Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 127

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Senate Finance & Tax Appropriations Committee OK’s ‘tampon tax’ exemption

A bill to repeal the so-called “tampon tax” cleared another hurdle, passing a key Senate appropriations committee Wednesday.

The Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee approved a proposal (SB 176) to make feminine hygiene products, like tampons, exempt from state sales and use tax. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, now heads to the full Appropriations Committee.

Only a handful — including Maryland, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — have created a tax exemption for these products, according to a June report by the Council of State Governments. That report noted the national push to create a tax exemption comes “amid criticism the tax unfairly affects women.”

Supporters of the efforts have argued the products should “be treated like other medical necessities, which are currently tax exempt in most states.”

In December, Passidomo said she filed the bill because it was “a common sense issue.”

“Florida imposes a sales tax on luxury items,” the Naples Republican said in a statement at the time. “These products are certainly not a luxury but a basic necessity and as such, we should stop taxing them.”

That’s also what prompted Rep. Katie Edwards to file a bill (HB 63) to repeal the tax. The Plantation Democrat filed the bill in November, and said she decided to do it after listening to a debate about a wide-ranging tax cut package last year and receiving “periods are not luxury emails.”

“It’s not something you choose,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in December. “It’s just something that a lot of consumers and taxpayers need and purchase.”

If approved, the Revenue Estimating Conference estimates the exemption would reduce general revenue receipts by $3.8 million in fiscal 2017-18 and by $8.9 million on a recurring basis. It would reduce local revenue by $1 million in fiscal 2017-18, and then by $2.3 million each year after.

Passidomo’s bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee; Edwards’ bill has not yet been scheduled for its first committee hearing.

Senate education committee approves mandatory recess bill

Mandatory recess could be on the horizon.

The Senate Education Committee voted 7-0 to approve a bill (SB 78) that requires school district across the state to provide at least 20 minutes of recess each day to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Under the proposal, the master schedule at each school containing elementary grades would need to reflect the requirement for 20 consecutive minutes of daily recess.

“It’s time for recess,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, the bill’s sponsor.

The measure, which has bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, is similar to one that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, but failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to support the proposal.

Former Sen. John Legg, who was the chairman of the Senate Education Committee at the time, declined to hear the bill, saying he considered it a local issue.

Supporters of Flores’ proposal said they tried to address the issue at the local level, but made little progress. Angie Gallo, the legislative chair for the Florida PTA, said after the 2016 session her organization went back to county councils to discuss options, but only one school district implemented a recess policy.

“Would we prefer this be a local issue, absolutely,” she said. “We’ve always asked for local control.”

According to a recent report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, 11 school districts across the state had a school board approved recess policy in 2015-16. Eight districts, including Miami-Dade and Lee counties, required recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; while while three district encouraged recess but did not require it.

But the report, which was presented to the Senate Pre-K through 12 Educations Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this month, found district policies regarding time and number of days varied from district to district.

“While many would argue we shouldn’t need the Legislature to intervene, we feel without a state mandate, many kids would be denied access,” said one mother who spoke to the Senate committee Tuesday.

The bill now heads to the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Committee.

Matt Caldwell plans run for Agriculture Commissioner this summer

State Rep. Matt Caldwell is planning to file paperwork this summer in a bid for Florida Agriculture Commissioner.

Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, on Thursday said he has “every intention of filing to run in August.” Caldwell, first elected in 2010, will be term limited in 2018.

The 35-year-old, chair of the House’s Government Accountability Committee, has been rumored to be considering a run since former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced he wouldn’t seek the seat.

“I was fully ready to support Steve Crisafulli,” said Caldwell. “I never really thought about (running for the seat) until he suggested it.”

A lifelong Floridian, Caldwell has spent much of his career in the Legislature focused on environmental and agricultural issues, a background that could serve him well.

He organized a recent helicopter tour for reporters from the Miami Herald and POLITICO to view Everglades restoration efforts.

“It’s wonderful and I enjoy it, but we created the water conservation areas,” he told the Herald. “That’s former farmland that we turned back into marsh in the ’60s, so if I could just build a reservoir today and spend half as much, I could put it there on 60,000 acres.”

Last year, Caldwell – a real estate appraiser – passed on the race to succeed Curt Clawson in the state’s 19th Congressional District. Naples Republican Francis Rooney later won the seat. 

