Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 127

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Jeff Brandes files bill to create affordable housing task force

A Senate bill filed this week would create a task force to address the state’s affordable housing needs.

The bill (SB 854), filed Friday by Sen. Jeff Brandes, would create an affordable housing task force assigned to the Florida Housing Finance Corp. According to the St. Petersburg Republican’s proposal, the task force would be charged with “developing recommendations for addressing the state’s affordable housing needs.”

With an another 5 million people expected to be living in Florida by 2030, Brandes said he filed the bill because he thinks there needs to be discussion about how the state approaches workforce housing and affordable housing going forward.

“There really isn’t a statewide direction for affordable housing,” said Brandes.

The proposal calls for a 10-member board made up of the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, or her designee; two members appointed by the Governor, two members appointed by the Senate President; two members appointed by the House Speakers; the executive director of the Florida Association of Counties, or a designee; the executive director of the Florida League of Cities, or a designee; and the executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corp., who will serve as the board chairman.

Members of the task force will not be compensated, but would receive per diem travel expenses as spelled out under state law.

The goal, Brandes said, is to “take a holistic view” of affordable and workforce housing.

According to his proposal, the committee would be tasked with making a recommendation that includes reviews of market rate developments; affordable housing developments; land use for affordable housing developments; building codes for affordable housing developments; states’ implementation of the low-income housing tax credit; private and public sector development and construction industries; and rental market for assisted rental housing.

The bill also calls on the task for to develop “strategies and pathways for low-income housing.” The report must be submitted to the Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House by Jan. 1 2018.

A companion bill has not yet been filed in the Florida House.

 

Tom Grady

Mentioned as CFO contender, Tom Grady focused on university appointment

Former state Rep. Tom Grady says he is focused on the Florida Gulf Coast University president’s position, despite speculation he could be the top choice to replace CFO Jeff Atwater.

In a message to FloridaPolitics.com Friday, the Naples Republican noted he recently applied to president the Estero university and “is fully engaged in that activity and working hard to learn all I can about that position.”

Grady was one of 10 semi-finalists selected by a presidential search committee this week. The committee is scheduled interview semi-finalists Wednesday and Thursday, before winnowing the field down to three finalists. The university is expected to select the finalists by Thursday.

“I believe I have a good opportunity to get the presidential appointment,” he said in an interview later in the day.

The fact that Grady’s name was among the first to pop up isn’t surprising. A securities attorney, Grady served as the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, the state’s banking regulator. He is also the former interim president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state’s insurer of last resort, where he was criticized for racking up big travel expenses.

Grady is also a close friend and ally of Gov. Rick Scott, who will be tasked with selecting the next chief financial officer. Grady declined to say whether he had spoken to Scott about the CFO position.

Atwater announced Friday he plans to leave his post at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session to accept a job as the vice president of strategic initiatives and chief financial officer of Florida Atlantic University.

“The South Florida community has long known of my enthusiastic support of Florida Atlantic University. First, as a banker, collaborating with the mission and economic engine of the University, then as a legislator representing their varied campuses and priorities and lastly as a parent of FAU students,” he said in a statement. “I am truly excited to accept responsibility for strategically developing public private partnerships and other initiatives to enhance the mission of the University while maintaining its historically sound financial management.”

 

Aaron Bean files bill focused on nursing home Medicaid reimbursement rates

Industry advocates said a Senate proposal filed this week could change the way nursing homes that accept Medicaid are paid without severely impacting high-quality nursing homes.

Sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, the bill (SB 712) transitions nursing homes that accept Medicaid payments to a prospective payment system. But LeadingAge Florida CEO Steve Bahmer said Bean’s bill “creates a better way to pay for care without devastating the highest quality” homes, unlike a model recently put forth by consultants.

The Florida Legislature OK’d legislation in 2016 set aside $500,000 for a study to develop a proposal to convert Medicaid payments for nursing home services from a cost-based reimbursement to a prospective payment plan. The state hired Navigant Consulting to conduct the study, which included a series of public meetings across the state.

