Rick Scott Archives - Page 3 of 299 - Florida Politics

Transparency eyed to hold down health costs

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has often criticized efforts to overhaul health care at the federal level, has contended for years that more needs to be done to lower the cost of what patients — and the government — pay for care.

But there are questions about whether Scott’s own effort to help drive down costs will be a success before he leaves office in early 2019.

The Republican governor and former health care executive wants legislators this year to spend $925,000 for a statewide database of insurance claims that can be used to provide the average costs of care at facilities and doctor offices across the state. That’s on top of $4 million the state has already spent on the project.

While Scott is asking for more money, his administration is also moving ahead on a proposed rule, which some argue goes beyond what state law allows, that would require insurance companies or Medicaid HMOs that contract with the state — as well as affiliates of the companies and HMOs — to submit insurance claims on all of their Florida policyholders.

Justin Senior, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, testified to a Senate panel last month that the state is going to take the claims data and publish the average prices for nearly 300 medical procedures at hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers across the state.

The information, he said, will enable people to “get closer to the point as consumers where we can actually shop for health-care procedures.” In other words, if consumers know the price ahead of time, they will be able to search for the least-expensive alternative.

An early iteration of the state website, FloridaHealthPriceFinder.com has been available to the public and contains cost information on 295 health-care bundles, ranging from acne to X-rays. The Agency for Health Care Administration signed a contract with Health Care Cost Institute, or HCCI, to collect and make available Florida-specific claims data and to develop and carry out an interactive consumer website that displays the information.

AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman said the site had 3,288 visitors between Nov. 28 when it was first launched and Jan. 2.

But some people, including House Health Quality Chairman James Grant, are concerned the information may not be utilized the way the state would like.

Tampa Republican Grant calls himself an ardent supporter of making information on health-care costs available to consumers. But he said he’s concerned the state missed the opportunity to ensure widespread use of the information because it did not require the new website to have application program interface, or API.

In short, APIs allow one application to share data with another application, and Grant said the state should never sign another technology contract that doesn’t mandate APIs.

“There is so little data made available to consumers,” Grant said, adding, “a government website is probably not the most meaningful place to get adoption.”

Scott championed increased health-care transparency in 2016, a year after a bruising legislative battle over expanding Medicaid access to uninsured, childless adults. In lieu of expanding Medicaid access, Scott said he would help uninsured Floridians by working to lower the costs of health care.

The Legislature responded in part by giving the green light to an all-payers claims database requiring health insurers that participate in the state group health-insurance plans — and the insurers’ affiliates — to submit claims data to the state. The bill also required health plans that participate in the Medicaid managed-care program and their affiliates to submit all claims data on Florida policyholders.

In addition to approving the database, the Legislature also agreed to provide more than $4 million to AHCA to pay for the creation of the database and website.

The website shows the average costs insurance companies paid for services, not the average costs hospitals or providers charged for the services. Health Care Cost Institute Director of Operations Kristine Burnaska said uninsured patients often are quoted undiscounted prices that are much higher than what health-care facilities agree to accept as payment from insurance companies.

“Providing uninsured consumers with the average amount that a facility might receive from an insurance company gives the consumer a starting point for price/payment negotiations with the facility,” she said.

Epilepsy Foundation of Florida CEO and President Karen Egozi has worked with uninsured people and those who suffer from epilepsy since 2005. Also, in 2010, her association became a navigator to help people who qualify for subsidized insurance coverage through the federal health exchange.

She said consumers don’t think about negotiating health-care costs with providers and questioned whether providers would agree to negotiate. Egozi said people she helps are less interested in what insurance companies pay to reimburse hospitals and are more interested in what they will have to pay in premiums and co-insurance or co-payments.

Scott is not alone in his push to increase price transparency. Many health insurance companies offer tools to customers to help them research health-care costs before deciding which providers to see or where to go to the hospital, said Florida Association of Health Plans President and CEO Audrey Brown.

Toni Woods, of Florida Blue, said the Jacksonville-based insurer tries to educate customers about costs of care — as well as their portions of the costs of care —- in a variety of ways and has made available a cost estimator that it dubs “Know Before You Go.

The system allows customers to compare medical costs for several procedures, find providers and pharmacies and compare drug prices. She said it was used more than 193,000 times in 2017 by members who wanted to compare medical costs.

Meanwhile, the plan is to update the state’s price website this spring with Florida-specific claims data. To that end, the Agency for Health Care Administration held a rule workshop over the summer where the insurance industry expressed concerns that the rule may go beyond what the law authorizes.

Tallahassee Attorney Bruce Platt noted in written remarks that the law applies to HMOs and insurance companies that provide group benefits to employers but appears to also include claims for individual policies, such as those sold through the federal health-care exchange.

Moreover, in his two-page letter to the Agency for Health Care Administration, Platt flagged concerns that the proposed rule required self-insured employers to submit claims data to the state. Insurance companies and HMOs that provide “administrative services” to self-insured employers don’t own the data and cannot release the data without permission from the employer clients, he said.

