In the News

Florida Democratic Party News Clips – April 23, 2013

RUDDERLESS GOVERNOR UNABLE TO LEAD HIS PARTYScott’s Legislative Agenda Coming Up Short [Orlando Sentinel] “It’s a glass-half-empty issue with potential political ramifications. With less than two weeks left in the 2013 legislative session, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Gov. Rick Scott is getting less than he wants on his top priorities. Though the governor has emphasized just two — $480 million for across-the-board raises for teachers and $160 million in tax breaks for corporations and manufacturers – it’s not clear if he’ll get the tax breaks, and lawmakers have decided that the teacher raises should be apportioned at least in part by merit. They also extended raises to all instructional personnel, meaning aggregate teacher raises will likely be lower than the $2,500-per-educator sought by Scott…But Scott’s manufacturing tax break, projected to cost $141 million next year, has yet to pass either chamber and isn’t part of the budget negotiations.”



Mr. Speaker, We Expected Better [Sun Sentinel Editorial] “If lack of health insurance were a disease, it would be considered a pandemic in Florida. About one in four state residents who are too young to be covered by Medicare — 3.8 million people — are uninsured, the third-worst rate in the nation…Under the 2010 health reform law, the federal government would put up at least $51 billion over 10 years to cover at least 800,000 low-income Floridians. It would pick up the entire tab for the first three years, tapering down to no less than 90 percent after that. Even Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital executive who launched his political career fighting federal health reform, recognized the offer was too good to pass up…Leaders of the Florida House of Representatives are so politically driven to distance themselves from Obamacare that they’re ignoring Florida’s pandemic. They’ve cooked up a plan to reject the federal funds and use only state money to provide bare-bones coverage to about 115,000 Floridians. To qualify, people could make no more than $11,000 a year and would have to pay a $2,500 deductible. Some plan…We expected far better from House Speaker Will Weatherford.”

Legislators Have One More Plan for Federal Medicaid Money: Do Nothing [Miami Herald] “As the clock winds down on the legislative session, Florida lawmakers are sending signals that they are likely to end the session without resolving the issue of whether the state should accept federal Medicaid money to insure the poorest in Florida. ‘It’s not something you put together in a week,’ said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and a close advisor to Senate President Don Gaetz. ‘It’s a very big, complicated issue and these issues take some time.’ He said he does not expect there would be any political repercussions if the Republican-led Legislature waits another year, even though it would mean forgoing for one year at least the estimated $5 billion in federal funds that could be drawn down under the plan to implement Medicaid expansion. ‘There is no fallout,’ Thrasher told the Herald/Times on Monday…With less than two weeks left of the 60-day session, legislators are at a standstill over how to address the issue of whether or not to implement Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. The House has firmly refused to budge on its position that it will not accept federal Medicaid money and the Senate has countered with a plan to accept the money but steer it into a privately-run program.”

Fallout for States Rejecting Medicaid Expansion [AP] “Rejecting the Medicaid expansion in thefederal health care law could have unexpected consequences for states where Republican lawmakers remain steadfastly opposed to what they scorn as ‘Obamacare.’…It could mean exposing businesses to Internal Revenue Service penalties and leaving low-income citizens unable to afford coverage even as legal immigrants get financial aid for their premiums. For the poorest people, it could virtually guarantee they remain uninsured and dependent on the emergency room at local hospitals that already face federal cutbacks.”



Voting Rights Groups Assail Senate Elections Package [Tampa Bay Times] “Local and national voting rights groups voiced opposition Monday to an elections bill that’s awaiting a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday. The groups zeroed in on a provision in the bill (HB 7013) that changes the law for voters who need assistance at the polls. Under the change, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a person seeking to assist a voter at the polls must already know the person, and no one may assist more than 10 voters in an election. ‘These restrictions on assistors will make it harder to vote, particularly for rmany of Florida’s Latino and Hispanic residents,’ the groups said in advance of a conference call with Florida reporters.”Election Reform Bill Criticized [Herald Tribune] “Several groups on Monday criticized language in an elections bill that they say would make it more difficult for some minority, disabled and elderly voters to cast ballots. A provision in the wide-ranging bill wouldn’t allow voters to use assistants to cast ballots if they didn’t previously know them. Also, nobody could assist more than 10 voters per election. That means that people who can’t read English, are blind, have a disability or have trouble voting for any other reason wouldn’t be able to ask for help from trained volunteers at the polls unless they already know them. ‘This is again not about what’s best for Florida’s elections, but it’s politicians getting in the way of solutions for democracy,’ said Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority, a group that advocates for minorities…Democrats and civil rights groups accused Republicans of making those changes in an effort to restrict the votes of minorities and younger people who tend to support Democratic candidates. After the 2012 election and the national criticism that followed, Republicans are now proposing several changes they say will make voting easier, such as allowing more early voting days and polling locations. Counties also will have the option of conducting early voting the Sunday before the election, when many black churches organize ‘Souls to the Polls’ voting drives.”



