Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 129

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Poll: 45% of Florida voters would like to see increase in Medicaid funding

A new survey from the Florida Hospital Association shows strong support among Florida voters to keep — or in many increase — state funding for Medicaid programs.

The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies from March 1 through March 5, found Floridians have the most favorable opinion of Medicaid that the association has recorded in six years. The poll of 600 registered voters found 56 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Medicaid, up from 47 percent in a November 2011 survey.

The results of the survey come as state lawmakers began releasing their initial budget recommendations, which included taking away as much as $621.8 million from hospitals in the coming year.

The House proposal cuts the state’s share of Medicaid by $238.6 million, or a total of $621.8 million once federal dollars are factored in. The Senate has recommended cutting $99.3 million, or a $258.6 million total cut.

But the Florida Hospital Association found that while the state is slashing budgets, many Floridians would actually like to see lawmakers keep funding as is, if not give the programs funding boost.

According to the survey, 45 percent of Floridians said they would like to see Medicaid funding increased, while 29 percent said they believe state funding should stay the same. Just 8 percent said funding for the programs should be decreased.

Six years ago, 47 percent of Floridians supported keeping the funding the same, while 39 percent wanted to see more money put into the program. Back in November 2011, 11 percent of Floridians supported decreasing funding for Medicaid programs.

When respondents were asked about a few specific areas the Legislature will be spending money on this year, 61 percent of Floridians said the state should increase funding for Medicaid, which provides health care to lower-income children, the disabled elderly, and pregnant women.

Voters also supported increasing funding for water quality problems (67%); the state’s colleges and universities (52%); tax cuts to help business to expand or relocate to Florida (31%); and tourism promotion (23%).

Yet when asked whether they would support redirecting money from Medicaid to help pay for increased funding for colleges and universities, tax cuts for businesses, and tourism promotion, 75 percent of voters said they would advise their legislator to keep the money in Medicaid programs.

There appeared to be broad support to keep money in Medicaid programs, with 68 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats, and 73 percent of independents saying they would advise their legislator to keep funding Medicaid.

That feeling was echoed throughout the state, with a solid majority of voters in each media market saying the Legislature keep money for Medicaid.

The highest support for keeping the cash for Medicaid came from the Jacksonville area, where 80 percent of respondents said they wanted legislators to keep money for Medicaid programs.

The Fort Myers media market — which includes Gov. Rick Scott’s hometown of Naples — had the highest percentage of people saying they should shift the funds, with 20 percent of respondents saying they would tell their lawmaker to use it for something else.

 

Cosmetics industry hopeful third time is the charm for reform bill

Cosmetic manufacturers are hopeful state lawmakers will take action this year to eliminate a policy requiring them to get approval before taking a product to market, a lengthy process that industry officials say goes above and beyond federal requirements.

The industry has been pushing for the change for several years now, but think a recent report from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability bolsters their calls for change.

According to the Feb. 21 research memo, Florida is one of three states that requires premarket approval of cosmetic products. But unlike the other states with the premarket regulations, Florida cosmetic manufacturers employ more than 3,250 people and pay $124 million a year in wages.

The report also included an industry satisfaction survey, which included responses from 57 of the state’s 129 permitted cosmetic manufacturers. The survey found 46 percent of respondents said they have considered moving their manufacturing facility to another state. The three reasons for wanting to relocate were regulatory requirements, skill of workforce and tax rates.

“It’s bad policy. No. 1: It takes a long time to get approved, 90 days or longer. If you’re a nimble, dynamic cosmetic manufacturer … three months is a ridiculously long time,” said John Ray, who represents Seychelles Organics. “The other thing is, it’s expensive. It’s $30 for every main product and $15 for every difference. A company making a few hundred products, and every two years you have to renew your registration, that’s tens of thousands of dollars.”

State lawmakers have taken note of the concerns, filing legislation for the third year in a row to remove the premarket approval requirement. The bills (SB 114 and HB 211) would remove the requirements that manufacturers must register products with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics.

If approved, the cosmetics manufactured in Florida would be treated in a similar manner to those manufactured outside of Florida and distributed and sold in Florida.

The Senate proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, has unanimously cleared its first two committees of reference. It could be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks.

