Influence Archives - Page 7 of 283 - Florida Politics

Rick Scott to Feds: Give us a Medicaid block grant

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appears in Jacksonville with Vice-President Mike Pence Saturday, and the governor set up that meeting with some direct words about the future of Medicaid in the state.

“Today, the State of Florida is requesting greater flexibility from the federal government in running our statewide Medicaid program so we can deliver high-quality care without layers of government bureaucracy,” Scott said.

“My goal is to turn the top-down, Washington-knows-best approach of the Obama administration on its head by requesting flexibilities from the Trump Administration to manage our own Medicaid program based on the needs of Florida families. It is important to me that we have these flexibilities while not removing anyone from our current Medicaid program,” the governor added.

Scott, to the consternation of former President Barack Obama, resisted Medicaid expansion, contending that the state could handle administering low-income health care better than the federal government.

On Friday, Scott reiterated that stance.

“I firmly believe states can administer Medicaid far more efficiently than the federal government and that health care decisions made at the state level will be more successful than decisions made in Washington,” Scott said, vowing “to fight to get rid of the burdensome, duplicative and costly federal requirements put in place by the Obama administration.”

“Unfortunately, the previous administration was determined to micromanage every aspect of our health care system from Washington, which led to the high costs and limitations of services we currently see across the nation. Their excessive strong-arming put politics before the needs of families in our state,” Scott said.

The governor’s requests include a block grant of federal funds to replace supplemental payment programs, “flexibility regarding retroactive eligibility,” assistance with strengthening ties between primary care providers and Medicaid enrollees, streamlining the process to eliminate duplicative bureaucracy and administrative burdens.

The news release from the governor’s office was intended to amplify a letter from ACHA Secretary Justin Senior letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price that went out Friday.

Senior reiterated Scott’s optimism that Florida can provide “the best Medicaid services without removing anyone from our current program.

Florida TaxWatch: School choice options a better bargain for state

A recent report by Florida TaxWatch refutes one of the key arguments made by school choice opponents — namely, that charter and choice schools end up hurting traditional schools by diverting funding.

Further, the paper says that voters might be missing a larger part of the picture: how much taxpayer money is actually going to K-12 education.

The Florida Department of Education has reported a per-pupil appropriation of $7,178 for the 2016-17 school year. The FLDOE touts historic funding levels of $20.2 billion for the year, $11.3 billion of which come from the state.  But according to the analysis by Florida TaxWatch, those oft-invoked numbers overlook other money that is also spent on education.

Public schools in Florida draw money from a lot of sources. In 1973, the Florida Education Finance Program was established to manage the state’s education funds and distribute them equitably across all districts in recognition of varying geographic and financial situations.

For fiscal 2015-16, FEFP calculates that the per-pupil expenditure was $7,090.  However, public schools get funding for other programs that the FEFP calculations do not take into consideration, TaxWatch says, including capital projects and debt service. When taking these additional funding sources into account, TaxWatch says that the true cost of public education in Florida was $10,308 per K-12 student in 2015-16.

It’s not just Florida that under-reports the amount of money that gets funneled into education. A 2010 Cato Institute report found that real education spending in five of the nation’s largest metro areas was 44 percent higher than officially reported.

“Most citizens don’t have any idea how much is spent per child in public schools,” wrote Cato policy analyst Adam Schaeffer. “When asked how much was spent in their state, only about 7 percent of Floridians guessed a figure that was close to or higher than the [National Center for Education Statistics] figure of about $9,800 for that year. Sixty-three percent thought their state was spending $6,000 or less.”

However, the TaxWatch analysis shows that funding for charter school students in 2015-16 was significantly closer to the FEFP’s calculations, at $7,307. That’s $3,000 less per student compared with funding for students in traditional public schools.

TaxWatch found that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program is even cheaper for the state.

The program gives corporations tax credits in return for funding scholarships that allow low-income students to pay for private school tuition, up to a set yearly cap. The FLDOE reports that the amount spent per scholarship student was $5,677 for 2015-16.

The discrepancy in funding received by public schools and charters can be explained in part by the range of services both offer. The funding formula for public schools includes money for things such as transportation and programs for English-language learners, which not all charters provide.

