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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott's latest LIP plan avoids state money but costs hospitals

Gov. Rick Scott released details of his latest proposal to draw down $2.3 billion in federal Low Income Pool funds on Thursday. While the formula is higher than previously announced, it does not use any state dollars to backfill the loss but it cuts reimbursements to hospitals by $214 million.

Hardest hit are hospitals that do the bulk of the state's charity care. Among those facing the deepest cuts are: Jackson Memorial (-$34.5 million), Broward General (-$22.3 million), Shands in Gainesville (-$34.5 million), Shands in Jacksonville (-$36.5 million) and All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg (-$12.9 million.)

Under the plan, announced by the Agency for Health Care Administration in a letter to the federal government on Tuesday, the state would not lose $1 billion in federal health care money as previously suggested but the money would be offset by local hospitals and local governments, which would raise $900 million in financing to draw down $1.2 billion in federal Low Income Pool funds. The financing arrangements are known as intergovernmental transfers.  …

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Bill Nelson calls for answers after Army anthrax mishap

The U.S. Army accidentally shipped anthrax to labs in nine different states and Sen. Bill Nelson wants answers.

The Florida Senator, who sits as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, wrote a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh demanding an explanation for the event that left at least 26 people in need of medical attention.

"It is crucial that the Department of Army explain the nature and scope of these biological weapons-related activities and the measures used to keep the public and its personnel safe," he said.

One of the live anthrax samples somehow found its way to a lab in South Korea.  

The Army and the Centers for Disease Control are looking into the accident, according to a release from Nelson's office. 

"The Army had intended to send inactive anthrax to the various labs," the release read.  "But for some reason the deactivation procedures did not work in at least some instances."

Read the full release below, with a copy of Sen. Nelson's letter beneath it. 

The release from Sen. Nelson's office:  …

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Scott all but threatens veto of Senate FHIX health care plan

By Steve Contorno and Mary Ellen Klas

Gov. Rick Scott all but threatened a veto Thursday of a Senate plan aimed at expanding health insurance coverage to more than 800,000 uninsured Floridians by drawing down federal money into a privately run insurance exchange.

“I’m not doing it,’’ Scott told the Herald/Times after a meeting of the Enterprise Florida board of directors in Tampa. He repeated his claim at the Senate’s Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange (FHIX) program is a tax increase but, when asked, he refused to explain how he reaches that conclusion.

“I can’t think of many health care programs that have no cost,’’ Scott said. “I mean there’s nothing free out there, right? The study out there says it’s going to cost $5 billion over the first 10 years and look at history, if you look at Medicare, how much more Medicare costs today than what they anticipated - Medicaid.”

Under the FHIX plan, the state would pay $5 billion over 10 years to draw down $50 billion in federal revenue to cover the uninsured. By contrast, the governor does not have the same complaint about using local taxpayer dollars in counties with healthcare taxing districts to spend as much as $900 million to draw down $1.2 billion in federal revenue to pay for health care for people who can't afford insurance or don't quality for it in Florida. 

Under the latest proposal from Scott's Agency for Health Care Administration, the state would rely on local taxpayers to draw down the federal money to raise reimbursement rates and pay for services for patients who cannot afford their own health insurance. His office released the impact on hospitals of that proposal on Thursday.  

A contrary point of view to the governor's was offered by Legislature's chief economist, Amy Baker, testified before a Senate committee last month. Baker said her analysis showed that, rather than raising taxes, the FHIX plan would result in a state surplus over time.

Here’s the full exchange between Scott and Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Contoro in Tampa today:Full Story

PolitiFact Florida: Checking Jeb Bush on ISIS and bond ratings, plus a special session preview

Not-quite-yet Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush continues to sell potential voters on his eight years as Florida’s governor.

"Florida was the only state during my eight years to go from AA to AAA (in its bond rating)," Bush told business leaders in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 20, 2015. He added the change followed years of increasing the state’s cash reserves from $1 billion to $10 billion.

A state getting its bond rating upgraded is a relatively rare occurrence, so we wondered whether Florida was the only state to jump to a top rating while Bush was in office from 1999-2006.Full Story

President Obama visits National Hurricane Center in Miami

President Barack Obama receives the annual hurricane season outlook report at the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Thursday.

Amy Beth Bennett | Sun Sentinel via TNS

President Barack Obama receives the annual hurricane season outlook report at the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Thursday.

To mark the June 1 start of another storm season, President Barack Obama toured the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Thursday, learning about storm chasing and forecasting, and urging people to stay vigilant.

He visited the windowless hollows of the Hurricane Center, where the walls are covered with maps and computer screens showing storm forecasts and models. Obama asked staff questions, particularly about advances in technology.

