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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Critics: Gov. Rick Scott's panel goes easy on ALF industry

Gov. Rick Scott used tough language in the summer of 2011 when he created a panel to help fix the deadly abuse and neglect in Florida assisted living facilities.

He pledged to provide protections for elderly and disabled ALF residents, who in recent years saw sweeping breakdowns of care as lawmakers stripped regulations and failed to protect the state's most vulnerable people from burns, beatings and death.

Then politics happened.

In a change of tide, Scott's panel issued a final nine-page report this week, calling for diminished transparency, fewer regulations and more money for ALF operators. The panel calls for the state to better enforce existing rules rather than create new ones. And to reward ALFs when they do right rather than punish them when they do wrong.

Read more here.

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Weatherford doles out Capitol real estate

One of the best approximations of power is the proximity to it.

So it’s always fun when the Florida Speaker doles out real estate, deciding which lawmakers get offices close to his, and which ones get relegated to the “towers”.

This week, freshly minted Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, handed out his office assignments for the 120 members. A few quick notes…

1)   Rep.  Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey

For a guy who only a few days ago criticized one of Weatherford’s committee appointments, Fasano could have been treated like other freshman representatives, who are typically given offices on the 10 floor and above. Instead, he got a sizable office on the fourth floor of the House building. He’ll share it with a trusted Weatherford ally: powerful Judicial Chair Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. Maybe Weatherford wants to keep an eye on  him

2) Fourth floor Capitol offices: Gotta have it  …

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Scott says Citizens Property Insurance needs to shrink rolls, eliminate waste

Citizens Property Insurance is too often the "insurance company of first resort," Gov. Rick Scott said, when it was intended to be an insurer of last-resort. Because of this issue and the threat that a major storm will put both Citizens policyholders and all Floridians on the hook for covering claims, the company's size needs to be addressed, Scott said Friday morning during a speech at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Annual Insurance Summit.

Scott said policyholders, when provided more information, may chose to leave Citizens for other insurance companies, even if not forced by de-population efforts or higher premiums. For example, many Citizens customers don't know about the "hurricane tax" they would be required to pay if a major storm creates more damages than the company can cover with existing surpluses. He said the average Citizens premium is $2,300 but the "hurricane tax" could add another $1,000 to that bill for several years.

"Shrinking Citizens is the first step toward increasing competition in the marketplace and driving down prices for homeowners," he said. "Shrinking Citizens will also protect Florida families from hurricane taxes. …

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FEMA to Scott: Florida, not feds, should pay for Hurricane Sandy

 For the second time in recent months, the federal government has rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s request for aid after a major hurricane mostly bypassed the state.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator, Craig Fugate, sent Scott a letter this week saying that Hurricane Sandy’s impact on Florida was not large enough to require federal intervention.

“Based on our review of all the information available, it has been determined that the damage to the infrastructure from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments,” wrote Fugate, who used to be Florida’s emergency management chief.

Hurricane Sandy thrashed the Northeast in late October, though parts of eastern Florida were brushed by the massive storm. It caused more than $50 billion in damage in the Northeast, but Florida was mostly spared from such destruction—as it has been for the past seven hurricane seasons, including the one that ends today.

In August, Hurricane Isaac threatened the Tampa Bay area, including the Republican National Convention taking place in Tampa. The hurricane veered west, sparing Tampa from the worst damage. …

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PolitiFact Florida: Measuring Rick Scott's progress on campaign promises

PolitiFact Florida has returned to the work of analyzing the campaign promises of Gov. Rick Scott as he approaches his third year in office.

We're tracking 57 promises on the Scott-O-Meter, where each pledge receives a rating of Promise Kept, Promise Broken, Compromise, Stalled or In The Works. (We have also been updating our Carlos-O-Meter and Buck-O-Meter for the mayors of Miami-Dade and Tampa.)

