Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 129

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Rick Scott criticized for not mentioning LGBT community in State of State

Advocates blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to mention the LGBT community in his State of the State address, despite dedicating a significant portion of his comments on the June shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“We heard about the horror that our state has experienced; we heard about the heroism from first responders and ordinary Floridians, and we heard about the pain of the families who lost loved ones,” said Hannah Willard, the public policy director for Equality Florida, during a news conference after Scott’s State of the State address.

“What we didn’t hear was any mention of the LGBT community. We didn’t hear … that the attack was a direct attack on LGBTQ Floridians in a nightclub in Orlando,” she continued. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough; we demand action. The LGBT community deserves action from our elected officials.”

Forty-nine people were killed, and dozens of others wounded, in a June shooting at an Orlando nightclub. The attack was the deadlines mass shooting the U.S. since Virginia Tech in 2007.

Scott spent days on end in the Orlando area, meeting with families and first responders. And the incident was featured heavily in his State of the State address.

“The days I spent in Orlando following the shooting will always be with me. I talked to many parents who lost their children,” he said in prepared remarks. “The hardest thing I have ever had to do as Governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child, and I truly cannot imagine the grief of losing a child.”

Prepared remarks show the governor made no direct mention of the LGBT community in his speech.

“He called it a terrorist attack,” said Sen. Gary Farmer. “He had the audacity to not once mention the LGBT community that was so torn apart and was the target of a madman.”

Willard called on the Legislature to take action this year to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, saying the law was needed “more than ever before.”

“This piece of legislation has been introduced for almost a decade … and it does something very simple. It would add LGBT people to existing protections into our state, to make sure that no one faces discrimination in employment, in housing or in public spaces,” she said. “Every single Floridians deserved to be treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are and who they love.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Controversial public records bill clears second Senate panel

A bill giving judges some discretion over whether to award attorney’s fees in public records cases cleared its second committee hearing Monday, but not before being amended in an attempt to alleviate opponents concerns.

The bill (SB 80), sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, aims to give judges discretion in whether they should award fees to the plaintiff and requires request be made in writing in order to be eligible to collect attorney fees.

The committee amended the bill Tuesday to add provisions that allow the court to consider “if the request to inspect or copy the public record was made in bad faith or was made to harass the agency or to cause a violation … and if the responsible agency responded in good faith to request to inspect or copy the records.”

“What I’m trying to do is come to the middle as it relates to the opponents,” said Steube.

Opponents of the proposal have argued it puts up a financial barrier that could deter legitimate record requesters from filing suit and would essentially require records requests be made in writing.

But the amendment did not appear to alleviate concerns. Barbara Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation, spoke out in opposition of the bill.

Still, public records advocates acknowledged something needs to be done. But some, Rich Templin with the AFL-CIO, and said they worried the “legislation goes far too far.”

“We have a real problem, and I know you are trying to address it,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat. “We have to get it right. I know you’re trying, but I don’t think you’re there yet. I can’t support the bill at this time.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens voted in favor of the bill, saying he record of voting against public records exemptions, but represents a community where bogus public records requests are a problem.

“I’m fine voting on this bill without the amendments,” said Clemens. “If it doesn’t make the bill acceptable for the people who oppose it, it doesn’t really get us anywhere.”

According to a staff analysis, the community filed a federal lawsuit against “a resident, the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation, Inc., Our Public Records LLC, and other defendants based on their use of public records laws.”

The town alleged the defendants sent them bogus records requests intended to overlooked, then asked for settlements higher than attorney fees and costs, or filed frivolous lawsuits. The case was dismissed by a federal court judge, according to the staff report.

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Steube said he is prepared to “work with anybody to try to bring it in for a landing.”

Jack Latvala, Kathleen Peters file beach renourishment bill

The state’s sandy shores have a powerful ally in the Florida Legislature.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala announced Friday he filed legislation aimed at saving the state’s beaches from continued erosion. The proposal (SB 1590) would, among other things, dedicate a minimum of $50 million a year to beach nourishment and inlet management restoration projects in Florida.

The proposal also adds transparency and accountability measures to the use of state funds; directs the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a new three-year work plan for beach repair, similar to the Department of Transportation’s five-year work plan; and refocuses attention on effective sand management at the state’s inlets.

“We’ve got tangible evidence that the health of our beaches is a big return on our investment. Everyone acknowledges that, even the House acknowledges it,” said Latvala, who announced the legislation at Lowdermilk Park in Naples. “We’re fighting over some of the other economic development programs, but no one’s fighting over this. So let’s at least get this done right.”

While Latvala’s district includes between 25 to 30 miles of beaches, there was a reason behind his decision to unveil his legislation a few hours south of his home turf. He attended the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association Convention in Naples back in September, and committed to do what he could protect Florida’s beaches. A spokesman for Latvala said the senator wanted to return to the community to make good on his commitment.

But that wasn’t the only reason Latvala decided to head to the Paradise Coast to announced the legislation. Latvala said the reason he decided to announce in Naples was because of the “really outstanding effort the Naples Daily News has put forward on this issue and bringing this issue to our attention.”

In November, the Naples Daily News released a four-part series called “Shrinking Shores” looking at beach nourishment programs and how much money the state has set aside to re-nourish beaches. The report found that state lawmakers have some years failed to deliver money promised under state law, leaving beaches vulnerable to erosion.

