Rick Scott Archives - Page 3 of 240 - Florida Politics

House ‘assault’ derails Senate, budget chief Jack Latvala tells Tiger Bay

In the venue where newly qualified, but unlikely, candidate Rick Scott introduced himself to Tallahassee in 2010 and another potential gubernatorial candidate, John Morgan, came to visit in February, Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala paid a visit Monday to the Capital Tiger Bay Club.

While rumors swirl about Latvala’s possible 2018 run for Florida’s top spot and his fundraising apparatus runs full speed ahead, he played coy when asked about his future political ambitions.

“I’m not going to answer that specifically … I don’t think I’m finished,” he said. “I think if this session shows anything, it shows me that we still need the kind of approach that I bring up here — problem-solving and kind of a big-picture approach — the experience I have in all facets of government for 22 years.

“I’m not ready to hang it up, but I’m not ready to say what I’m doing, either.”

As the 2016 session speeds toward its planned May 5 sine die, Latvala predicted (only half in jest) it could drag on until July. And he puts the blame squarely at the feet of the House and its leadership.

After a three-and-a-half-year tug-of-war, Sen. Joe Negron was named Senate president and Latvala was given the powerful appropriations chairmanship.

“I’m very happy with the way that’s turned out,” he said. “I was hopeful we could come up here, and we could do some good,” with ambitious projects like beefing up Florida’s universities to compete for the nation’s best students, cleaning up Lake Okeechobee and other waterways, addressing a coming freshwater shortage, boosting “good-paying jobs,” and shoring up infrastructure.

“I came to Tallahassee ready to start working on these, and instead, unfortunately, we got involved in an all-out assault on Florida’s economic development apparatus …. from the House of Representatives.”

He spoke of the House’s efforts to defund Enterprise Florida completely, and dramatically slash the state’s contribution to Visit Florida, as well as an “unprecedented” attack on home rule.

Close to home for him, Latvala singled out a House bill that would preclude sports facilities or teams from getting funding from local governments or building facilities on government-owned land.

“They do that in the name of not picking winners and losers. This is the mantra,” he said. “That’s all well and good, except that that doesn’t apply to a lot of the other efforts that we’ve got going on out there.”

Latvala specifically mentioned the elimination of no-fault auto insurance and an attempt to allow Florida Power & Light, Florida’s largest electric company, to charge ratepayers to explore for gas.

During the Q&A portion, Latvala was asked whether it was “more fun” being on the inside or an outsider in the process.

“Maybe give me a couple more weeks to answer that one,” he quipped. “I generally try to cope with whatever the cards are that are dealt me. I’m on the inside now, I think, and I’m trying very hard to make the Senate successful with the team that we have in place.” The Everglades bill was one example. “Even though it wasn’t my issue, the president asked me to get involved and see if I could get it to a point where we could pass it out of the Senate,” he said.

He said he invoked a little “Latvala magic” to get the job done — an inside joke about him blowing his stack. “But it is almost unfailingly successful in getting people to compromise and getting people to get together and work toward a solution.”

About 200 people came to listen to Latvala talk, spending a half-hour before the luncheon greeting members as they walked in along with Sen. Bill Montford, who made his introduction.

Surveying the audience, Latvala got one of the biggest laughs of the day.

“I always wondered where old lobbyists went when they retired. And now I know — they’re at the Tallahassee Tiger Bay Club,” he said. “And this is probably not politically correct, but there’s actually a couple people here I thought had died. But I’m glad you didn’t.”

House backs Governor in battle with Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala

Florida’s House is backing Gov. Rick Scott in his legal battle against an Orlando prosecutor who refuses to seek the death penalty in cases handled by her office.

The state Supreme Court said Monday it would allow attorneys working for House Speaker Richard Corcoran to file legal briefs in the case between the governor and State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Ayala is challenging Scott’s authority to transfer murder cases from her office to another prosecutor.