And that could be where the bill hits its first snag. Despite what appears to be bipartisan support for removing the regulations, there is a fiscal impact. Brandes’ bill removes fees for cosmetic product registrations and renewals, and the fees for the issuances of certificates of free sale for these products.

According to a staff analysis prepared for the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, DBPR estimates the Senate bill will reduce annual revenue to the Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Division account within the Professional Regulation Trust Fund by $226,141 in fiscal 2017-18. That estimate increases to $297,973 in fiscal 2018-19 and $393,072 in fiscal 2019-20.

The Senate proposal appropriates $222,564 in recurring dollars from the general revenue fund in fiscal 2017-18 to the division to offset a portion of reduced trust fund revenues.

The House bill, sponsored by Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala, removes the fee cap for cosmetic manufacturer permits, and authorizes the division to assess a “fee sufficient to cover the costs of administering the cosmetic manufacturing program,” according to a staff analysis prepared after the House Health Quality Subcommittee meeting last week. Industry officials are supportive of this approach, saying the overall reform bill would deliver significant net user-fee savings to Florida manufacturers.

Industry officials are supportive of this approach, saying the overall reform bill would deliver significant net user-fee savings to Florida manufacturers.

Latvala’s bill unanimously cleared the Health Quality Subcommittee meeting, and now heads to the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Nobody disagrees with the policy,” said Ray, who noted the proposal hasn’t received a “no” vote in any committee hearing over the years. “User fees shouldn’t be the reason why a dumb law is in place.”

medical marijuana

House Health Quality Subcommittee approves medical marijuana implementing bill

A House panel approved legislation Tuesday that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, despite concerns from some advocates the proposal doesn’t honor the spirit of the amendment.

The House Health Quality Subcommittee voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill (HB 1397) that would implement the 2016 constitutional amendment. Sponsored by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the bill would, among other things, maintain the current vertically integrated regulatory structure, only allow terminally ill patients to use vaporizers or consume cannabis products, and would make medical marijuana exempt from sales tax.

While the committee strongly supported the proposal, several members expressed reservations about some of the provisions outlined in the bill, including one that essentially calls for a three-month waiting period before a physician can recommend medical marijuana.

Rodrigues defended the inclusion of the language, saying it was part of low-THC medical marijuana bill passed passed in 2014. The state put in the requirement in response to the pill mill crisis in hopes it would shut down any “cash for prescription” operations.

He said he decided to keep the same 90-day waiting period in the implementing bill because the belief is that by making it easier for doctors to register and get certified to order medical marijuana for a qualified patient, more physicians across the state are likely to do so.

In that scenario, Rodrigues said it is likely that patients would be seeing a doctor they already have an established relationship with. But there is also a chance that physicians specializing in medical marijuana will emerge, and in that case Rodrigues said having the waiting period could help ward off bad actors.

Approved with support from 71 percent of Floridians in November, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with implementing the law.

The health department began the process of creating rules in January, and has until July to put them in place. The Senate Health Policy Committee held a workshop on implementing the constitutional amendment last week, and Sen. Dana Young, the committee chairwoman, said it could be a few weeks before the panel votes on a measure. Five implementing bills have been filed in the Senate.

Opponents to the constitutional amendment lined up in support of Rodrigues’ bill on Tuesday, calling it a way to implement voters will, while balancing the public health and safety concerns.

“We believe this bill includes language that address our concerns and the concerns of our community,” said Amy Ronshausen, the deputy director of Save Our Society from Drugs. “We believe this bill clearly puts the public health and safety before the interests of big marijuana.”

But Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care, said the fact that so many one-time opponents have come out in support of Rodrigues’ bill should show it isn’t “representative of the will of the people.”

Pollara, who helped craft the constitutional amendment, commended Rodrigues for his thoughtful approach to the legislation, but said “unfortunately the result was he got the policy wrong.” He pointed to several provisions, including the 90-day waiting period, that he said created onerous barriers to patient access.

Committee members acknowledged the bill was not perfect, but said they appreciated Rodrigues’ willingness to work with those involved to hammer out the details going forward.

“We have a responsibility as lawmakers to make sure we do this right,” said Rep. Wengay Newton, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “I’m excited about the possibilities.”

House panel approves scaled back version of school recess bill

The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee passed its version of the public school recess bill, setting lawmakers on two very different paths when it comes to free play.