While the agency didn’t respond to all of Platt’s concerns, it republished the proposed rule to make clear that the self-insured claims data would be released to the state “with the employers permission.”

James Buchanan adds to GOP disapproval on offshore drilling

House District 72 Republican candidate James Buchanan opposes the Trump administration’s plan to open up offshore drilling off the coast of Florida.

“I’m against it,” the Sarasota real estate agent and broker told Florida Politics Friday.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed Thursday a sweeping new offshore drilling plan that intends to open large sections of the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans to oil exploration, a move that has been denounced by Democrats and Republicans throughout Florida.

Buchanan is running against Democrat Margaret Good in the special election in House District 72 on Feb. 13. The vote was scheduled after Republican Alex Miller announced in September she was stepping down from the seat.

Good said on Thursday that she was “horrified” by the Administration’s decision, and Buchanan needed to speak up about what he thought of the proposal.

“Is James aligned with President Trump on this issue and on climate change?” she asked in a statement. “Does he agree with the Republican leadership that we should sell off our natural resources to the highest bidder?  What does he stand for?”

Criticism of the plan has been bipartisan in Florida, led by Gov. Rick Scott, who in a rare public disagreement with Trump, said this week he opposed the announcement.

Scott added that his “top priority” was to ensure that Florida’s natural resources remain protected, a stance with which Buchanan says he agrees.

Vern Buchanan, James’ father who represents Sarasota County in Congress, blasted the proposal as well, calling it “reckless, misguided and potentially catastrophic to Florida.”

Libertarian Alison Foxall is also on the ballot in the HD 72 race. She was not available for comment Friday.

Tampa crowd objects to First Amendment Foundation stance on proposed public records law

One might think that the Tampa Bay Times’ Tim Nickens, as editorial page editor of Tampa Bay’s biggest daily newspaper, might be subjected to tough questions about the paper’s coverage and/or editorial stances when he spoke before the politically savvy Cafe Con Tampa crowd at the Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

Those tough questions were asked, but they were about his support as a member of the First Amendment Foundation’s board for a piece of legislation introduced for the 2018 Session, which kicks off next week.

The First Amendment Foundation is a 33-year-old Tallahassee-based organization to promote the constitutional right for members of the public to oversee government through Florida’s Sunshine public records laws.

SB 1142, from Sarasota Senate Republican Greg Steube, calls for court records to be administratively expunged automatically of nearly anyone found not guilty, acquitted during a trial or has charges dropped or dismissed. Claiming documents could still be obtained from the courthouse where the charges were filed, charges would not show up in a background check through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

While the First Amendment Foundation strongly opposes the law, Nickens gave several examples of why the state should protect those records.

“If you are hiring a babysitter, you might want to run a criminal background check to see if that person has ever been arrested,” Nickens said. “If you run a business, you’d likely want to run a background check to make sure that this person hasn’t done any crimes or is an upstanding citizen that hasn’t been arrested a number of times for driving while intoxicated.”

A similar provision passed during the 2017 Session — and was sent to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk — but that portion of the overall bill was dropped from the final legislation.

From the jump, Nickens said support for the bill received immediate pushback from members of the audience, with some in the audience prefacing remarks with comments about individual cases involving themselves or others.

“I feel it’s like a further persecution for that not to be wiped out of the system,” said a man who said he once served on a jury where it was obvious the accused was innocent. “I don’t think there’s any value in having that on his record.”

Nickens agreed that if he or a family member were falsely accused of a crime, he would want that wiped out. He said there are already procedures to get records expunged or sealed. But if reporters can’t get access to such records, he said they couldn’t demonstrate that prosecutors had erred or the police had perhaps planted evidence in a case.

That failed to mollify the crowd.

“We all know you can get your records expunged if you’ve got money,” replied Ione Townsend, the chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party. “But if you don’t have money that’s almost impossible to do.”

“The whole system is biased against people of color,” activist Jim Shirk added. “It’s just discriminatory.”

Nickens countered that there had been evidence of racial disparities documented in newspaper reports across the country, but Steube’s law would prevent journalists from having access to that information for writing such stories.

Former criminal defense attorney Rochelle Reback, saying she was a First Amendment “champion,” argued that the Foundation’s opposition to the bill was “prejudicial and also unnecessary.” She said she encountered problems with requests for expunged records when public agencies sometimes fail to comply.

“They’re either overloaded, or their systems are defective, and it doesn’t happen.”

There was also discussion about Nickens’ day job, where he serves as editor of editorials at the Times.

The Times’ editorial page was heavily criticized last year by liberals, unhappy about the tough stances it took on St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in his reelection bid.

As did his opponent, former Mayor Rick Baker, the Times took exception to Kriseman’s campaign decision to nationalize the election, making what was officially a nonpartisan race into a very partisan contest.

