Influence – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Colleges wary of dual-enrollment change

State colleges could face higher costs after a new law revamped the dual-enrollment program for students at private high schools who take courses at public colleges and universities.

Dual enrollment is an increasingly popular program that allows students from grades six through 12 to take post-secondary courses that help them complete high school as well as get a head start on college degrees.

More than 60,000 students are using the program to attend state and community colleges and state universities.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, 56,245 dual-enrollment students attended Florida’s 28 state and community colleges, an increase of 12.5 percent over the 2011-2012 year, according to the state Department of Education.

In 2015-2016, 5,842 dual-enrollment students attended Florida’s 12 universities, according to the state Board of Governors.

The program is popular, in part, because dual-enrollment students pay no tuition and the costs of textbooks are covered.

The bulk of dual-enrollment students come from public schools, where the cost of tuition is covered by local school districts. The tuition cost, without fees normally paid by regular college students, is $105 per credit hour for university courses, $72 for college courses and $2.33 per contact hour for students enrolled in certificate or technical training programs.

Students attending private high schools can also take dual-enrollment courses, with tuition generally covered, but not necessarily, by the private schools through articulation agreements with public colleges and universities.

But the private-school law was changed as part of a massive education bill (HB 7055) passed during this year’s Legislative Session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The new law removed a prior requirement that articulation agreements have “a provision stating whether the private school will compensate the postsecondary institution for the standard tuition rate per credit hour for each dual-enrollment course taken by its students.”

The impact of that change was discussed by college presidents last week in a teleconference. Some of the presidents said the removal of the language would not necessarily prohibit the private schools from continuing to pay dual-enrollment tuition if it was part of existing agreements with the colleges.

But Madeline Pumariega, chancellor for the state college system, urged “caution” in making an immediate interpretation, saying the Department of Education would offer some guidance.

Pumariega said part of the issue is determining exactly how much the impact would be if private schools were no longer responsible for tuition costs.

An analysis by Senate staff members estimated that of more than 56,000 dual-enrollment students attending colleges, more than 3,000 came from private schools in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Analysts at the university system’s Board of Governors said fewer than 300 dual-enrollment students came from private schools in the fall of 2016.

Pumariega said the college system will make its analysis of the fiscal impact of the legal change and then ask lawmakers for a funding adjustment, if warranted.

“We’ll be glad to give you the impact,” Ken Atwater, president of Hillsborough Community College, told Pumariega. “If we have the option to charge, we are going to continue to charge.”

Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who sponsored legislation (SB 1064) aimed at making it easier for private school students to use the dual-enrollment program, said he understands the colleges’ concerns and would support a budget increase if necessary.

“I acknowledge there may be a gap there that we need to take care of,” Baxley said. “I’m ready to address that because my major goal is to make sure all students in Florida have access to dual enrollment.”

Like Pumariega, Baxley said he wants to see more data on how the change may or may not impact colleges. He said he has not heard the same concerns from state universities, which have far fewer dual-enrollment students.

“We’ll get some truer numbers as we see the response, and then let’s address that,” Baxley said. “If there is a deficit for the state colleges, as I believe there will be, we want to cover that.”

Fundraiser for Heather Fitzenhagen set for May 3

Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen will hold a fundraiser benefitting her House District 78 campaign May 3 in Fort Myers.

The fundraiser will be held at the Veranda, 2122 Second St., starting at 5:30 pm. Those interested in attending the event can RSVP by sending a note to Brittney Metzger via

The event invitation lists dozens of names on the host committee, including several Republican elected officials.

At the top of the list are CFO Jimmy Patronis, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson, Tax Collector Larry Hart, Clerk of the Court Linda Doggett and Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson.

Fizenhagen was elected to HD 78 in 2012, and the 2018 campaign will be her last before term limits force her to exit the Florida House.

Currently, Democrat Parisima Taeb is the only challenger standing between Fitzenhagen and a fourth term.