Senate’s ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ bill teed up for floor

The Florida Senate’s bill to remove the “wall of separation” between hard liquor and other retail goods is scheduled for the floor next week.

The “whiskey and Wheaties” legislation (SB 106) is on the special order calendar for next Tuesday, according to the chamber’s website on Friday.

Meantime, the House companion (HB 81) has been struggling, escaping its committees by one-vote margins twice.

A version of the bill has been filed for four years running, aiming to repeal the Prohibition-era state law requiring businesses, such as grocery chains and big-box retailers, to have separate stores to sell liquor.

The Senate’s bill would allow a phase-in period over several years, starting in 2018. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in Florida.

Lawmakers have been caught in the middle between big-box stores like Wal-Mart, who want the repeal, and independently-owned liquor store operators who say they will suffer.


Florida’s revenue picture improves a little — but not enough to really matter

The Legislature will have $271 million more than it expected to spend this year, but close to 90 percent of the new money is a one-shot deal, and won’t help budget writers with ongoing demands upon a state budget projected at close to $83 billion.

State economists arrived at their new forecast during a revenue estimating conference Friday.

Total general revenues will near $32.4 billion, representing dependable flows of money to pay for most of the state’s needs, not counting taxes pledged to projects like housing and roads and federal contributions.

Amy Baker, director of the state Office of Demographic and Economic Research, said that, for all practical purposes, not much has changed.

“They’re going to end up maybe a little bit better than what we were contemplating in September,” she told reporters. “But it’s not materially different.”

Much of the new money — $226 million — represents unspent cash left over from the current budget year. The Legislature can use it for one-time projects — perhaps one of Gov. Rick Scott’s sales tax holidays for veterans, outdoorsmen, or school children. But it won’t support ongoing state needs.

“Since the last forecast was adopted, total collections have been running slightly over estimate; however, more than half the reported gain year-to-year is attributable to one-time adjustments and technical issues that do not alter the underlying long-term forecast,” conference participants said in a printed summary.

Sales taxes, comprising the bulk of general revenues, “saw percentage changes that round to zero in each year,” the summary reports.

Meanwhile, the state faces escalating demand for Medicaid and K-12 classroom dollars.

The revised forecast for the 2018-19 budget year were revised upward by $68 million, to $32.2 billion. The 2019-20 number grew by $148 million, to $33.6 billion.

The state will collect $69 million more than had been expected in corporate income taxes, reflecting healthy national profit growth. Still, corporate tax refunds have lagged behind expectations, so the bottom line is about $91 million short of earlier expectations.

Insurance premium taxes have been coming in more slowly than expected. The conference did not account for any changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Record tourist traffic has helped to offset a sluggish construction industry.

“That we’re not taking away money is terrific for them,” Baker said of lawmakers. “Any money we add helps ease the picture.”

House leaders, complaining of escalating spending over the years, were worried about the prospect of more or less flat revenues during the new budget year. So they began looking for places to cut.

House Budget chairman Carlos Trujillo has discussed a target of $1.4 billion in cuts. He ordered the budget subcommittees to come up with “A” scenario and “B” scenario plans — the first involving cuts of about $1 billion; the latter, about $2 billon.

House spending reduction targets would spread plenty of pain

The House released its bad-case and worst-case scenarios for the next state budget Thursday. Neither is very pretty.

Florida faces would pay hospital less to treat poor people. The state would build less affordable housing. There’d be fewer prosecutors and public defenders.

Museums, historical preservation, and economic development would be slashed.

For example:

“The long-range financial outlook recommended a hospital provider rate increase of $55.2 million based on past actions by the Legislature. I would not recommend funding this increase,” Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jason Brodeur wrote.

He also recommended cutting “hospital inpatient and/or outpatient reimbursements of approximately $220.6 million in general revenue.”

All told, the budget subcommittees were instructed to come up with “A” scenario and “B” scenario plans — the first involving cuts of about $1 billion; the latter, about $2 billon. Budget chairman Carlos Trujillo has also discussed a target of $1.4 billion in cuts.

House leaders are worried about the prospect of more or less flat revenues during the new budget year. The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference will meet Friday to update the forecast.

The Health Care subcommittee had a minimum goal of cutting $275.8 million. That would require reducing payments to hospitals, among other cuts.

It would meet its larger goal, of $573.8 million, by canceling Medicaid provider rate increases, cutting substance abuse and mental health programs, and cutting payments to nursing homes, among other reductions.

The minimum target for the Higher Education subcommittee was $144.8 million. It would give state universities only $70 million of the $161 million they asked for, and drop projects that no longer needed state money or couldn’t justify their expense.

Additionally, universities would have to cough up 5 percent of the $800 million in unspent money they have been allowed to retain.

The bigger target, $304.8 million, would require holding universities to existing spending levels — in other words, they’d get none of that $161 million they sought. The committee’s report noted that university spending has increased by more than 27 percent in four years.

The Justice subcommittee’s minimum target was $126.6 million. Getting there would require, in part, leaving positions vacant, taking nearly $62 million from trust funds at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Department of Corrections, and other law enforcement agencies.

D.A.R.E. would be eliminated. State attorneys and public defenders would lose $8.3 million, ostensibly justified by a lower crime rate. State courts would lose 147 positions and get less for travel expenses.

The committee would save another $7.7 million diverting drug offenders from prison into treatment programs.

Meeting the panel’s larger target — $273.6 million — would require additional position cuts and money from trust funds, plus diversion of other nonviolent offenders from the prison system.

Meeting the Pre-K-12 subcommittee’s minimum of $232.7 million would entail, among other economies, saying “No” to $187.5 million in high-priority needs. Cuts required to achieve the big target, $485 million, would include swallowing larger class sizes.

Chairman Manny Diaz noted that he’d invited local project administrators to defend their program. Sixteen out of 37 did not show.

“Therefore, committee members were unable to ask their questions and/or receive clarification of any of the data that was provided,” Diaz reported.

He recommended them for the chopping block.

The Transportation and Tourism subcommittee suggested ways to cut $156 million, and they don’t look good for the state’s economic development programs, already largely targets for elimination by House leaders.

To hold law enforcement programs harmless, the panel would take $50 million from Visit Florida. Cultural and museum, historic preservation, and library grants would be cut.

To meet its big target — $321 million — the panel would raid trust funds supporting economic development and contributions to outreach programs to Korea, Japan, and Latin America.

Additionally, the committee would have to target trust funds for affordable housing or state transportation projects. It did not give any numbers.

House committee OK’s proposal to keep BP oil funds in Northwest Florida

A House panel has approved legislation to make sure settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill stays in the Florida Panhandle.

The House Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast passed a proposed committee bill that, among other things, requires 75 percent of all payments that Florida receives from the settlement agreement between the five gulf states and BP be transferred from the general fund to the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund.

Under the proposal, the Triumph Gulf Coast corporation can award funding for several things including:

— Public infrastructure projects to enhance economic recovery, diversification, and enhancement in the disproportionately affected counties;

— Grants to local governments in the counties to establish and maintain equipment and trained personnel for local action plans to respond to disasters;

— Early childhood development and educational programs; and

— Grants to support programs to prepare students for future occupations and careers at K-20 institutions that have campuses in the communities.

The proposal requires Triumph Gulf Coast to give 14 days’ notice its intent to make an award, and requires the corporation make sure each of the eight disproportionately affected counties directly benefit from the awards.

The committee also approved a bill establishing a trust fund.

Millions of barrels of oil surged into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 after an oil well ruptured under BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. Eleven workers died, and 17 others were injured.

In the weeks and months that followed, tarballs and oil washed up on 1,100 miles of coastline, keeping away the usual summer tourists. Hotels, restaurants and other tourism related businesses were the hardest hit. It took until July to cap the well.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee passed its bill tackling payments earlier this week. Senate President Joe Negron has said he’s committed to getting the settlement money to affected communities.

Senate panel OKs beer bill — that beer companies hate

A bill that—as one beer-company insider put it—could allow theme parks to “extort” advertising dollars out of them cleared a Senate panel this week.

The legislation (SB 388), which allows beer companies to advertise in theme parks, was OK’d unanimously by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee with scant attention.

It chips away at the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. And ironically, the companies don’t want the law changed.

Moreover, a previous version of the bill theoretically could have allowed beer makers to stock the inside of any Florida bar or tavern with ads because it covered any “vendor licensed under the Beverage Law.”

Bill sponsor Travis Hutson, the Elkton Republican who chairs the committee, amended the bill so it only covered the parks.

“This is a holdover from Prohibition-era laws,” Hutson told the committee Wednesday. He couldn’t be reached Thursday.

As the Tampa Tribune once explained, “Florida and other states passed ‘tied house’ laws, which prohibited taverns and bars from being owned by, or ‘tied’ to, alcoholic beverage manufacturers. Tied houses, common in England, were thought to encourage overconsumption.”

“The federal government … has left this authority up to the states,” Hutson added. If signed into law, Florida would be the fifth state to allow beer ads in its theme parks, he added.

But the strike-all’s language is rather specific: “… a theme park complex comprised of at least 25 contiguous acres owned and controlled by the same business entity and which contains permanent exhibitions and a variety of recreational activities and has a minimum of 1 million visitors annually.”

Representatives for SeaWorld and Universal Orlando said they supported the measure.

Lobbyists for MillerCoors; the Beer Industry of Florida, the association of Florida’s MillerCoors distributors; and the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents Anheuser-Busch distributors; all opposed it.

One critic of the legislation, who asked not to be identified, said current law “actually promotes an open market and competition.”

It prohibits “directly or indirectly giving, lending, renting, selling, or in any other manner furnishing to a vendor any outside sign, printed, painted, electric, or otherwise; providing neon or electric signs, window painting and (decals), posters, placards, and other advertising material … in the interior of (a) licensed premises,” according to a bill analysis.

Under Hutson’s measure, “the biggest players will come in and write the biggest checks,” this person said.

“So when you sit down in a park to order a beer, you’ll look up, see the signage, point to it and tell your waiter, ‘I guess I’ll just have one of those,’ ” the person said.

Still another beer company representative, who also asked not to be named, said they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” the second person said. “None of the beer guys support this because we all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The Senate bill, which has an identical House companion (HB 423), will next be considered by the chamber’s Commerce and Tourism and Rules committees. The House bill has not yet had a hearing.

Bills allowing overnight stays in ambulatory surgery centers, direct primary care agreements ready for House floor

The House Health and Human Services Committee sent bills that would allow direct primary care agreements and overnight stays in ambulatory surgery centers to the House floor Thursday

HB 161 would allow patients and their physicians to enter into direct primary care agreements, an alternative to traditional health care plans.

Under such agreements, patients pay a flat fee to have all their primary care needs taken care of by a primary care doctor.

The bill was filed by the Health Innovation Subcommittee, with Reps. Daniel Burgess and Mike Miller serving as sponsors.

The House Health and Human Services Committee cleared the bill during its Thursday meeting, making HB 161 ready for the House floor.

The bill previously had been referred to the Health Care Appropriations Committee, though that assignment was removed before the 2017 Legislative Session kicked off last week.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 240 by Sen. Tom Lee, still has two committee stops left before its ready for a vote by the full Senate.

That bill has already cleared the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and the Health Policy Committee with unanimous votes

The House Health and Human Services Committee also cleared HB 145, by Republican Reps. Paul Renner and Heather Fitzenhagen, which would allow patients to stay up to 24 hours in ambulatory surgery centers, a type of medical facility dedicated to less complicated, generally elective surgeries.

Current law forbids overnight stays in ASCs.

The House bill would also allow for recovery care centers, a different type of non-hospital medical facility where patients would be allowed to stay up to 72 hours.

The bill previously passed through the chamber’s Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and the Health Innovation Subcommittee.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 222 by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, has the same provision relating to ASCs, but the recovery care center portion of the bill was removed when it cleared the Health Policy Committee with a 4-1 vote earlier this week.

That bill must clear the Community Affairs Committee, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services and the full Senate Appropriations Committee before it’s ready for the Senate floor.

Task Force wants money to fight encroachment on Florida military bases

Florida would place its military installations at risk of commercial encroachment — and, possibly, closure — without adequate funding for land acquisition through the Florida Forever land acquisition program, a military support organization warned Thursday.

Some $3 million from U.S. Department of Defense funds will be lost at the end of 2018 unless the state provides matching funds, said Bruce Grant, Enterprise Florida vice president for military programs, during a meeting in Tallahassee with the Florida Defense Support Task Force.

The task force operates under Enterprise Florida’s purview.

“Most legislators may not connect (Florida Forever) with military land buffering,” Grant said. “But there is a connection.”

He referred to federal program called REPI — the Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative. Since 2002, REPI has matched $19.4 million against $72 million in state funds to protect more than 68,000 acres buffering military bases.

The Legislature is considering spending $15 million on Florida Forever in the next budget, with $5 million tagged for the Florida Keys, Grant said.

Florida needs to pony up for land acquisition near Naval Air Station Whiting Field, in Santa Rosa County, and the Avon Park Air Force range or lose the federal matches, Grant said.

Additional projects would shield Tyndall Air Force Base in Bay County, and Camp Blanding, near Starke, the main training base for the Florida National Guard.

“With limited funding in Florida Forever, it only goes so far,” said David Clark, director for the Florida Division of State Lands.

“We’re trying to leverage that as wisely as we can,” he said.

Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to stop discharges of toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee would divert billions of dollars from Florida Forever to finance water projects around the state.

Buffering acquisitions are intended to shield the state’s 20 military installations against nearby commercial development that might compromise their missions — say, a housing development along a runway approach, or near a target range.

With the federal government expected to review bases for closure in 2019 or 2021, “now is not the time to pull back and pause,” said Kellie Jo Kilberg, of the Florida Defense Alliance, which promotes military programs in the state.

“Now is the time for us to really come together and … fund those programs, so that our 20 installations here in the state, that we don’t lose those, and that we do continue to gain and add to the economy,” she said.

Also implicated is the state’s Defense Infrastructure Grant — DIG — program, which also draws federal REPI money. The state has consistently funded the program at around $1.6 million.

“For Okaloosa County, alone, I have just short of $1 million waiting for the county to be able to execute, using the DIG program funds,” said Jeff Fanto, a community planner at Eglin Air Force Base.

Rep. Clay Ingram, the Pensacola Republican who chairs the task force, shared those concern.

“It’s important that the military component at least he in the conversation with regard to spending those dollars,” Ingram said.

“Because some of the most pristine lands in this state are in these conservation areas and easements that we’ve created around our military installations. They’re worthy of funding,” he said.

“The other benefit, though, is making the installations more valuable and less likely to be closed,” Ingram said.

Bill to revamp community college system sparks mission debate

A Florida Senate bill aimed at making what all involved said was a great community college system even better opened a debate Wednesday about how much of the colleges’ missions should be about granting four-year degrees.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education unanimously approved Senate Bill 374 creates a new governing system for the state’s 28 community colleges and sets new rules on how they operate.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the Port Orange Republican, expressly re-affirms the colleges missions as providing two-year degrees that students can use either as is, or as automatic bridges into one of the state’s 12 universities to complete four-year degrees. In particular, the bill builds on Florida’s highly-praised 2+2 program that requires and fosters partnerships between colleges and universities to make that seamless.

But there is emerging a new mission in the past 15 years that also generally drew across-the-board praise, yet it competes with the 2+2 model. Increasingly, community colleges own four-year programs are attracting students.

The bill – and the committee – seek to put a cap on that, and that drew numerous objections from witnesses, who argued that community colleges are a major source of four-year degrees for older, working, non-traditional students who don’t have the opportunities to move to a university.

“No one is taking back any four year degrees,” said Chairman Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who presented SB 374 in Hukill’s absence Wednesday. “Let’s just make sure we review them properly and keep an eye on it as a Legislature. That’s what we do.”

An amendment from Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale, raised the cap, essentially to 15 percent of all students in a college, unless the college seeks special permission from the Florida Legislature. While critics of the cap applauded that move, they remained concerned about any limits on students’  access to degree programs in the community colleges.

Joanne Bashford, president of Miami Dade College’s InterAmerican Campus, was among several who spoke of how the colleges are providing four-year degrees to non-traditional students, and also serving employers who want or need their employees to get four-year degrees, while still working.

“We help make their dreams come true,” she said.

Overall, the bill creates a new State Board of Community Colleges. The states’ colleges will be moved under that umbrella from being under the State Board of Education.

The only opposition to the bill was voiced by The United Faculty of Florida, the professors’ union. UFF President Jennifer Proffitt argued that the state was unnecessarily adding a new layer of bureaucracy to the community college system.


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