Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – December 10

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Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

Today’s Rise and Shine Fact-iversary is brought to you by Sachs Media unsroup, the state’s dominant public affairs PR firm: On this day in 1958, America ushered in a new age of passenger air travel when a National Airlines Boeing 707 landed in Miami, the nation’s first domestic passenger jet service. The Miami-based airline operated the historic flight on a jetliner leased from Pan Am, which just two months earlier had established transatlantic jet service between New York and London. It was no one-time partnership – Pan Am ended up acquiring National in 1980, nine years after National launched a controversial series of ads associating their planes with attractive images of their female flight attendants – and inviting travelers to “Fly Me.”

Now, on to the ‘burn…

GOP APPROVAL RATINGS HIT 5-YEAR HIGH via Taegan Goddard of PoliticalWire.com

“Republicans are enjoying a five-year peak in popularity after their wins in the midterm elections, according to a new Bloomberg Politics poll, while President Obama struggles with his lowest job approval rating, at 39 percent. The White House also is facing a backlash from independents who oppose his unilateral moves on immigration, and just 24 percent say the country is on the right track, the lowest rating since September 2011.”

MARCO RUBIO, BILL NELSON DIFFER ON SENATE’S RELEASE OF CIA ‘TORTURE REPORT’ via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post

Sen. Marco Rubio condemned the Senate’s release of a report that accuses the CIA of breaking the law in its interrogation of prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks while Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said the report “rightly criticized” mistakes and abuses.

Nelson released a short statement Tuesday afternoon: “Since 2001, we’ve made a number of decisions to strengthen our nation’s defenses against terrorist attacks.  Many of these decisions have saved lives while mistakes and abuses, such as those in this report, have been rightly criticized.  We must remember that it is the goal of the U.S. intelligence community to gather information about a shadowy enemy determined to do us harm.”

Rubio, in a joint statement with Sen.  Jim Risch called the release “reckless and irresponsible.” They said authors of the report failed to interview any CIA officials before releasing a document that could endanger the lives of Americans overseas.

“The American civilian and uniformed personnel who worked tirelessly in the days and months after the September 11, 2001 attacks on our nation to keep us safe and prevent another mass casualty event deserve our eternal gratitude, not politically-motivated attack,” Rubio and Risch said.

OBAMACARE ADVISER SAID FLORIDA VOTERS ‘MISINFORMED’ via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times

Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist whose comments about the selling of Obamacare fueled debate over the law, was on Capitol Hill today and full of regret.

Gruber acknowledged to the House Oversight Committee “glib, thoughtless and sometimes downright insulting comments.”

Lesser known are his remarks about “misinformed” Florida voters. They came during an interview with Healthinsurance.org in April. Gruber was talking about Medicaid, which Florida Republicans have refused to expand, and said expansion advocates needed to explain the advantages better.

“The fundamental challenge, Harold, that liberals face politically is explaining to the American voter the cost of those types of policies,” he told host Harold Pollack. “I think the average American voter is actually a charitable person, a big-hearted person. I don’t think it’s that the voters in Florida don’t care about the low-income uninsured. I think they are just misinformed.

“I really believe that if we could politically help explain the costs to society of cutting provider rates, of cutting back Medicaid, I think we’d get the majority of people to support strengthening that program. I think it’s just because of racial reasons and other things, we just haven’t managed to get through with that message.”

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FLORIDA’S FIRST FAMILY LIGHTS OFFICIAL STATE CHRISTMAS TREE AT CAPITOL via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Scott, first lady Ann Scott and three Cabinet members gathered for a holiday tradition in Tallahassee: the lighting of the official Christmas tree outside the governor’s office. This year’s tree is a locally-grown Virginia pine from the Havana Christmas Tree Farm in the town of Havana in Gadsden County, north of Tallahassee.

Scott used the event to promote the importance of holiday tourism to Florida’s economy. “Christmas is a great season for our state,” Scott said. “We’re going to have a lot of people coming down here over the holidays … South Florida is just packed.” The governor said he’s looking forward to a special Christmas with his oldest grandson having turned three.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Florida-grown Christmas trees account for about 16,000 out of 30 million trees sold across the country. The Havana tree grower gave trees to all three Cabinet members’ offices, and Putnam, who oversees the Division of Forestry, joked that he got the best tree of the bunch.

As the lights on the tree twinkled to life, Ann Scott added the state Christmas ornament for 2014, a gold rendition of the Governor’s Mansion that also shows the three flags flying over the entrance to the official residence. Also in the lobby of the Capitol is a less traditional holiday display featuring a dinosaur and a version of Cookie Monster, and there’s a “Happy Winter Solstice” banner in the Capitol’s lobby from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. A display featuring Satan will arrive in the next couple of weeks.

After the tree lighting ceremony, Scott and the Cabinet members officially dedicated Florida’s Firefighter Memorial Monument in the Capitol courtyard, just outside the House Office Building. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who’s also the state fire marshal, presided over the ceremony.

TWEET, TWEET: @rtemplin: At groundbreaking for Fallen Firefighter memorial at the Capitol. All the political hypocrisy aside, really nice event 4 Florida’s heroes.

GOV. SCOTT REAPPOINTS ELIZABETH DUDEK AS SECRETARY OF AHCA via Christine Jordan Sexton of SaintPetersBlog

Gov. Scott announced the reappointment of Elizabeth Dudek as secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

Dudek was appointed secretary of AHCA by Scott in March 2011. Prior to her appointment, Dudek served as AHCA’s deputy secretary for the Division of Health Quality Assurance.

During her more than 20 years with the agency, Dudek has also held the positions of bureau chief of Certificate of Need Budget Review; bureau chief of Health Facility Compliance; and assistant deputy secretary of Managed Care and Health Quality.

In addition to transitioning Medicaid into a managed-care program, Dudek helped revamp how Florida hopsitals are paid for treating Medicaid patients.

Hospitals that treated Medicaid patients traditionally had been reimbursed on a cost-based per diem system, meaning facilities received payments based on how much it cost them to treat the patient while in the hospital. Scott–a former hospital executive–in 2013 changed the reimbursements so facilities were paid on a DRG–or diagnositc related group–method. Under DRGs, hospitals are paid a fixed amount based on a patient’s diagnosis. If a hopsital can treat a patient for less than the DRG, then it makes money. If treatment exceeds the DRG, the facilitiy loses money.

There had been several unsuccessful attempts to use DRGs, which were favored by for-profit hospitals, in the Florida Medicaid program before Scott. After it was passed by the Legislature, the agency — under Dudek’s leadership — made the transition.

WHAT THE GOV’S OFFICE IS READING – FLORIDA DEBT FALLS FOR 4TH YEAR IN A ROW via the Associated Press

Florida’s amount of debt keeps dropping and has now fallen to $24.2 billion.

That’s according to an annual report presented to Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet.

This marks the fourth year in a row that the amount of money the state owes has dropped. The state debt dropped $400 million during the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

State debt has declined $4 billion since 2010. Florida has been borrowing less money since then because an environmental land-buying program concluded. The state has also been able to refinance existing bonds with lower interest rates.

During his time as governor, Scott has also made it a priority to limit borrowing. He called the latest report “good news” for the state.

CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE REVAMPS CRITICIZED PROGRAM via Jeff Harrington of the Tampa Bay Times

Reacting to harsh criticism, Citizens Property Insurance is revamping the way it pushes homeowners’ policies into the private market.

The move comes a month after a Tampa Bay Times article detailed consumer complaints over how state-run Citizens was letting private insurers take policies out. Under the program, policyholders who are selected for a “takeout” have to fill out a form to opt out or their policy is automatically shifted to a new company.

Since January, more than 300,000 Citizens policyholders have been shifted to other carriers, a groundswell that state leaders applaud for decreasing financial risk statewide. Under state law, all Floridians with insurance are at risk of being assessed if a cumbersome Citizens Property is swamped by claims after a major hurricane that it cannot afford to pay.

However, the takeout program triggered numerous concerns. Among issues cited in the Times story, some customers either never received the initial takeout offer from the company or it was assumed to be junk mail, so their policies were automatically switched. Also, a Citizens’ follow-up “encouragement” letter to homeowners did not include an opt-out form and that form was hard to locate on Citizens’ website. And customers complained Citizens’ language exaggerated the potentially dire financial consequences to resist switching.

In some cases, Citizens policyholders who never wanted to leave were subsequently shocked to find huge premium jumps upon renewing with their new carriers.

Some policyholders found it deceptive for Citizens to underplay its own financial security in the letters, when it is sitting on more than a $7 billion surplus after nine hurricane-free years. At the same time, the company gave only cursory information about the financial viability of the carriers taking out policies. A recurring complaint among policyholders is that some of the fledgling Florida-based carriers are untested and, at least based on one ratings firm, are financially weak.

DJJ INTERIM SECRETARY SHOULD BE NEXT SECRETARY via Barney Bishop for Sunshine State News

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is a relatively young state agency, having been carved out of the old Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services back in 1997.

Throughout its time, it was ruled over by men starting with the first secretary, Calvin Ross from Miami.

Four years ago, Gov. Rick Scott reached down to Miami again and plucked a woman who would become the first female to oversee DJJ — and it was a fabulous selection.

Wansley Walters, who was working for the Miami-Dade County Department of Juvenile Justice and thus already had a long-term working relationship with DJJ, was the perfect choice.

As the first woman to run DJJ, Wansley instituted many changes over her four years of stewardship.

While I won’t pretend to tell the governor whom he should select as the permanent DJJ secretary, I can assure him that if he were to appoint Christy as the next secretary, the continuity of leadership from his first term to the second would be smooth and successful.

But more importantly he has in Christy someone who knows what to do and how to do it. This agency has transformed itself and much of it is a credit to Wansley and Christy working with providers and interested parties for two years to make sure that the re-write of Chapter 985, the statute that oversees the department, was done correctly.

ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS STOOD UP BY FLORIDA FOREVER PANEL via Mike Salinero of the Tampa Tribune

More than 70 people showed up in Bradenton last week for a meeting of the panel that recommends land purchases for the Florida Forever conservation program.

But when they arrived at the Bradenton City Hall, the residents found an empty dais. Not one of the 10 members of the Acquisition and Restoration Council attended the meeting. Even the council’s chair, a high-ranking official with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, skipped the public hearing.

The only official at the meeting was the council’s staff director, Hank Vinson. He told the attendees he was there to take testimony but could not answer any questions. He assured speakers in the audience that their remarks would be recorded, transcribed and given to the council, which sends recommendations on Florida Forever land purchases to the governor and cabinet.

The audience members, many of whom represent various environmental and conservation groups, were startled that the entire committee was absent.

“What kind of public hearing is it when the government doesn’t show up to hear the public?” asked Kent Bailey, chair of the Tampa Bay Group Sierra Club. Bailey said recording the meeting is not a substitute for interacting with the council members on a personal basis.

“The idea is you look people in the eye, talk to them face to face and you communicate with them,” he said.

Also slated for discussion that night was Amendment 1, which voters passed Nov. 4. The amendment earmarks 33 percent of the excise tax on documents, such as deeds and mortgage, to go toward conservation projects.

INSURANCE COMMISH KEVIN MCCARTY TELLS BLUE-RIBBON ADVISORY PANEL IT’S NOT A “SOCIAL WELFARE ADVISORY BOARD” via Christine Jordan Sexton of SaintPetersBlog

An insurance industry dominated panel rejected a proposal to expand Medicaid to about 800,000 Floridians who don’t qualify for insurance subsidies because they don’t make enough money.

Chaired by Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, the Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board preliminarily approved a number of recommendations to submit to the Florida Legislature to consider in the upcoming 2015 session.

Insurance agent and board member W. Adam Castoff and Florida CHAIN representative and board member Leah Barber-Heinz both recommended that the group include a recommendation to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The move was opposed by board member and Agency for Health Care Administration Deputy Secretary Division of Health Quality Assurance Molly McKinstry as well as McCarty, who both expressed concerns that the group should not advance policy recommendations that would impact the state budget.

“The original intent of the group was to get as many people covered as possible,” Castoff said to McCarty, who replied, “it’s the health insurance advisory board, not the social welfare advisory board.”

McCarty works at the pleasure of the Financial Services Commission, which is the governor and Cabinet. Gov. Rick Scott has stated his support for Medicaid expansion but his support has been tepid and he has not lobbied the Legislature on its behalf. Cabinet members Pam Bondi and Adam Putnam oppose Medicaid expansion.

In addition to rejecting Medicaid expansion the committee withheld approval of a number of other proposals, stating that they needed more information before making a decision. To that end, Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board staff director Michelle Newell will seek out background information on the deferred issues  and the board will hold a teleconference call before the start of the 2015 session to finalize its proposals.

Issues that the committee took a pass on include: eliminating a state requirement that small group employes offer “dependent” coverage to adult children up to age 30; establishing 30 hours per week, not 25, as the number of required hours for  coverage under the federal law; and banning non-contracted physicians from “balancing billing” patients who are part of a PPO, or preferred provider organization.

APPOINTED: Arsalia Byrd and Paul Dumars and to the Palm Beach County Housing Authority.

BILL SEEKS TO RESTRICT HOW DUKE ENERGY ALTERS BILLING CYCLES via Ivan Penn of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa Bay area lawmakers are set to file a second bipartisan legislation targeting Duke Energy Florida with a measure that would restrict how the utility alters customers’ billing cycles.

Rep. Dwight Dudley teamed up with Sen. Charlie Dean for companion bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Announcement of their legislation follows a bipartisan bill filed Monday to repeal the Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause or so-called nuclear advance fee and require Duke to refund its 1.7 million customers for billions in costs for two projects that did not materialize.

The legislation by Dudley and Dean would address a separate practice Duke employed this year.

Reports in the Tampa Bay Times detailed how Duke was making changes to its meter-reading routes. Those changes led Duke to temporarily extend as many as 267,000 customers’ billing cycles, typically a month, by as many as 12 days. Customer bills revealed additional charges in some cases of $100 or more for the extended days and, for some, the additional days bumped them into a higher rate class.

That’s because Duke charges customers $11.34 for every 100 kilowatt hours of usage up to 1,000 kilowatt hours. But above that, it charges $13.70 for every 100 kilowatt hours.

After public outcry, Duke refunded the overcharges, which have exceeded $1.3 million.

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DOC RENUART EDGES TRAVIS HUTSON IN NOVEMBER FUNDRAISING FOR SD 6 Full story here

In the Senate District 6 special election, state Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart edged out Rep. Travis Hutson in fundraising for last month, but Renuart still lags behind in overall campaign cash, according to the Division of Elections website.

Renuart collected $51,100 in contributions in November, for a total of $53,850, not including $50,000 in loans to his campaign. As of Nov. 30, the Ponte Vedra Beach Republican spent $3,983.

During the same period, Hutson raised $26,350, for an overall take of $156,200. In addition, Hutson also advanced his campaign another $100,000, for a total of $150,000 in loans. Reports show the Elkton Republican also spent $63,553 through Nov. 30.

Reports for the two other SD 6 candidates — Democrat David Cox and Republican Dennis McDonald – are still pending as of Tuesday.

Candidates face a Wednesday deadline for filing their latest finance reports.

DIRECT MAIL ROUND-UP: RENUART SAYS YOU CAN KEEP THIS DOCTOR Full story here

State Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart says that unlike Obamacare: “If you like this Doctor – you can keep this Doctor!”

In his second flyer for the Special Election in Senate District 6, the Ponte Vedra Beach Republican vows to stand up for his conservative principles: protecting the constitutional right to bear arms, fix the illegal immigration crisis and fight Obamacare.

“This election is about preserving our freedom and protecting our rights,” the flyer says.

As both a medical doctor and legislator, Renuart argues that Florida should be able to opt out of government-run health care.

“Government-run, one-size-fits-all Obamacare has been a disaster for America,” he declares.

With immigration, Renuart believes solving the crisis begins with the federal government doing its job to secure our border.

“No one should be able to sneak into our country,” says Renuart, a retired Army National Guard colonel, “and add to the spiraling costs of social services and the criminal justice system.”

***This year the Florida Smart Justice Alliance is hosting their 4th Annual Smart Justice Summit on January 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. Over 300 policymakers are expected including state legislators, judges, sheriffs, police chiefs, state’s attorneys, public defenders, county correctional officers, probation & parole, DCF/DJJ/DOC employees, behavioral healthcare providers, policy experts, and others on panels discussing  successful evidence-based practices in the criminal justice arena. The goal is to maintain public safety while insuring that taxpayers get the best bang for the dollar. Keynote Speaker – Bexar Co., TX Sheriff Susan Pamerleau, first female sheriff for San Antonio. To get a 10% savings on registration click here.***

CONTEXT FLORIDA: EDUCATION MONEY, JEB BUSH, GRAND JURIES AND SUGAR TAXES

On Context FloridaMartin Dyckman reports on a dodgy for-profit Florida trade college, where strippers were listed as “admissions representatives” hired to recruit students. Wherever the government puts sacks of money on the table — as in defense, Medicare, and now education — it will attract people looking for easy plunder. Are you up for more war – a really, really lot of it? It is A-OK by Jeb Bush, says Stephen Goldstein. Recent grand jury cases examining the deaths of African-Americans Michael Brown and Eric Garner exonerated the police officers who killed them, and resulted in civil rights leaders alleging ingrained racism in our criminal justice system. Steve Kurlander points out that the discussion should focus on how these two cases demonstrate that our nation’s grand jury system fails to satisfy the central concern for fairness and rationality, particularly when police officers are involved. Peter Ubel and Avni Shah say evidence suggests that while calorie information requirements are too hands-off to affect behavior, and courts conclude that soda bans are too hands-on to be legal, anti-obesity experts are pushing for a more moderate policy intervention. Therefore, fat and sugar taxes may soon be coming to your local restaurant.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Justin Hollis.

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.