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Staff Reports

Universal support for changes to nursing home payments? Not so fast …

Some feathers may have been ruffled in Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, as the committee discussed, and later adopted, budget recommendations that will almost surely be included in the Senate’s budget.

One big ticket item up for discussion was whether a plan, known as the prospective payment plan, that would fundamentally change how nursing homes are paid is a good idea or not.

While the chair, Sen. Anitere Flores, noted that the scheme is being included to put it in a posture for budget negotiations between the House and Senate, she also recognized that it may not end up being ready for “prime time” if it doesn’t gain widespread support.

That broad support didn’t seem likely though as committee testimony pitted the industry against one another.  With some nursing homes speaking (or waiving) in favor and some speaking out (or waiving) against. One clear voice in opposition to the plan was LeadingAge Florida and its members, including Martin Goetz from River Garden Senior Services in Jacksonville and Kip Corriveau of Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System.

Steve Bahmer of LeadingAge Florida after committee said: “We appreciate Senator Flores recognizing that the prospective payment plan included in the Senate HHS budget does not yet have universal support, as LeadingAge Florida is deeply concerned about many aspects of the plan.

We believe it hurts our state’s good providers, shifts dollars to poorer performing providers, and, ultimately, puts the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries at risk.”

Bahmer continued to say that he looks forward to working with Flores and her fellow legislators, but, at this juncture, would “urge lawmakers to carefully evaluate the very serious impacts this plan could have on the state’s frailest seniors residing in nursing homes.”

Adding to the cacophony on the nursing home payment plan was Sen. Kevin Rader, who questioned why four and five-star facilities seem to lose money, while one and two-star facilities would gain money under the plan.

Rader also asked why this was the first time the committee members had a chance to hear and discuss the plan, as updated documents were not available on the date of the committee meeting. And, the Senate’s nursing home payment plan, while based on a plan produced by Navigant — shelved earlier this year in by Rep. Jason Brodeur’s committee — varies in some key ways that some in the industry say makes the plan even worse.

According to Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association: “FHCA and our more than 550 members have championed the cause to improve quality for more than 60 years. We strongly support the Senate PPS plan because it changes reimbursement in a way that incentivizes high-quality outcomes for long-term care residents.”

Reed noted that the vast majority of nursing homes support the reimbursement reforms, as FHCA represents 82 percent of all nursing homes in Florida.

The Senate PPS plan will invest an additional $26 million in four- and five-star nursing homes and drive improvements in lower-performing facilities. The plan will increase accountability and enhance return on the state’s investment in nursing home care by ensuring that money is spent on direct care and quality improvements.

We’ll be watching this unfold at, as this could be the start of a budgetary food fight, especially considering that this plan seems to have been produced far from the sunshine and without a clear consensus from the industry.


Senate issues draft $3.8B environmental budget, millions higher than House

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Environment and Natural Resources issued the first version of its 2017-18 budget, which comes in at $3.8 billion.

The projected Senate budget includes few hundred million dollars more than the preliminary House plan.

Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley, who chairs the committee, offered a thumbnail version at a public hearing Wednesday reports LobbyTools.

Among the legislative asks from the Senate is $275 million for Everglades restoration – compared to $165.7 million from the House. Another $50 million for springs restoration, while the House is seeking only $40 million.

There is also $22.6 million for Florida Forever for land acquisition under the Florida Communities Trust program, the same program would get $10 million from the House for local government grants to buy land for parks and wildlife corridors as buffer zones for water resources, reports LobbyTools.

Beach restoration projects would get $100 million — a priority project for Sen. Jack Latvala — as opposed to $30.1 million in the House plan; $64 million would go to water projects versus $20 million from the lower chamber.

Citizens Insurance lost $27.1 million during 2016; first loss in a decade

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. lost money for the first time in a decade because of water loss claims, assignment of benefits abuse, and rising litigation costs, the company said Wednesday.

Staff at Florida’s insurer of last resort told its board of governors that they expect to post a $27.1 million loss for 2016.