Frustration led to Nickens writing a column under his own name where he cited a Florida Democratic Party mailer linking Baker to President Donald Trump with an accompanying quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that ultimately compelled him to switch party registration to independent.

When a reporter asked about readers’ responses to those columns, Nickens said the editorial page is generally progressive in tone and frequently takes positions more favorable to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. But Nickens noted that stance doesn’t always transfer when making recommendations in political races (the Times does not “endorse”).

“Over the last three or four election cycles, we’ve recommended more Republicans than we have Democrats,” Nickens said. “Now some of is sort of with a gun to our head because there wasn’t viable Democrats in those particular races, say for congress or something like that. But what was interesting in the mayor’s race in St. Petersburg is that is a nonpartisan race.”

He went on to say the paper had recommended both Baker and Kriseman in previous mayoral elections — 2001, 2005 and 2013, respectively — and the choice for the editorial board last year “was a close call.”

“We’ve been both supportive and critical of both,” he said. “We got a lot of feedback when we recommended Baker, because I think a lot of our readers who are progressives maybe took us for granted and just assumed that the Times editorial page was going to be for the Democrat. And in this case, we weren’t.”

Philip Levine planning another bus tour of Florida

Philip Levine is gassing up a bus again for another tour of Florida, this time as an official candidate for governor.

Levine, the Democratic former mayor of Miami Beach, announced Friday that he plans to take a bus campaign tour that will start in Orlando next Tuesday morning and end in Key Largo on the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 12.

His campaign is calling the tour “Live! from Florida’s Living Rooms” and promises he’ll be presenting his vision for Florida’s future  from inside host families’ living rooms, throughout Florida.

Levine plans to kick off the tour in Orlando Tuesday morning by watching Gov. Rick Scott’s “State of the State” address from a host family’s living room, and then providing a direct response, via Facebook Live.

“Tallahassee always tells us what they want us to hear. I’m going around this state to make sure they hear from us. From the living rooms of Florida, we will let Tallahassee know that climate change is real, the minimum wage is unlivable, that drilling off our shores is off-limits, and that taking away our right to home rule is out of the question,” Levine stated in a news release.

“This tour begins a conversation we’ve never had, about things we’ve never done, for people who’ve never been given a chance. We’ve heard from Tallahassee. Now, I’m going to make sure they hear from us,” he added.

Levine faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in seeking the Democratic primary nomination to run for governor. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, who just declared his candidacy Friday.

Last summer Levine took a bus tour of Florida as host of a SiriusXM satellite radio talk show. That was before he officially entered the governor’s race, though the tour had all the trappings of a campaign trip.

The exact locations of host families for each living room stop on the next b us tour still are being confirmed. His campaign plans his first stop, in Orlando, at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, at a location to be announced.

Tuesday afternoon he’ll be in Gainesville. Wednesday morning he’ll be in Jacksonville; Wednesday afternoon, Tallahassee; and Wednesday evening, Pensacola. Thursday morning he’ll be in Tampa; and Thursday afternoon, Fort Myers. Friday morning, Jan. 12, he’ll start in West Palm Beach; Friday afternoon he’ll appear in Fort Lauderdale, and then in Key Largo.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.5.18 — Cold outside, 2018 is hot

The weather report was unprecedented this week. Cold as ice, as the Foreigner classic goes.

But for those needing a warmup, the 2018 political landscape brings the heat.

Right now, it’s hotter than July in the orbit of almost-Jacksonville Rep. Ron DeSantis. He’s got the billionaires backing him, and a robopoll saying he’s more popular than Adam Putnam.

Time will tell there.

The race to replace DeSantis in Congress also is heating up.

We also have Democratic candidates making moves — both in 2018 and 2019.

And if you read down far enough, you will see us predicting a Jaguars Super Bowl win.

Perhaps we are still celebrating the New Year on that last item?

Bold is back (as you can see) and we are ready for whatever 2018 brings.

Billionaires back DeSantis for Governor

Breaking: lots of people who can buy and sell most of those reading this blog post want DeSantis for Governor.

If Ron DeSantis were an 80s pro wrestling group, they’d be called Money Inc.

Team DeSantis rolled out more than 50 Floridians stretching from Miami through the Panhandle and featuring Palm Beach billionaire Thomas Peterffy; and more than two dozen national names, topped by Las Vegas casino mogul and conservative political rainmaker Sheldon Adelson.

DeSantis’ state financial leadership team includes Republican donors and timeshare moguls Jackie and David Siegel of Windermere; Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus; Palm Beach fundraisers Gay and Stanley Gaines; and Art Hudson of Orlando.

In addition to Adelson, the national committee includes David Bossie of Dallas, who is chairman of the Citizens United political activism organization and was a deputy campaign director for Trump; Republican financier Rebekah Mercer of New York; Dick Uihlein of Chicago, a big backer of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Club for Growth; and Christian-conservative cause financier Foster Friess of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The GOP race for Governor is shaking out to be Tallahassee interests backing Putnam versus outside interests backing Richard Corcoran. This raises interesting questions for the House Speaker and undeclared candidate. Can he compete with these machines?