Bahmer said a model developed by Navigant could shift “Medicaid funding from the highest quality nursing homes to the lowest quality nursing homes.” That model divides the state into two regions — the South region, which consists of Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and the North region, which is the rest of the state.

The median cost in each region is then determined, and Bahmer said if facilities that are being paid more than that would lose money; those that receive less than the median would receive more.

Bahmer said while there are a “number of fundamental flaws” the Navigant plan, this could be one of the most significant ones. The cost of delivering care varies widely, and Bahmer said the large losses created by the Navigant plan would make it difficult for nursing homes to continue to provide “high-quality care.”

Bean’s bill moves the state to a prospective payment system and calls on the agency to set nursing rates based only on audited cost reports. It also calls on the agency to use the Fair Rental Value System developed by Navigant Consulting to calculate the property component of reimbursement rates.

His bill also spells out that increases “shall be allocated proportionately to each nursing home facility based on the Quality Matrix without a lower threshold developed by Navigant Consulting.”

The bill currently does not have a House companion.

Francis Rooney talks water during Fort Myers stop

Water remains one of Rep. Francis Rooney’s top priority, the freshman congressman told Southwest Floridians this week.

The Naples Republican told member of Businesspeople United for Political Action Committee (BUPAC) that he wants to focus Everglades restoration and improving water quality during his time in office. His visit to Fort Myers kicked off a day-long swing through Lee County focused on water quality.

“I think the top priority is water,” said Rooney. “There’s 49 states competing for infrastructure dollars, and I’m working to get the feds to do their part.”

Rooney has called on Donald Trump to support Everglades restoration, sending a letter to the president last week saying it “has far-ranging impacts to the entire state of Florida and the rest of the country.”

The two-page letter was signed by the entire Florida delegation, and asked for Trump’s “strong support Everglades restoration projects, especially those within the Central Everglades Restoration Program (CERP).”

Rooney is hopeful a unified front will be helpful when it comes to getting Everglades projects funded. He also thinks giving membership a first-hand look of the Everglades will help move the projects through the process. He said House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have said they will come to Florida to see the area. He’s also hoping to get the appropriations chairman down to Florida.

While Rooney said he plans to focus on water issue, he also fielded questions from BUPAC members on public education, fracking, and military and veterans’ issues.

Francis Rooney says he’s not considering 2018 gubernatorial bid

Rep. Francis Rooney dismissed rumors he is considering gubernatorial bid, saying he is focused on “being the best congressman” he can be for Southwest Florida.

Rooney, a freshman congressman and the former ambassador to the Holy See, said he was not considering a run for governor in 2018.

“I am considering one thing — being the best congressman I can be for Southwest Florida,” he said. “I’m thankful to have the opportunity to represent Southwest Florida, and I’m not intending to do anything else other than do the best possible job I can.”

Rooney replaced Rep. Curt Clawson in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. The Naples Republican was backed by Gov. Rick Scott, who endorsed Rooney during the primary.

Scott has made no secret that he’d like to see another businessman in the Governor’s Mansion, and is believed to have approached Rooney about throwing his hat in the race. The two men are friends, and live just a few minutes away from each other in the same Naples community.

“The example of Gov. Scott and another businessperson in politics, Vern Buchanan, is part of what inspired me to run for this,” said Rooney. “I think we need business people in the government. I think if you look at the good they’ve been able to do with their experience and their track record with their decisions and things, it’s been very positive.”

But Rooney says he’s not interested in running for governor, saying he’s has “said it a lot, no way.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot of good business people that would make excellent governors in Florida, and congressmen and senators as well,” he said. “I just want to be the best congressman I can be.”

The race to replace Scott, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits, is expected to be a crowded one. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is widely expected to run, while House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Sen. Jack Latvala are believed to be considering their options.