The Republican-controlled House in a legal filing with the high court said it wants to address “the ill effects that flow from” Ayala’s opposition to seeking the death penalty. The House may also argue whether Scott has the authority to suspend Ayala.

Ayala is a Democrat and Florida’s first African-American state attorney.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s invite to Bill Nelson a stick in Rick Scott’s eye, maybe more

There were all kinds of messages being sent to Gov. Rick Scott late last week at the Florida House of Representatives.

The one from Democrat Bill Nelson, a three-term U.S. senator, can be summed up in two words: game on.

Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran had his own two-word message for the governor. I think I’ll leave it at that. Is loathing too strong a word for how those two feel about each other?

Whatever the interpretation of the message, the invitation to Nelson from Corcoran to address the House was intriguing, given that Nelson could face Scott in a bare-knuckle brawl for the 2018 senate race.

It gave Nelson some free airtime on a no-lose issue at a time when Scott’s poll numbers are surging.

His effusive praise of Corcoran for the courageous stand he’s taken with all of those children who are all buriedat the infamous Dozier School for Boys in north Florida” allowed Nelson to look like someone willing to work with everybody for the greater good.

Corcoran came across that way as well, just in case he decides to run for governor in 2018.

Unless …

Corcoran decides to go after Scott for the GOP nomination.

Say what?

That speculation is gaining traction, given the Republican field for governor likely can be winnowed down to “Adam” and “Putnam.”

As a senate candidate though, Corcoran could be the darling of cost-cutters everywhere. He has stood in the legislative doorway to block Scott’s favored programs for business and tourism incentives.

Republicans consider Nelson vulnerable and will pour every nickel they can into the effort to unseat him. And Corcoran is amassing quite a reputation for changing the way business is done in Tallahassee.

It won’t be easy.

Even though a lot has changed since Nelson swamped Connie Mack IV by 13 percentage points in 2012 and much of it hasn’t been good for Democrats, he has made sure to shore up the home front while in office.

He frequently returns to the state to touch base with voters and was a vocal advocate for congressional funding to combat the Zika virus and to address the environmental mess known last summer as the algae bloom.

Just as Republicans will roll out the war chest to unseat Nelson, so Democrats likely will spend what it takes to keep an important seat from going into GOP hands.

That brings us back to Corcoran’s invitation to Nelson. It was a sharp stick in the eye of the governor, one possibly designed to fuel the kind of speculation we have in this column.

Corcoran, a crafty chap, undoubtedly knew that.

He got his wish.

But if his aim is to run against Nelson eventually, why give his rival the chance for free feel-good publicity?

Because he could.

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 5 – Hey Florida, talk to the hand!

One hour isn’t much time for a Senate subcommittee “confirmation hearing” on the heads of the agencies as important to “health and human services” as the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

But that’s what Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Anitere Flores allotted, and not one second longer. So, you’d think that AHCA’s acting secretary Justin Senior and DOH’s Interim Surgeon General Celeste Philip would each get a half-hour of the committee’s time … but you would be wrong.

Senior’s “hearing” was a tongue-bath and tummy rub that consumed most of the hour. To be fair, the feds had just dropped 1.5 billion into the AHCA’s coffers. Maybe Flores & Friends think that cash came Florida’s way due to Senior’s executive brilliance, as opposed to President Donald Trump‘s synergistic bromance with Gov. Rick Scott.

Or maybe they were running out the clock to get Philip safely to the border of Munchkinland and out of Oz altogether before she stumbled over that pesky poppy field.

Delray Beach Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader and large numbers of Floridians want to know why we don’t acknowledge the state’s opioid epidemic and get on with the business of dealing with it. In the minuscule amount of time available for Rader to ask and Philip to bob, weave and weasel her way through an “answer,” viewers got a pretty clear preview of coming attractions on the Opioid Listening Tour, announced last week by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who are not expected to attend.

Instead, Philip and others with titles, but no actual power, will deploy to four cities in three days for 90-minute “community conversations.”  It will be like watching a Lifetime Cable movie, but with less depth and sincerity.