Putnam has on-hand roughly $15 million; DeSantis, no doubt, will be able to catch up.

DeSantis leads in poll … is it real?

The DeSantis campaign pushed out a poll, via POLITICO, that has the congressman leading Putnam — even before declaring his candidacy.

Are friends electric? Are pollsters robotic? Ron DeSantis and Marc Caputo say yes to the latter.

“The automated ‘robopoll,’ which had a sample of 1,423 likely GOP voters, had DeSantis with 28 percent, ahead of Putnam (25 percent), and Corcoran (3 percent),” the POLITICO write-up asserts.

President Donald Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis matters bigly also. 84 percent of Republicans polled view Trump favorably. And 36 percent see themselves as “Trump Republicans.”

Worth noting: A robopoll is generally not something POLITICO Florida embraces. However, in this case, it made an exception … for reasons not disclosed.

Also, worth noting: This is the only poll that has shown DeSantis even within striking distance of Putnam.

Fred Costello in CD 6 GOP derby

State Rep. Fred Costello is joining what appears to be an increasingly crowded field in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Costello finished a distant second to incumbent DeSantis in the 2016 primary, with 24 percent of the vote; however, with DeSantis essentially running for Governor at this point, Costello will join a field that includes businessman John Ward.

Other candidates — including former Green Beret Michael Waltz, St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns, and Brandon Patty — are taking hard looks at the race; if that field shakes out with six candidates, a hard 24 percent could be competitive.

Fred Costello’s campaign is classic red state.

Costello plans to roll out his campaign Saturday, Jan. 6, at Rockefeller Park at the Casements in Ormond Beach. Rallies follow throughout the day throughout the district.

Costello was a former Ormond Beach Mayor before moving on to the state Legislature. He intends to brand his campaign with a fealty to Trump, an adherence to so-called “Judeo-Christian values,” and localism.

“I have lived, raised my family, worked, played and prayed in Congressional District 6 for 40 years. As a USAF veteran and business owner who has served you as a dentist, Ormond Beach Mayor & State Representative, I am well prepared to Stand for US!”

Costello’s campaign will roll out prominent backers speaking at the events: among them, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk, state Rep. David Santiago and state Sen. Dennis Baxley will be among the elected officials on hand for regional launches.

Greeting him on the trail, per POLITICO Florida: a complaint that he was campaigning as early as August 2017.

Prediction: DeSantis endorses someone else in this field. DeSantis was irked earlier this year by another candidate, John Ward, jumping in too early.

Al Lawson challenger scores CBC staffer endorsement

Rontel Batie, a Democrat challenging incumbent Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, brought out an endorsement from a former Congressional Black Caucus executive director (Abdul Henderson) this week.

Al Lawson isn’t taking Rontel Batie seriously yet. And Batie is exploiting the situation.

Batie has pointed out previously that Lawson doesn’t line up with the CBC. Batie, a former Corrine Brown staffer who emerged from the CBC’s political operation, is clearly more prepared to line up with the caucus.

“I am pleased to have received an endorsement from Abdul Henderson, who served as the Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2015-2016. Abdul is very familiar with my work ethic and has long believed that we need to make room for young leaders in Congress like myself,” Batie said.

State Reps. preview 2018 Legislative Session

In 2016, Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer overcame competitive primaries to win nominations — despite powerful interests and strong candidates going against each of the three in the process.

Clay Yarborough is one of three Jacksonville Republicans beginning year 2 next week.

The general elections, in each of their districts, lacked drama: all three beat write-in candidates, garnering over 90 percent of the vote.

We asked the three of them to evaluate the working relationship of the Duval Delegation going into the Legislative Session, their own personal priorities for the 60 days, as well as getting their thoughts on working with City Hall throughout the process this year.

All three of them believe that the delegation is in sync.

Fischer and Byrd messaged specifically on lowering taxes further; Yarborough discussed bills of specific importance to him, including a measure that would repurpose unused medications for those who need them in the state.

As well, all three discussed how the new configuration in the Mayor’s Office — with Chief of Staff Brian Hughes taking an official role — would affect Jacksonville priorities.

None anticipated an adverse effect; Fischer offered the hottest quote.

“The addition of Brian Hughes is a force multiplier for the city. If you want to build something that lasts,” Fischer said, “hire Brian Hughes.”

Of course, “Build Something That Lasts” is the name of Mayor Lenny Curry’s political committee.

Read the entire interview here.

SPLC lauds Melissa Nelson

The Southern Poverty Law Center lauded Melissa Nelson, 4th Circuit State Attorney, for meaningful reforms that have halved Duval’s arrests of children.

The SPLC gave Melissa Nelson props … something that never happened to Angela Corey.

“It is encouraging to see that the number of children prosecuted as adults in Florida has declined, but the fact that we’re sending more than 1,000 children into the adult criminal justice system every year is troubling. Florida prosecutes more children as adults than any other state — often at the sole discretion of prosecutors,” asserted an SPLC representative.