House panel weighs in on nursing home reimbursement proposal

The House Health Care Appropriation Subcommittee got the ball rolling on discussions about whether the state should change the way it pays nursing homes that accept Medicaid, with some members of the committee expressing concerns about parts of the plan.

During the two-hour committee meeting Wednesday, the panel heard from Navigant officials about their proposed Medicaid nursing facility prospective payment system. Under the Navigant plan, nursing homes would be reimbursed using a per diem rate calculated based on four components, of which patient care would account for the largest portion, 80 percent, of total reimbursement.

The proposal creates a quality incentive component, which would equal about 6 percent of the total reimbursement. Each facility would be assigned a score based on a variety of criteria, such as process measures and outcome measures, and facilities would have to have a quality score in the 30th percentile or better to qualify for an incentive payment. According to the Navigant presentation, quality add-on payments could range from $13.85 to $44.85 per resident, per day.

“The question is, with this methodology, may we be dooming certain high quality performers to failure? You could have a facility that’s performing well on personnel staffing issued, but could be exposed to a $1.2 million reduction in revenue,” said Rep. Cary Pigman. “I reckon a $1.2 million reduction could translate into 30 FTEs. Staffing is so clearly correlated with a couple of these outcome measures, so if these facilities are required to cut staff are we not going to make a 20 become a 15 become a 14 than have a category that is harmed by intervention.

Malcom Ferguson, a Navigant official, said the firm’s research has showed there are facilities across the state meeting the measures, and are able to do it at lower costs. That, Ferguson said, showed “it can be done.”

“We are hoping that … if there is a decrease in reimbursement that’s not necessarily going to result in a significant decrease in quality,” said Ferguson.

Opponents of the Navigant plan have said it will shift money from high-quality nursing homes to lower-quality nursing home, threatening the quality of the care offered in facilities across the state.

“Under the Navigant proposed plan there are 143 4- and 5-star nursing homes in Florida that would lose money,” said Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida. “There are 86 1- and 2-star nursing homes that would gain money. And some of that is significant; a million dollars or more in both directions. I’ll hope you’ll consider that as you think about the complexities of the system and the complexities of the study.”

While LeadingAge officials have said they are not in support of the Navigant plan, the Florida Health Care Association has called the proposal a good start.

Officials with the statewide organization said they support moving to a prospective payment system, but would like any proposal to include a three-year transition period and additional funding for hands-on care, among other things.

“The current cost-based system is antiquated. It involves multiple audits, with some of those audits looking at books dating back several years and resulting in underpayments with no ability to financially recoup those monies paid out to cover resident care costs,” said Andy Weisman, president of NuVision Management which operates six nursing centers in Florida, in a statement Wednesday. “We support a prospective payment system, where we will know the amount of our payment to cover the cost of care – and the state will have budget predictability, as well.”

While there appears to be some support for a move to a prospective payment plan, where it goes from here remains up in the air.

“There is no requirement we implement this,” said Rep. Jason Brodeur, the committee’s chairman. “We are evaluating it.”

Agriculture industry lining up behind Denise Grimsley for ag commissioner

The Central Florida citrus industry appears to be coming out in full force to support Sen. Denise Grimsley’s bid for Agriculture Commissioner.

Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales on Feb. 28. While the invitation notes a host committee is still being formed, the backers listed on the invitations reads like a who’s who of the Central Florida agriculture and political leaders.

Among Grimsley’s supporters: Bob Behr, the former commissioner and CEO of Florida Natural; Ben Hill Griffin III, an industry leader and a member of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame; Ellis Hunt, the current chair of the Florida Citrus Commission; Marty McKenna, the former president of Florida Citrus Mutual; and John Barben, the current preside of Florida Citrus Mutual.

The invite also lists Florida Citrus Mutual PAC, Florida Cow PAC, Polk County Farm PAC, and Southeast Milk, Inc. as backers.

She has already earned the support of former Sen. JD Alexander, announcing this week he will hold a fundraiser for her on Friday. Many industry leaders were believed to be encouraging Alexander to jump in the race.

Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, was first elected to the House in 2004, before heading to the Senate in 2012. She filed to run for Agriculture Commissioner on Feb. 1.

