Thursday, January 03, 2013

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

"Scott’s attacks on Floridians’ privacy rights"

The Palm Beach Post editors: "The fallout from Gov. Rick Scott’s attacks on Floridians’ privacy rights keeps getting worse. Not only have his efforts to impose drug tests on thousands been ruled unconstitutional and proven useless, they’ve cost Floridians money."

First came news last year that a new law requiring welfare applicants to pass a drug test actually cost Florida more than $100,000, since the state had to pay the cost of the tests when people passed them drug-free, as they did in the vast majority of cases. Now it turns out that a similarly flawed attempt to impose drug tests on state workers is going to end up costing Floridians even more.
"The News Service of Florida reported that the state has been ordered to pay a government workers union nearly $200,000 to cover its legal costs for challenging the constitutionality of the law."
A federal judge sided with the union, ruling in April that the law was an unconstitutional infringement on state employees’ right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Since the union prevailed in its lawsuit, it was able to ask to have Florida compensate its legal costs.
"Scott’s needless drug-testing battles are costing Floridians".

Conservative groups threatening Florida Republicans

Jeremy Wallace: "Even as members of Congress were preparing to be sworn in for new terms today, some conservative groups were threatening Republicans with primary challenges because they supported the fiscal cliff deal."

A group called Americans for Limited Government sent out a strongly worded condemnation of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, for backing the deal on Tuesday.

“Rep. Buchanan’s vote is inexplicable and disappointing,” said Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government. “Raising taxes on job creators into the teeth of this recession is a recipe for higher unemployment. This vote is sad, and may engender a primary challenge in 2014 – and Rep. Buchanan will have nobody to blame but himself.”

Wilson tossed out similar threats for other members of Congress who backed the deal, including U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, a Indian Shores Republican who is starting his 22nd term in office.

"Will fiscal cliff vote mean primary challenge for Vern Buchanan?" Related: ""Local Republicans opposed 'fiscal cliff' bill"".

Curry corrals king of the teabaggers

"With party leaders set to vote this weekend in Orlando on retaining Lenny Curry as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, one of the biggest names -- sporting tea party credentials -- is the latest big name to back his retention. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, advised state committee members to look beyond the election results of 2012 and instead focus on how Curry helped fiscally restore the party after the term of Jim Greer." "Marco Rubio Joins Support for Lenny Curry".


"Newly sworn-in Congressman Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, wasted little time showing his support for the Republican Party’s conservative 'Young Guns' while voting for House Speaker."

Yoho, who was carried to a primary victory last year over long-time Rep. Cliff Stearns by tea party supporters in the rural district that includes Ocala and Gainesville, was one of nine Republicans on Thursday who didn’t support Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, remaining as the House Speaker.

Yoho voted for Minority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., who was among the GOP members to vote against Senate Bill 8, the compromise backed by Boehner to prevent the nation’s economy from falling off the so-called fiscal cliff.

"Ted Yoho Casts House Speaker Vote For the 'Young Guns".

"A distressing sign"

The Sarasota Herald Tribune editorial board: "Floridians who watch the environment have long been aware of declining spring flows and other signs of the drying of Florida. Even along the fabled Suwannee, White Springs is not alone in seeing its local spring disappear and quit flowing. It is a distressing sign of the reality of 21st-century Florida." "The water beneath our feet".

The Miami Herald editorial board: "Saving Florida’s rivers". Meanwhile, "Red tide has tourism industry on edge".

Florida 4 sale

"Gov. Rick Scott's administration announced Thursday the state has signed a contract with a Pennsylvania company, Wexford Health Sources, to outsource medical care to more than 15,000 inmates in several South Florida prisons."

This is Wexford's second tour of duty in South Florida's prisons. A previous contract nearly a decade ago ended after the vendor and the state clashed over reimbursement rates, and Wexford prevailed in a legal challenge.
"State inks deal to privatize South Florida inmate health care".

Mixed bag

"Congress may have kept the nation from going over the fiscal cliff, but it failed to avert a multibillion dollar hit to Florida's struggling economy. The decision to let the 2010 deduction in the Social Security payroll tax expire will cost Floridians an estimated $6.5 billion, causing a contraction in the state economy, an expert says."

The payroll tax is just one of the hits Florida will feel. Another will be a slow but steady impact on hospitals. Under the bill, Congress voted to halt a $30 billion cut in payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients that was scheduled to take effect this week. The solution calls for hospitals that treat those patients to pick up half the tab over the next 10 years.

That worries Florida's public and teaching hospitals, which serve a larger percentage of Medicare patients than hospitals in other states.

One group to benefit: Florida's unemployed. Congress extended the federal emergency unemployment compensation program, which was due to expire Jan. 1, for another year.

That means about $1.4 billion will be injected into the Florida economy, where long-term unemployment has been particularly problematic. Nationwide, the long-term jobless rate is about 40 percent; in Florida, it's 50.6 percent.

In Florida, nearly 119,000 people are eligible for emergency unemployment assistance, which offers weekly benefits of up to $275 beyond the 19 weeks provided by state unemployment compensation.

"Good news, bad news for Florida". Related: "Florida homeowner tax cut extended; forgiven mortgage debt excluded from taxable income".