“Some areas of the state with reform-minded state attorneys are keeping their promises to send fewer children to the adult system. In Duval County, there was a nearly 50 percent drop in children going to adult court,” the SPLC continued.

Civil citations were among the reforms that activists thought former State Attorney Angela Corey was too slow to implement. Nelson beat Corey by a more than two to one margin in the 2016 Republican primary, with anecdotal evidence of Democrats and independents crossing over to vote against Corey.

Curry to appear on ESPN Sunday

Jacksonville Mayor Curry is a hard-core NFL fan — and one of his life goals will be completed this weekend on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.

The reason: the Jaguars are hosting a playoff game, and Curry proclaimed standout defensive end Calais Campbell the Mayor of “Sacksonville.”

An ESPN producer reached out Tuesday via email:

“We are heading down to Jacksonville this week to speak to the Jaguars defensive line, and Calais Campbell, who last month you proclaimed as the ‘Mayor of Sacksonville.'”

“Would you have a window of availability anytime Thursday or Friday to be interviewed on camera about your proclamation? We’d be happy to conduct the interview in your office as it would only take about 15 minutes (we would just need about an hour or so to set up),” the producer wrote.

ESPN could soon feature the ”Mayor of Sacksonville.’

While we haven’t confirmed Curry’s participation in this, sources familiar with his thinking say there is no way he would miss this opportunity.

Campbell, a tenth-year player from Miami, has 14.5 sacks on the season; the big-ticket free agent holds the franchise record.

The Jaguars are favored in Sunday’s tilt against the Buffalo Bills by upward of 7 points, and tickets for the game are sold out and are the hottest ticket among the wild card games on the resale market.

The Jaguars are a 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, meaning that barring a string of upsets in the first two rounds, this will be their only home playoff game.

$490,000 buys a lot of BBQ

WJXT contributed the latest in a depressing and distressing cycle of stories about Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s family’s failed business venture — a BBQ sauce plant that couldn’t get off the ground, despite SBA and city loans and grants totaling well over $3 million.

Per WJXT4 THE Local Station”: The bankruptcy judge spelled out a restructuring plan to pay back a portion of what’s owed.

After $3M in loans and grants, Katrina Brown’s sauce biz couldn’t get off the ground.

“The Brown family companies operate two businesses and owe the city a total of $572,000. The city is suing them separately over the $220,000 grant and a $350,000 loan. Of that, the judge ordered the family to pay back the city only $80,000 the next seven years,” a solution which “leaves city taxpayers $490,000 short.”

The Councilwoman’s Porsche likely won’t be seen around City Hall, either.

“Katrina Brown’s debt to pay off her Porsche was also in the settlement. She got an insurance payout enough to cover the outstanding car loan. Documents don’t disclose why, but sometimes you see payouts after an accident.”

Three-way dance in at-large 2

A Democrat might jump into the scrum in Jacksonville City Council’s at-large District 2.

Darren Mason — a member of Duval Democratic Party leadership and an alumnus of the office of current Councilwoman Joyce Morgan — is mulling a run.

Darren Mason is prepared to flex his political muscles and enter the field of play for 2019.

Currently, two Republicans are in the race: well-financed Ron Salem and former Councilman Bill Bishop.

The calculus: Bishop and Salem would cannibalize the Republican vote in this citywide race, clearing a path to the runoff for Mason.

Worth noting: oppo on Bishop was pushed out in 2015 when he ran for Mayor.

Worth asking: Does Mason have Google?

He should be in the race by mid-January, according to an informed source.

Happening Saturday 

State Sen. Travis Hutson and state Rep. Paul Renner, both of Palm Coast, join Farm Share to host a free food distribution at the WE Harris Community Center, 400 Harris St. Distribution begins  9 a.m., and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

JTA launches test track for self-driving vehicles

Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s new autonomous vehicle (AV) test track opened Wednesday, featuring a self-driving 12-passenger vehicle.

The JTA track — between Intuition and Daily’s Place — will research different AVs over the next two years, writes Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journal. The inaugural ride was with a Transdev vehicle with room for six seated passengers and six standing passengers.

JTA unveiled a new autonomous vehicle test track, open to the public to help users get used to the technology and to provide JTA with feedback.

“In Jacksonville, we clearly continue to stay ahead of the curve in how we provide transportation to our citizens,” CEO Nat Ford told the Journal. “We thought really big with this.”

The track will see a rotation of vehicles — of various sizes — every six months, testing different speeds and functionalities to select the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) as part of the Skyway infrastructure. JTA intends to retrofit the 2.5-mile Skyway infrastructure, with offramps to expand the transit system into Brooklyn, LaVilla, San Marco, to EverBank Field and more.

City Council to review Jacksonville Zoo ‘living shoreline’ project

After six years of talk and planning, an eco-friendly project to stem erosion at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens shoreline may finally be realized — pending City Council approval.

Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-Union reports that the city’s Environmental Protection Board voted in November to fund a “living shoreline” project, using part of a $165,000 trust made up from fines collected from polluters.

In addition to city council approval, legislation to allow the money to be spent must be filed — expected sometime this winter, Patterson writes.

The project showing Jacksonville Zoo’s proposed ‘living shoreline.’

According to city lawyers, an agreement for the new money must be treated like a construction project, one where Public Works Department officials review and approve. Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a project permit, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the project.

Usually, a bulkhead would be used to stop the waves, but it would isolate turtles, wading birds, crabs and other creatures in the river from shallower water. Bulkheads can also be affected by the water and storms.

The proposed living shoreline would be a more sustainable way to block waves, applying reef balls in the river adjacent to the shore’s low-tide line. Reef balls, concrete domes with holes, intended to allow shellfish and other creatures grab hold and start new reefs to filter water and slow waves.

Three UF Health Jacksonville leaders to retire

As 2017 ends, three of UF Health Jacksonville senior leaders — Russ Armistead, CEO; Penny Thompson, vice president of Government Affairs; and Bill Ryan, senior vice president and chief financial officer — enter retirement. Each made significant contributions to patients and staff for years to come.

Russ Armistead, Penny Thompson and Bill Ryan.

On Aug. 16, 2004, Armistead was recruited to UF Health in Gainesville as associate vice president of Finance and Planning. In December 2012, amid negotiations to take an administrative position at Augusta University, then known as Georgia Regents University, UF Health President David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., asked Armistead to become CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and use his financial expertise to lead the hospital into a more profitable future. Armistead began as CEO Jan. 7, 2013.

His legacy includes improving the cultural harmony of hospital staff and physicians through hospitality training, promoting increased employee engagement numbers by addressing issues that matter to staff, and by making himself available through weekly rounds and his “A Few Minutes with Us” biweekly video series.

On Jan. 1, Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., MHSA, will assume the role of CEO following Armistead’s retirement.

Thompson began her career with UF Health Jacksonville Jan. 20, 1987, as director of communications and marketing. In this role, she fostered important relationships within the media and the community to make UF Health Jacksonville a more well-known resource for patients in its service areas.

Thompson served the past 18 years as vice president of Government Affairs. Her accomplishments include playing a vital role in securing an additional $2 million in city funding for the hospital, which unlocked more than $18 million in federal funding. She also secured funding through the hospital’s Volunteer Services budget to start the Arts in Medicine program, which has transformed the experiences of countless patients in their time of need. Thompson was also key in establishing UF Health Jacksonville as one of two designated Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in the city of Jacksonville.

Ryan joined UF Health Jacksonville as CFO in December 2001, believing he was fully prepared to manage the financial assets of a large academic hospital. Ryan admirably negotiated the internal relations, budgets and debt arrangements to successfully maintain UF Health Jacksonville as a fully functioning and valuable safety-net hospital for the Jacksonville community.

In September 2003, Ryan retired, but would return as CFO in July 2015.

Predictions for 2018

For the third straight year, Florida Politics has advanced predictions for 2018 in Northeast Florida.

Super Bowl Shuffle for Shahid Kahn and the mayor? We predict it!

Last year, we got a whopping 40 percent right.

Could we do worse this year? It’s possible!

Our crystal ball sees Al Lawson and John Rutherford walking to re-election in the House.

We also see a Democrat — perhaps even one with a pulse — emerging to run against Curry.

JEA privatization, we believe, will be a tough sell.

Real candidates will emerge to face City Council incumbents Anna Brosche, Katrina Brown and Garrett Dennis.

And the Jaguars will … GULP … win the Super Bowl.

Read the whole slate here.

Also worth reading: People to watch in 2018 and How botched were last year’s predictions?

Rick Scott’s Puerto Rico roundtable reaches same concern as others: housing

Having largely tackled many of the education and jobs challenges arising from the mass migration of Puerto Ricans seeking a place to live in Florida after Hurricane Maria largely shut down their lives on the island, state and local officials gathered in Orlando told Gov. Rick Scott that housing remains a major problem.

Scott met with about two dozen Central Florida elected and nonprofit officials Thursday afternoon including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, Osceola County Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr. and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez and mostly received praise for his administration’s efforts to coordinate services offered to tens of thousands of people fleeing Puerto Rico since September.

That praise focused mainly on job support and education accommodation efforts, and on coordination of resources and programs, and responsiveness. State Rep. Bob Cortes, a Republican, said Scott and his office responded quickly to all his concerns, starting with solving education matters. State Rep. Rene Plasencia, a Republican, said he would call Scott’s office sometimes five, six times a day, and always got answers.

Not so with discussions of housing challenges, which ran more of a gamut from universal concern to, when state Sen. Victor Torres got his turn, anger and frustration.

