU of Florida measured the end of Session as one with multiple disgruntlements, including what they feel were the undesirable outcomes of bills regarding voting rights, the death penalty, and more.
“This legislative session opened with big promises from Gov. Scott and legislative leaders that this year would be different. We were told that after the fiasco of the 2012 election, our elected leaders had seen the error of their ways and would undo the damage that they inflicted on Florida’s democracy in 2011,” said ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon.
He continued, complaining that election reforms failed to address “restrictions” on early voting and left too much discretion to locally-elected Supervisors of Elections about how early voting will take place in their communities.
“Your right to vote should not depend on the county in which you live,” he stated. Which, of course, it doesn’t.
The ACLU dubbed the passage of a bills on babies born alive during abortions as “extreme bills attacking civil liberties” of women (albeit, not those of babies, right?); while praising the defeat of anti-Sharia laws as well as the passage of a bill that limits police use of surveillance drones.
“Compared to previous years, this session could have been worse,” Simon said. From the ACLU, that almost sounds like praise.
EVERGLADES FOUNDATION PRAISES LEGISLATURE FOR MUCH-NEEDED FUNDING
Erik Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation and former chief of staff to Governor Crist, expressed gratitude to the Florida Legislature for its inclusion of $70 million for Everglades restoration in the FY 2014 state budget.
“Today is a great day for America’s Everglades,” said Eikenberg. “The last several months were productive as we implored the state to continue its commitment to Everglades restoration and protection. Having worked with Governor Scott, President Gaetz, Speaker Weatherford, Chairman Joe Negron and Chairman Seth McKeel, we are pleased with the renewed commitment by the state.”
Of the $70 million, $38 will be directed toward Comprehensive Everglades Restoration projects (CERP) and $32 million will implement the Governor’s Water Quality Plan.
“Everglades protection is a bi-partisan issue,” Eikenberg continued. “These critical dollars in the state budget will more importantly protect the water supply of 1 in 3 Floridians, while creating much needed jobs. The economic benefits to Florida’s economy with this renewed investment by the Legislature will be felt for generations to come.”
JAMES MADISON INSTITUTE PRAISES HOUSE FOR HOLDING GROUND ON HEALTH REFORM via contributor Karen Cyphers
To James Madison Institute president and CEO Dr. Bob McClure, House leaders deserve credit for refusing to be rushed into expanding Medicaid this Session. “With some PPACA supporters in Congress now referring to the federal government’s implementation of the health care law as a ‘train wreck,’ this is hardly the time for Florida to climb aboard,” states McClure. “In this case taking no action instead of the wrong action was a wise decision by Florida’s leadership… No doubt this is why 30 states still have not signed up to expand their Medicaid program despite the billions of federal dollars offered in hopes states would make a rush to judgment,” McClure said. “The Florida House, recognizing a bait-and-switch deal when it sees one, deserves enormous credit for its refusal to be pressured into a rash decision.”
Indeed. That said, in my opinion, a special session would be a far more focused context in which to evaluate policy options — before Floridians start being penalized for failing to have health insurance coverage they simply cannot afford to buy, and before the clock runs out on Florida’s ability to draw down billions of federal dollars toward a more thoughtful remedy.
LAUGHING STOCK NO MORE? LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS SAYS FLORIDA IS GETTING ITS ELECTIONS ACT TOGETHER
Sorry, Conan and Letterman, but Florida’s League of Women voters believes that historic election reforms passed this Session will help ensure that Florida elections are no longer fodder for late night television.
With the approval of HB 7013, the League believes Floridians will no longer face as long lines at polls, and will expand access to early voting. Further, the measure gives Supervisors of Election greater flexibility in how they structure early voting, and requires amendment summaries to be 75 words or less.
It also permits Floridians to move within the state and still cast a regular ballot, and ensures that absentee ballots have a chance to be counted even if the voter forgets to sign the outside of the envelope.
“This reform was essential for the people of Florida, and the Legislature is to be congratulated for its bipartisan collaboration to bring such a superior effort to the Governor for his signature,” said League president Deirdre Macnab.
In particular, the League notes the hard work of Senator Jack Latvala and Representative Jim Boyd, who worked tirelessly this session to ensure lawmakers made good on their vow to reform Florida’s election laws in a bipartisan fashion, with each side of the aisle bringing their best ideas forward.
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EPILOGUE – PART 3 – THE MEDIA’S WINNERS AND LOSERS
ADAM SMITH’S LOSER OF THE WEEK IN FLA. POLITICS – WILL WEATHERFORD: “It was impossible for the 33-year-old House speaker from Pasco County to live up to presession hype, but it’s also clear that Weatherford’s image is far weaker now that the session is over. He burnished his conservative bonafides and ideological divisiveness with his main legacy — rejecting any federal money to expand health insurance coverage to lower-income Floridians. But top priorities for the well-connected golden boy died under his watch, including significant pension reform and charter school expansion under the “parent trigger” bill.”
