Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 132

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

House, Senate bills to repeal PIP clear committees despite questions, differences

Florida lawmakers appear to be taking steps to repeal a state law requiring personal injury protection coverage, but differences remain between the House and Senate proposals.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 8-1 to approve a bill (SB 1766) that would repeal the Florida Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law, replacing the PIP mandate with a requirement that motorists carry bodily injury protection.

The Senate proposal, sponsored by Hillsborough County Republican Sen. Tom Lee, would create a medical payment, or MedPay, coverage mandate of $5,000. That system, according to a staff analysis, would provide “substantially similar coverage to current PIP medical benefits.”

That provision is not included in the House proposal (HB 1063) which cleared the House Commerce Committee on Thursday morning. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, also repeals the portion of the state law that requires motorists to obtain and maintain PIP coverage. Like Lee’s proposal, the House bill replaces the PIP mandate with a requirement to purchase bodily injury protection.

The bill bill increases the minimum bodily injury coverage limits to $25,000 of injuries to another person, and $50,000 of injuries for two or  more people.

The decision not to include MedPay in the House proposal had members in both chambers concerned. During discussions of the Senate bill, Sen. Rene Garcia asked Lee what commitment he has that the “MedPay component stays as part of the package.”

“I’m going to do my best to make sure hospitals and ER physicians aren’t adversely impacted,” said Lee, before saying it would likely be something that would have to be hammered out during negotiations.

But even then, Lee conceded there was no guarantee the MedPay component would end up in the final bill.

“At some point, we have to agree to disagree … and that’s why they make next year,” he said.

Garcia was the lone dissenting vote on the Senate proposal, citing the panel’s decision not to take up and adopt several amendments. Lee withdrew the amendments, citing concerns that amending the bill in the committee would slow down the process and decrease its chances of getting to the floor.

That could be a valid concern for those looking to reform the system. Lee’s bill received its first of three committee hearings on Thursday, with just three weeks until the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. The last day for regularly scheduled committee meetings is April 25.

The House bill cleared the Commerce Committee on a 22-5 vote, and is now headed to the floor. During the meeting, some members expressed concerns about the impact it could have on rates. However, several members said they were supporting the bill because they thought the current system needed to be changed.

“PIP as we know it is a dinosaur,” said Rep. Richard Stark, who said he was supporting the bill in committee but wasn’t prepared to commit to supporting it on the floor.  “The current system can’t prevail.”

Former congressman Robert Wexler joins Ballard Partners D.C. office

Ballard Partners is continuing to add to its D.C. roster, announcing Thursday former U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler has joined the firm as a senior counselor.

“The idea is to develop an international practice,” Wexler told POLITICO. “My hope would be to focus on certain international relationships that I’ve worked on for decades and I’m confident are consistent with the best interests of American foreign policy.”

“Having someone of Robert Wexler’s caliber on our team is a tremendous win for the firm,” said Brian Ballard, the president of Ballard Partners, in a statement.

A South Florida Democrat, Wexler served in Congress from 1997 until 2010. Wexler, who served in the Florida Senate for six years before his time in Congress, raised eyebrows when he announced in 2009 that he planned to resign from the U.S. House to join the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, of which he is the president.

During his time in Congress, Wexler was an outspoken advocate for the bond between the U.S. and Israel. He made several trips as part of congressional delegations to the Middle East, meeting with the leaders of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, and the Palestinian Authority.

He also served as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a member of the Middle East Subcommittee.

Wexler served as an advisor on Middle East and Israel issues during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and served on the president’s 2012 re-election steering committee.

“I myself enjoyed strong relationships with the Obama administration,” Wexler reminisced, “so I know what a benefit that can be.”

“Having worked with numerous governments in Europe, Asia and the Middle East throughout his tenure as U.S. Congressman and advisor to President Barack Obama, Robert’s three decades of political experience will advance our work for international clients,” said Ballard. “We are pleased to welcome him to our office in the nation’s Capitol.”

In his role as senior counselor, Wexler is expected to “apply his foreign policy expertise while spearheading the firm’s growing international affairs practice,” according to the firm.

The announcement comes about a week after it was reported that Ballard Partners secured its first foreign government as a client. The Hill reported last week that the Dominican Republic signed a one-year contract with the firm worth about $900,000.

House votes down budget amendment calling for report on cost-effectiveness of Florida’s death penalty

The Florida House rebuffed an attempt to include proviso language in the budget for a report on the “imposition and execution of capital punishment” in Florida.

The amendment, put forward by Rep. Sharon Pritchett, called for the state to use money to fund a report from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) looking at the death penalty.

