Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 129

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

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.


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.

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 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.

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