Florida Current: Leadership’s harmony staves off a bitter end
LITTLEPAGE COLUMN: HOW BAD LEGISLATION FOR THE ENVIRONMENT GOT KILLED
Sometimes Tallahassee does listen, or at least some of the legislators do.
A very bad bill that would have further damaged Florida’s environment was working its way toward passage until petitions were signed, phone calls made and concerned groups went to the Capitol to lobby against it.
Among those were Audubon, the Sierra Club, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, former Gov. Bob Graham and the Florida Conservation Coalition, a group Graham helped found to counteract the attacks on the state’s natural resources that have become common in Tallahassee.
The legislation became what’s known as a “train,” a bill that is loaded up with amendments pushed by lobbyists, and they had a field day in the House.
ROMANO COLUMN: GRADING THE LEGISLATURE, NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Education — Pay raises for teachers! Per-pupil funding bump! Oversight for charter schools! At first glance, you might think education was a priority for this Legislature. But then you remember the political sham known as parent trigger was one vote away fromEducation — Pay raises for teachers! Per-pupil funding bump! Oversight for charter schools! At first glance, you might think education was a priority for this Legislature. But then you remember the political sham known as parent trigger was one vote away from being passed, and you realize our post office is still in Hooterville. Final evaluation: Effective.
Consumers — Your electric bill remains higher than necessary because lap dogs in the House had their tummies scratched with campaign coins from utility companies. On the other hand, the House kept the Senate from including rate hikes in an overhaul of Citizens Property Insurance. Final evaluation: Barely effective.
Campaign finance reform — Lawmakers cracked down on one type of political committee, but basically empowered another. They also generously raised contribution limits for candidates. And this was supposed to be a victory for House Speaker Will Weatherford? It feels like a batter celebrating a pop-up because he didn’t strike out. Final evaluation: Unsatisfactory.
SENTINEL EDITORIAL: HOUSE BREAKS PLEDGE TO BE THOUGHTFUL
in the end, House Republicans’ ideological crusade against Obamacare trumped compassion for hundreds of thousands of fellow Floridians without health care. And it won’t cut anyone’s federal taxes in Florida. Not by a nickel.
There was more mischief.
House Republicans neutered a bipartisan Senate bill to ban texting while driving, also with politics in mind. They were still fuming that the bill’s Republican sponsor in the Senate had helped defeat a GOP priority known as the parent-trigger bill when they added a provision to her texting ban to make it much harder to enforce. Party loyalty proved more important to those House members than saving lives on Florida highways.
And though Weatherford had told members in his November speech, “We are not here to serve as passive brokers for the special interest groups,” the House resurrected a pair of costly corporate tax breaks that bipartisan majorities in the Senate had voted to eliminate: a handout to the insurance industry worth $220 million a year, and a boon for banks worth $13 million annually.
The speaker himself slipped a tax break worth $100,000 a year into the budget for a California company with a lobbyist who once worked with Weatherford.
In his November speech, the speaker said he had given each House member a countdown clock to Election Day 2014 to remind them that their time to lead in Tallahassee is short.
They wasted too much of that precious time this year playing politics and placating special interests.
EPILOGUE – PART 4 – SAINTPETERSBLOG’S WINNERS AND LOSERS
A MIXED BAG FOR UTILITY CUSTOMERS
The Legislature and Florida Supreme Court made it clear that they wouldn’t be suckered by anti-nuclear activists.
Lawmakers instead increased nuclear cost recovery protections and reduced utilities’ profit levels without killing the future of diversified, cheap, clean energy.
And the court issued a categorical smack-down of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the anti-nuclear lobbying group out of Tennessee, that sued the Public Service Commission for following the law.
Still to be determined: whether Florida taxpayers will get a refund for the millions in costs that resulted from SACE’s legal challenge.
FLORIDA’S COMMUNITY PHARMACIES RAISE A RED FLAG
For the first time in years, Florida’s community pharmacies were able to raise a red flag on what has become a lop-sided relationship between community pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Pharmacy Choice and Access Now (PCAN), a coalition of pharmacists, physicians, consumers and small businesses focused on access to quality, convenient pharmacy services, successfully presented multiple examples of unfair pharmacy audits and presented them to the Florida Legislature.
Most notably, grassroots coalitions of pharmacists were successful in convincing Health Policy Chairman Aaron Bean – a traditional opponent – to be committed to looking at fair auditing practices over this summer. PCANs action has proven to be extremely beneficial, even up against three large PBMs, for fair audit standards. This is a huge step in the right direction for Florida and our community pharmacies.
FLORIDA WINS FIGHT TO SET ITS OWN WATER QUALITY STANDARDS
For years, Associated Industries of Florida has been at the forefront of the Numeric Nutrient Criteria debate and has led advocacy efforts at both the state and federal levels.