The report, among other things, would have had to identify the actual fiscal cost associated with maintaining a capital punishment system; the average cost to the state and local government associated with the the execution of a single offender from indictment to execution; and address the “causes driving disparities in capital sentencing outcomes on the basis of demographic factors of the offender and the victim including, but not limited to, race, gender, sex, and geography.”

“It is good to see that the House engaged on the death penalty and recognized the constitutional importance of unanimous juries,” said Pritchett in her comments. “What is concerning, however, are the many other parts of the death penalty which may be subject to a constitutional challenge which we did not address in our previous reforms.”

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation last month requiring unanimous jury recommendations before the death penalty can be imposed.

 The U.S. Supreme Court in January 2016 declared the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges to make the ultimate decision. The ruling was based on a case where a judge issued a death sentence after a 7-5 jury recommendation.

In 2016, the Legislature overhauled the state law to let the death penalty be imposed by a 10-2 jury vote. But in October, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 to strike down the new law and require unanimous jury decisions.

Pritchett’s amendment also comes as state lawmakers are calling for State Attorney Aramis Ayala to be suspended or removed from office after she said her office would no longer seek the death penalty. Scott reassigned 23 of her capital cases, and the House has proposed cutting her budget by $1.3 million.

Rep. Bill Hager, the chairman of the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, said the money was being moved “in respect to capital cases.” He defended the decision to cut the budget, saying he was “not familiar with a circumstance that would justify the transfer of the money.”

While the Senate initially proposed cutting the funding for Ayala’s office, members OK’d a compromise Wednesday. The amended Senate spending plan moves more than $569,000 into Ayala’s budget and restores nine of the 21 positions cut. It then sends $622,000 and six positions to the office of State Attorney Brad King, who has been reassigned Ayala’s capital cases.

House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo called Pritchett’s amendment an “unfriendly amendment from a very friendly lady.”

“We ought not be imposing the ultimate penalty in disparate ways,” said Rep. Sean Shaw during debate on the amendment. “The least we can do is study ways we can make it better and study ways to we can improve the system, no matter how you feel about it.”

The amendment failed on a 42-71 vote.

Pritchett’s amendment was the only floor amendment to the lower chamber’s proposed $81.2 billion spending plan. The chamber spent about 90 minutes discussing the bill, teeing it up for a vote later this week.

Bill Nelson talks offshore oil drilling ban during Southwest Florida stop

Sen. Bill Nelson vowed to fight off threats to drill in the waters off Florida’s west coast, telling Southwest Florida officials he’ll do whatever he can to protect the coastal communities.

“Increasingly we have threats to drill in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida, and it’s getting to the point that I have to keep beating back these attempts,” said Nelson during a meeting in Fort Myers on Tuesday.

In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, passed legislation to ban oil drilling off much of the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast through 2022. The no-drilling zone, according to Nelson’s office, extends 125 miles off much of the Florida Gulf Coast, and as far as 235 miles at some points, to protect military training areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Nelson filed legislation in January that would extend the ban another five years, from 2022 to 2027.

While President Donald Trump’s administration has announced they were implementing the same five-year oil and gas leasing plan as President Barack Obama’s administration, Nelson said there are concerns the 2006 law could be overturned.

“What I find is one of the newer senators from Louisiana keeps filing bills that do all kinds of things, very subtle like the proverbial camel getting its nose under the tent.” said Nelson. “That’s what we’ve had to fight off over and over. The good news is almost all, in a bipartisan way, of the congressional delegation wants to keep oil drilling off of the coast of Florida. The Atlantic is another matter … but we have that kind of unity, in the Atlantic as well.”

In March, Nelson and several members of the Florida congressional delegation — including Republicans Vern Buchanan, Francis Rooney, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Democrats Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, and Darren Soto — sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him to keep the eastern Gulf off limits for oil drilling.

“Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there,” read the letter.

Sanibel Island Mayor Kevin Ruane said his community could be negatively impacted if drilling were to occur off the coast, noting that it’s part of a trickle-down effect.

“No one I’m aware of is in favor of drilling,” he said.

Nelson said he plans to have a similar meeting with members of Florida’s east coast delegation in the coming weeks about off-shore drilling.

Rick Scott’s approval rating ticks up to 57% in new poll

Gov. Rick Scott’s approval rating is ticking up, something that could prove critical as the Naples Republican ponders a 2018 U.S. Senate bid.

A new survey from Morning Consult showed Scott has a 57 percent approval rating. That’s up 8 points from similar rankings released in September, which showed Scott had a 49 percent approval rating.

Scott’s disapproval rating dropped to 36 percent in the most recent Morning Consult survey, while 7 percent of Floridians surveyed said they didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion. In the September survey, 42 percent of Floridians disapproved of Scott and 9 percent said they didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion.

The survey of 8,793 Florida voters was conducted from January to March. It was part of a nationwide survey that evaluated the job performance of the nation’s senators and governors.

The Morning Consult survey shows Scott with a higher approval rating than two recent surveys of Florida voters.

In March, the Florida Chamber of Commerce released a survey that showed Scott’s approval rating at 50 percent. When broken down by political party, the Florida Chamber poll found 76 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents gave Scott good marks, while 77 percent of Democrats said they didn’t approve of the way he was doing his job.

A few weeks later, the Florida Hospital Association released a survey that showed Scott’s approval rating was at 45 percent, while his disapproval rating was at 41 percent.

Still, the Morning Consult survey could bode well for Scott, who is widely believed to be considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2018. According to the survey, Scott’s approval rating among Florida voters is slightly higher than Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

The survey found Nelson’s approval rating is 53 percent. That’s up ever-so-slightly from September rankings, which showed Nelson had a 52 percent approval rating.

Nelson’s disapproval rating is 26 percent; up 2 points from September when it clocked in at 24 percent. The survey found 21 percent either didn’t know who Nelson was or didn’t have an opinion of the state’s senior senator.

Several early polls have shown Nelson leading Scott in hypothetical 2018 match-ups. The Chamber poll showed Nelson leading Scott 48 percent to 42 percent; while the Florida Hospital Association poll showed a much closer race, with Nelson leading 46 percent to 44 percent.

According to the Morning Consult survey, Sen. Marco Rubio’s approval rating is at 52 percent, a 10-point increase from the September survey.

Jack Latvala raises more than $244K on eve of 2017 Legislative Session

Jack Latvala raised more than $250,000 in the first week of March, much of which was raised in a single day.

Florida Leadership Committee, the Clearwater Republican’s political committee, raised at least $252,160 between March 1 and March 6, according to contribution data posted to the committee’s website. The committee received about $244,600 of that sum on March 6, the day before the 2017 Legislative Session kicked off.

Top contributors during the brief fundraising period, according to data posted on the website, including Associated Industries of Florida, Comcast Corp., Amscot Corp., Friends of Mount Sinai Medical Center, Minto Communities, Auto Tag of America, and the Florida Manufactured Housing Association PAC.

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial bid and appears to be boosting his coffers ahead of an eventual decision. State records show Latvala raised nearly $1.1 million in February, marking one of the committee’s largest fundraising hauls to date.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also often mentioned as possible 2018 contenders

On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already announced their 2018 run, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are expected to formally jump into the race soon.

Adam Putnam political committee brings in big bucks in March

Adam Putnam is poised to have another record fundraising month, laying the groundwork for his likely 2018 gubernatorial run.

Florida Grown, the political committee that will fuel Putnam’s likely 2018 run, raised at least $872,841 in March, according to contribution data posted on the committee’s website. That sum is expected to rise to nearly $1.1 million once final numbers are reported to the state Division of Elections in the coming days.

“As we travel the state, we’ve seen overwhelming support for Adam and his vision,” wrote Justin Hollis, the chairman of Florida Grown, in an email to supporters. “And that support is evident is contributions to the Florida Grown PC. To date, Florida Grown PC has received more than $10.5 million in contributions with $1,077,000 coming in March, and more than 1,700 supporters to date.”

That anticipated one-month haul would make March the second biggest fundraising month for the political committee to date. In February, the committee raised $2.5 million, it’s largest one-month fundraising haul since it opened in 2015

While Putnam hasn’t officially thrown his hat in the race, he’s acting the part of a candidate. In his email to supporters, Hollis said Putnam and Florida Grown have been “very busy crisscrossing the state meeting with supporters, including parents, teachers, small business owners, nurses, truck drivers and everything in between.”

“With every discussion, he learns more about the people of our state and what they want to see in future leadership. And Adam shares his vision for our state. He believes Florida is more than just the prize for a life well-lived somewhere else,” wrote Hollis. “He wants to attract folks to Florida decades sooner, so they can start their lives, build their businesses and grow their families right here in the Sunshine State. He believes Florida is not just a prize at the end of a career, but it can be the jumping off point for the American Dream.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala are also believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial run.

On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have already announced their 2018 run, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are expected to formally jump into the race soon.

Senate OKs mandatory recess bill

Recess scored a big win the Senate, but the proposal faces an uphill climb in the House.

The Senate voted 36-0 to approve a bill (SB 78) that would require school districts provide students in kindergarten through fifth grade with 20 minutes of recess each day. The vote marks a big milestone in the Senate, which just last year refused to hear to hear a similar proposal.

But the Senate proposal is significantly different than one moving through the House, and Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican sponsoring the Senate bill, said she hoped the Senate would send a message to House with its vote.

“The Senate feels strongly … if we’re going to have recess, it’s going to be recess. It should not be in competition with other things,” she said. “Recess should be able to stand on its own.”

The House proposal (HB 67) calls on 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. It also requires school districts to provide 20 minutes of recess on days when physical education classes aren’t held.

The House proposal originally mirrored the bill passed by the Senate, but was amended during its first committee stop. That proposal now heads to the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

medical marijuana

Senate panel OKs medical marijuana bill, speeds up pace for new licenses

A Senate panel is moving forward with its version of a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment, approving an amended version of the proposal during its meeting.

The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. Facing a jam-packed agenda, members set aside just over an hour to tackle the bill and 15 amendments, leaving little time for public input and member debate.

The panel adopted an amendment that would lower the threshold for adding new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under the amendment adopted Monday, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

The amended bill calls on the state to register four more medical marijuana treatment centers within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” if a sufficient number of applicants meet the registration requirements. Under the proposal, applicants must be registered to do business in the state for the previous five consecutive years before submitting an application.

Several members expressed concerns about opening up the market to new licenses. Sen. Bill Montford said he was concerned adding five more medical marijuana treatment centers into the market so soon could have a negative impact on companies that are currently dispensing medical marijuana. Montford encouraged members to slow the process down and take a more deliberative approach to expansion, noting they’ll be back in “less than a year” and could make “a more well-informed decision at that time.”

Bradley said the Senate’s position on the number of licenses could put them in a good position to have discussions with the House, which has approved a bill that calls on the state to issue new licenses after 150,000 qualified patients are registered in the compassionate use registry.

The Senate also approved an amendment that would allow patients who are not residents of Florida, but have a qualifying condition to have access to medical marijuana while they are in Florida if they can “lawfully obtain marijuana through a medical marijuana program in a state that he or she resides in.”

The amendment was meant to address concerns raised during a workshop last month about snowbirds or long-term tourists who live in a state with medical marijuana, but can’t access it while they’re visiting Florida.

The committee also adopted amendments to allow the Department of Health to charge “a reasonable fee associated with the issuance and renewal of patient and caregiver identification cards,” an amendment that would require medical marijuana be tested by an independent testing lab, and an amendment that would establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The bill now heads to the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

medical marijuana

Senate amendment quickens pace for medical marijuana treatment center growth

A Senate panel is poised to approve legislation this week that could add five more medical marijuana treatment centers in Florida by October and lower the threshold for adding additional treatment centers in the future.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to discuss and vote on a bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The Orange Park Republican has filed eight amendments to his bill, incorporating aspects of several other implementing bills filed in the Senate during the 2017 Legislative Session.

One of the most significant changes Bradley has proposed would lower the threshold for adding new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under an amendment filed Friday, the state would be required to add five additional medical marijuana treatment centers — at least one of which must be a black farmer — by Oct. 3, 2017.

The amendment then stipulates within “six months after each instance of the registration of 75,000 qualifying patients with the compassionate use registry” the state register four additional treatment centers “if a sufficient number of MMTC applicants meet the registration requirements.”

That’s a significantly lower threshold than what Bradley first proposed. Under the bill Bradley filed in January, the state health department would have been required to add more treatment centers only when an additional 250,000 qualified patients registered 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.

During a workshop in March, Bradley said based on feedback he received he had come to believe his bill was “too restrictive.”

If approved, the Senate bill has the potential to open the door for far more medical marijuana treatment centers than the House proposal (HB 1397).

That proposal, sponsored by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, calls on the state to issue licenses to five applicants denied by the Department of Health and one black farmer after 150,000 qualified patients are registered in the compassionate use registry. New applicants would then be allowed once there are 200,000 qualified patients.

Rodrigues’ bill cleared the Health Quality Subcommittee on a 14-1 vote, and will next be discussed in the House Appropriations Committee.

Bradley has also proposed an amendment that would require medical marijuana to be tested by an independent testing lab to ensure it meets the standards established by the state’s quality control programs. A bill (SB 1388) filed by Sen. Frank Artiles also called for independent third party testing.

Committee members will also be asked to vote on an amendment Monday that would establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

The purpose of the coalition would be to “conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and to guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medicinal use of marijuana.” The amendment appears to be substantially similar to a bill (SB 1472) filed Sen. Bill Galvano, which passed the Senate Education on a 9-0 vote on March 27.

The Senate Health Policy Committee is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. in 412 Knott.

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