She is currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid. As a registered nurse, Grimsley has been certified in trauma and pediatric advanced life support.

She also served as vice president and chief operating officer of her family business, Grimsley Oil Company, as well as being involved in the citrus and ranching industry. She’s a member of the Peace River Valley and Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

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Mark Wilson calls House push to eliminate Enterprise Florida ‘a political conversation about ideology’

Addressing what he called the “obvious elephant in the room,” Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson criticized Florida House members who backed an effort to end economic incentive programs, calling the move political.

“I want to be blunt for a few minutes,” said Wilson. “This is not a Legislature trying to seek how to diversify the economy and how to grow trade. This is a political conversation about an ideology that frankly is silly.”

Wilson made his comments during the 2017 International Days hosted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The annual event brings together policy experts and business leaders to talk about economic diversification and foreign investment, and comes as the Florida House is in the midst of discussions about whether to eliminate a slew of other economic incentive programs.

The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee last week voted 10-5 to approve a bill that would eliminate Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization; Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, and a slew of economic incentive programs.

The proposal was backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has been a vocal opponent of incentives, equating them to corporate welfare and vowing they would not be in the House budget.

The Florida Chamber opposed the plan, and Wilson used introductory remarks to criticize members, many of whom the Chamber endorsed during the 2016 election cycle, for their decision. Wilson noted some of the members who said they “thought targeted incentives were important” during endorsements discussions, are now writing op-eds calling them immoral.

“The Florida Chamber scores votes by legislators,” he said. “We are scoring every one of the votes in the Legislature and it will be factored into endorsements. That doesn’t make a lot of friends, but (we’re) fighting for free enterprise.”

The Chamber endorsed Reps. Halsey Beshears, Randy Fine, Julio Gonzalez, Mike La Rosa, Alex Miller, Paul Renner, and Jay Trumbull in 2016. All seven voted in favor of the House bill. They were joined by Reps. Dane Eagle, Roy Hardemon, and Shawn Harrison.

Wilson encouraged members to be in “constant contact” with their legislators back home, saying that’s where the calls and emails might make more of an impact.

“You have to share what you learn today to all the elected representatives you know. They need to hear from you,” he said. “Enterprise Florida deserves all the resources to survive.”

Wilson wasn’t the only one making a pitch for Enterprise Florida and incentives during 2017 International Days. The morning session also featured a discussion with Chris Hart IV, the president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, and Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, both of whom encouraged the business community to speak out in support of incentive programs.

“We can’t personalize it the way you can when you tell stories,” said Hart, before launching into his own story about starting and growing a company.

Hart said he and his partners were looking to expand elsewhere in North America, and were approached with the opportunity to expand into Canada. Hart said he didn’t know much about the process, but reached out to Manny Mencia, the current senior vice president for international trade & business development at Enterprise Florida, who walked them through it.

“I can’t tell that story in the Legislature with the same effect,” said Hart, citing his ties to the agency.

Proctor, who has spent much of the week touring the state with Gov. Rick Scott talking about economic development, said Enterprise Florida helps connect Florida businesses to international partners.

“The assistance Enterprise Florida provides is extremely important to their business, (because of) the ability to work with their businesses to find new markets and what services to provide,” she said. “They understand how to make connections.”

The Florida Chamber’s 2017 International Days continues through today.

House panel to discuss changing how nursing homes that accept Medicaid are paid

Nursing homes that accept Medicaid could see changes in how they are paid in the coming fiscal year, but exactly what those changes will look like remain to be seen.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee is expected to begin discussions about new payment plans Wednesday, when Agency for Health Care Administration officials give members a presentation detailing the Navigant recommendations for a new payment method.

The Navigant proposal would move the state away from its current cost-based model and into a prospective payment system. While some industry officials appear supportive of a move to a prospective payment system, there are varying degree of concern about whether the Navigant proposal is right for Florida.

“We think the Navigant proposal is a good starting point,” said Tom Parker, the director of reimbursement for the Florida Health Care Association, which represents 82 percent of the state’s nursing centers. “It gets us 90 percent of the way we’d like to see it.”

Parker said a prospective payment system is “good for the industry and good for the state” since facilities have a good understanding of what the rates will be year-over-year. Still, Parker said his organization has several changes it would like to see made before a plan is adopted.