He also wanted to know how pilots collect storm measurements. They fly into the weather systems — not over them — he was told. 

"Seems dangerous," the president said. "Ever scary?"

Rick Knabb, the center's director, assuured him the trips were "generally" safe — though Knabb recounted one incident in which a pilot lost altitude and was forced to make an emergency landing.

Jamie Rhome, leader of the center's storm surge unit, showed off a new storm surge model forecasters began using last November. Scientists also have better computers to crunch data from the radar they drop into storms, so they can make more accurate models once a system forms.  …

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Christie backs off Common Core, leaving Jeb Bush more exposed

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today backed away from Common Core, declaring "it's simply not working."

That leaves Jeb Bush, a probable rival to Christie in the GOP presidential race, even more exposed on the issue. Bush has been assailed by conservatives for his support for the standards. He hasn't backed down but Bush has deflected somewhat to say he's for any higher standards -- as long as students are challenged more.

Additionally, BuzzFeed reported today on emails Bush exchanged in 2013 with Education Secretary Arne Duncan as Gov. Rick Scott began to waver on Common Core.

"He is fearful of the rebellion," Bush replied. "Wants to stop using the term common core but keep the standards. Wants to get out of PARCC. I asked him if he had specifics things that the federal government is doing or perceived to be doing. He didn’t have them when I spoke to him last thursday evening."

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Florida GOP offers to host Hillary Clinton Presser

It seems Florida GOP officials have had enough of Hillary Clinton's reluctance to answer questions.

Thursday, in a release from Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, the party offered Clinton the chance for an unscripted event with the public. 

"Our goal is to make sure you have the opportunity to address the important questions that have led to voters across our state not to trust you," Blaise wrote to Clinton.

Blaise goes on, ensuring Clinton the Florida GOP will "take care of everything — from setting up the press conference with a podium and microphone to notifying the press and public." 

Clinton has yet to respond to the invitation. 

Here's a copy of the full release:

Dear Mrs. Clinton,

The Republican Party of Florida is hosting a “Conversations with Hillary” press conference and we are extending you an invitation to be the sole participant. Our goal is to make sure you have the opportunity to address the important questions that have led to voters across our state not to trust you. …

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Hillary Clinton brings cloistered campaign to Florida

Hillary Clinton brings her presidential campaign to Florida today but average people and reporters won’t have much of an opportunity, if any at all, to see her up close.

When her visit was announced last week aides said she would do a public event. Now that seems off the table, but she might go for something small with little notice — a simple reach for a photo or clip on the TV news."

A campaign spokesman would not comment on what she may do.

Clinton has generally avoided interaction with reporters and stuck to tightly controlled small group meetings with voters in Iowa and other early primary states.

Who will get to see her?

People with a lot of money. Clintons is fundraising in Miami-Dade, Broward and Orlando.

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Bush and Rubio open to more oil drilling as issue gains attention in Florida

An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Associated Press

An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Efforts to open up oil drilling off both Florida coasts could inject the issue into the race for president, and home state contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are generally supportive of more production.

Neither Republican seems receptive to legislation Sen. Bill Nelson filed to block a proposal from Gulf state lawmakers that would end the ban on drilling within a certain distance of the coast. The current prohibition, ranging from 125 miles to 235 miles, expires in 2022. Proponents, led by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., say increased drilling would create jobs.

Nelson last week declared that Florida is “under siege” and filed counter legislation.

“We’re still reviewing the bill, but Senator Rubio supports developing our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively, including offshore drilling and oil exploration,” said Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon.

“Governor Bush believes in opening up federal lands and water for drilling in a thoughtful way, in order to enhance America’s energy security,” said spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger. …

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Rubio, Bush at top but GOP presidential race remains wide open

The sprawling GOP presidential field has made for no clear front runner, a new Quinnipiac University poll shows.

Five candidates, including Florida’s Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush as well, each take 10 percent of support in the national poll. The others are Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker.

Rand Paul got 7 percent; Ted Cruz 6 percent; Donald Trump 5 percent; Chris Christie 4 percent.

“Safe to say, the 2016 Republican presidential primary is anyone’s race. With no front-runner and identical numbers for the top five contenders, it’s a horserace which can only be described as a scrambled field – at least so far,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll

None of the Republicans tops Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup, though Rubio and Paul come closest. She leads Rubio 45 percent to 41 percent and Bush 47 percent to 37 percent.

More on the poll here.

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DOC settles lawsuit, agrees to change treatment of mentally ill inmates

By Julie K. Brown

Inmates with mental illnesses who were once confined around the clock to a cell block filled with feces, rotten food and insects — and sometimes allegedly beaten, tortured and starved by staff — should be treated more humanely under a landmark lawsuit settlement reached this week between the Florida Department of Corrections and a statewide disability advocacy group.

