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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate confirms Florida's Alexander Acosta as Labor secretary

WASHINGTON - The Senate moments ago confirmed Alexander Acosta of Florida to head the Labor Department.

Both Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio joined the majority.

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Florida Medicaid cuts will hit $650 million, Senate chair says

State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, (right) talks to Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, on the floor of the Senate.


State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, (right) talks to Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, on the floor of the Senate.

As part of a broad budget deal, House and Senate leaders have agreed to roughly $650 million in cuts to hospital payments through Medicaid.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the Senate's health care budget chairwoman, confirmed that the state would cut its share of Medicaid payments by $250 million in the upcoming budget, which reduces federal matching dollars by more than $400 million. That's more than was proposed by either the House or Senate in their original budgets.

How each hospital could be affected is not yet clear.

But hospitals -- particularly safety net hospitals that care for a disproportionate amount of the state's Medicaid and charity care patients -- might be repaid for some of those cuts, Flores and House health budget chairman Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said.

"A couple months from now, that potentially could be backfilled or it could be lessened, or there could be some way that the federal government money that has been promised could help make (hospitals') year look a little different than what it is we come out with," Brodeur said. …

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College, university emergency response plans will be out of Sunshine

The substance of plans Florida’s public college and universities have for responding to campus emergencies or threats will soon be kept secret, under a proposed law that is on its way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The measure creates an exemption in Florida’s public records law that shields from disclosure such materials as photographs, presentations, sheltering arrangements, training manuals and equipment and supplies related to emergency response strategies.

Senators approved HB 1079 by a 36-0 vote on Thursday without any debate, a week after the House also passed it unanimously.

More here.

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Nelson, Democrats file bill to block Trump on drilling

WASHINGTON - In a pre-emptive strike, Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats today filed legislation to block the Trump administration from opening up additional areas to offshore drilling.

“Drilling near Florida’s coast poses a direct threat to Florida’s environment and multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy,” Nelson said in a statement.

The action comes a day before President Trump is expected to sign an executive order calling for a review of drilling. Nelson says that would require the Interior Department to alter the current five-year oil and gas leasing plan that took effect earlier this year and expires in 2022. That plan prohibits oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic Coast.

The new legislation would prohibit changes to the current plan. Nelson had previously filed legislation to extend the ban to 2027.

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Does Legislature budget deal dare a Rick Scott veto?

Corcoran and Negron

Special to the Times

Corcoran and Negron

Despite nearly daily warnings from Gov. Rick Scott that the Legislature is on the brink of damaging the state economy, the House and Senate appeared ready to move forward with an $83 billion budget deal that would severely cut his two biggest priorities, Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

“We have reached an agreement on allocations,” Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told senators during the Senate’s morning session.

There are still more details to be hammered out over the next four days, but the framework of the deal is expected to include the House’s insistence on cutting Visit Florida’s $76 million annual budget to $25 million and rejects Scott’s demand for $85 million for Enterprise Florida. Scott’s stated top priorities.

Scott started his day in West Palm Beach on Thursday where he met with economic development groups and later held a press conference about his frustration that the Legislature also refused to set aside $200 million he had request to strengthen the Herbert Hoover dike around Lake Okeechobee.

"The politicians in Tallahassee are not including the $200 million in the state budget," Scott said. …

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Rick Scott: Trump cares about environment, state lawmakers don't




Is Gov. Rick Scott already lining up reasons to veto the proposed $83 billion budget, as some Capitol reporters are noting?

Today, Scott was in West Palm Beach, where he urged the Florida Legislature to include $200 million in the state budget for the Herbert Hoover Dike.

Scott said President Donald Trump told him last week that he would be a "partner" to make sure improvements are made to the dike. Scott wants the dike to be finished by 2022. 

"The politicians in Tallahassee are not including the $200 million in the state budget," Scott said. "Think about that. Two hundred million dollars out of an $82 + billion budget. We should care about our environment. President Trump cares about the environment. (In) his campaign, he talked about making sure we fixed Lake Okeechobee. He stepped up to the plate. This is a golden opportunity to fixing the dike and know that we'll have the dike fixed. So hopefully we'll never have, if we have excess water, we won't see all the algae blooms that we've seen in the Indian River Lagoon.

"The politicians in Tallahassee are turning their back on the environment," Scott said. "We've got to take care of the dike."


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Florida Republicans cool to new Obamacare overhaul

A patient is examined at a practice in Taylorsville, Ky., Jan. 15, 2014.

Luke Sharrett | New York Times

A patient is examined at a practice in Taylorsville, Ky., Jan. 15, 2014.

WASHINGTON - Florida House Republicans aren't rushing to embrace a new Obamacare overhaul that would give states the option to back out of certain parts of the law.

The Tampa Bay Times has asked all 16 members where they stand on the proposal. So far, only Francis Rooney of Naples appears to be on board. And only one is a definite no, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Responses from press officers:

Gus Bilirakis: “Still reviewing”

Vern Buchanan: "Vern is reviewing the newest changes to the bill."

Carlos Curbelo: “Still in the process of reviewing the legislation and discussing it with House leaders.”

Ron DeSantis: No response.

Mario Diaz-Balart: "He is still reviewing the proposal and awaiting bill text to be introduced."

Neal Dunn: "Dr. Dunn is still reviewing the changes to the bill."

Matt Gaetz: No response.

Brian Mast: "He is in the process of reviewing the proposal."

Bill Posey: No response.

Tom Rooney: "Undecided" …

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Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler faces heat from gay community about prayer breakfast speaker

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.

Miami Herald

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler’s battle with the LGBTQ community over the upcoming Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast where a leading national opponent of same-sex marriage will speak could affect Seiler’s statewide political ambitions.

Seiler will speak Friday at the 55th annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by National Christian Foundation of South Florida at the Broward County Convention Center. One of the speakers is Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, a national group that has opposed gay rights, including adoption by same-sex couples. Seiler said he had nothing to do with inviting Daly.

Seiler’s relationship with the gay community could nag him on the 2018 campaign trail if the Democrat decides to run for Florida attorney general. Seiler, a lawyer who is term-limited as mayor, has sounded increasingly interested in recent months about running and told the Miami Herald in March that he will make up his mind this summer. Republican AG Pam Bondi, who engaged in a costly battle against same-sex marriage, is term limited. (See previous stories by the New Times and Sun Sentinel.) …

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Trump battles Nelson (and Rubio) over health care funding for Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has a new target: Sen. Bill Nelson and others trying to address a health care funding crisis in Puerto Rico.

“The Democrats want to shut government if we don't bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure. NO!” Trump tweeted this morning. Last night he said, “Democrats are trying to bail out insurance companies from disastrous #ObamaCare, and Puerto Rico with your tax dollars. Sad!”

It seems Trump is referring to an effort from Nelson and Sen. Robert Menendez to address a Medicaid shortfall for Puerto Rico. The Democrats this week are pressing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the issue, noting that $6.4 billion in funding under the Affordable Care Act is set to run out at the end of the year, despite expectations it would last through 2019. The gap leaves Puerto Rico “facing a Medicaid cliff that will have far-reaching consequences for both the island and the continental United States,” Nelson and Menendez wrote to McConnell. …

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A hidden tax on hard-working motorists? Tax collectors think so

Florida license tags for sale at a county tax collector's office

Florida license tags for sale at a county tax collector's office

Did the state House just impose a new hidden tax on cash-strapped motorists in Florida? No, say lawmakers. Yes, say Florida's elected tax collectors.

Every session, private agencies that renew car registrations and licenses seek a greater foothold in the nation's third-largest state, a lucrative market. They succeeded in getting language in a must-pass tax cut package that allows them to charge drivers a new "convenience fee." (Republicans in Tallahassee don't like to use the word "tax.")

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, was included in the same bill that includes a cut in the business rent tax, back-to-school sales tax holidays and other forms of tax relief.

Read Brodeur's amendment here.

When Rep. Lori Berman and a few other Democrats asked Brodeur why private vendors should be able to charge a fee that tax collectors can't, Brodeur said it's for the convenience of motorists who may want to renew their tags on nights and on weekends at a "branch office," as the amendment specifies. Brodeur said the amount of the fee would be regulated by the market. …

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Senate's vetting of 'schools of hope' has been vastly limited compared to House

Stuart Republican and Senate President Joe Negron, left, and Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talk with reporters during a press conference in early April.

Phil Sears / AP

Stuart Republican and Senate President Joe Negron, left, and Senate Appropriations chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, talk with reporters during a press conference in early April.

Nine minutes.

That’s how long senators on the Appropriations Committee spent this week to hurriedly describe, amend and approve their version of one of the most high-profile, substantial and costly education policy changes the Legislature will enact this year affecting K-12 public schools.

Senators did not even debate their pair of bills Tuesday that counter a House Republican-approved $200 million “schools of hope” incentive for specialized charter schools. The one person from the public who wanted to weigh in was cut off after 56 seconds.

That’s not the picture of open, thorough and public debate Republican Senate leaders painted a couple of weeks ago when they agreed to send the House bill directly into budget negotiations and vowed transparency in those talks with the House.

Senate leaders had pledged they would have enough time — and would take the time — to properly vet the House “schools of hope” legislation and develop their own ideas on how to improve educational opportunities and services for students, mostly poor and minorities, who attend perpetually failing neighborhood schools. …

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More warnings from Rick Scott's office against cutting Visit Florida

As the Florida Legislature steams towards a budget deal that increasingly looks like it would gut funding for Visit Florida, Gov. Rick Scott's office put out a letter warning of dire fiscal consequences if lawmakers don't change course.

The Florida House and Senate appeared to be nearing a budget deal that would cut Visit Florida's $76 million budget to just $25 million next year. Scott had called for $100 million for the agency to market the state.

If the Legislature goes through with the cuts, the state could see a big drop in revenues, according to Christian Weiss, policy coordinator of finance and economics for the state Office of Policy Budget.

In his memo to Scott, which Scott shared with the media on Wednesday, Weiss said based on his review of a study of Visit Florida's return on investment, the state could lose $210 million in state revenues by cutting the agency that deeply. …

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Opposition mounts in Miami to new plan for casino

Armando Codina, Miami real estate developer who opposes gambling expansion in the county.

Miami Herald files

Armando Codina, Miami real estate developer who opposes gambling expansion in the county.

Armando Codina, one of Miami's most prominent developers, is sounding the alarm about the announcement Wednesday that the Florida House has agreed to a Senate plan to bring another casino to Miami-Dade County, arguing that while the revenue will help the state, it will cost the county, and leave the community with infrastructure and social problems. 

"I'm well-informed, but this surprised me how it was snuck in without any public debate,'' said Codina, chairman of Codina Partners, LLC, a real estate investment and development firm based in Coral Gables, in an interview with the Herald/Times.

"These guys are going to send casino money to Tallahassee and leave us with all the infrastructure issues and all the social issues that come with it,'' said Codina, who has long been a critic if expanded gambling in the county. "They are voting for something without any understanding of the impact and without any idea of where the money is going to go. It's a crime being perpetrated on the City of Miami." …

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House to consider allowing patients with chronic pain to use medical marijuana, permit vaping and edibles

In the first big step toward agreement on the issue in Tallahassee, the Florida House is expected to adopt sweeping changes to its medical marijuana proposal Friday.

New language (HB 1397) released Wednesday afternoon by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, includes a number of changes pushed by advocates who came to public hearings:

* Patients with chronic, nonmalignant pain would qualify for medical marijuana.

* Doctors would not need a 90-day relationship with patients before they recommend the drug.

* Edibles and vaping would be allowed.

The language would maintain the House's slower ramp-up of licenses, granting licenses immediately to the seven growers under Florida's existing, limited medical cannabis program as well as an additional license to a black farmer. Then, the next licenses would kick in at 150,000 patients and 200,000 pateints. …

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House votes to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients

Rep. Travis Cummings


Rep. Travis Cummings

Some low-income people who rely on Medicaid may have to meet new work requirements to keep their health care under legislation passed by the Florida House on Wednesday.

Medicaid recipients who are able to work would have to prove to the state that they are working, actively seeking work or enrolled in a job-training program. It wouldn’t apply to people with disabilities, the elderly and children, groups that make up the majority of Florida’s Medicaid enrollment.

Failure to meet the requirement will result in a loss of coverage for a year.

The provision, which was tucked into a broader Medicaid bill (HB 7117), passed 81-34.

Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park, the Health and Human Services chairman, said it was a “responsible” policy that would help encourage people to get back into the workforce.

But opponents say kicking people off Medicaid will end up costing the state and federal government money. They say that instead of seeking preventive care, sick people will go to hospital emergency rooms, where taxpayers and those with private insurance foot the bills of the uninsured. …

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