 

Bill benefiting craft distilleries clears Senate Regulated Industries

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee OK’d a bill benefiting Florida’s craft distilleries, clearing a path for distillers to get their product to more people.

The bill (SB 166) increases the amount of booze a distillery can product and still be considered “craft” to 250,000 gallons, up from 75,000; removes the limit on how many bottles distillers can sell to consumers, even though bottles can’t be bigger than 1.75 liters; and allows distillers to sell their liquor not just in an on-site gift shop, but also in “one other approved sales room located in the same county as the distillery’s production building.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, also allows distillers to bypass the three-tier system of separate alcoholic beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers put in place after Prohibition.

The proposal says a “designated Florida Craft Distillery may transfer … distilled spirits produced at such … distillery … out of its federal bonded space or unbonded space at its licensed premise or storage areas to its vendor’s licensed premises or approved sales room.”

While representatives for distributors argued that clause could lead to distillers bypassing distributors all together, committee staff said the language does not allow for product to be delivered by mail, only by vehicle from one site to another.

Supporters of the measure said it will help their business, giving them more opportunity to grow. Sen. Travis Hutson, the committee’s chairman, said he has been at the St. Augustine Distillery when “someone (from New York) tries to buy a third bottle or a fourth bottle and they say you can’t.”

“This allows a little more parity,” said Hutson, who presented the bill for Steube, who was absent Wednesday.

The bill passed 5-4. It now heads to the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

Amendment 4 implementing bill clears first Senate committee

A Senate panel OK’d a bill Tuesday to implement Amendment 4, which exempts solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes in Florida.

The Senate Communications, Energy & Public Utilities Committee voted unanimously to approved the bill (SB 90). The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, excepts solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes on real and tangible personal property installed on commercial and industrial property.

The amendment, which was on the August ballot, passed with 73 percent support.

“This bill will further encourage growth in clean energy jobs in our state,” said the St. Petersburg Republican. “We will be in a better position to take advantage of increased energy diversity while addressing environmental concerns. Florida should be a leader in solar, and the passage of this bill brings us one step closer to that reality.”

The proposal is meant to encourage expansion of solar production in the Sunshine State. The tax exemption begins in 2018 and extends for 20 years.

“This bill comes at just the right time to grow the market in Florida, as The Solar Foundation announced today that Florida gained 1,700 solar jobs in 2016,” said Scott Thomasson, director of new markets for Vote Solar, an advocacy group focused on solar energy, in a statement. “Florida voters sent a clear mandate with 73 percent of voters agreeing to remove tax penalties on solar, and now it’s up to our state legislators to implement Amendment 4 into law by passing Senate Bill 90.”

 

Florida congressional delegation asks Donald Trump to support Everglades restoration

Congressman Francis Rooney is calling on Donald Trump to support Everglades restoration, with a letter to the president saying that Everglades restoration “has far-ranging impacts to the entire state of Florida and the rest of the country.”

Signed by the entire Florida delegation, the two-page letter was dated Friday.

The letter asks that Trump prepares his fiscal 2018 budget, the “strong support Everglades restoration projects, especially those within the Central Everglades Restoration Program (CERP).”

It also notes the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 Act authorized two projects that now needs further action from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior.

The projects include the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEEP) and additional authorizations to complete the Picayune Strand project, both which are important to achieving “optimal water flow.”

“The Everglades deserve your attention and support, and we ask that you provide the necessary resources to restore the region,” the delegation wrote.

During a stop in Collier County in October, Trump called attention to the issue, saying he would work to protect the Everglades.

A Naples Republican, Rooney was elected in November, replacing Rep. Curt Clawson, a Bonita Springs Republican. While Clawson served just one term in Congress, he made water quality, Everglades restoration and the environment a priority during his time in office.

Rooney, who served as the ambassador to the Holy See and was a top Republican donor before running for Congress, also said he’ll make the environment a top priority. He joined the Congressional Everglades Caucus, a bipartisan group aimed at restoring the Everglades, often talking about environmental issues while on the campaign trail.