The Fort Myers Republican has never faced a major-party challenger on Election Day. After winning the Republican Primary in a landslide six years ago, she beat Independent Kerry Babb in a 67-33 rout. In 2014 she received nearly 100 percent of the vote against write-in candidate Bates Mcleod Haney, and in 2016 she went wholly unopposed.

HD 78 covers part of Lee County. It includes Fort Myers starting from the banks of Caloosahatchee and extending southeast to the border of Collier County.

It carries a massive Republican advantage – Republicans make up 42 percent of the electorate compared to a 30 percent share for Democrats, and the seat voted plus-11 for Donald Trump in 2016.

The invitation is below.

Fitzenhagen invite 5.3.2018

Personnel note: Patti Brigham takes over League of Women Voters of Florida

Patricia “Patti” Brigham is the new president of The League of Women Voters of Florida, the organization announced Friday.

Outgoing president Pamela Goodman will pass the gavel to Brigham, a veteran state board member and Orange County league leader, at the meeting of the state board on Saturday.

Brigham joined the League of Women Voters of Orange County in 2013, the League’s state board in 2015 and moved into the position of first vice president in 2016, a press release said.

“In 2016, in the days following the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Patti partnered with Goodman to form the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence which now includes more than 100 organizational partners,” according to the release.

“This is an exciting time for the League with the growth we’re experiencing and so many young people eager to be ready to vote,” Brigham said. “I hope to carry forward Pam’s many accomplishments and build on them.”

The League says it’s experienced an 80 percent growth in membership in the last three years and is now the second largest league in the country.

“Election years are when the League becomes particularly vital to voters to help them make informed choices,” Brigham added. “I’m ready and excited for the challenge.”

Goodman, who was president for the last three years, will next be executive director of Ruth’s List, “working to encourage more women to run for public office in Florida,” the release said.

Its website says it is specifically “dedicated to building a progressive Florida by recruiting and assisting pro-choice Democratic women to successfully run for public office.”

Personnel note: Lydia Claire Brooks heading to North Carolina

Lydia Claire Brooks is closing up shop as a Tallahassee-based fundraising consultant and heading to Raleigh, she tells Florida Politics.

There, she’ll be Finance Director for the North Carolina House Democratic Caucus.

“North Carolina Democrats have a lot of opportunities this election cycle, and I’m excited to join Leader (Darren) Jackson and his team,” she said. “I will miss Tallahassee, which has been my home for almost 10 years.”

With more than a decade of experience, Brooks has worked for a variety of candidates, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith, where she got her start as a scheduler for his 2005 campaign.

More recently, she briefly worked for state Rep. Loranne Ausley of Tallahassee, elected again in 2016 after first serving in the House 2000-08.

In between, she worked for the Florida Democratic Party, leaving at the end of the 2014 cycle to strike out on her own.

“All political roads seem to lead to Florida eventually, so I wouldn’t be surprised to end up back here someday,” Brooks said.

Head of Democratic-aligned Florida Alliance stepping down

Carlos Odio is stepping down as managing director of the Florida Alliance, a secretive group of high-value Democratic donors, Florida Politics has learned. 

Odio was a staff member in the Obama administration and is the son-in-law of embattled U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Chris Findlater, co-founder of online auto insurance business NetQuote and one of the Alliance’s board members, is stepping in to replace him at least temporarily, sources said. 

The group, made of people alienated from the Florida Democratic Party, spends vast quantities in races through friendly nonprofit groups and political committees.

They’ve been privately referred to as the progressive version of the conservative Koch brothers, billionaires “who helped create a broad network of nonprofit groups that control hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into politics,” as PBS NewsHour once explained.

Within the Alliance, there’s also talk of the re-emergence of Stephen Bittel, the former state party chair who resigned late last year after accusations of inappropriate remarks and behavior toward women. Bittel was previously a member of the Alliance. 

There also is talk, according to sources who asked not to be named, of bringing former Florida Democratic Party president Sally Boynton Brown into the fold.