Florida child welfare providers do more with less, but how much less?

For the community-based care providers that perform the lion’s share of child welfare services in Florida, the proposed 2017 budget is a disappointment.

A press release that accompanied the Jan. 31 release of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s “Fighting for Florida’s future” budget proposal touts “a  record $632 million to provide core services to children who depend on Florida’s child welfare system.”

“Governor Scott and the Legislature have been exceptionally supportive of the child welfare system and [the Department of Children and Families] is committed to ensuring that all of our resources are directed to be as efficient and effective as possible in serving vulnerable families,” David Frady, press secretary for the Florida DCF, told Watchdog in an email.

But number-crunching done by Florida TaxWatch, a non-partisan taxpayer research group, shows that this statement fails to tell the whole story.

According to TaxWatch’s November 2015 report, real spending on child welfare services has declined since 2008, when inflation-adjusted funding for child welfare providers hit $674.1 million (in 2015 dollars).

At the same time as the effective operating budget of the DCF has been declining, the number of children entering the welfare system has been increasing.

Kurt Kelly, CEO of the Florida Coalition for Children and former state legislator, told Watchdog that there are several factors behind the increased demand for child welfare services.

Part of the growth of children in the system is an outcome of policy changes at the DCF that result in children being removed from unsuitable homes quicker — a good thing, Kelly says.

He added that high turnover rates of child protection investigators affect this process. CPIs investigate claims of abuse and determine if a child needs to be placed into foster care, but the turnover rate means many investigators are new on the job. “Eighty percent of folks making decisions have less than two years experience,” Kelly said. With DCF policies that favor caution and quick action above all else, this might lead to inflated child removal numbers.

The newest threat, Kelly says, is the opioid issue, which is affecting families across the state.  In addition to increased deaths from opioid misuse, CPIs are inclined to remove kids from homes if they see any signs of opioid abuse.

“We saw it in the Sarasota area, which may be the epicenter of the United States in this issue,” Kelly said. “In that area, our removal rate [of children from the family home] in the Sarasota/Manatee area is up 200 percent, which is … unsustainable.”

As of Feb. 28, Florida child welfare services were being provided to 41,707 children.

Underfunded and over-performing

Florida’s child welfare system relies on a community-based care model.

This means that once the DCF investigators have determined that a child needs to be pulled from home, they hand responsibility to regional care organizations. The not-for-profit private organizations administer services to children that enter the foster care system, as well as preventive care services for children that can remain at home, albeit in difficult circumstances.

Seventeen CBC lead agencies operate around the state. These lead agencies, which are spread out around 20 different regions, include Community Based Care of Central Florida and Our Kids of Miami-Dade. They are accountable to the DCF, but operate independently, and subcontract care out to smaller community organizations.

The transition from a more centralized, Tallahassee-administered services model began at the turn of the century. By 2006, the CBC model was operational statewide.

Kelly told Watchdog that Florida’s welfare system now serves as a model for other states. But funding remains a problem.

He estimates that Florida’s child welfare system needs a $49 million budget increase for 2017-18.  DCF requested a $16 million increase for the community care centers.

The current proposal from Scott would allocate a $14.2 million funding increase for Florida’s community-based care providers.

Florida TaxWatch says the system needs another $100 million. The group’s analysis shows that the community-based care providers in particular have been underfunded, while overperforming, for years.

Kelly told Watchdog that the community care providers were allowed access to backup funds several years ago, but quickly went through it. “When I tell you that we’re 20 million in the hole, that’s money that’s being spent right now.”

Decentralization is key

The 2012 Right for Kids Ranking, a report on child welfare systems across the nation, found that Florida has one of the best-performing systems.

Florida ranked fourth in the nation based on measureable outcomes such as adoption rates, family reunification and monthly caseworker visits.

The report found that if all states had welfare programs as effective as Florida’s, the U.S. would have 72,000 fewer kids in foster care per year and find adoptive families for 19,000 more.