“Every year, we rely on standardized, accepted actuarial principles to set our rates,” chairman Chris Gardner said in a press release.

“Last year, the same principles that provided rate decreases to our customers in recent years translated into hikes for 84 percent of our policyholders. Without legislative changes, that trend will continue,” he said.

Citizens is seeking legislation this year attacking assignment of benefits, or AOB, abuse.

In the House, an AOB bill has passed its first committee test. Senate legislation is scheduled for a committee hearing next week.

Citizens and other insurance and business interests blame surging non-weather-related water claims, particularly in South Florida, and attendant litigation by contractors armed with AOBs, which give them the right to sue without policyholder approval.

According to Citizens, litigation raises claims by an average $20,000.

“The tragedy here is that the ultimate loser is the policyholder,” Gardner said. “Higher insurance costs simply make it more difficult for more Floridians to own a home.”

Citizens’ explanation drew push-back from Chip Merlin of the Merlin Law Group, a plaintiffs’ firm. He blamed Citizens “depopulation” policy of lowering its risk pool by sending policies to private insurers.

The policy allows those private insurers to “cherry pick” the best risks, Merlin said.

“Now, Citizens management has its claims department take a tougher line to keep claims payments down so it can break even,” he said. “Litigation goes up when claims are not paid.”

Capitol Reax: Visit Florida funding, Uber, high-speed rail

The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 5-1 to approve a proposal (SB 596) that would allow telecommunications companies to put small wireless communications infrastructure in public rights-of-way.

Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida: “AIF supports legislation to bring technology of the future to Florida, allowing our communities to be a part of the smart cities revolution.  Florida’s economic environment will greatly benefit from this good legislation, allowing new technologically advanced companies to locate here in the Sunshine State.

AIF applauds Senator (Travis) Hutson for championing this legislation and the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee for passing this bill out of its committee today.  SB 596 will allow technology of the future, like smart cities, autonomous vehicles and instantaneous speeds, to become a reality through uniform deployment of small cell technology.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee temporarily postponed a proposal (HB 269), which would have established the Florida High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.

Brent Hanlon, chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL): “I want to once again thank Representatives MaryLynn Magar and Erin Grall for filing legislation this session to protect citizens from subsidizing high speed rail projects that pose risks to public safety.  We are disappointed that the subcommittee did not debate the bill today, but we respect the legislative process, and look forward to more dialogue about this important legislation in due course.

All Aboard Florida (AAF) is taking a victory lap today in its public statements, but its latest actions are nothing more than a special interest group flexing its political muscle in a desperate attempt to protect its profits which are reliant on taxpayer subsidies.

AAF continues to put the communities of South Florida on the hook for millions in upgrades to enhance safety measures and make a grab for taxpayer subsidies.

We will continue to advocate for legislation that puts public safety first and we know that our elected leaders want the same. This is nothing more than an ill-conceived rail project by a private company that wants to shift costs to the taxpayers.”

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee has proposed matching Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal of $76 million for Visit Florida, while setting aside $80 million for Enterprise Florida.

Chris Hudson, state director for American for Prosperity-Florida: “The Florida Senate is sending a bad message to their constituents. They are telling the hardworking small business owners that don’t even qualify for the handouts their proposing to sustain by maintaining funding to Enterprise Florida are more important than properly funding real priorities for their communities. The Senate should pick up where the Florida House left off and come together to eliminate corporate welfare by eliminating Enterprise Florida.

The Florida Senate is also wrong to fund Visit Florida with another $76 million dollars. Visit Florida’s lack of transparency and lack of accountability have engulfed the Sunshine State in national embarrassment that should not be rewarded. This failed program needs more than just reform; it should be completely eliminated.

Our grassroots teams will be deployed throughout the state in the districts of Senators who support funding corporate welfare. We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that Floridians know which members of the legislature support corporate welfare and the programs that give away their tax dollars to private businesses instead of better supporting real priorities like education and infrastructure.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 340) to create a regulatory framework for transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft.