The agreement could have far-reaching impact. It requires the state to overhaul the way it treats inmates with mental disorders at Dade Correctional Institution, which has the largest mental health facility in the state prison system.

Disability Rights of Florida brought the action following a series of stories last year in the Miami Herald about guards at Dade Correctional who allegedly used scalding showers and other sadistic forms of discipline to punish and humiliate inmates in the prison’s psychiatric ward, or Transitional Care Unit. …

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How did Jeb juggle all those corporate boards?

The AP's Ronnie Greene takes deep dive into the Jeb Bush's "dizzying array of corporate connections that earned him millions of dollars and occasional headaches."

...Bush's experience on corporate boardrooms could evolve into a theme during the 2016 race for the presidency. Among the issues the Florida Republican could be asked to explain:

—One company that paid Bush $15,000 a month as a board member and consultant, InnoVida Holdings, collapsed in fraud and bankruptcy, with the company's CEO, Claudio Osorio, now serving 12½ years in prison. Bush joined InnoVida despite warning signs that Osorio's prior company dissolved amid bankruptcy and allegations of fraud.

—At least five companies where Bush served on the board or as adviser faced class-action lawsuits from shareholders or legal action by the government. Some of the most sweeping cases, involving allegations of fraud or environmental damage, remain active. The Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenaed one of the companies, Rayonier Inc., in November, shortly before Bush's exit. …

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Poll: Fla Insiders grow more bullish on Marco Rubio, less so on Jeb Bush

Florida's political elites are fast revising their views about the strength of presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, with perceptions of Rubio dramatically improving and Bush's slipping, according to our latest exclusive Florida Insider Poll.

Five months ago, nine out of 10 of the veteran Florida politicos surveyed in the Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll said Bush would be a stronger general election candidate than Rubio, and one month ago nearly eight in 10 said the same thing. This week? Just 52 percent of the more than 120 our Political Insiders said Bush would be the stronger nominee against Hillary Clinton, while 48 percent named Rubio.

"Marco Rubio is doing what many said was impossible 6 mos. ago -- slowly edging Jeb Bush out in Florida, who struggles to find his mo-jo," said one Republican.

From another: "It's not that I believe that Marco should be the nominee, it's just what I sense is occurring at the base. Jeb is ready for this and would make a terrific president. Just not sure a large enough chunk of my party agrees with me on that AS OF TODAY." …

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A-list Fla fundraisers step up for Ron DeSantis Senate campaign

The common short-hand description for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron DeSantis, the congressman from northeast Florida, is that he's a Tea Party favorite. That's true, but today DeSantis is rolling out some top tier Florida fundraisers that show he also has considerable support in the GOP establishment as well:

John W. Childs, Vero Beach
Jay Demetree, Jacksonville
Gay & Stanley Gaines, Palm Beach
Robert Grammig, Tampa
Joseph G. Fogg, III, Naples
Jim France, Daytona Beach
Lee Hanley, Palm Beach
Mori Hosseini, Daytona Beach
Elizabeth & John Kagan, Ft. Myers
Tom Kukk, Naples
Gov. Bob Martinez, Tampa
Carlyn & Lothar Mayer, Boca Raton
Mac McGehee, Jacksonville
Ambassador John Rood, St. Johns
Ambassador Francis Rooney, Naples
Russ Thomas, Ponte Vedra Beach

DeSantis started his campaign with nearly $1.1 million already on hand from his House account, and he has the support of conservative grassroots groups like the Club for Growth PAC, Senate Conservatives Fund, and FreedomWorks PAC.

Other prospective Republican candidates include Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Reps. Jeff Miller and David Jolly, and former Attorney General Bill McCollum.

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Pot, meet kettle: DCCC attacks Jolly over measure supported by 88% of Dems

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is eager to soften up Pinellas County's U.S. Rep. David Jolly before his re-election campaign heats up against Democrat Eric Lynn.

But they might want to try attacking the Congressman on legislation that wasn't widely supported by Congressional democrats.

The DCCC has a new radio ad linking Jolly to the U.S. House's failure to come up with a long-term solution for the country's Highway Trust Fund that has been losing money for years.

The ad refers to the passage of the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, a measure supported by every Florida democrat and 88 percent of democrats in the House. 

“This ad clearly points out the failure of the House Republican leadership to find a long-term fix for our nation’s highways and David Jolly’s continued participation in the disaster that is this Republican Congress," said Matt Thornton of the DCCC.  Democrats voting for the only option presented is far different from Republicans choosing not to solve this problem for the long-term. As the party in the majority, they alone had the ability to put a long-term solution on the table, and they failed to do so. Where was David Jolly?” …

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