She also resigned last year “amidst a flurry of controversy when two former party staffers said she ‘enabled’ … Bittel’s ‘creepy’ and ‘inappropriate’ behavior towards female staffers,” according to Sunshine State News.

“With little fanfare and heavy support from organized labor, members have spent years building a political network in Florida that runs independent of the party and supports everything from voter registration drives to political campaigns,” the Miami Herald reported in 2016.

“Much of their operations are based out of ‘dark money’ 501(c)(4) nonprofits, which under tax law can fund political causes without disclosing donors,” the paper reported.

As POLITICO Florida further said, the group “has used its considerable resources to push for causes favored by liberals … Alliance donors want to focus their efforts on helping elect candidates focused on causes championed by progressives, including climate change, voting rights and immigration reform.”

Teachers ask Legislature to revisit school funding amid special session talks

Gaming session or not, Florida teachers want legislators to reconvene to iron out school funding concerns.

On Thursday the Florida Education Association renewed its push for the Legislature to reconsider funding stipulations in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which was rushed through the lawmaking process in the wake of the Parkland massacre.

FEA’s move is timely. It follows Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday announcing he had reached a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Tribe will continue to pay the state through May 2019. Earlier, the termination of a formal agreement between the state and Tribe sparked talks of a special session.

That session is still on the table, however. Florida Politics reported Wednesday that state Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said discussions of a special session will continue in the hopes of addressing unresolved gambling issues.

Regardless, FEA claims that the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which gives school districts the option to arm personnel, thwarts districts from receiving the overall increase in per-student funding — estimated to be $101.5 per student — if they choose not to participate in the program. The News Service of Florida reported that school superintendents claim the base allocation increase amounts to just 47 cents per student.

“Public education is stuck with a measly increase of 47 cents per student in the new budget — and with money locked in for a Guardian Program that many districts have chosen not to use,” an FEA news release stated.

FEA President Joanne McCall said the shortage of money could have major negative impacts during the next school year.

“We’re already losing teachers at an alarming rate — and we’re afraid the 2018-2019 school year will have hundreds of thousands of students without a qualified classroom teacher if the legislators don’t put additional dollars in the budget,” said McCall. “This is a crisis they must address now.”

Rick Scott announces 427 areas designated ‘Low Tax Opportunity Zones’ under new law

Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his administration’s recommendations of 427 communities across Florida designated as “Low Tax Opportunity Zones,” aiming to use federal tax advantages to encourage business development.

The zones target low-income census tracts in all 67 counties, making businesses and developers working there eligible for deferred capital gains taxes under the newly-approved federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Once designated, the census tracts qualify as opportunity zones for 10 years.

Governors have until Saturday to submit their picks to the U.S. Department of Treasury, which will make the final determination of which areas will get the designations within another 30 days.

“These zones will make a real and lasting difference in some of our highest-need areas by helping to bring new capital investment and more jobs to every county across the state,” Scott stated in a news release issued by his office. “They will also bring additional investment to rural communities and urban areas, ensuring that every Floridian has the chance to live the American Dream in the Sunshine State.’

They also could address an geographic economic inequity that Democrats have been arguing has emerged under Scott, with a handful of urban counties booming with new jobs while numerous others have seen little or no job growth during his seven years.

The program is designed to address distressed communities, providing tax breaks for businesses willing to go or grow there. The evaluation process included statistical analysis of poverty rates, population, unemployment rates and other economic indicators, along with assessing recommendations from more than 1,200 requests. These specific requests came from municipal and county governments, regional planning councils, nonprofits, developers, investors and more.

About 1,200 census tracts were nominated, but states are allowed to select only 25 percent of qualified communities for the list, which in Florida amounts to 427.

Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, stated in the news release, “The new Opportunity Zone program will bring the chance for growth home to hundreds of communities from the Panhandle to the Keys. This program will help capitalize on economic development that is already underway and provide a new tool in the toolbox for communities that are looking to grow their economy.”