Advocates like Florida’s Coalition for Children trace the effectiveness of the Florida system to its decentralization in 1998. Legislation mandated that the DCF contract direct care to private organizations operating at the local level.

Florida isn’t alone in experimenting with decentralizing state child welfare systems.  Kansas initiated similar privatization initiatives in 1995. Although the transition was rockier, a 2010 study by the Casey Family Programs found that “the general public, local communities and stakeholders are more invested in what is happening in Kansas child welfare than ever before,” and that more children were exiting the system into permanent homes.

A 2015 study by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Naples-based free market think-tank, examined Safe Families, a community-based private child welfare program in Chicago. The FGA report advocated shifting more child welfare power to community organizations.

Increasing the risk

Although the numbers show that the community-based care model has been a success in Florida and elsewhere, no system is free from problems.

Foster Shock, a 2016 documentary that tells the story of children who the Florida system has failed, and suggests that the decentralized, privatized system diverts money away from child services and into organization salaries.

Other dissenters focus less on the whole picture, and more on the individuals that child services has let down. Groups such as Florida’s Children First and firms like Talenfield Law advocate on behalf of the legal rights of children in the system — often, that means lawsuits in the face of the inevitable tragic failures.

“Even when we’re totally doing everything right there’s going to be slips and mistakes made and cracks in the system,” Dominic Calabro, CEO of Florida TaxWatch, told Watchdog. “But when you don’t have the full focus or the full reasonable resources, you just increase the risk. And you have high turnover [of caseworkers]. You just increase the likelihood that something bad will happen.”

Elle Piloseno, Florida TaxWatch researcher and author of the 2015 report, told Watchdog that insufficiently funding the system on the front end has social and fiscal implications for the future.

One of the biggest problems the foster care system faces is retaining caseworkers. High turnover rates mean that children deal with an increasing number of case managers — and that adds to their time in the system.

“Every time that this kid needs to be handed over to a new case manager, that case manager has to be trained, they have to be familiarized with the children that they’re serving, they have to be familiarized with the families and the individual characteristics of that situation,” Piloseno said. “All that time adds up when you’re trading hands a bunch of times, which is why turnover is such a huge issue.”

And as a general rule, the longer a child spends in the foster care system, the worse off they are. When kids age out of the system at 18 before finding a permanent home, pregnancy rates go up. High school diploma rates go down. “A quarter of the youth that are aging out of the child welfare system end up being incarcerated within two years,” Piloseno said.

The TaxWatch study found that in addition to creating poor outcomes for children, workforce turnover adds to the taxpayer burden.

“Florida employs almost 3,800 case managers, of which an estimated 37 percent (approximately 1,400) resign and are replaced within one year.” The study found this costs the state approximately $14 million annually.

Prolonging an individual child’s stay in the welfare system has a significant cost. “Taxpayers could pay up to $70,000 per year to care for one child in out-of-home care,” TaxWatch reports.

“People need to understand there’s a real connection and real consequence when you don’t fund [the system],” said Calabro. “Pay me now, or pay me later.”

If it ain’t broke …

But if the system is performing as well as advocates say it is relative to the national standard with its current funding levels, does it really need more money?

“You didn’t just play the devil’s advocate, you played the legislative advocate,” said Kelly. “That’s exactly one of our problems.”

“We have done so much more for less, which is a good thing … and we did all of that while there wasn’t a dramatic increase of kids coming into the system,” he said. New influxes of kids into the system are straining strapped resources. Moreover, he argues, Florida’s foster system might be doing well relative to other states, but they still have a lot of ways they can improve and better protect kids.

The community-based care providers depend heavily on philanthropy to perform the basic functions DCF has tasked them with, which is exactly the type of local engagement that makes community-based care so effective. However, Kelly says that doesn’t absolve the state of its duty to properly fund the programs.

“The state has a responsibility to provide those resources, because we’re frankly doing the services for the state,” he said.

“They couldn’t do it, we are doing it, and we’re doing a much better job. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have an obligation to make sure that they fund this the right way,” Kelly said.

___

Erin Clark reports for Florida Watchdog. Contact her at eclark@watchdog.org and on Twitter.

In Sarasota, Adam Putnam warns GOP of complacency in 2018

Electorally speaking, for two decades now, it’s been a good time to be a Republican in Florida.

But after last fall’s victory by Donald Trump, the Chicken Chard and salmon dill seemed to go down even smoother Thursday night at the Sarasota County Reagan Patriot Day Dinner in Venice.

“Gosh, isn’t it great to be a Republican? Even greater that The Donald is our President,” said longtime Sarasota Republican Cynthia Crowe kicking off the festivities at the Jacaranda West Country Club.

“And isn’t it refreshing that we have a politician who keeps his word?”

“He’s not a politician!” a voice shouted from the back of the room.

Nobody will ever accuse Adam Putnam of not being a politician.

The state’s Agriculture Commissioner has served in public office for nearly half of his 42 years on the planet, and is running hard to succeed Rick Scott as the next Governor of Florida, even though he hasn’t actually declared his candidacy yet.

The keynote speaker for the evening, Putnam has often described his native Florida as a “reward for a life well lived,” which is great if you’re gunning for the over 60-crowd.

However, it isn’t dynamic enough for a general election campaign, something he’s obviously aware of. That’s because he now pivots off that signature phrase to say that the Sunshine State can now be a “launchpad for the American dream.”

“We’re already the envy of the nation,” Putnam says. “Now we can be the envy of the world.”

If Marco Rubio was a champion of American exceptionalism during his ill-fated run for president a year ago, Putnam is running as a champion of Florida exceptionalism.

The state’s Agriculture Commissioner talks about the look in the eyes of out-of-state families when they arrive at a Florida airport for a vacation, and when they depart.

“They have made memories of a lifetime,” he says with the reverence of a child coming back from a week of enjoying theme parks, before stating with pride that “something like two-thirds of all Make a Wish Foundation requests are to come to Florida. That’s our state.” The crowd cheers.

(He asked not to be ‘PolitiFacted’ on that quote.)

Putnam is clearly on Rick Scott’s side in the debate with House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the merits of retaining Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

“Coke doesn’t stop advertising. Budweiser doesn’t stop advertising,” he said, adding that the state needs to “invest in telling Florida’s story,” especially if it wants to diversify its economy.

While Florida is a classic Purple State in presidential elections, it’s otherwise awash in red, which is why Republicans have to revert to what it was like in the 1990s when talking about Democratic rule in Tallahassee (Putnam boasted about how crime rates have gone down 45 percent in Florida in the two decades since Republicans began ruling the roost, even though that has been a national trend).

Perhaps that’s why Putnam took aim at New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio instead, saying his policies are making people flee New York for Florida and calling him the best economic developer Florida’s ever had.

“We’re going to make him the honorary chairman of Enterprise Florida. How about that?”

And while Putnam praised the conservative government rule the state has been under for the past two decades, saying that’s why it’s done better economically than states like New York, California and Ohio, his policy prescriptions have tremendous room for growth.

“My strategy for infrastructure is to put up a picture of Atlanta,” Putnam said, decrying traffic conditions in the Georgia capital. But with Florida’s population growing again, traffic concerns are felt in the state’s biggest metropolis like never before.

Putnam ended his half-hour address with a stark reminder of how important it was for Republicans not to be complacent going into next year’s election cycle.

Referring to how the party out of power traditionally does well in off-year congressional elections, (not mentioning the intense grassroots Democratic opposition that manifested itself at town halls this winter and spring), Putnam said the GOP needs to reverse that narrative in 2018.

“We cannot rest on our laurels,” he stressed. “We have to be driven and focused and never take our foot off the gas. We can’t let up,” adding that “Florida has come too far, and America has come too far for us to sit back and become complacent and let the Democrats strip away all the gains we have made.”

So far, Putnam has already raised more than $9 million for the race, even though he’s still not officially a candidate for governor.

