Tuesday, March 04, 2014

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

"Nine weeks of stupid"

Daniel Ruth writes that "it might appear that today marks the beginning of the Florida Legislature's annual 60-day session in which our dedicated elected public servants gather to make life better for one and all across the state regardless of race, creed, gender or economic status."

Forgive a pinch of cynicism, but you might be better off regarding the next nine weeks of stupid that are about to commence as more along the lines of "Eight Years a Knave."

Gov. Dread Scott will deliver the always riveting State of the State address this morning before an assemblage of the Capitol's feedbag of pols. . . .

Then the House and Senate will get down to the serious business of legislatively napalming the environment, imploding public education, expanding gambling and otherwise pandering to any special interest lobbyist with a bulging checkbook looking for a home.

Ruth continues,
And what about you, precious reader? You are so very much burnt, crumbling, mold-infested toast.

In advance of this year's auction house of influence-peddling, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-The Errorist of the All, was adamant that the fact that Tallahassee is awash in unlimited money flowing into members' political committees has absolutely no influence on shaping legislation or advancing the special interests of the state's deep-pocketed big shots. . . .

As the 2014 session begins, if you are a poor person, or sick, or a public school student, or an environmentalist, or the child of illegal immigrants, you don't stand a chance of being heard. But you never have.

"The best Legislature money can buy".

Raw political courage

"House and Senate have politically popular bills to start an election-year session. Gov. Rick Scott will kick off the festivities by asking lawmakers to approve a tax cut package. Scott's request will come in a State of the State speech marking the beginning of the 2014 legislative session, Tuesday at 11:00 a.m." "2014 legislative session convenes Tuesday". See also "Legislature convenes today".

State of the State

"Florida legislators return today to the state Capitol for a 60-day session that likely will focus on tax cuts, spending and school vouchers, but avoid many of the contentious issues that sparked partisan rancor and fierce debate in the past few years." "Gov. Scott will use speech to push tax cuts". See also "Rick Scott's Tax Cuts Dodge Democrats' Bullets as 2014 Session Kicks Off".

"In another thinly veiled shot at his chief rival in the November elections, Gov. Rick Scott will use his State of the State address on Tuesday to call for a repeal of a 2009 law allowing universities to increase tuition up to 15 percent a year." "2014 legislative session convenes Tuesday".

"Moral Monday"

"On the eve of the opening of the Florida Legislature, activists from Democratic-allied groups rallied Monday at the state Capitol, challenging Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leaders over health care, voting law changes and a controversial self-defense gun law." "Liberals, conservatives stage dueling rallies on eve of legislative session’s start". See also ""Moral Monday" protestors converge on Capitol" and "Dueling rallies in Tallahassee show divide on state’s priorities".

FlaGOP stiffs 1 million uninsured Floridians

"Roughly 1 million uninsured Floridians . . . who repeatedly heard affordable health insurance was just around the corner for them, thanks to President Barack Obama’s new law, are finding a harsh reality — they’re too poor to qualify."

In Florida, generally only children, pregnant women, the disabled and single parents or caretakers of underage children are eligible for Medicaid, the government’s free health plan for the poor.

The Affordable Care Act called for the working poor to get health coverage through an expanded Medicaid program, while offering tax subsidies to those earning above the federal poverty level or $23,550 for a family of four.

"But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states couldn’t be required to expand Medicaid coverage. Twenty-five states — including Florida — opted against the Medicaid expansion."
That has left the working poor in the state without access to Medicaid and with no tax subsidies that would make it affordable for them to buy insurance through the online marketplace. . . .

When the Florida House voted last year not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, members cited fears that it could eventually cost the state hundreds of millions annually.

Others, though, saw politics as the real reason the Republican-controlled House said no to the expansion. They point out the federal government is paying 100 percent of the costs through 2016. After that, it will phase down to 90 percent in 2020.

Health advocates are doing what they can so consumers don’t leave appointments feeling hopeless. Florida CHAIN and navigator groups like the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, which received a federal grant to sign up people for health coverage, are referring consumers to local health departments and community health centers that treat patients on a sliding scale and offer discounted drug programs.

“They’ll keep saying, ‘I’m poor. I should qualify for something.’ And they’re right, they should, but the fact is this is a state that chose not to expand Medicaid,” said counselor Adrian Madriz. . . .

Medicaid expansion may be a dead deal before the legislative session even begins today. Scott said he supported the expansion, but never made it a priority and nothing has signaled that’s changed. Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford has been adamant about turning down any proposal that relies on federal dollars. In a recent editorial, Weatherford showed no sign of changing, calling the decision not to expand a flawed Medicaid program “a common-sense, quality solution to address our health care challenges.”

"Poor Floridians fall into Medicaid gap". The Tampa Bay Times editors: "A million still waiting for Tallahassee to act on health coverage".

"Cracking down on politicians" who live outside the district

"The Legislature could be cracking down on politicians who opt to run for office without ever moving into the cities, counties or even school districts they represent. The Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday passed a bill (SB 602) which spells out that candidates or elected officials required to live within the geographic area – such as the district or city – must use their legal 'domicile' as their residence and can only claim one such 'domicile.'" "Latvala targets local pols living outside their districts".

"DCCC doesn’t have much hope of making progress in Florida"

"The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) tipped its hand on Monday, showing little optimism that it will be looking to defeat Republican congressmen from Florida with the exception of Steve Southerland."

The DCCC came out with its list of 35 “red to blue” and “emerging races” congressional contests where they hope to topple Republican incumbents. Democrats clearly have their targeted states lined up as they hope to win back Congress from the GOP with multiple Republican incumbents in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania already in their sights.

But the DCCC clearly doesn’t have much hope of making progress in Florida. The DCCC put Gwen Graham in the spotlight, naming her to the “red to blue” list of Democratic candidates who have the best chances of knocking off Republicans.

"DCCC Not Inclined to Play Much in Florida in 2014".

Lawmakers agenda built around re-electing Scott

"As Florida lawmakers open their annual legislative session Tuesday and the governor gives his fourth state-of-the-state address, overshadowing everything for the Republican-controlled Legislature is one overriding goal: the reelection of Gov. Rick Scott."

Woefully behind in the polls but ahead in campaign cash, the governor faces the greatest uphill climb of any incumbent governor since Republican Bob Martinez ran for a second term in 1990 and lost when Democrat Lawton Chiles emerged from retirement.

To help Scott’s chances, lawmakers are expected to grant the governor his modest list of priorities, including a $500 million tax cut, another freeze on university tuition, and a reduction on taxes on business leases. With that, they hope to end the session in harmony, and draw a contrast to how government will operate if Scott is replaced by the presumptive Democratic contender, Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who has returned to run as a Democrat.

"Scott’s reelection weighs heavily as legislators convene for the 2014 session". See also "Florida Legislature opens today with Scott speech, votes on sex predator, G.I. bills" and "Session Outlook 2014: Budget and Taxes".

Florida FlaBaggers may help depose Scott

Winger Lloyd Brown: "Anything can happen in politics but is it possible that conservatives in Florida will help depose a conservative governor?" "One Issue Could Be Disruptive to Rick Scott's Re-Election Hopes".

Casino legislation

"Key senators say Gov. Rick Scott's talks with the Seminole Tribe over the Seminole Gaming Compact are critical to bills allowing new casinos in south Florida, but the Governor has been vague about when those talks might be concluded and under what terms." "Seminole Compact talks loom large over casino legislation".

Never mind

"Falling short of a $50 million goal set by lawmakers, state environmental officials have changed focus and won't sell pieces of conservation land to help raise money for the Florida Forever program." "Florida Halts Sale of Conservation Land". See also "Florida halts sale of conservation land" and "DEP ends stormy land-selling review, shifts focus to nonconservation lands".

Environmental permitting bill

"Patronis is back with another environmental permitting bill".

He has "a blue-chip rating among the business lobbyists who help control House and Senate"

"At this time last year, Ross Spano admitted he didn’t know what to expect as a newly elected member of the Florida House. Tuesday, starting his second session, Spano feels a bit more confident thanks to relationships established among the Republican leadership, some experience in getting bills passed, and a pot of re-election money in the bank. Plus, he’s got a blue-chip rating among the business lobbyists who help control House and Senate agendas for the next 60 days." "Lawmaker Spano gains confidence, cash as second session opens".