The committee approved a committee substitute for the bill (HB 67) that would allow school boards to include free-play recess for students in kindergarten through third grade as part of 150 minutes per week of physical education requirement.

The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Rene Plasencia and Bob Cortes, also requires school districts to provide 20 minutes of recess on days when physical education classes aren’t held.

That’s significantly different from the bill Plasencia and Cortes originally filed, which mandated 20 minutes of daily recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

A similar bill (HB 833) filed during the 2016 Legislative sailed through its committees, receiving unanimous support in each of its stops. The 2016 measure cleared the House on a 112-2 vote, with current House Speaker Richard Corcoran and current Education Committee Chairman Michael Bileca voting against the bill.

The 2016 measure died in the Senate when it failed to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.

This year, the Senate proposal (SB 78) — which mandates 20 minutes of daily recess for public school students in kindergarten through fifth grade — has easily cleared each of its committees, receiving unanimous support in each of its committee stops. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, has been placed on the Senate Special Order calendar and will be taken up on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the House heard its version of the bill just under the wire; it was the last bill to be heard during the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee of this session.

The House bill now heads to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Battle over building code changes could take center stage in House, Senate today

Lawmakers in both chambers are scheduled to consider legislation Tuesday that could change the way the Florida Building Code is updated; a move that could have a big impact on the construction and insurance industries.

The proposals (HB 901 and SB 860) essentially flip the set of building codes the construction industry uses as its standard. The Senate provisions have garnered the support from some in the construction industry, but opponents have worried it could lead to a loss in federal funding or turning back the clock on the state’s building codes.

Under current law, Florida uses the International Code, building regulations developed by the International Code Council and used across the country, as its baseline. The Florida Building Commission adopts the International Code, and then makes Florida-specific amendments and changes when it adopts the Florida Building Code.

The Senate proposal removes the provision requiring the International Code be used as a baseline, and instead requires the “6th edition, and subsequent editions, of the Florida Building Code,” be used as the foundation for the development and updates to the state code. It also calls on the commission to review the Florida Building Code every three years “to consider whether it needs to be revised.”

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill was amended during the Senate Community Affairs Committee meeting earlier this month to include the the entirety of a committee bill (SB 7000) backed by Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican homebuilder. The committee voted unanimously to approve the amended version of the St. Petersburg Republican’s bill.

Lee’s bill unanimously cleared the Senate Community Affairs Committee in January. It also received unanimous support from the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, despite some opposition from some industry officials and experts.

“Florida has had a single building code since 1997, and the Florida Building Code has been based on the I-Codes, our legacy documents, since it was created,” said Sara Yerkes, the senior vice president for government relations at the International Code Council, during the March 15 meeting where Lee’s bill was discussed. “Having on building code with Florida-specific amendments has made it the best building code in the nation. We join the majority of Florida building and safety community stakeholder who oppose … because we believe it will take the state backwards.”

Committee records show representatives for the American Insurance Association, the Florida Insurance Council, the National Association of Mutual Insurance, the Florida Engineering Society, the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects, the Florida Fire Marshals & Inspectors Association, and the Florida Fire Chiefs Association were on hand to oppose the bill.

Lee has said the proposal is meant to streamline the process, saying the current process creates an undue burden for the industry.

“The Florida Building Code has been an effective tool for improving the structural integrity and energy efficiency of our state’s housing stock, leading to lower property and casualty insurance rates and minimizing windstorm damages,” said Lee in a December statement about the proposed legislation. “However, now that the most dramatic gains have been realized, it’s time to look for a more common sense and cost effective approach to updating the code.”

The shift is supported by the Florida Home Builder Association, which has dismissed claims that the state could lose federal funding if it doesn’t use the international standards.

“Florida has one of the strongest building codes in the nation — our state did that on its own,” said FHBA President Jeremy Stewart said in a statement this week. “We are the gold standard. Florida should be in control of its own, superior building codes, rather than starting from scratch every three years with an out-of-state base code, rife with unnecessary requirements by special interests.”

Sponsored by Rep. Stan McClain, the House bill also removes the requirement that the International Code be used as a baseline, and calls on the Florida Building Code to be used as the foundation for any future development and updates to state code. The Belleview Republican is a state certified residential contractor.