That began with Dyer, who like Torres was one of a small number of Democrats in the meeting, urging Scott and the Florida lawmakers present [Torres, Cortes, Plasencia and Republican state Rep. Mike Miller] to focus on freeing up funds for longer-term investment in affordable housing throughout Central Florida.

“Quite honestly there is a crisis, and we can’t solve it … city by city or county by county. we need a statewide strategy on that,” Dyer said.

Cortes pointed out that his House Bill 987 is seeking some long-term answers. Others pointed out that federal tax credit reassignments could be requested, and Alvarez argued that red tape still need to be cut. But with about 300,000 people who’ve come from Puerto Rico to Florida in the past 100 days, the short-term solutions of people sleeping on relatives’ couches or in motel rooms on FEMA vouchers will give way soon, in a housing environment already airtight.

“I think we all have to focus on housing,” Scott agreed. “It actually is a problem all around the state, right? especially in a place like this where you have so many people moving here and, and the jobs, and the unbelievable number of people who have come in.”

In fact, a Career Source official said, people coming from Puerto Rico are finding jobs, and with the state’s ability to waive many of the professional certification requirements in lieu of Puerto Rico certifications, many are finding jobs in their professions. “But once we get them employed, housing is an issue,” she said.

Torres ripped into Scott and the Republican leadership of the Florida Legislature for consistently transferring affordable housing money out of Florida’s Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, nearly a billion dollars in eight years, by Torres’ count.

“We need to change that. In your budget you have, right now, $92 million being withdrawn from the Sadowski Funds. We need you to put those funds back, and work with us, so we can do more affordable housing,” Torres said. “The question here lies: affordable housing. It has to be on a pay scale. We have workers who work hard but they’re not on good salaries … We have to get them out of the hotels. Get them out of their cars. We need to get them out of places they don’t belong, with their kids. That’s my goal.”

Afterward, Scott defended his commitment to affordable housing, saying he was doing what he could, and that was more now that the economy was strong.

“I put more money in the budget this year. I’m going to continue to focus on it. You have to understand, I grew up in public housing. I know the importance,” Scott said. “I’m going to keep doing it. But the way you do it is you work with the legislative process to get as much as you can.”

Jeb Bush endorses CFO Jimmy Patronis for another term

Calling his qualities “all too rare in politics,” former Florida Governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Thursday endorsed Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for a second term.

The former Republican House member has now picked up the endorsements of two Florida governors: Bush and Gov. Rick Scott, a longtime ally of Patronis who appointed him to be in charge of the state’s checkbooks and a nearly $300 million budget.

“As a small businessman, Jimmy understand how to keep our state growing by securing high credit ratings, and through his role as State Fire Marshal Jimmy is protecting those who protect us by fighting to improve mental health and cancer benefits for Florida firefighters,” Bush said.

Patronis, a Panama City restaurant owner,  said he was “humbled” to have Bush support his campaign.

“The mark he forever left on Florida as a successful two-term governor has been a tremendous influence on me and he will continue to be someone who’s counsel I am honored to have,” Patronis said.

As CFO, Patronis is one of three elected Cabinet members who work with Scott to set state policy. He works with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi. Scott appointed him to the position after Jeff Atwater resigned to work at Florida Atlantic University.

As he campaigns for another term as CFO, he is likely to face Republican Sen. Tom Lee in the primary. Lee has said he will run, but has not yet filed the official paperwork.

In 2006, when Bush was governor, he endorsed Lee in his failed effort to become CFO.

“He gives it to you straight,” Bush said, “with the character and experience to back it up.

“Our state needs Tom Lee.”

Audubon happy Rick Scott opposes drilling, releases Session priorities

Audubon Florida announced its legislative priorities on Thursday, but also was happy to see Gov. Rick Scott oppose the U.S. Department of Interior’s possible drilling explorations in the Sunshine State.

“We were glad to see Gov. Scott’s response, coming out strongly in opposition to drilling near Florida’s waters,” said Julie Wraithmell, the interim executive director of Audubon Florida who took over after Eric Draper left to lead the Florida State Parks system. “It’s rather shocking to think that so soon after the 2010 Deep Horizon incident, we could be having this conversation already.”

Wraithmell said her organization, as a whole, is concerned with management and acquisition of public lands, along with water issues, climate, growth management, and more.

Part of that concern includes advocating for public dollars towards projects that will help the environment. The organization is a major player in the Legislature.

Wraithmell said this year’s focus is on appropriations. She hinted election year spending might be a major factor with so many seats at stake.

“Our top priorities for the coming Session surround appropriations,” Wraithmell said. “We all know it’s going to be a busy Legislative Session — especially given that it’s an election year.”

Audubon spearheaded the passage of Amendment 1 — commonly referred to as Florida’s Water and Land Legacy — in 2014, which provided for Florida Forever, a dedicated funding source for public land acquisitions. That’s a project Audubon will continue to pursue in the 2018 Session.

“We’ll continue to advocate for those programs to ensure we’re setting aside the places that we depend upon not just for recreation and jobs, not just for wildlife, but also as green infrastructure for our communities,” Wraithmell said. She added that doing so makes the land more resilient, protecting the state from catastrophes while also helping to recharge water supply.

Audubon also is throwing its weight behind the Department of Environmental Protection’s request to fund Everglades restoration at more than $300 million.

The organization named Senate President Joe Negron a “champion of the Everglades” in December after he pushed a bill in the 2017 Session to construct a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and prevent harmful algal blooms.

Wraithmell said the organization also is excited for legislation from Sen. Rob Bradley that addresses Florida’s springs. Bradley’s SB 204, if passed, would lead to a $75 million yearly state expenditure on springs projects.

Bradley has replaced Sen. Jack Latvala as chair of Senate Appropriations.

Wraithmell concluded the agenda by addressing water policy issues.

“We’re going to be watching and monitoring closely a constellation of bills addressing water policy,” Wraithmell said.

The agenda comes just a day before Audubon Florida releases a report on the impacts of Hurricane Irma on the state. Wraithmell foreshadowed the report will provide methods that could help Florida be more resilient to storms in the future — things that are not only good for the environment, but “good for people, too,” she said.

Jeremy Ring snags a pile of endorsements from state lawmakers

Former Margate Sen. Jeremy Ring announced Thursday that 19 Democratic state lawmakers have endorsed him in the chief financial officer race.

“From the very beginning I have believed that our campaign is all about people power,” Ring said. “I am proud to have the support of each and every one of these legislators. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to see their dedication and leadership first-hand, which is why I am thankful to have them fighting in our corner in Tallahassee and excited to have them join our campaign!”

The bulk endorsement includes Sens. Randolph Bracy, Oscar Braynon, Gary Farmer, Audrey Gibson, Bill Montford, Kevin Rader, Darryl Rouson, and Perry Thurston, as well as Reps. Joe Abruzzo, Lori Berman, Ben Diamond, Bobby DuBose, Katie Edwards, Joe Geller, Even Jenne, Shev Jones, Kionne McGhee, Sean Shaw and Richard Stark.

The campaign called the wave of endorsements “the surest sign yet of building momentum.”

The nods from his former colleagues come after Ring announced in December that Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler were backing his campaign. In November, the campaign announced endorsements from seven of the 11 Florida Democrats in the U.S. House.

Ring is running against sitting CFO Jimmy Patronis for the cabinet seat.

Patronis was appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year after former CFO Jeff Atwater stepped down to take the CFO position at Florida Atlantic University.

Scott hasn’t been shy about supporting Patronis’ campaign for a full term, but that hasn’t scared off Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee, who said he plans to jump in the race but gave no timetable for when he will file.

Patronis is currently the frontrunner in the money race, with $1.26 million banked between his campaign account and committee, Treasure Florida. Lee’s entry would force Patronis into the No. 2 spot, however, as he has more than $2.28 million stashed away in his committee, The Conservative.

Through November, Ring had $198,426 in his campaign account with another $112,557 in his political committee, Florida Action Fund, for a cash on hand total of $310,983.

Still, an early poll of the race showed Ring with a slight lead over Patronis, 37-35, though that 2-point spread fell well within the 3.7 percentage point margin of error. The poll also did not take into account Lee’s likely entry into the race.

Florida pols oppose proposed offshore oil drilling; Donald Trump isn’t worried

So much for the “partner in the White House.”

Gov. Rick Scott enjoyed lunch with President Donald Trump on New Year’s Eve, but Scott is finding President Trump’s position on offshore oil drilling hard to digest.

“Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling – which is something I oppose in Florida,” Scott said.

“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott added.

“My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected, which is why I proposed $1.7 billion for the environment in this year’s budget,” Scott continued.

At Thursday’s White House briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the President wasn’t all that worried about Scott’s opposition to the proposal.

“Our goal certainly isn’t to cross Gov. Scott. We have a great relationship with him. We’re going to continue working with him on a number of issues. Just because we may differ on issues from time to time doesn’t mean we don’t have an incredibly strong relationship. We’ll continue those conversations with him,” Sanders said.

We have reached out to Gov. Scott for comments on this seeming dismissal of his position.

Scott joins his likely opponent in this year’s Senate race, Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, in opposing the expansion of offshore drilling proposed by the Trump White House.

“This plan is an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment. This proposal defies all common sense and I will do everything I can to defeat it.”

Sen. Marco Rubio also opposes expansion of drilling.

“I have long supported the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which is not slated to expire until 2022, and introduced legislation to extend the moratorium until 2027. As the Department of Interior works to finalize their draft plan, I urge Secretary Zinke to recognize the Florida Congressional delegation’s bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes,” Rubio said.

Time is of the essence.

The Washington Examiner reports that Interior Secretary Zinke seeks to roll out a plan starting in 2019 that would allow the most ambitious offshore drilling program ever.

Florida politicians may oppose it. But does the White House care?

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