Strip Harassment of Supervisors From Fla.’s Election Bill [Palm Beach Post Editorial] “For months, it seemed possible, even probable: a smart, non-contentious effort to fix the state’s election system, which the Legislature fouled up badly with political tinkering in 2011. The bill moving through the Florida Senate had been a reasonable, if timid, fix: expanding the shortened early voting period and putting some limits on the length of ballot referendums, while making it easier for absentee voters to fix errors on their ballots. Then last week, a senator tacked on a toxic amendment to intimidate Florida’s independent elections supervisors with new penalties. That amendment, added Tuesday, threw a political live grenade into what had been an orderly and reasonable overhaul effort. Under the provision, the state’s politicized Division of Elections could declare county elections supervisors as ‘non-compliant,’ allowing the state to withhold certain salary bonuses to which those supervisors would otherwise be entitled…Not surprisingly, the man who added this last-minute amendment was Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, a sponsor of the notorious 2011 elections law overhaul that shortened early voting, cracked down on voter-registration groups and pushed more transient voters to less-reliable provisional ballots. Sen. Diaz de la Portilla claimed that his attack was the idea of Miami-Dade County’s elections supervisor, only to have the supervisor debunk that claim.”



Audrey Gibson’s Mental Health Gun Bill Moves Forward [News Service of Florida] “Targeting people who could be ‘imminent’ dangers to themselves or others, a Senate panel Monday approved a bill that would block firearms purchases by certain people who voluntarily admit themselves for mental-health treatment. Sponsor Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said the bill (SB 1000) closes a loophole, as state law already bars firearms purchases by people who are involuntarily committed under the Baker Act. The measure is backed by the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida. ‘This bill stops dangerous people from being able to purchase guns,’ said Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the gun-rights groups. The Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved the measure, which is ready to go to the Senate floor.”



Buchanan Still Paying Big Legal Fees [Herald Tribune] “U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is no longer under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department or the Federal Election Commission, but his legal costs are still among the highest in Congress, according to…Buchanan’s legal costs were second to only Rep. Michael Grimm, a New York Republican, who spent $60,000 to Patton Boggs LLP in Washington, D.C. for legal fees…Since 2008, Buchanan has been fighting allegations that he violated campaign finance laws by having employees at businesses he owned reimbursed for making donations. The FEC has fined three of Buchanan’s former businesses and another former business association pleaded guilty to a felony last year in federal court to reimbursing campaign donations made by employees for Buchanan’s campaigns.”

In Lakeland Senator’s Bills, Questions About Personal Benefit [FCIR] “What happened to last fall’s happy talk about ethics reform in the statehouse? There was noise about disclosure and broadening those requirements to make it more difficult to create laws that could potentially help legislators in their day jobs. State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would no doubt be in favor of that. The veteran landlord has an interest in 11 properties in Polk County as well as a townhouse in Tallahassee. She and her husband, former state Rep. John Stargel, operate WWJD Properties, a real estate firm that Kelli has been part of since 2009. But to the public, Kelli Stargel’s real estate interests stop at eight properties on which her name appears on the deed. The state’s financial disclosure laws don’t require her to declare her interest in four WWJD Properties on her annual financial disclosure form.”



Despite Petition, Legislature to do Nothing to Help Springs this Year [Tampa Bay Times] “Although thousands of Florida voters signed a petition demanding action, the Legislature will not pass any bills aimed at restoring and protecting the state’s iconic springs this year, according to the chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. The reason, according to Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, is that state regulators are already setting what are called ‘minimum flows and levels’ for the major springs, an effort he said should take another year and a half and help legislators figure out what further assistance might be needed…But setting minimum flows and levels, or MFLs for short, does little to help springs, according to Jim Stevenson, who headed the Florida Springs Task Force under former Gov. Jeb Bush. One reason why: The MFL standard is based on avoiding what the law calls ‘significant harm,’ as opposed to avoiding any harm at all. ‘The MFLs will not protect spring flow,’ Stevenson said. ‘If the Legislature really wanted to help the springs, they would take that word “significant” out.'”



Frankel, Murphy Build Warchests for First Re-election Campaigns [Sun Sentinel] “Since taking office in January, South Florida’s freshmen have been working on the top priority for every new member of Congress: stockpiling campaign cash for next year’s mid-term congressional elections. Both U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, who represents Broward and Palm Beach counties, and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who represents northern Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, took in money at a far greater pace than their veteran colleagues. The latest campaign finance reports show Frankel took in $302,060 during the first three months of the year – about $3,356 a day. Murphy took in $536,612 from Jan. 1 through March 31, which works out to $5,962 a day.”



Nelson Targets Jamaican Scam Artists [Florida Today] “[…]Nelson held a hearing last month examining the threat of Jamaican phone fraud targeting seniors across the nation. Such scams rob victims of an estimated $300 million a year, said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the committee on aging. A task force launched in 2009 to pursue the Jamaican lottery fraud unearthed 36,000 cases in its first six months of operation. Nelson and Collins have met with Jamaican diplomats to discuss the need for more action.”

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