McClain’s proposal is expected to be discussed during the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting at 8 a.m.; while the Senate Regulated Industries Committee will take up Brandes’ bill when it meets at 11 a.m.

Report: Mike Huckabee not interested in running for Florida governor in 2018

Looks like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won’t be moving to Tallahassee any time soon.

According to a Northwest Florida Daily News report, Huckabee told attendees of the annual Okaloosa County Republican Party Lincoln Dinner on Saturday that he was not interested in running for governor of Florida.

“There may be somebody thinking about it, but let me be real clear — it ain’t me,” he said, according to the report. “There is a greater likelihood that I will have transgender surgery than I will run for the governor of any state, at any time, or anything, anywhere. It ain’t happening.”

The Blue Mountain Beach resident has been mentioned as a possible 2018 gubernatorial contender.

In September, a poll by Public Policy Polling found 42 percent of voters said Huckabee should run for governor in the Sunshine State. The poll found 50 percent of Florida Republicans said Huckabee should run, compared with 21 percent of Democrats who thought he should throw his hat in the race.

Huckabee served as governor of Arkansas from 1996 until 2007. He first ran for president in 2008, where he was heralded as a conservative champion. He ran again in 2016, but didn’t make as much of an impact as he did eight years earlier.

The former governor might not be interested in making Tallahassee his adopted hometown, but look for him in the capital city later this week. He’s scheduled give the keynote address during the Legislative Prayer Breakfast at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center on Wednesday.

AIF, Florida Chamber, other business groups join forces to oppose Senate tax proposal

A bevy of business groups have joined forces in opposition to a Senate proposal to lower the tax commercial rents by eliminating a tax credit benefiting another industry.

Eight of the state’s leading business organizations — including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Florida United Business Association — sent a letter to Sen. Anitere Flores on Wednesday urging here to “support lowering the sales tax currently charged on all business leases without removing the insurance premium tax credit as proposed.”

Flores, a Miami-Dade Republican who serves as Senate President Pro-Tempore, is carrying the legislation (SB 378). The proposal initially would have paid for a cut in the state’s communications service tax by repealing a tax break for insurers. The move has been a priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

But on Tuesday, the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved an amended version of the bill that would repeal the tax break for insurance companies, and use the money to reduce the tax business pay on their commercial rents. Gov. Rick Scott has long advocated for the reduction, as have business groups.

“The business rent tax is a heavy burden to say the least. It discourages new business start-ups and is subjecting existing Florida businesses to disproportionate regulatory burdens, creating instances of double taxation, and stifling business expansion — ultimately costing Florida jobs,” reads the letter to Flores.

“However, eliminating the insurance premium tax credit as a way to reduce the business rent tax does not solve the problem. In fact, it will likely make the problem worse as insurance companies increase insurance premiums on all Florida insurance holders, including homeowners and business owners,” it continues. “In Senate Bill 378 you are effectively swapping a tax cut for a tax increase that will end up costing Floridians more in the end.”

The letter was signed by Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida; Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of Florida Retail Federation; Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; Lance Lozano, chief operating officer Florida United Businesses Association; Bill Martin, CEO of the Florida Realtors; Nancy Stephens, executive directors of Manufacturers Association of Florida; Carol Dover, president and CEO of Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; and Bill Herrle, Florida executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

The group said it sent an identical letter to Negron.  The bill now heads to Senate Appropriations.

medical marijuana

Senate begins discussion of medical marijuana implementing legislation

Sen. Rob Bradley indicated he is willing to support opening up the medical marijuana market more than he first proposed, but continues to believe vertical integration is the right system for Florida.

Bradley, an Orange Park Republican, filed one of five medical marijuana implementing bills this Legislative Session. His proposal (SB 406) would, among other things, allow for the growth of the industry once the number of registered patients hits certain thresholds.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health would be required to register five more treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. After that, five new medical marijuana treatment centers would be registered when the number of patients reach 350,000; 400,000; and 500,000.

But on Wednesday, Bradley said he has come to believe his bill is “too restrictive based on the feedback (he) received.” Instead, he said he would support a measure that finds a balance between his proposal and one sponsored by Minority Leader Oscar Braynon.