Nevertheless, the Democrats are indeed treating him as one, with the Democratic Governors Association requesting a full investigation into Florida Grown PC, a political committee associated with Putnam.

The DGA says that a Miami Herald report and public records show the committee has repeatedly circumvented requirements to reveal the ultimate purpose of a majority of its spending.

Amicus brief to charge Rick Scott with voter disenfranchisement in Aramis Ayala case

A coalition of groups led by the Advancement Project in Washington D.C. is filing an amicus brief charging Gov. Rick Scott with refusing to recognize voters’ will in the State Attorney Aramis Ayala case in the Florida Supreme Court.

The coalition, including Civil Rights, immigration reform and labor groups, is characterizing Ayala as a criminal justice reform state attorney elected by voters of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit because of her criminal justice reform platform.

And they’re charging that Scott is rejecting that criminal justice reform platform selected by voters because he does not like the reform she is pursuing – her decision to not pursue death penalty prosecutions.

Scott has stripped Ayala of 23 first-degree murder cases and reassigned them to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King. Ayala on Tuesday challenged Scott’s power to do so in a writ before the Florida Supreme Court and a lawsuit in federal court.

The coalition’s friend-of-the-court entry is in the Supreme Court case, charging Scott is refusing to recognize the will of the voters.

Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project, called Scott’s move “a power grab” in a telephone press conference Thursday announcing the amicus brief.

“We are raising two points in our brief. One of which is the state of Florida is in need of criminal justice reform, and two, that the people voted in a reformer in order to make that happen,” Browne Dianis said.

She said Florida is one of the worst offenders when it comes to a “broken criminal justice system” and that Ayala’s reforms are sought by voters and eschewed by Tallahassee leadership.

“Unfortunately Gov. Scott … didn’t like the policies of Aramis Ayala and decided to step in and usurp the will of the voters,” Browne Dianis continued. “That is unconstitutional”

Ayala never campaigned against the death penalty during her 2016 election campaign, though she did offer herself as a criminal justice reformer.

The coalition, which included representatives of the New Florida Majority, Dream Defenders, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Color of Change and the SEIU Florida, also pushed racial aspects of the battle between Ayala, who is Florida’s first African-American state attorney, and Scott, who is white.

Chardonnay Singleton of Dream Defenders, a criminal justice reform organization founded after the slaying of Treyvon Martin in Sanford, said Ayala’s election also can be traced to the cry for criminal justice reform that came from that case..

“The voters have really sought to create an environment where the criminal justice system serves them and not special interests,” Singleton said. “And that’s reflected in the election of Ayala, who is the first black woman state attorney, and that’s a testament of our desire as voters’ across Florida to transform the system to one that is more human, to one that that is more human, one that is more reflective of all of the people in Florida, and one that is more restorative to us as human beings.”

 

Legislature considers proposal to address Florida food deserts

After just three years in operation, retail giant Wal-Mart closed its doors February in the Midtown neighborhood of South St. Petersburg.

It was a blow to the community on a number of levels, not least of which was making it much more difficult for Midtown residents to get access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Studies have found that lacking access to a vehicle for access to full-service grocery stores creates a situation where people are likely to contract diabetes, diet-related cancers, and liver disease.

A 2014 study commissioned by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services identified 100 rural and 100 urban areas of Florida that are so-called “food deserts.”

Food deserts are generally described as geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within a convenient traveling distance.

A bill now making way through the Florida House and Senate would attempt to remedy that problem.

HB 1083, sponsored by Fort Pierce Democrat Larry Lee (and its Senate companion, SB 1592 sponsored by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean), creates the “Healthy Food Assistance Program,” to provide funding to the Department of Agriculture for retrofitting small food retailers with refrigeration, display shelving or other equipment — up to a maximum of $7,500 per store.

In addition, funding would be made available for materials for nutrition education and healthy food promotion, as well as funds of up to $2,000 per retailer for an initial purchase of healthy foods, including dairy products and fresh produce.

“Just putting it out there without giving the retailers the training on stock rotation or not giving the customers a reason to buy it, then it’s not going to be effective as it could be in the long run,” says Rivers Buford III, director of government relations at the American Heart Association, which advocates for the legislation.”

“We’re requesting for these little micro-grants, administered by the Department of Agriculture, or somebody they chose to contract with,” Buford says, “so it’s got some government oversight on it to make sure it’s a program that is judicious in nature, and not put funds out there where it doesn’t have some sort of accountability factor associated with it.”

Mari Gallagher Research, which conducted the 2014 study for the Agriculture Department, found that reducing the fraction of the population with insufficient healthy food access in the 200 sites named by the agency by just one single percentage point could prevent nearly 650 premature deaths over a seven-year period. It would also improve the health of over a million Floridians in urban areas and 780,000 in rural areas.

So what qualifies as a small retailer?

According to the House bill, it needs to be in a low or moderate-income area and smaller than 3,000 square feet, such as a corner store, convenience store, small grocery store or bodega which sells a limited number of products.

Mark Landreth, senior director of government relations at the American Heart Association, refers to a statewide version of the New Orleans Fresh Food Retailer Initiative as a program that he’d like Florida to emulate.

Launched in March 2011, the Initiative originally began by awarding low-cost, flexible financing for vendors to open, renovate or expand retail outlets in areas of the city lacking fresh food access. Last month Mayor

Last month, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the Healthy Corner Store Collaborative, which would provide one-on-one business mentoring with a food retail expert, as well as branding, marketing, and food display materials to expand fresh food offerings into five individual stores in the city.

Another project receiving national attention is the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a program that funded 88 grocery stores and improved access for nearly 500,000 Pennsylvania residents.

Although there’s more public discussion of food deserts than ever before, they are still increasing throughout the U.S.

In 2010, there were 8,959 food deserts nationwide. By 2015, there were 9,245 low-income, low-access census tracts, a 3 percent increase, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A year ago, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation for a similar request by the AHA, but the funding request was cut from $5 million to $500,000. In 2017, the request is for $1 million.

“I think we should heed the failure of two grocery stores to thrive in the Midtown market,” says South St. Pete activist and magazine publisher Gypsy Gallardo. “This new legislative is one way we can creatively bring healthy food access in neighborhoods. Community leaders in St. Pete are looking at a range of creative and lower-cost options.”

Florida Senate passes budget with limited cut to Aramis Ayala’s office

A Florida Legislature Conference Committee showdown appears likely over how much money will be cut from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office now that the Florida Senate passed a budget package Wednesday that includes a much smaller cut than is being proposed in the Florida House.

Engineered by state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Oakland Democrat, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Latvala, a compromise was inserted into the budget package that would cut $622,000 from the Office of the State Attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, but restore another $569,000 that the Senate initially proposed cutting.

The House of Representatives is still looking at a full $1.3 million cut to Ayala’s office. Under an arrangement put together by Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon, all the money would go to the Judicial Administration Commission, to be redistributed to other state attorneys who get 9th JC cases.

Ayala is under fire from many Tallahassee politicians, mostly Republicans, for her stance to not prosecute death penalty sentences in CD 9. As a result, Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned 23 first-degree murder cases to the neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit. On Tuesday Ayala challenged those reassignments in the Florida Supreme Court and in U.S. District Court.

The $622,000 cut from her office in the Senate budget package would go to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King, to whom Scott reassigned the 23 cases.

Bracy said the money had been allocated last year for human trafficking and domestic violence prosecution programs, and the human trafficking problem is rapidly increasing in the CJ 9 and a top concern for the House Judiciary Committee. Those also were top priorities for Ayala during her election campaign last year.
“I felt for that reason alone she needed the money,” Bracy said.

Bracy is one of the few lawmakers to openly back Ayala. After both the cuts appeared in committees, he pushed to get money restored for her office. Earlier this week he worked out the 45 percent/55 percent split of the original $1.3 million cut with Latvala, the Republican from Clearwater.

Last week Bracy authored an op-ed column in the New York Times in which he conceded he does not necessarily agree with Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, but strongly supports her right to take that stance.

“Although Ms. Ayala’s critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of duty, they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated. That’s because she hasn’t,” Bracy wrote in the column. “There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that make executions mandatory for murders.”

On Tuesday Plakon, a strong critic of Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, defended the $1.3 million figure, saying that capital punishment cases are very expensive so the money should follow the cases, that it’s approximately how much extra money the JC 9 office got last year, and that Ayala still has not filled many vacancies in her office, so she’s not spending what she has.

Rick Scott, feds agree to $1.5B commitment for low income pool in Florida

The Trump administration is coming through with $1.5 million in new health care money for Florida, Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday as the House and Senate debated their rival spending plans for 2017-18.

The money will finance Florida’s Low Income Pool, which reimburses hospitals that provide charity care.

The infusion would “truly improve the quality and access to health care for our most vulnerable populations,” Scott said in a written statement.

“It is great to have a partner in Washington who is willing to work with us to help our state,” the governor said.

“Florida was on the front-line of fighting against federal overreach under President Obama, and it is refreshing to now have a federal government that treats us fairly and does not attempt to coerce us into expanding Medicaid.”

“This is great news — good news all around,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, chairwoman of the budget subcommittee on health care, who’d included $600 million in LIP money in the Senate budget in hopes the feds would provide it.

“This is a much larger amount of LIP funding than we ever have received. We were not expecting this level of funding. But I think that’s a testament to our congressional delegation being more involved and aware of the importance of this.”

House budget chairman Carlos Trujillo was more circumspect. His committee never counted on the federal money.

“I don’t think there’s a place to spend that much money,” he told reporters.

“It’s good. Florida was punished for years by the prior administration. It’s good that the current administration is recognizing that Medicaid expansion and LIP funding are two separate conversations,” Trujillo said.

The money would allow the House to find other uses for money it would have put into charity care, he said. “We would probably like to use it either for tax cuts or put it straight into reserves, and shore up some more reserves for the out years,” he said.

“From day one, we have been committed to working with our state partners to ensure they have the flexibility they need to make decisions that best reflect the unique needs of their populations,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said.

“Today’s announcement reflects that commitment on the part of the Trump administration. We look forward to continuing to work with Gov. Scott as well as governors across the country to make sure Americans have access to quality health care.”

The Obama administration started withholding the money after Florida refused to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala informed the Senate of the news during debate on the chamber’s $82.3 billion budget for 2017-18.

The House was debating its own $81.2 billion budget Wednesday.

A group of hospitals that spend heavily on charity care welcomed the news.

“The LIP funding helps our safety net hospitals carry out their mission of providing highly specialized, expensive and primary care to all citizens, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Tony Carvalho, president of the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

State officials have long complained that Florida draws less than its fair share of federal health care dollars.

“A state like Texas would get almost double what we would get in LIP. This is something that has been needed for a long time,” Flores said. “There has definitely been a disparity.”

It was too early to say how the cash would affect budget negotiations with the House, she said.

“I would hope that, No. 1, that the House would be open to receive this funding,” Flores said.

“Does it open the door for other health care issues? It might. But at the very minimum … it’s for our hospitals. This is great news in a year where, initially, even in the governor’s budget, they had been looking at close to $1 billion in cuts,” she said.

Also party to the announcement were Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and Justin Senior, secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

“Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is working toward a new era of state flexibility and leadership,” Verma said.

“For too long states have been sharing in the cost but have not been allowed to have a meaningful role in decision-making. We want to provide states the flexibility to make health care decisions that best meet their citizens’ unique needs, and support states covering access to health care services.”

“We truly feel like our federal partners are listening to our state and our needs and we know that Florida will have the flexibility we need to run our Medicaid program as efficiently as possible while providing the highest level of care in our state’s history,” Senior said.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons