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Jack Latvala, Kathleen Peters file beach renourishment bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

Rick Scott’s favorite business incentive is losing money, Senate hears

Gov. Rick Scott’s favored economic incentive program – the Quick Action Closing Fund (QAC) – is now losing money, the Legislature’s chief economist told a Senate panel Wednesday.

The QAC is a pot of cash that Scott can draw up to $2 million from without legislative approval to entice businesses to the state.

But though the state’s “return on investment” from QAC projects was $1.10 per dollar four years ago, it’s now down to 60 cents per dollar, Amy Baker told the Transportation, Tourism & Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

In fact, more state incentive programs are losers than winners, according to Baker’s slides. Incentive programs, including the QAC, as well as Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization, and VISIT FLORIDA, the state tourism agency, are slated for elimination under legislation filed in the House. 

Only eight incentives – what Baker called the “strongest of the strong” – make money for state coffers, including the Florida Sports Foundation Grant Program ($5.60 per dollar) and the Qualified Target Industry program (QTI), which now makes $6.40 per dollar invested.

The QTI targets businesses that offer high-wage jobs.

The others either don’t “break even,” though the state may recover some of its costs, such as the Spring Training Baseball Franchise Incentive, Baker’s slides said.

Or the “state loses all of its investment, plus incurs additional costs,” such as Enterprise Zones.

That’s when “we’ve made things worse than it was when we started,” she said, giving the example of no longer taxing something that used to be taxed.

Just breaking even, however, “is a lofty challenge,” Baker said. She noted that a incentive dollar has to “cycle through the economy 16.67 times” to make money for the state.

State Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican, later asked Baker about the merit of tax breaks for films.

She said they target “the most footloose part” of the film industry, being the shooting of a movie or commercial, “and when they’re done, they’re gone.”

“They’re not building, they’re not ‘nesting’ in local communities,” Baker explained, instead referring to companies that build soundstages here, or focus on “production and editing.”

“They’re less transient,” she said.

Subcommittee chair Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, eventually floated an analogy that instead of just fishing for sharks, lawmakers should focus on keeping “the coral reef” healthy, and that will attract small fish, then bigger fish, then sharks.

Senate panel OKs bill to create chief data officer

A bill creating a “chief data officer” position in the Agency for State Technology easily cleared its first Senate panel.

The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee OK’d the legislation (SB 362) unanimously on Tuesday. It also establishes a “Geographic Information Office” within the agency.

GIS activities are fragmented across the state with duplication of data collection and storage,” a staff analysis said. “Standards are followed inconsistently, and information is not immediately accessible when needed by law enforcement, emergency management, and the State Fire Marshal.”

The bill also comes after an audit of the agency laid out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency, created in 2014.

Among those findings are that “access privileges for some AST users … did not restrict (them) to only those functions appropriate and necessary for assigned job duties or functions,” and that the agency “inappropriately allowed interactive logon, increasing the risk that the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of AST data and IT resources may be compromised.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, next moves to the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government. There is as yet no House companion.

Amendment 4 implementing bill clears first Senate committee

A Senate panel OK’d a bill Tuesday to implement Amendment 4, which exempts solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes in Florida.

The Senate Communications, Energy & Public Utilities Committee voted unanimously to approved the bill (SB 90). The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, excepts solar and renewable energy devices from property taxes on real and tangible personal property installed on commercial and industrial property.

The amendment, which was on the August ballot, passed with 73 percent support.

“This bill will further encourage growth in clean energy jobs in our state,” said the St. Petersburg Republican. “We will be in a better position to take advantage of increased energy diversity while addressing environmental concerns. Florida should be a leader in solar, and the passage of this bill brings us one step closer to that reality.”

The proposal is meant to encourage expansion of solar production in the Sunshine State. The tax exemption begins in 2018 and extends for 20 years.

“This bill comes at just the right time to grow the market in Florida, as The Solar Foundation announced today that Florida gained 1,700 solar jobs in 2016,” said Scott Thomasson, director of new markets for Vote Solar, an advocacy group focused on solar energy, in a statement. “Florida voters sent a clear mandate with 73 percent of voters agreeing to remove tax penalties on solar, and now it’s up to our state legislators to implement Amendment 4 into law by passing Senate Bill 90.”

 

Mike Carroll: “We aren’t always able” to save “broken” children

The head of the state’s child welfare agency told a legislative panel his department has now handed over “5,000 pages of documents” to a judge looking into why a foster child hung herself while broadcasting it on social media.

Carroll
Carroll

Mike Carroll, secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), spoke to the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee this week.

Naika Venant, a 14-year-old Miami-Dade County girl who was in and out of foster care starting in 2009, killed herself last month during a Facebook Live video.

That was “several hours after she wrote on Facebook: ‘I Don’t Wanna Live No More,’ adding three sad-faced emojis,” according to the Associated Press.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia will eventually decide which of the documents will be released to the public.

“I can tell you what happened to Naika was horrific on many levels,” Carroll said, including that her death was live-streamed “to a largely unsympathetic audience.”

But Carroll insisted that once DCF got involved, his agency performed “an extensive battery of assessments on Naika and her mom,” including behavioral and educational reviews.

“This case is kind of symptomatic of what we deal with,” he said. In Naika’s case, “where issues were in place for most, if not all, of this young lady’s life. These issues predated her birth; they were generational.”

Carroll said his department’s job is to protect such children “from the inside out.”

“But many of these kids have cracks … they’re broken, they’re in pieces,” he told senators. “It doesn’t always show. And they can present on any given day as being happy. But they are broken, and you can tell by what this young lady decided to do.

“It’s an imperfect science for us,” Carroll said. “We’re charged as a state agency to put those pieces back together. And we aren’t always able to do that. And that’s the most tragic thing about our work.”

Ed. Note: This version corrects a previous post regarding Venant’s Facebook comment and the video’s title. 

Arthenia Joyner “truly honored” to be on Constitution Revision Commission

Following her appointment to a constitutional review panel, former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner said she was “truly honored and deeply grateful for the trust Chief Justice (Jorge) Labarga has placed in me.”

On Monday, Labarga announced the Tampa Democrat as one of his three picks for the Constitution Revision Commission. The other two are former Florida Bar president Hank Coxe of Jacksonville and former federal prosecutor Roberto Martinez of Miami.

“The fight for equal justice and equal standing has been at the forefront of everything I’ve done and worked for throughout my entire life,” Joyner said in a statement later Monday. The former Senate Democratic Leader was arrested while picketing outside the whites-only Florida Theater in Tallahassee as a then-college student at Florida A&M University

“The compact between the people and our government is sacred, and meant to grow to embrace the changes our society demands,” she said. “But it can never lose the basic fundamentals on which our nation and our state were founded, and it can never waiver from defending those rights when confronted by powerful opposition.

“As we see in real time today, the checks and balances encased in both our federal and state constitutions continue to be the lone guardian when rights are threatened or limits to power are trampled,” added Joyner, an attorney. “I am proud to be part of the CRC as we work to maintain that integrity.”

The commission meets every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. It has convened twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes proposed, however, would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as Attorney General. Representatives for Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who each get nine selections, have not said when the leaders will announce their decisions.

 

 

House to consider proposed committee bill to eliminate Enterprise Florida

The Florida House has fired back, filing a proposed committee bill this week completely eliminate Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private jobs agency.

The proposed committee bill (PCB CCS 17-01) would, among other things, abolish Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, two organizations which have drawn the ire of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The bill, which is expected to be discussed during Wednesday’s House Careers & Competition Subcommittee meeting, comes as Gov. Rick Scott makes some of his strongest criticisms to date about the House’s position on incentives and Visit Florida.

“If you don’t support Enterprise Florida, if you don’t support Visit Florida, then you don’t care about jobs,” said Scott after Thursday’s Enterprise Florida Board of Directors meeting. “When somebody gets a job, who gets helped the most? The most disadvantaged in our state gets helped the most. So who ever doesn’t support Enterprise Florida, doesn’t support Visit Florida, doesn’t understand how business works and is not focused on how families in every part of the state get a job.”

Corcoran played a key role in blocking Scott’s proposal for $250 million for Enterprise Florida in 2016, and he’s poised to do the same in 2017. He remains staunchly opposed to incentives, taking the position they are little more than “corporate welfare.”

And on Tuesday, Corcoran said there would be “no (economic) incentives” in his chamber’s proposed 2017-18 budget.

That position could be costing the state jobs in the long run. A few years ago, Scott said the state was in the middle of conversations with GE when the state Legislature decided to cut funding for incentives. Those conversations, Scott said, ended soon after.

“We’re not going to get the leads. You’re not going to do business with someone with no money,” he said. “If the legislature says they don’t want to do deals, then if you’re a site selector you don’t want to waste your time. We’re not the only state out there trying to get them.”

Scott said he is going to “work tirelessly” to get more jobs, and said he believes the Legislature will “fully fund” Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida. He would not say whether he would veto the bill if it makes it his desk.

Dorothy Hukill extends legislative absence as she fights cancer

State Sen. Dorothy Hukill will be absent from the upcoming committee week as she continues her battle against cervical cancer, a Senate spokeswoman said Thursday.

“We expect her to return within a few weeks,” Katie Betta told FloridaPolitics.com. “Until then, she will remain engaged in the legislative process by working remotely as she continues her treatment and recovery.”

The Port Orange Republican disclosed her condition last November in 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, an attorney, was first elected to the Senate in 2012 after having served in the House.

Another lawmaker, state Rep. Dan Raulerson, had been away from the Capitol recently as he was dealing with back issues, leading to speculation he was stepping down from office.

Untrue, the Plant City Republican said in December: “It’s third grade playground stuff, and you can quote me on that.” Raulerson couldn’t be immediately reached by phone Thursday.

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