Braynon’s bill (SB 1666), among other things, calls on the state to register 10 additional medical marijuana treatment centers by October 1. It then requires the Department of Health to register four more treatment centers each time the compassionate use registry adds qualified patients after Jan. 1, 2018.

“We’re going to have a population group (where) there isn’t enough competition to make sure the pricing is reasonable,” said Bradley during a Senate Health Policy workshop on medical marijuana implementation bills.

“The more people we have growing and selling, it provides different voices and ideas on how to treat things. One treatment center might have a specialty. That’s something that will develop organically.”

What Bradley doesn’t support, however, is a proposal to blow up the entire system and start from scratch. All but one — a bill (SB 614) by Sen. Jeff Brandes —  of the five proposals keeps the current regulatory framework in place.

Brandes’ bill gets rid of vertical integration, creating four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. His bill also allows for treatment centers to get a combination of licenses, a departure from current law, which requires treatment centers to grow, process and sell their own product.

“I hear a lot of talk about the current system we have … being a cartel and we need a free market approach,” said Bradley. “This is not the selling of lawn mowers or office supplies. This is very different.”

The workshop marked the Senate’s first steps toward medical marijuana implementation, giving members a chance to questions Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, the committee’s chairwoman and a co-sponsor of Bradley’s bill, about medical marijuana measures that could be coming before the committee.

Sen. Frank Artiles and Sen. Denise Grimsley have also filed bills to implement the 2016 medical marijuana amendment.

Approved with support from 71 percent of Floridians in November, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

The Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules in January. The state agency has until July to put rules in place, but a recent poll found Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the amendment.

The poll, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, found 44 percent of Floridians think the state is moving too slowly when it comes to implementing the law. Of those people who voted in favor of the measure, 57 percent said they believe the state is moving too slowly.

No action was taken during Wednesday’s meeting, and Young said a bill will be discussed and voted on at a later date.

Poll: 78% of Floridians support incentives to ‘encourage companies to stay in … or move to Florida’

Florida voters appear to support economic incentives and Visit Florida, at least according to a new survey from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The survey found 78 percent of Floridians support financial incentives to “encourage companies to stay in Florida or move to Florida from another state in exchange for creating jobs and investing in our state,” according to a polling memo released Monday. The survey also showed 73 percent of voters supported Florida “tax dollars to promote tourists visiting Florida.”

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by Cherry Communications by phone from March 6 through March 14. The findings were released on the eve of the annual Florida Chamber of Commerce Capitol Days.

The Florida Chamber has opposed efforts by the Florida House to slash funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and eliminate Enterprise Florida, the private-public economic development agency.

According to the polling memo, support for financial incentives crosses party lines with 87 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of independents “supporting Florida remaining the number on destination for jobs in the nation.”

The House voted 87-28 to approve a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The measure still needs approval from the Senate, which does not appear to be as inclined to take as severe a position when it comes to economic incentives.

The memo goes on to say that 81 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of Democrats, and 71 percent of independents support using tax dollars for tourism advertising. The House voted 80-35 for a bill that would, among other things, slash funding for Visit Florida.

nelson

Poll: Bill Nelson leads Rick Scott 48%-42% in hypothetical 2018 match-up

Sen. Bill Nelson continues to hold an edge over Gov. Rick Scott in a hypothetical 2018 match-up.

A new poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows the Orlando Democrat leads Scott 48 percent to 42 percent. Nelson leads the Naples Republican 79 percent to 11 percent among Democrats, and 44 percent to 36 percent among independents.

Scott leads Nelson 75 percent to 18 percent among Republicans, according to a polling memo.

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by Cherry Communications by phone from March 6 through March 14. The findings were released on the eve of the annual Florida Chamber of Commerce Capitol Days.

The poll is the latest in a series that showed Nelson leading Scott, who is believed to be seriously considering a run for Senate in 2018. Scott can’t run for re-election because of term-limits.

According to a University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey, Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. Michael Binder, the survey’s director, said even though it’s early in the election cycle the “six-point lead is meaningful.” Meanwhile, a recent Mason-Dixon survey gave Nelson a 46-41 edge over Scott.

The Chamber survey found 50 percent of Floridians approve of the job Scott is doing as governor; while 47 percent of Floridians approve of the job Nelson is doing as U.S. senator.

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