Stephanie Smith, senior manager, public policy for Uber Technologies: “Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber.

We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

Logan McFaddin, regional manager of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America: “PCI applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Brandes for supporting legislation that addresses the insurance gaps when a driver is engaged in rideshare activity.  PCI and our members believe it is imperative rideshare drivers and their passengers are protected as they travel from point A to point B.

The insurance coverage concerns are significant, especially if ride share drivers use their personal vehicles for this commercial activity but only have personal auto insurance coverage. The standard personal auto insurance policy may not provide coverage if the vehicle is being used for commercial purposes and an accident were to occur.

With model legislation already passing in 45 other states, PCI encourages Florida lawmakers to do the same for Florida and protect the public.”


Charged with DUI, Cary Pigman resigns subcommittee chairmanship

State Rep. Cary Pigman, who last week was charged with drunk driving, has stepped down as chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced the move Tuesday. He appointed Jeanette Nunez, the House Speaker pro tempore, as acting chair of the the subcommittee.

Pigman, an Avon Park Republican first elected in 2012, is an emergency medicine physician and U.S. Army Reserve doctor who served in Iraq. 

“Having spent a career fighting for and defending this country, Dr. Pigman knows that it is honorable to take responsibility for one’s actions,” Corcoran said. “It is the honorable thing to do. Dr. Pigman has done both by informing me that he wishes to step down as chairman of the Health Quality Subcommittee.”

Pigman, who was traveling alone, was pulled over late last Thursday on Florida’s Turnpike after a trooper noticed his southbound Jeep “drifting” between his lane and the highway’s shoulder. (Story here.)

Pigman then failed field sobriety tests, including almost falling and not following instructions, the report said. His blood alcohol level later was measured at .14 and .15, it added. A DUI in Florida is .08 or above.

Report: Mike Huckabee not interested in running for Florida governor in 2018

Looks like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won’t be moving to Tallahassee any time soon.

According to a Northwest Florida Daily News report, Huckabee told attendees of the annual Okaloosa County Republican Party Lincoln Dinner on Saturday that he was not interested in running for governor of Florida.

“There may be somebody thinking about it, but let me be real clear — it ain’t me,” he said, according to the report. “There is a greater likelihood that I will have transgender surgery than I will run for the governor of any state, at any time, or anything, anywhere. It ain’t happening.”

The Blue Mountain Beach resident has been mentioned as a possible 2018 gubernatorial contender.

In September, a poll by Public Policy Polling found 42 percent of voters said Huckabee should run for governor in the Sunshine State. The poll found 50 percent of Florida Republicans said Huckabee should run, compared with 21 percent of Democrats who thought he should throw his hat in the race.

Huckabee served as governor of Arkansas from 1996 until 2007. He first ran for president in 2008, where he was heralded as a conservative champion. He ran again in 2016, but didn’t make as much of an impact as he did eight years earlier.

The former governor might not be interested in making Tallahassee his adopted hometown, but look for him in the capital city later this week. He’s scheduled give the keynote address during the Legislative Prayer Breakfast at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center on Wednesday.

Family affair: Chris Hart, family open The Hare & The Hart

Chris Hart

Chris Hart is getting back to business, and this time it’s a family affair.

Hart, the former president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, and his wife, Amy, recently opened The Hare & The Hart, a home décor and design firm in Tallahassee.

The family-owned company specializes in toile with a hometown twist.

“As a tribute to the town I’ve called home for a good part of three decades, I have designed a toile that shows some of its iconic sites and scenes,” wrote Amy Hart on the company’s website. “Depicting venues running the gamut from the new amphitheater at Cascades Park to the 1600’s-era Mission San Luis, I’ve brought my sketches together in a design that tells the love story of a town full of history, canopy roads, magnolias, rolling hills, beautiful architecture, gardens, and hip new hangouts.”