On the other hand, critics of the program, such as the Brookings Institute, have raised concerns that at least in some areas the tax breaks could lead to or accelerate gentrification that is turning some poor urban areas into trendy new upper-income areas, pushing long-term residents out.

The list includes 108 in Tampa Bay, 72 in Central Florida, 68 in the Miami area, 35 in West Palm Beach area, 34 in the Jacksonville area, 30 in the Fort Lauderdale area, 28 in Southwest Florida, 18 in the Tallahassee area, 13 in the Gainesville area, 12 in the Panama City area, and nine in the Pensacola area.


Republican candidate Marc Vann with HD 10 Rep. Elizabeth Porter

Marc Vann adds $17K for HD 10 bid

Lake City businessman Marc Vann raised $17,530 last month and for his campaign to succeed termed-out Republican Rep. Elizabeth Porter in House District 10.

“Our campaign’s momentum is strong and growing. I really appreciate all the neighbors and friends, both old and new, who are jumping on board our team,” Vann said in a press release.

“Our conservative message resonates with the folks in this district, and I look forward to continuing to connect with more voters about our platform of more jobs and lower taxes.”

The campaign also announced Thursday that it had qualified for the ballot by petition.

The March report showed 51 donations, with four $1,000 checks topping contribution sheet.

Those max donors included attorney Jordan Robert and contractor Don Reed, both of Lake City, as well as O’Brien real estate broker Joe Peurrung and highway construction firm Anderson Columbia Co.

Spending came in at just $69 and included credit card fees from fundraising platform Anedot and signature verification fess from the supervisors of election in the multi-county district.

To date, the campaign has raised $51,630 for his campaign and has $50,146 in the bank.

Vann, the co-owner of Vann Carpet One in Lake City, is one of three Republicans vying to replace Porter. His wife, Sheree Vann, has worked as Porter’s district secretary since 2014, and the exiting lawmaker endorsed him early on in his campaign.

He faces Benjamin Leon and Chuck Brannan III in the Republican Primary. Also running are Democrat Evan Leslie and unaffiliated candidates Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Fred Martin.

Outside of Vann, only Brannan has shown signs of life on the fundraising trail. Through March, he had raised $25,250 for his campaign and chipped in another $25,000 his own money. He has $47,445 banked.

HD 10 covers the whole of Baker, Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties as well as a small piece of northwestern Alachua. Outside of the Panhandle, the seat is one of the most reliable strongholds for Republicans in the state House.

Rick Scott’s Medicaid numbers come under fire

When it comes to health-care math, sometimes the numbers don’t add up for Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

As Scott’s administration this week submits a request to the federal government to trim the amount of time people have to apply for Medicaid coverage, the state’s estimate of $98 million in savings associated with the change has come under fire from health-care providers who contend the impact is much greater. Providers also allege that the number of people impacted will exceed the 39,000 projected by the state.

The providers’ arguments are bolstered by a 2017 letter sent to the federal government by the secretary of Scott’s Agency for Health Care Administration. The letter described savings associated with the change as high as $500 million.

That contradiction, however, is not the first time that a Medicaid cost analysis by the Scott administration has been called into question since he became Florida’s chief executive officer in 2011.

“I would say that Governor Scott’s Medicaid numbers should be carefully and independently analyzed,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families who has extensively studied Florida’s Medicaid program. “I certainly regard them with a healthy degree of skepticism.”

Scott, who is running this year for U.S. Senate, made his fortune in health care and understands its many nuances. He led the Columbia/HCA hospital company before it forced him out amid an investigation into federal health care fraud. Scott was never charged in the case, but the company paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine.

John Tupps, a Scott spokesman, defended the governor’s handling of the Medicaid program, which will total about $28.3 billion in the upcoming year.

