Friday, July 06, 2012

Today's Political News and Punditry

Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry.

Feds will implement health care changes if Scott continues to balk

Dara Kam: "Scott’s insistence that he will not implement the state health insurance exchanges mandated under the federal health care law doesn’t mean Florida won’t have one. Instead, it most likely means the federal government will have control over Florida’s exchanges, including how they will operate, what benefits insurers will have to offer and who gets to sell the policies."

While Scott has spent much of the last week on national television and radio attacking the federal health-care program recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida Senate leaders have been working on a plan to not only implement the exchanges but to expand Medicaid, which Scott also said the state will refuse to do.

But Florida lawmakers have done nothing to authorize the executive branch to set up exchanges under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and states have only until Nov. 16 to submit a comprehensive blueprint to the federal government outlining their plans for an exchange.

It all adds up to confusion over what Florida will do and, at least for now, points to likely federal control.

The federal government gave states a blueprint for the exchanges in May. According to those federal documents, the exchanges are meant to provide access to health insurance and subsidies for small businesses, and low- and moderate-income individuals. They must establish the minimum benefits packages insurers must offer, certify “qualified health plans” and provide a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for plans.

If the states don’t do those things, the federal government will, according to documents. States have three options for setting up exchanges — a state-based exchange, a state partnership exchange in which the federal government operates the exchange but the state retains some regulatory functions, or a federal facilitated exchange in which the feds control virtually all aspects. States can also join the federal exchanges later.
"Gov. Scott’s health-care law refusal makes federal control more likely in Florida".

DEP retaliates

The Tampa Bay Times editorial board:

In recent weeks, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has emphatically denied that the suspension of its top wetlands expert was triggered by her refusal to approve a mitigation permit for a well-connected landowner. Now it looks like the real sin in her superiors' eyes stemmed from their belief she might have leaked this public information to — gasp — the public. Now the state inspector general is investigating, and it appears the DEP is more interested in controlling the flow of public information than in protecting Florida's natural resources.
"Connie Bersok was put on paid leave and investigated for three weeks in May after she refused to sign a permit expanding wetland mitigation credits for Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank under a new scheme endorsed by her superiors."
An attorney for the mitigation bank — which had already failed to win more credits through an administrative law court or the Legislature — wrote the proposed new policy. Upon review, Bersok concluded that the plan would not comply with state law because it lacked assurances that any wetland restoration work would actually be done.

Agency officials denied that Bersok's suspension had anything to do with her decision about the permit. But newly released documents show that her bosses feared she had told outsiders about her decision — even though her memo explaining her refusal is a public record available to anyone under Florida law. Bersok's superiors asked whether she had contacted specific people, including the media and environmental advocates. Ultimately she was cleared, and it's worth noting that Bersok — whose travails were first reported in the Times — has repeatedly declined to speak to the Times without permission of her superiors.

Presumably, Bersok's bosses were hoping they could quietly persuade the scientist to reverse her decision or mitigate it in some other way. That's a far cry from the goal DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard espoused in May in a meeting with the Times editorial board: efficient and consistent regulation that followed the science.
"DEP fails to live up to stated goal".

Scott on another junket

"A group of Floridians and aerospace proponents, headed by Gov. Rick Scott, will jet across the pond this weekend to showcase the Sunshine State at one of the largest aviation industry trade events in the world." "Rick Scott, Enterprise Florida Off to Scout Up Business at English Airshow".

Rejecting Medicaid expansion would cost Floridians tens of thousands of new jobs

The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy's latest report: "Although Florida's elected leaders may have the political option of rejecting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, actually doing so would cause serious harm to the state and its economy. Rejecting Medicaid expansion would cost Floridians $20 billion in unused federal dollars and tens of thousands of new jobs, while denying the lowest-income workers and families much-needed coverage." "Rejecting Medicaid Expansion Not a Sensible Option for Florida".

"A blow to the insurance industry and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater"

"A 2008 Florida law establishing a 48-hour moratorium on public adjusters was ruled unconstitutional Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court on grounds that it restricted commercial speech."

The decision was a blow to the insurance industry and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who appealed a lower court ruling that was unanimously upheld by the state's highest court. Public adjusters serve as advocates for policyholders while negotiating insurance claims. The overturned law had prevented them from getting involved in insurance cases for at least 48 hours after the occurrence of an event.
"Atwater appeal rejected by Florida Supreme Court". See also "Florida Supreme Court Strikes Public Adjuster Provision".

Charter madness

"An appeals court on Thursday struck down a decision by the state Board of Education that had given a troubled Florida City charter school the power to open its doors again after being shut down by the Miami-Dade School District."

In 2010, Miami-Dade school officials closed the Rise Academy after finding a litany of problems at the charter school: unsanitary bathrooms and food storage, a shortage of textbooks, and questionable spending by administrators. The school had no science, social studies, art or writing programs, no student computers, no library — and recess was held on an asphalt parking lot, Miami-Dade officials found.

"The school was a dump," school district lawyer Mindy McNichols told state officials at a 2010 hearing. “They refused to follow any of the requirements.”

The charter school’s lawyers appealed to the state Board of Education, which reversed the Miami-Dade district’s decision — and a recommendation of the state Charter School Appeals Commission — in a 4-3 vote and restored Rise’s charter. Despite the lifeline, the school never re-opened.

But on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the Board of Education’s decision, and found that Miami-Dade school officials had sufficient grounds to close the school "under any standard of review."
"Appeals court: Miami-Dade school district right to shut down charter".

Lefties "swarming through Orange County"

"In what may be the biggest political campaign in Central Florida right now, an army of paid and volunteer petition workers is swarming through Orange County. They aren't pushing a candidate. Rather, they are trying to earn a spot on the November ballot for an initiative that would require businesses to offer their employees sick time. It's a daunting task: So many petition signatures are required that no citizen initiative has ever made it on the ballot in Orange County." "Orange mandatory-sick-time initiative gains steam".


The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Florida Republicans who led the unsuccessful attempt to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional regularly claimed it amounted to 'government-run health care.' But for an actual attempt at government-run health care, consider Florida lawmakers’ attempt last year to stop doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership."

As the doctors pointed out, they have legitimate reasons for asking. Chilren regularly die or are injured in gun-related accidents. Doctors who know there’s a gun in the home can provide life-saving advice.

But the Legislature and Gov. Scott decided that a doctor counseling his patients on gun safety somehow was an infringement of the patient’s Second Amendment rights. That never made much sense, since the amendment stops governments from placing burdensome restrictions on gun ownership but is irrelevant to doctor-patient conversations about gun ownership.

In fact, the real constitutional issue arose when lawmakers decided that the government should regulate those conversations. That, as they should have known, really does interfere with the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. So it is no surprise that last week U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, a George W. Bush appointee, threw out the law.

The judge noted in her ruling that lawmakers had no actual evidence that doctors asking about gun ownership infringed on the rights of gun owners. But when enacting laws to please the National Rifle Association, facts and actual examples are not necessary.

The same kind of legislation-by-anecdote was at work previously when the Legislature enacted Florida’s stand-your-ground law. There had been no evidence of a legitimate exercise of self-defense being successfully prosecuted.
"Doctors can talk about guns — and should".

Tourists catch a break, at locals' expense

"Judge's ruling on tourist tax worries Orange leaders".

Cash-strapped courts

"Justice denied in cash-strapped courts".

Judges in the clear

"Prosecutor: No charges against 3 Fla. justices". Ricky ain't happy: "Rick Scott: Courts Must Decide if Justices’ ‘Common Practice’ is Legal".