One such change would be to tweak the “Fair Rental Value System” outlined in the Navigant proposal so that providers are incentivized to do renovations or make replacements. That could be done by bumping up the minimum square footage per bed used in the FRVS parameters to 350 square feet, up from the 100 square feet per bed current recommended in the report.

Parker also said the FHCA would like to see changes as it relates to the Quality Incentive Payment Program. According to a Dec. 29 report, Navigant came up with an incentive program after “significant discussion with the Agency and considerable stakeholder input.”

That incentive program, according to the Dec. 29 report, would calculate scores based on several process and outcome measure, and each facility would be able to receive a maximum of 40 points.

The Navigant proposal recommends awarding quality incentive payments to facilities “scoring above the 30th percentile in total quality points,” but Parker said FCHA would like to see that changed to the 20th percentile. That change, he said, would allow “as many providers as possible” to take part in the quality incentive payment plan.

While the Florida Health Care Association sees the Navigant plan as a good starting point, LeadingAge Florida would would like lawmakers to scrap the model and consider an alternative. The association represents a wide variety of communities serving the state’s seniors, including nursing homes and retirement communities.

According to prepared comments posted on ACHA’s website, LeadingAge officials on Dec. 8 said “despite improvements made in an effort to adequately recognize and reward high quality care care and redistribute available funds equitably, we are convinced that the basic structure of the proposed models is fatally flawed and stated objectives for the new payment plan … cannot be obtained without a complete model redesign.”

Among other things, LeadingAge asked that the Navigant proposal include Palm Beach County in the South Region. Under the Navigant proposal, the South region is defined as Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

In December, the organization also asked that the 30th percentile threshold “exclude points awarded for year-to-year improvements,” and asked that the American Health Care Association Quality Silver and Gold Awards be removed from the Quality Matrix.

Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said in an interview last week, the Navigant proposal “shifts $109 million in Medicaid funding from the highest quality nursing homes to the lowest quality nursing homes.”

LeadingAge officials contend the shift in funding threatens the quality of care delivered by the state’s nursing home and would “devastate many of the state’s 5-star and Gold Seal providers.” According to the organization, 143 nursing homes with a 4- or 5-star rating would lose funding; while 86 facilities with a 1- or 2-star rating would gain funding.

“We don’t oppose a prospective payment plan,” said Bahmer. “We just oppose the model.”

LeadingAge is supportive of legislation by Sen. Aaron Bean. Filed last week, Bahmer said the proposal (SB 712) “creates a better way to pay for care without devastating the highest quality” facilities.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will discuss the recommendations during its meeting at 1 p.m. in 404 House Office Building.

House panel approves changes to state employee health insurance program

A House panel OK’d a proposed committee bill Tuesday aimed at tweaking the state-employee health insurance program.

The House Health & Human Services Committee approved the bill (PCB HHS 17-01), which, among other things, would lead to the state plan offering four different levels by 2020. The idea, said Rep. Jason Brodeur, is similar to one that has been heard at some point over the seven different legislative sessions.

“It’s a way to return some consumerism to health care, which I believe will help everyone have access and return to costs,” he said.

Under the proposal, the Department of Management Services would be required to contract with at least one company that provides online health care price and quality information, including the average price paid for health care services and providers.

Beginning in 2020, the bill would allow state employees to pick a health insurance plan from one of four benefit levels. Under the proposal, if the state’s contribution for a premium is more than the cost of the plan selected by an employee, employees can use the remainder to fund a flexible spending arrangement or health savings plan; purchase additional benefits; or increase salary.

That provision left some members concerned that employees would opt for the lower plans, so they could get more money, but then not have enough coverage in case of an emergency.

Some Democrats also expressed concern that now might not be the time to make changes to health plans, especially since federal health care law is in flux under the new administration.

“I don’t think given the landscape that we’re facing with significant changes with the Affordable Care Act now is when we should be doing this bill,” said Rep. Lori Berman.

Supporters of the proposal called it innovative, and Rep. David Santiago said it allows “people to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to health care like they haven’t been before.”

Rick Scott talks Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida with SWFL business, community leaders

Gov. Rick Scott met with Lee County community and business leaders, holding the first in a series of round table discussions across the state meant to rally support for Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida funding.

“Right now, I’m going to fight every day to make sure we keep this funding because it’s good for your family,” said the Naples Republican. “It’s an investment. We make an investment and we get a return.”

Scott has requested $85 million for economic incentives for Enterprise Florida, making it one of his top priorities going into the 2017 Legislative Session. But the governor faces a big battle for the incentive dollars, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran saying the House budget will not include incentives. He’s been staunchly opposed to economic incentives, even equating them to corporate welfare.

And last week, the House took the first steps to not just defunding economic incentives, but to eliminate Enterprise Florida. The House Careers and Competition Subcommittee voted 10-5 to approve a committee bill to kill Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, as well as a slew of other incentive programs.

Rep. Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican and the House Majority Whip, was among those who voted in favor of the proposal. Eagle was appointed to the committee as an ex officio member, and is a member of the full House Commerce Committee.

Scott blasted Eagle for his vote, saying he was “very disappointed” and couldn’t imagine why he would vote to do end Enterprise Florida or Visit Florida. The Lee County event was held in Eagle’s district. Eagle said Monday afternoon he respects the governor, and said the two have a difference of opinion on the issue. Eagle said he doesn’t believe “in taking from ‘Company A’ to give to ‘Company B.'”

“Governor Scott can’t explain why the system should be rigged against hardworking taxpayers and small business owners of Florida,” said Andres Malave, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity-Florida, in a statement. “Instead of advocating for a more competitive regulatory business climate, he is wrongly convinced that taking money from taxpayers to redistribute wealth for well-connected targeted special interests will somehow produce a different result we’ve seen from the failures Enterprise Florida has produced.”

Scott encouraged business leaders to call their representatives and senators “and let them know the importance of job creation, of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.” Cissy Proctor, the head of the Department of Economic Opportunity, echoed that request.

“We’re working very hard up in Tallahassee and all across the state to make sure that we get the word out about how important it is that Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida receive healthy funding this year so we can continue to invest in the state,” she said. “What we’re talking about is preserving the investment we already have. We want to continue those investments to make sure we can bring more companies, more jobs and have a healthy economy in Florida rather than having to go around the state and fight for the investments we’ve already made.”

Scott is scheduled to host two more round table events in Tampa and Flagler Beach today, before continuing the tour on Tuesday in Panama City.

More legislative hopefuls file to run in 2018, 2020

The list of legislative hopefuls just keeps getting longer.

State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018, and several more are looking ahead to 2020.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill is one of those thinking about her next election. State election records show she filed to run for re-election in Senate District 14 on Feb. 3.

Hukill, who was first elected to the Florida Senate in 2012 after serving eight years in the Florida House, has been absent from the Senate for several weeks as she undergoes treatment for cervical cancer. The Port Orange Republican disclosed her condition in November to a letter to Senate President Joe Negron.

“I am fortunate that it (is) in the early stages and my medical team advises that my prognosis for full recovery is good,” wrote Hukill, the chamber’s Education Committee chair and vice chair of its Regulated Industries panel.

Hukill is expected to return to the capital city in the next few weeks.

Rep. Ben Albritton filed his paperwork to run for higher office on Feb. 8. State records show he filed to run to replace Sen. Denise Grimsley in Senate District 26 in 2018. Grimsley has announced she’s running for Agriculture commission.

Albritton isn’t the only House member hoping to make the leap to the upper chamber. State records show House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeanette Nunez has filed to run for Senate District 39 in 2020.

Nunez was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, and will be forced to leave the Florida House in 2018 because of term limits. She’s eyeing the seat currently held by Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores, who can’t run again in 2020 because of term limits.

She isn’t the only one thinking about 2020.  Sen. Victor Torres filed to run for re-election in Senate District 15 and Sen. Perry Thurston filed to run for re-election in Senate District 33. Both Democrats filed the necessary paperwork on Feb. 6.

When it comes to the Florida House, a host of incumbents are gearing up for re-election in 2018.

Rep. Halsey Beshears filed to run for re-election in House District 7 on Feb. 9. The head of the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee, Beshears chaired a two-hour committee meeting last week that ultimately passed out a bill killing Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida and a slew of other incentive programs.

Democratic Reps. Clovis Watson Jr., Ben Diamond, and Matt Willhite have also filed to run for re-election in 2018.

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