“The bottom line is that Florida’s Medicaid program is operating at the highest level of quality in its history,” Tupps said. “These claims are unfounded and have zero impact on the services that Florida delivers to patients.”

But the Scott administration’s cost analyses sometimes have not made sense to Medicaid experts or health and social-service providers in the trenches.

Florida’s disabled community cried foul just months after Scott’s election after the governor ordered his chief inspector general to conduct a review of what is known as the home and community-based waiver program at the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities. The March 2011 report included budget information which, critics maintain, inflated a deficit at the agency by $75 million.

In 2012, Scott contended Florida’s Medicaid costs would increase by $1.9 billion if the state were to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. The contention was disputed at the time by state economists and was later revised.

In 2017, Scott announced Florida had been approved for $1.5 billion in each of the next five years for the Low Income Pool program, which funnels additional money to hospitals that serve large numbers or poor and uninsured patients. Scott also praised President Donald Trump’s administration for its willingness to work with the state.

So-called LIP funding is a supplemental Medicaid program and, like other programs, requires local matching dollars to draw down federal funds. In Florida, that match has come from counties and local hospital taxing districts whose interest in continuing to put up the funding waned after the Barack Obama administration restricted how LIP dollars could be spent.

At a press conference following the announcement, Scott dismissed concerns that the local matching money would fall short and that the full $1.5 billion wouldn’t be available, saying at the time Florida would “get more flexibility in a lot of things with regard to the Medicaid program.”

But the final tally of LIP funding in fiscal year 2017-2018 is about $731 million, less than half of what is available, because of a lack of matching money.

Tupps dismissed the criticisms and placed blame on hospitals. He said Scott negotiated the $1.5 billion LIP program and “it’s up to them to draw down the federal funding.”

Moreover, Tupps said the announcement that Florida would have $1.5 billion isn’t inaccurate because “this is year one of a five-year commitment.”

The latest dispute centers on a proposal to trim a length of time people have to apply for the Medicaid program from the current 90 days to a maximum of 30 days.

Federal law requires states to cover the costs of medical bills incurred up to three months prior to the time people apply for Medicaid. So long as people qualify for Medicaid and the services are covered, the hospital, doctor and nursing-home bills that accrue during that period will be absorbed.

The longstanding policy, officially known as “retroactive eligibility,” protects the poor from unpaid medical bills that they cannot afford and helps ensure that hospitals and nursing homes are paid for services they offer to Medicaid-eligible people.

Earlier this month, AHCA said 39,000 people would be impacted by a switch to a 30-day period and that it should save $98 million. That’s a drastic reduction from the $500 million in savings that AHCA Secretary Justin Senior said could be saved in a March 2017 letter he sent to former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Senior said claims that accrue during the 90-day period are paid outside of the state’s Medicaid managed-care system. That means Florida pays for “uncoordinated and potentially inappropriate utilization of medical services.”

Months later, the Scott administration floated the proposal to the Legislature for consideration during the 2018 Session. Ultimately, the $98 million reduction was included in the new state budget that begins July 1.

At two public meetings this month, health-care providers testified that they believe the change in policy will lead to much larger reductions in spending than the $98 million the agency cited.

“It does appear low from what we’re seeing anecdotally, but I don’t have the numbers to back that,” said Stephen Harris, vice-president of payor and government affairs for Tampa General Hospital.

What Harris does know is that Tampa General discharged 4,200 “straight Medicaid” patients last year, meaning they were not enrolled in Medicaid HMOs. And while he hasn’t conducted an analysis of each of those patients to determine when they applied for Medicaid, Harris suspects many of them were enrolled retroactively.

Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for the Agency for Health Care Administration, defended the $98 million figure and distributed backup details showing how the agency reached those conclusions.

But the agency provided no backup data on how it reached the $500 million estimate it touted as savings in 2017. Moreover, the agency now says the figure is irrelevant.

But when pressed for an answer, McManus attributed the huge difference to the Legislature’s decision to exclude pregnant women and children from the policy change.

“As you know, the majority of the Florida Medicaid population is children,” she added.

But the chances of McManus’ explanation being accurate are nil because excluding pregnant women and children wouldn’t lead to such a large reduction in the estimate, Alker said.

“While children account for about half of Florida’s Medicaid enrollment, they constitute only 20 percent of total spending. And the good news is that most kids don’t spend time in the hospital or in nursing homes — both of which are very expensive and likely the drivers of retroactive eligibility spending,” Alker said. “Thus, the likelihood of a huge chunk of retroactive eligibility spending being due to children is close to zero.”

The Agency for Health Care Administration used 2015 data in coming up with the $98 million projection. A News Service of Florida analysis of the 2015 data shows that bills for poor and elderly people who don’t qualify for Social Security account for about half of that total. Another $31 million is attributed to bills for elderly patients who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.

That’s not surprising to Tampa General’s Harris, who also worries that, if the retroactivity change is approved by the Trump administration, it would become more difficult for hospitals to find skilled nursing facilities that are willing to accept patients that hospitals want to discharge.

“Knowing that the patient is Medicaid eligible is a big deal,” he said. “If we can’t tell them (nursing homes) that, it makes it more difficult for us to place them.”

Deal ’em: Rick Scott, Seminole Tribe agree on gambling money

It’s another happy day at Hard Rock.

Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday announced an agreement between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida that “extends the Tribe’s current commitment to make (gambling) revenue sharing payments to the state through May 2019.” The tribe operates Hard Rock-branded and other casinos in Florida, including the flagship Hard Rock Tampa location.

That means the flow of money, now $19.5 million a month with a balloon payment at fiscal year’s end, will continue through Scott’s last term as Governor, which ends next January, and past the 2019 Legislative Session set for March-April.

It also is well after the November election, which includes a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a statewide vote to approve any future expansions of gambling.

“This agreement does not make any changes to state gaming law or expand current gaming operations in Florida in any way,” a press release from the Governor’s Office said. 

Sources in the gaming industry, moreover, said Scott’s deal with the Seminoles wouldn’t affect plans by the Legislature to call a Special Session to address unresolved gambling issues.

One source said Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, set to take over their chambers after the November election, now are “fully engaged” and were aware of the Seminole deal, finalized around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“This development shows good faith on the part of the Tribe to continue to partner with the State of Florida,” Galvano said in a statement later Wednesday. “This news also helps provide predictability with regard to our state revenues. However, discussions with regard to Special Session will continue.”

Coincidentally, minutes after the announcement, Hard Rock International — the hotel and casino conglomerate owned by the Tribe — separately announced a grand opening date of June 28 for its new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, formerly the Trump Taj Mahal.

“Since I took office, the Seminole Compact has generated more than $1.75 billion which has helped our state make historic investments in things like Florida’s education and environment,” Scott said in a statement.

“With today’s agreement, revenue sharing payments from the Tribe will carry on as the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) continues its work of aggressively following and enforcing Florida’s strict gaming laws and rules.”

Added Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus Osceola Jr.: “The Tribe is committed to its long term compact with the State of Florida and intends to continue making revenue sharing payments as spelled out in the agreement.

“The gaming compact, which runs through the year 2030, is good for the people of Florida and good for the members of the Seminole Tribe,” Osceola said. “The Tribe is investing more than $2.4 billion to expand its Seminole Hard Rock Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood and is hiring thousands of Floridians to fill jobs in construction and as permanent team members.”

The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers as part of a 2010 agreement, the Seminole Compact, that guarantees it exclusivity to offer certain games, particularly blackjack. (Exclusivity essentially means freedom from competition.)

Though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

The sides had been in a “forbearance period” that ended March 31, after which the Tribe was entitled to stop paying. Attorney Barry Richard, who has long represented the Tribe, told Florida Politics earlier this month the Tribe would not stop paying.

The agreement disclosed Wednesday extends that forbearance period. 

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons