Sunday, February 02, 2014

After reading the hard copy of your hometown newspaper, please consider "liking" us on Facebook and following us on Twitter. Our digest of, and commentary on today's Florida political news and punditry follows.

"A thorny problem for conservative Republicans like Scott and Bondi"

Carl Hiaasen writes that "Medical marijuana will be on the Florida ballot in November, which is bad news for Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders who oppose any relaxation of the state’s backward cannabis laws."

They say medical use of weed is the first step toward Colorado-style legalization, and they might be right. They say that although the proposed constitutional amendment names only nine diseases, lots of people who aren’t really sick will find a way to get marijuana from certain doctors.

That’s probably true, too. This, after all, is the state that made pill mills a roadside tourist attraction. Who can doubt that future pot prescriptions will bear the signatures of a Dr. Cheech or a Dr. Chong?

But guess what — voters know that, and most don’t seem worried. They’ve seen what’s happened in California, where no anarchy materialized after medicinal pot was approved.

Nor has the fabric of society disintegrated in the 20 other states and the District of Columbia, where similar laws are on the books.

"In Florida, as is true throughout the country, public surveys continue to show landslide support for medical marijuana, and a majority favoring the decriminalization of small amounts for personal use."
This is a thorny problem for conservative Republicans like Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who are up for re-election. They now have to sally forth and crusade against a popular cause, trying to stir fear and doubts among a constituency that’s heard it all before. . . .

There’s a political risk if Scott, Bondi and the others fight too hard against marijuana reforms. Public sentiment is strongly against them, and their scare tactics could backfire in November.

"Dr. Cheech called — your prescription is ready". This from the Chamber of Commerce: "Beth Kassab: Florida should pass on medical grass" (subscription required).

Meanwhile, the pundits blather on about whether "Medical marijuana could aid Democrats, hurt Rick Scott".

John Grant whines, "Who funded this move and why? The answer is John (“For the People”) Morgan, head of the largest trial lawyer group in the state, Morgan and Crist, err, I mean Morgan and Morgan."

All the billboards confuse me.

Last year the anti-trial lawyer stars lined up and the business interests in the state got together. With the help of state House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, and under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, there was passed into law major tort reforms that had been defeated in many years gone by. The trial bar was handed its head on a legislative platter.

Morgan says that Scott needs to go, and Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat-turned-Obama-loyalist “Chain Gang” Charlie Crist is the man to do it, according to Morgan.

After all, when Crist left office, Morgan gave him a job, though I understand he has yet to be sighted in court, but his face appears “liberally” on interstate billboards. I guess Morgan needed a really experienced attorney and Charlie had three times more experience taking the Florida Bar Exam than most other attorneys.

So how does that tie in with marijuana? The answer is simple. Without Obama on the ballot, the Democrats need something to flush out their kind of voters and get them to the polls, ostensibly to vote for marijuana, but also for Charlie while they are there.

With the marijuana issue seeing more support from Democrats than Republicans in recent polls, it’s no surprise that Crist, a former governor, would support having a marijuana ballot initiative on the same ticket as his race against the incumbent GOP governor. After all, now that Obama has admitted that he smoked pot, it would only be natural for Charlie to embrace its legalization, like he embraces every other thing Obama does.

The amendment could drive more voter turnout in Crist’s favor. A recent poll shows 87 percent of Democrats supporting the legalization of marijuana. So the Ds are hoping to get an election buzz from the issue, and John Morgan is hoping to keep more anti-trial lawyer legislation from becoming law and thus eating into his “For the People” money machine.

So, at the end of the day, just ask what this marijuana buzz is all about, and when you turn over enough rocks, you will find out that it’s all about Charlie. That’s my opinion, and I am sticking to it.

"What’s the buzz? It’s all about Charlie".

Free Lolita

"Killer whale activists try again to free Lolita after 43 years at Miami Seaquarium." "Free Lolita supporters won’t end fight".

Scott's "environmental pivot"

"Gov. Rick Scott has trumpeted the environmental initiatives in his new budget, including money for protection of Florida’s increasingly polluted springs and a new initiative for Everglades restoration."

"Some environmental advocates give Scott credit for responding to critical needs, while others say the springs money is a drop in the bucket of what’s needed and that the Everglades initiative is a result of the ongoing litigation in which the state has been found to have violated its agreement to protect the River of Grass." "Experts split on Scott environmental pivot".

"Indian River collapse"

"Manatee deaths unsolved amid effort to reverse Indian River collapse".

"Jeb!" would "immediately be declared the man to beat." Really?

"Of all those being talked about — or talking themselves up — there is only one who could enter the race and immediately be declared the man to beat."

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has a stature that gives him the luxury of waiting, knowing that he could upend the contest the moment he took the plunge.

“I’m going to think about it later,” Bush said during a school tour Wednesday. “I’m deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year, and the decision will be based on: Can I do it joyfully? Because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits — it’s a pretty pessimistic country right now. And is it right for my family? So I don’t even want to think about that till it’s the right time, and that’s later on.”

A high profile can be a dangerous thing in the preseason, as Bush’s fellow Floridian Rubio can attest.

Barely a year ago, the cover of Time magazine hailed Rubio as “The Republican Savior.” But he flubbed his attempt at a star turn delivering the GOP response to the 2013 State of the Union address, and more significantly he enraged some conservatives in his party by lending his wattage to the Senate’s comprehensive immigration overhaul bill.

Rubio subsequently assumed a lower profile, and by November, the cover of Time was proclaiming: “How Chris Christie Can Win Over the GOP.”

"Republicans face 2016 turmoil".

"Jeb!" would "immediately be declared the man to beat." Really? Recent polling indicates Jebbie would even lose his home state to Hillary by a 49-to-43 percent margin. And that is without folks being reminded of Jebbie's many failures as governor. And there are many. See, e.g., "The Jeb Bush Era Ends in Florida" ("Bush's back-to-back terms were marred by frequent ethics scandals, official bungling and the inability of the government he downsized to meet growing demands for state services, including education and aid for the infirm and the elderly.")

The Jeb-dead-enders in Florida seem to be relegated to local media types who see a Bush candidacy as their ticket to rubbing shoulders with the national media during the next presidential campaign cycle. To this day they pander the silly notion that "Jeb Bush was considered a cutting-edge conservative when he governed Florida."

For an early discussion of the Florida media's pretensions to national relevancy via another Bush run for something, anything, see "The media ... err, the 'Jeb!' machine cranks up" (scroll down).

More: "'Jeb!' lapdogs unleashed by their owners" (scroll down).

We thought "truth was a defense"?

"The Republican Party of Florida demanded and received an apology from NBC 6 South Florida (WTVJ) and a Tallahassee-based television news service after the station aired a graphic earlier this week that referred to the party as the 'Reprehensive Party of Florida.'" "Florida GOP receives apology over news segment aired on NBC 6 South Florida".

Scott's position on unemployment is "reprehensive"

Fred Grimm writes that Florida acts as "if Florida’s jobless were so many grifters wrangling for free money. As if those weekly benefits, topping out at $275, were paid out of Gov. Rick Scott’s personal bank account." Grimm understandably cannot resist pointing out that the:

state’s pricy website failure came with a big dollop of political irony. CONNECT’s failed launch coincided with the infamous introduction of the Obamacare website, with similar problems fairly celebrated by critics of the Affordable Care Act, including our own governor. But while seems to have been repaired, CONNECT remains an ongoing debacle — which might have made for some great smart-ass satire except that the Obamacare problems were abstractions having to do with delays in buying health insurance.
Grimm continues, reminding us that Florida's "unemployment checks (renamed 'reemployment assistance' by state officials back in 2011 to show these shiftless loafers that Rick Scott’s not fooling around)," will not be issued
unless the beneficiary documents that he or she has applied for at least five jobs a week, and completes a skills test, creating a volume of paperwork that takes high-powered computing to process. Something CONNECT failed to deliver.

It was stupid. Either that or downright cruel. As [Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau’s Michael] Van Sickler reported last month, when California ran into similar problems last September with its own dodgy unemployment compensation website (built by the same contractor, Deloitte Consulting), state officials there started cutting checks immediately. California, mindful of the dire economic problems facing the jobless, decided to pay claims first, verify them later.

Florida waited until Jan. 18 to adopt that same policy — bowing to pressure from Sen. Bill Nelson and the U.S. Department of Labor, and no doubt embarrassed by Van Sickler’s reporting. For months, DEO had tried to process that giant pile of claims by paying workers overtime and hiring extra clerks and adding 80 operators to man the agency helplines — 80 to handle calls for 235,000 claimants. No wonder so many calls went unanswered. No wonder 10,000 jobless people waited weeks and months for their checks.

But Florida, under Scott, prefers a get-tough attitude. His administration has adopted a default position that the jobless, even in a state still suffering the effects of a recession, are clods, more deserving of a kick to the behind than a 16-week return on their unemployment insurance.

"Florida’s CONNECT website for unemployed is disconnected".

Oh dear,. . . what's a teabagger to do?

"Florida voters favor raising minimum wage, poll finds". Meanwhile, "Minimum wage hike debate roils District 13 race".

"In Miami-Dade County, the uninsured rate an astonishing 34 percent

Jeffrey Young at the Huffington Post writes that, "Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling and staunch Republican resistance, Marc Alphonse, an unemployed 40-year-old Marine veteran who is essentially homeless, cannot get health insurance under Obamacare."

Three years ago, Alphonse learned he has a kidney disorder that will deteriorate into kidney failure, and possibly prove fatal, if left untreated. As it stands now, he suffers from bouts of nausea caused by his dysfunctional kidneys, and he's dogged by an old knee injury that limits his job prospects. He gets by on $400 a month in unemployment benefits, and his family can no longer afford housing in their home city of Miami. Alphonse's 28-year-old wife, Danielle, and three young children are staying with relatives while Alphonse couch surfs. . . .

Alphonse is one of nearly 5 million uninsured Americans caught in a cruel gap that renders some Americans "too poor for Obamacare." . . .

In Alphonse's case, his family is trying to survive on his unemployment insurance. It amounts to $4,800 a year -- far below the poverty level, which is $27,570 for a family of five. Even the unemployment benefits will run out in March.

"Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) launched his political career in 2009 as a health care reform antagonist. Originally, he opposed the Medicaid expansion, but he then changed his mind. Last year, Scott and the majority-Republican state Senate backed a plan to accept federal dollars to expand the program. The GOP-led state House of Representatives refused to go along."
Now, 764,000 low-income adults in Florida will remain without insurance because of the coverage gap, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. And they're beginning to understand the tragic consequences of that public battle. . . .

When the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion, Florida, Texas and nearly the entire South turned away billions in federal dollars offered for broadening the program, citing budgetary concerns and resistance to Obamacare itself. The federal government will pay the full cost of the Medicaid expansion through 2016, after which its share will be no less than 90 percent.

These decisions by governors and legislators essentially consigned a huge swath of the very poor to a life of extreme insecurity. . . .

Florida's legislature is poised to take up the Medicaid expansion again during this year's session, but the political dynamics don't appear to have changed much since last year. Meanwhile, one-quarter of Florida's population (under the age of 65) is without health insurance -- the second-highest of all the states behind Texas. In Miami-Dade County, where Alphonse lives, the uninsured rate was an astonishing 34 percent in 2011, the most recent year county-level data were available.

"Keeping people like Alphonse off the Medicaid rolls doesn't shield American or Floridian taxpayers from the cost of whatever treatments he eventually may receive, like at a hospital emergency room or a government-funded community health center."
Unpaid medical bills totaled $57.4 billion in 2008 -- and taxpayers picked up about three-quarters of the tab, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs. Expanding health coverage via Obamacare was supposed to reduce that burden, but the patchwork Medicaid expansion limits the law's reach.
"Millions Are Now Realizing They're Too Poor For Obamacare".

Trib has Scott's back

The Tampa Tribune editors have Scott's back on his budget; they write that, "Critics deride Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed $74.2 billion budget as a pandering re-election bid aimed at making Floridians forget his spending plans that slashed funding for education, social services and the environment."

While they concede, as they must, that "Scott’s budget is hardly perfect," they do their level best to make a silk purse out of a cow's ear, writing that the budget" seems driven by practical concerns for Florida’s needs and finances. When Scott was elected he had a lot to learn about Florida. He still does. But his budget proposal indicates he is learning." "Budget plan shows Scott is learning".

"Legislators worried about unleashing plague of ... festive community events"

Scott Maxwell: "The way the Florida Legislature acts is enough to drive folks to drink. . . . consider the resistance that has surfaced to another proposal of craft-beer sellers."

A bill sponsored by Southwest Florida Republican Nancy Detert would allow stores such as Publix and Costco to hold beer tastings.

Sounds simple enough, right? After all, we're not talking raging keggers. Just samples of beer — the same way these stores already offer wine. (And beanie weenies. And orange juice. And oodles of other things.)

Detert thought allowing in-store samples was a natural way to help Florida's growing craft-beer market show off its goods. Sip a thimble full of Monk in the Trunk amber ale and maybe you decide to purchase a six-pack of the Jupiter-brewed beer for home. Detert's proposal, however, unleashed a torrent of objections.

Among them: Some legislators worried that tastings at Publix might lead to tastings at — gasp! — 7-Eleven.

Then, the unthinkable could happen.

Specifically, the News Service of Florida reported: "Lawmakers worry small convenience stores hosting public beer samplings that could turn into festive community events."

I'm sorry … what?

Legislators are worried about accidentally unleashing a plague of ... festive community events? . . .

The truth is that none of this is about concern over festivities. It's about lobbyists. And big-moneyed interests.

Right now, the current system is very profitable for the big guys. Beer makers, distributors and sellers all get pieces of a very profitable pie.

And they like it that way. They don't need some upstart microbrewery coming along and trying to sell — and offer samples — directly to consumers.

"Wacky beer laws reflect power of special interests" (subscription required).