Rep. Kathleen Peters, a South Pasadena Republican, introduced the House companion measure.

“For years, I have expressed the importance of taking care of our beaches,” said Peters. “This bill will make sure we prioritize coastal projects that need our attention and ensure our state appropriately manages one of our greatest economic drivers.”


Bring on the orange juice: Denise Grimsley schedules breakfast fundraiser for March 7

It’s never too early in the day to start fundraising.

Sen. Denise Grimsley is scheduled to hold a fundraising reception for her 2018 bid for Agriculture Commissioner at 7:30 a.m. on March 7 at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue in Tallahassee.

The reception, according to a copy of the invitation, is hosted by Sens. Aaron Bean, Dennis Baxley, Rob Bradley, Anitere Flores, George Gainer, Bill Galvano, Rene Garcia, Jack Latvala, Tom Lee, Debbie Mayfield, David Simmons, Wilton Simpson, Kelli Stargel, and Greg Steube.

The breakfast fundraiser comes just hours before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

A Sebring Republican, Grimsley was first elected to the House in 2004, before heading to the Senate in 2012.

She is currently a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid, and has 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.

Grimsley filed to for the statewide office earlier this month, and has already lined up the backing of former state Sen. JD Alexander. And several Central Florida agriculture industry leaders appear to be lining up behind her, with many listed on an invitation for a fundraiser at Florida’s Natural Grove House in Lake Wales next week.

She isn’t the only member of the Legislature eyeing the agriculture post. Last week, Rep. Matt Caldwell told he intends to file to run for the seat later this summer.

Philip Levine launches political committee, hires Matthew Van Name

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine appears to be inching closer to a 2018 gubernatorial bid, launching a political committee earlier this month and hiring staffers to help coordinate a statewide tour.

Levine launched All About Florida earlier this month. State records show the Miami Beach political committee filed its statement of organization on Feb. 10.

Levine has hired Matthew Van Name to work for the political committee. Van Name recently served as U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and was formerly the Florida political director of the Service Employees International Union.

The news of Van Name’s hiring comes just one day before Levine is scheduled to deliver remarks at the annual Cornerstone Award Breakfast sponsored by the Central Florida Urban League. Levine is expected to discuss his vision for Florida’s future.

Often mentioned as a 2018 contender, the rumor mill picked up in January when he announced he would not seek another term as Miami Beach mayor. In video, the Democrat said he looked forward to figuring out ways to “best to serve my community and my state; how to make Florida a 21st-century leader in the world economy.”

Around the same time, Christian Ulvert, one of Levine’s advisers, said the mayor would begin traveling the state to “listen to Floridians on how best to serve the state he loves.”

He is expected to make an announcement this spring about “his plans for continued public service.”

Senate Appropriations votes 14-2 to OK gambling bill, now cleared for Senate floor

A wide-sweeping gambling bill is now ready to be heard by the full Senate when the 2017 Legislative Session kicks off next month, after it cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning.

The bill (SB 8), sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, ratifies the 2015 Seminole Compact, subject to the approval of amendments to conform the agreement to provisions outlined in the bill and other actions to be taken by the Seminole Tribe and the state of Florida, and would expand the number of facilities where slot machines can be operated.

“Florida is a diverse state and our constituents have many different opinions, beliefs and convictions regarding gaming. This legislation does not attempt to make value judgments about the private activities of free, taxpaying Floridians, instead it presents a comprehensive approach to regulating a voter-approved industry that has contributed billions of dollars to our economy for education, health care and infrastructure, while providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to Floridians over the course of nearly 100 years,” said Galvano in a statement after the vote.

The bill passed 14-2, with Sens. Aaron Bean and Kelli Stargel voting against it.

“I don’t feel like we need to go down this path,” said Bean, who commended Galvano for his effort. “I see us going on the continued road of a slippery slope.”

The measure was amended Thursday to add a bingo provision for charitable organizations. Under the new section, veterans’ organizations may conduct instant bingo using electronic tickets instead of paper tickets.

The amended bill also appears to outlaw advance deposit wagering, a form of gambling in which the bettor must fund his account being allowed to place betters. The amendment makes it a third degree felony to accept those wagers on horse races, but not on dog races.

It also toughens standards for race animal doping; changes the name of the Office of Amusements, which would regulate fantasy sports, to the Office of Contest Amusements; and gives regulators no more than 45 days to approve “rules for a new authorized game submitted by a licensed cardroom or provide the cardroom with a list of deficiencies as to those rules.”

Several members expressed hesitation about what the bill could mean for the state’s future, before voting for it. Sens. Anitere Flores and Rob Bradley were among those who said they faced a difficult decision, but felt inaction was no longer an option.

“This is a difficult issue for me,” said Bradley. “If I could do one thing to wave a magic wand in our state government, I would get rid of the lottery and move on in a different direction on gaming, because I think Florida is about something different. We’re about beaches and sunshine. Not gaming. But ladies and gentlemen, I don’t have a magic wand, none of us do.”

Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, called the measure a jobs bill and said he hoped it will be “one more place where the Senate comes down strong for jobs.”

The House Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee OK’d its own gambling bill Thursday.

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 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.”

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