“The Everglades have a far-ranging impact to the entire state of Florida and to the country,” Rooney said in a statement. “Our economy has been decimated. Businesses have closed. We all have a vested interest in the Everglades.”

The entire delegation signed the letter, including Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto, John Rutherford, Al Lawson, and Stephanie Murphy.

Adam Putnam to business leaders: ‘Florida has come too far to turn back now’

Each month, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam looks at the list of top job openings the governor gives him. And each month, the top jobs remains same.

Nursing is usually at the top of the list, tractor-trailer drivers aren’t far behind. And their constant presence at the top of the list tells Putnam this: The state needs to invest in workforce development.

“If you look at all the job vacancies, frequently those vacancies don’t necessarily require a four-year degree,” said Putnam, after brief remarks at Gov. Rick Scott’s 2017 Jobs Summit. “If we want to have manufacturing in the state, that’s industry certifications and trades and training that does not require a university experience. They’re both important, but universities get all the glory.”

Putnam was one of several speakers during the first day of the two-day conference, aimed at bringing business and community leaders together to discuss economic and business development.

While much of the day focused on tax cuts, economic incentives and the need for tourism marketing dollars, Putnam’s remarks focused largely on the importance of keeping talent in Florida.

“We need an education system that prepares a workforce for both STEM degrees and the trades; careers that allow (students) to find their piece of the American dream in Florida,” said Putnam, a likely 2018 gubernatorial candidate. “So the kids that grow up in the Glades, the Suwannee Valley or Northwest Florida don’t need to leave the town they love to find the job they need to feed their families.”

But that means convincing people that workforce education plays an important role in Florida’s future. Putnam said that takes leadership, and said it can be done by focusing on opportunities and wages.

“We create our own luck in business,” he said. “Florida has come too far to turn back now.”

Rick Scott: ‘If we want jobs in this state, our taxes have to be lower’

Gov. Rick Scott made the pitch for an aggressive tax cut plan, saying Florida leaders need to run the state like a business to continue to attract jobs — and job seekers — to the Sunshine State.

The Naples Republican kicked off his 2017 Jobs Summit in Orlando on Thursday. Similar to his 2016 Degrees to Jobs Summit, the two-day event is meant to bring together business and community leaders to discuss economic and business development.

But it’s also a chance for Scott to try to build a coalition of support for his fiscal 2017-18 budget proposal. That spending plan, which Scott officially rolled out earlier this week, included $618 million in tax cuts and $8 million in fee reductions.

“If we want jobs in this state, our taxes have to be lower; we have to have to have less regulation; we have to have government at the city, county and state government level that says ‘I want to solve your problems,’” said Scott.

Scott’s tax cut plan includes cutting the tax on commercial leases by 25 percent in 2018. Florida is the only state in the nation that has a tax on commercial leases, and there has been support for a tax cut in years past. According to the Governor’s Office, the cut could save businesses $454 million a year.

His proposal also includes a one-year sales tax exemption on college textbooks and four sales tax holidays, including a 10-day back-to-school sales tax holiday. His proposal to reduce fees includes reducing the building permit surcharge from 1.5 percent to 1 percent; eliminating sales and use tax registration fees; and reducing fees associated with commercial driving schools.

Those reductions might help businesses down the line, but it could come at a cost to the state’s coffers. While Scott has said there is plenty of money to accommodate his tax cut proposal, state economists project the surplus could be closer to $7.5 million.

“It’s an ambitious tax cut,” said Rep. Jim Boyd, chairman of the House Ways & Means committee. “I don’t know that our numbers are showing the same as his our right now, but certainly I’m interested in cutting taxes.”

Scott, who has also asked for $85 million for economic incentives, called on business leaders to appeal to lawmakers to support his proposal.

“I want to make sure that everyone in the state has a job,” he said.

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