The Hare & The Hart debuted its toiles during the spring edition of French Country Flea Market. During an interview on ABC 27 earlier this month, Amy Hart said the toile was designed to “celebrate our town.”

While toile is traditionally a fabric, The Hare & The Hart has several options for people looking to get their hands on the scenes, including wallpaper and mugs. The company also has a Woodland Creature series, designed by the Harts’ daughter Maddie.

“At The Hare & The Hart, we live a life that is English at heart with a Southern soul (and a French twist!), and we are thrilled to debut or toiles and other lines that embody all three,” wrote Amy Hart on the company’s site.

A former state legislator, Chris Hart took over the helm at Enterprise Florida in January. Two months later, he announced his resignation, citing ongoing differences with Gov. Rick Scott over the future of the agency.

More legislative hopefuls file to run in 2018

It’s never too early to start thinking about the next election cycle, and a host of legislative hopefuls are already thinking about the next election cycle.

State election records show dozens of members of the House, Senate, and other legislative hopefuls have filed to run in 2018.

Rep. Shevrin Jones filed to run for re-election in House District 101 in 2018. The 33-year-old West Park Democrat filed to run for re-election March 6. First elected to the House in 2012, Jones served as the Democratic Deputy Whip during the 2014-16 term. Rep. Roy Hardemon also filed to run for re-election in 2018.  The Miami Democrat was first elected to his District 108 seat in 2016, and filed to run for re-election on March 7.

Ray Guillory is looking for a rematch in House District 2. Guillory filed to run against Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican. The Democratic activist ran against White in the solid red district in 2016. White defeated Guillory with 61 percent of the vote.

Republican George Agovino is eyeing the seat currently held by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Agovino, who retired from the FBI, filed to run in House District 37 on March 8. Corcoran can’t run for re-election again because of term limits.

Rep. Jamie Grant picked up a challenger in House District 64. State records show Democrat Christopher Smutko, a teacher from the Tampa Bay area, filed to run against Grant on March 23.  Andy Warrener, a no-party affiliation candidate, also filed to run in House District 64.

A Democrat has jumped in the House District 71 race to replace Rep. Jim Boyd. Bradenton Democrat Randy Cooper filed to run for seat on March 10. Cooper is a civil engineer with a degree from the University of South Florida. He served 11 years with the Florida National Guard and is a volunteer firefighter in Hillsborough County.

Two Republicans are also vying to replace Boyd. Sarasota Republican James Buchanan filed to run on March 2. If the name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that: Buchanan is the son of five-term U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. The younger Buchanan founded James Buchanan Realty after graduating from Florida State University with degrees in finance and entrepreneurship.

Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican, also filed to run for the seat. Robinson is an attorney at Blalock Walters law firm.

Michelle Graham, a Fort Myers businesswoman, is throwing her hat in the race to replace Rep. Matt Caldwell in House District 79. Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, can’t run again in 2018 because of term limits.

Graham is the president and owner of Siesta Pebble, a family-owned business launched in 1995, and is the only woman-owned company of all 60 licensed and certified Pebble Tec installers throughout the country.

There will be another rematch in House District 112. Republican Rosa “Rosy” Palomino has filed to run against Rep. Nick Duran in the South Florida House District. Palomino is president of Tropical Nostalgia, Inc. and a producer of a late night radio program on WZAB 880 AM. Duran won the seat with 53 percent of the vote.

Three Republicans are vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Michael Bileca.

The Miami Republican can’t run for re-election again because of term limits. Republican Vance Arthur Aloupis filed to run for the House District 115 seat on March 1. Aloupis is the CEO of the Children’s Movement of Florida. The University of Miami alumnus, spent several years practicing law before joining the Children’s Movement.

Carlos Gobel filed to run for the seat on March 21. The Miami Republican is the executive director for real estate firm GRE Group, Inc. He ran for property appraiser in 2014, and has an MBA from the University of Florida and a bachelor’s of business administration from Florida International University. Republican Carmen Sotomayor has also filed to run.

Three Republicans are eyeing the House District 116 seat being vacated by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in 2018. He can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

Jose Miguel Mallea filed to run for the seat on March 7. Mallea, the owner of JM Global consulting, ran Sen. Marco Rubio’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. He’s also served stints with the federal government, working at the U.S. Department of State and the White House.

Republican Daniel Perez, an associate at Cole Scott & Kissane’s Miami office, filed to run for the seat on Feb. 23; while Ana Maria Rodriguez filed to run in December.

Republican Enrique Lopez has thrown his hat in the House District 119 race to replace Rep. Jeanette Nunez in 2018. The Miami native served on the Residential Board of Governors of the Miami Association of Realtors. He’ll face Andrew Vargas, a partner at Trujillo Vargas Gonzalez Hevia, in the Republican primary. Nunez can’t run again because of term limits.

Rubin Anderson is looking to give it another try, challenging Sen. Bobby Powell in Senate District 30 in 2018. The Democrat made headlines when he failed to qualify for his seat because of a bounced check, filing a lawsuit with Republican Ron Berman to have a primary-race do-over. The suit was eventually dropped after Powell was sworn into office.

Cary Pigman charged with early morning DUI

State Rep. Cary Pigman faces a misdemeanor drunk-driving charge in St. Lucie County after a traffic stop late Thursday, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.

The FHP charged the Avon Park Republican as he was driving on Florida’s Turnpike.

Pigman, first elected in 2012, is an emergency medicine physician and U.S. Army Reserve doctor who served in Iraq. He chairs the House Health Quality Subcommittee. The Legislature concluded the third week of its annual Session on Thursday. 

The arrest report says a trooper noticed Pigman’s southbound Jeep “drifting” between his lane and the highway’s shoulder around 10:45 p.m. Thursday. Pigman was alone in the vehicle.

The trooper reported “immediately smell(ing) an odor of alcoholic beverage” when he came up to the open window, and “saw an open wine bottle in the front passenger seat.” Pigman told him he was headed to Okeechobee, but the trooper noted the lawmaker was stopped in Fort Pierce, to the east.

Pigman had “a difficult time” getting out of the car when asked, and continued to “smell of alcohol,” the report said. “His pupils were constricted, his eyes were bloodshot,” but he denied drinking.

Pigman then failed field sobriety tests, including almost falling and not following instructions, the report said.

At around 12:30 a.m. Friday, his blood alcohol level was measured at .14 and .15, it added. A DUI in Florida is .08 or above. Pigman was later booked into the St. Lucie County jail.

Messages were left Friday afternoon at Pigman’s district office.

“We’re aware of the situation involving Dr. Pigman and know he will fully cooperate with authorities,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran said in a statement. “We will follow the case closely and continue to monitor the situation.”

Pigman represents House District 55, which includes Glades, Highlands and Okeechobee counties and western St. Lucie County.

The Florida Commission on Ethics last year found probable cause to believe that Pigman “link(ed) his efforts to obtain legislative funding for the (Okeechobee) School District to retaliate or attempt to retaliate” against Okeechobee County high school principal Tracy Downing, according to a statement.

Downing’s brother, Devin Maxwell, is the ex-husband of Elizabeth “Libby” Maxwell, a former district secretary for Pigman, with whom the lawmaker had been having an affair at the time, according to reports. They are now married.

Probable cause means it is more likely than not that a violation of state law has occurred but is not a definitive finding. Pigman went to a hearing before an administrative law judge in January to resolve the case; a recommended order is pending. He has denied any wrongdoing.

House releases timetable for voting on its proposed state budget

The House will vote on a state budget on April 13, if all goes according to plan.

The Appropriations Committee is to release its budget bill and related documents to senators and the public no later than 8 a.m. on March 31, according to a copy of the timeline posted by LobbyTools.

The full committee will take up the bill on April 5.

Senators have until April 3 to submit amendments for consideration by the committee, and until April 10 for floor amendments.

The House will consider floor amendments on April 12, with voting on final passage scheduled the next day.

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