AIF created the Numeric Nutrient Criteria Task Force, a unique partnership of business, industry, agriculture, private utilities, and local and state governments, which has been the driving force behind the creation of a state-based solution for implementing Numeric Nutrient Criteria in Florida.
AIF and the Numeric Nutrient Criteria Task Force scored a major victory this year when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Environmental Protection Agency reached a landmark agreement on how to implement the NNC law in Florida. Following that, AIF led the charge to secure passage of legislation (SB 1808 and HB 7115) that codifies this agreement in statute.
Florida can now focus on real pollution problems, rather than litigation, speed up restoration and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
POLICYHOLDERS OF FLORIDA REMAINS THORN IN SIDE OF INSURANCE INDUSTRY
The Policyholders of Florida, founded by former Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw, continues to be a powerhouse when it comes to holding the insurance industry in check.
REP. MANNY DIAZ QUICKLY MAKES A NAME FOR HIMSELF
Diaz is an educator by career, serving as a baseball coach, teacher, mentor, and administrator.
He came to the House as a very close ally of future incoming Speaker Jose Oliva and quickly made a name for himself as an authority on education issues, championing parental choice, accountability, and increasing digital education.
For his efforts, he received high praise from former Governor Jeb Bush and the Foundation for Florida’s Future. Manny will be one to watch in the State House going forward.
SEN. WILTON SIMPSON HAS A GREAT FIRST SESSION
Wilton Simpson is a political novice, or so one would think.
Never having held elected office before, few expected the kind of legislative session that he had. Just a few of his successful bills include a change in the greenbelt laws to ensure that rural ranchers and growers get the tax status they deserve, an Everglades preservation act that all stakeholders supported, an environmentally-friendly, job-creation bill to substantially increase the use of natural gas in vehicles, and a regulatory reform of the state fire code to help small businesses.
Goes to show that hard work and life experience count – even in the Legislature.
EPILOGUE – PART 5 – A HINT OF WHAT’S NEXT
TO NEGRON, TAXWATCH IS THE ARMCHAIR QUARTERBACK OF STATE SPENDING by contributor Karen Cyphers
Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron preempted the impending release of Florida TaxWatch’s annual turkey list, likening the watchdog group to armchair quarterbacks. “If our friends at TaxWatch want to write the state budget,” he said, “they need to go run for state office.” While the legislature did indeed pass a project-laden $74.5 billion budget, the largest in state history, they nevertheless kept a $2.8 billion reserve, repaid a $300 million cut to the state university system, and added $500 million to the state’s retirement system. This isn’t the first time Negron had harsh words for TaxWatch. In 2011 he called their turkey list a “fading media gimmick” that is based on the “mistaken rationale that budget decisions originating from the executive branch come clothed with a presumption of correctness while ideas from the elected representatives of the people should be viewed with suspicion.”
WHY DOLPHINS OWNER STEPHEN ROSS – NOT WEATHERFORD – OWNS STADIUM DEAL DEATH via Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald
When the plan to use up to $380 million in taxpayer money to subsidize stadium upgrades died on Friday, Ross sent out a threatening-sounding statement that bashed House Speaker Will Weatherford, essentially accused him of lying and stopped just short of promising to campaign against him.
“I am certain this decision will follow Speaker Weatherford for many years to come,” Ross said in a statement.
“I will look to play an important role in fixing the dysfunction in Tallahassee and will continue to work to create good jobs in Miami Dade and throughout South Florida.”
Just before the statement came out, I asked Weatherford what his reaction would be if Ross or his supporters threatened to spend money against him.
“Oh, wow,” Weatherford said in a voice that sounded anything but surprised or worried. “Good for them.”
… Ross has made the Dolphins’ stadium effort politically personal.
House Republicans won’t support a measure that appears to undermine the honor of their speaker or institution. And Republicans in the more-moderate Senate, where support was once strong for the Dolphin plan, will be less inclined to back a bill that seems to challenge the conservative House and needlessly takes on a rising star of the party.
If Ross wants another shot, he needs to apologize to Weatherford and the House.
TWEET, TWEET: @susangoldstein: 🙂 Contrary to presumptuous reporters/hopeful Phin lobbyists @DanMarino NOT in Tally for stadium issue. ONLY to thank legislators.
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PENSACOLA NEWS JOURNAL ENDORSES MIKE HILL IN SPECIAL ELECTION FOR HD 2
Citing “his desire to be a voice in Tallahassee for those who don’t have one”, the Pensacola News Journal is endorsing Mike Hill in the special election for House District 2.
Recognizing that the candidates “have precious little time selling themselves to voters”, the PNJ editorial board argues that Hill’s “military experience, passion for open government and business experience make him the best candidate for Republicans to nominate for the state House.”
Also, the ed. board contends, “Hill’s values make him a solid match for this conservative area.”
While making mention of the fact that “others in the field tout their municipal experience, business acumen and desire to serve the public,” the editors did not have anything else to say — positive or negative — about the other candidates in the field.
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