Here are the ones we have recently updated:

Will fight to repeal health care law: Scott softened his hard rhetoric against the health care law in recent weeks, saying he wants to negotiate with the federal government to benefit Floridians. In many ways, his position shift is a sign of pragmatism: Voters rejected an amendment that would have aimed to prevent enforcement of the law in Florida and reelected President Barack Obama. We changed the rating of this pledge from Promise Kept to Compromise. Read more.  …

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Court blocks release of 'salacious' report in Jim Greer case

Floridians will have to wait a little longer for details of that golf cart full of prostitutes.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal on Friday ruled in favor of anonymous petitioners who want to block the release of investigative reports about a gathering in the Bahamas sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida when Jim Greer was chairman.

Greer faces trial in February for allegedly defrauding the party of about $200,000. Reports of the party and prostitutes surfaced during a pretrial hearing in the summer.

Story here.

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Jeb Bush as yesterday's GOP?

bushes.jpgByron York at the Washington Examiner looks at the prospects of a Jeb Bush presidential campaign and raises the valid question of whether another Bush nominee would be seen as a creature of the GOP past, rather than it's future:

...The bottom line is that a Jeb Bush candidacy could turn the Republican presidential race into a forward vs. backward contest, not because Bush's policies would be backward (they might be just the opposite) but because his family tree, both personal and political, reaches far into the GOP past and will force Republicans to decide whether it's time to move on or whether it's possible to go to the well one more time.

"It's too far removed," said state Sen. John Courson, who recalls the Reagan years as the most exciting of his political life. "It was eons ago. [Jeb's] father was Reagan's vice president, his brother was president, but that is starting to wane, too. ... In my personal opinion, with all due respect to Gov. Bush, I would like to look forward to a Rubio or an Ayotte, or someone of that nature."

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Yet again, Democrats focus on CW Bill Young's seat

Politico reports that national Democrats see the Pinellas County congressional seat held by CW Bill Young as one of the four most vulnerable Republican-held seats in the country. Unstated is that that depends entirely on the 81-year-old Indian Rocks Beach Republican retiring.

Politico: Democrats plan to begin unveiling candidates by early spring, just as the new session of Congress gets under way.

Party leaders say they are focusing on around 50 Republican seats in 2014 — particularly those in areas where Obama performed strongly in his two elections. Israel identified the four most vulnerable as Ohio Rep.-elect David Joyce, Illinois Rep.-elect Rodney Davis, Florida Rep. Bill Young and California Rep. Gary Miller.

Democrats plan to begin unveiling candidates by early spring, just as the new session of Congress gets under way.

Party leaders say they are focusing on around 50 Republican seats in 2014 — particularly those in areas where Obama performed strongly in his two elections. Israel identified the four most vulnerable as Ohio Rep.-elect David Joyce, Illinois Rep.-elect Rodney Davis, Florida Rep. Bill Young and California Rep. Gary Miller. …

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Gov. Scott's transparency initiative frustrates open govt advocates

Bad news and controversy are routine in the vast state government under Florida Gov. Rick Scott's control. But don't look for clues in Project Sunburst, Scott's program for email transparency.

That's because Scott doesn't use email as a primary form of communication, and neither does his top aide, chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth.

Workers at state agencies also are wary of using email to alert Scott's inner circle (and consequently the media) to impending trouble.

Anyone can access the email of Scott and his top aides at www.flgov.com/sunburst. But if Sunburst were designed to end secrecy in state government, it hasn't.

"It's been a disappointment to say the least," said Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation, who had high hopes because the search for email from Scott's office had been costly and time-consuming.

"The manipulation of content and lack of substantive communications — there's simply not much there of any real value to the public," Petersen said.

Story here

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CFO Jeff Atwater tells insurers to stop whining, reduce PIP premiums

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Thursday that it’s time for insurance companies to stop complaining and to lower premiums to reflect changes to the no-fault car insurance laws.

“I am comfortable that if assaults on the courts are unsuccessful and the bill can stand there will be more than 25 percent savings,” Atwater said. “We don’t have to gnash about it, argue about it, whine about it or cry about it.”

Under the old system, the average personal injury protection insurance claim is $12,900, Atwater said during a presentation at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Insurance Summit. That included $4,400 in acupuncture, $3,700 for massage therapy, $3,200 to chiropractors and $1,600 for emergency room costs.

The new law, HB 119, restricts acupuncturists and massage therapists from participating in PIP and requires people injured in a car accident to be diagnosed with an emergency medical condition before they are eligible for the full $10,000 benefit.

“We just eliminated 68 percent of that cost,” Atwater told the group.

Read more here.

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Fla GOP still obsessing about Charlie Crist

The Republican Party of Florida seems to be mighty worried about the prospect of Charlie Crist running as a Democrat against Rick Scott, based on the amount of effort they spend airing TV ads and firing off press releases about the ex-governor. The latest missive, the second this week, comes in response to Crist and former GOP Chairman Jim Greer both suggested the party tightened voting restrictions to suppress Democratic votes. Here it is:

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After a brief estrangement, professional political candidate Charlie Crist has apparently reforged his alliance with his hand-picked political co-star, Jim Greer, and the two are now trying to leverage it into a new, blockbuster theatrical release.

 

In a delicately choreographed TV teaser, the two former political co-conspirators thrilled MSNBC viewers this week in a coordinated duet, with supporting roles filled admirably by Al Sharpton and Rachael Maddow.

  …

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Citizens president pushes plan to shrink state-backed insurer

 Barry Gilway, president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., continued to defend the beleaguered state-run insurer Thursday, while preparing to chart a path forward.

Speaking at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Insurance Summit, Gilway defended the company’s employees and set out some ideas for improving--and shrinking--the state-run insurer in the coming year.

“One of the biggest surprises that I found when I joined Citizens is the quality of the staff,” said Gilway, who became president in June. “They don’t do it because they are the highest paid people in the marketplace.”

Gilway spent time praising the work of Citizens’ leaders in recent years and laying out plans for shrinking the size of the state-run company in the future.

He said that while some of the decisions made at Citizens have been “unpopular” and “controversial”—including reducing coverage and approving a generous $350 million loan program for private insurers—they will help improve the company.

“We tried to makes ourselves as unattractive as we possibly can,” he said, commenting on the company’s awkward business strategy. …

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Report: Counties offer ethics lessons for state lawmakers

 As Florida lawmakers consider beefing up the ethics laws that govern them, they could learn a few things from their counterparts at the county level, a new research report shows.

Florida State University’s LeRoy Collins Institute and Integrity Florida released the report, titled “Tough Choices: Florida Counties Bridge the Ethics Policy Gap,” to highlight some of the ethics ordinances in place at the local level.

In many cases, county officials have tougher ethics laws than the ones on the books for state lawmakers.

“This is what counties in Florida have been doing that really makes us proud,” said Dr. Carol Weissert, director of the LeRoy Collins Institute. “We actually are leading the nation in some of these county efforts. We’re also talking about a promising conversation that is going on at the state level.”

Weissert said many of the county-level reforms—including tough laws on campaign finance, gifts from lobbyists, ethics training and voting conflicts—were sparked by Florida’s infamous reputation for government corruption. Between 2000 and 2010, Florida led the nation in federal public corruption convictions, with many of the convictions at the county level. …

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Bondi says 'Obamacare' already having negative effect on businesses

Other Republican leaders in Florida may have softened their tone on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but not Attorney General Pam Bondi. Addressing business leaders at the Florida Chamber's Annual Insurance Summit via video, Bondi said the Supreme Court ruling in June allowed an unjust law to take effect.

She had the sharpest words for the individual mandate provision that Florida challenged but the high court upheld because the related penalties could be viewed as a tax.

"We all know this law would never have gotten through Congress if it had been sold as a new $4 billion tax on the American people," she said. "In this case, the Constitution’s limits on government power did not fail. Political accountability failed because the president and supporters of this law apparently were not straight with the American people."

Bondi also painted a grim picture for how the law is already beginning to impact Florida businesses. …

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Charlie Crist, how would you spend that Powerball money?

charlie.jpgWe had to get our Powerball tickets before tonight's drawing, and guess who we ran into at the Publix in downtown St. Petersburg? Former Gov. Charlie Crist.

He asked, "Is it a dollar?"

We said, "Two dollars, governor" and he said, "I'll have to get change."

But we just had to ask him, "What do you think the state could do with $500 million?"

His enthusiastic answer? "We could pay our teachers better!"

We watched him walk away, but more Times reporters saw him later (getting their own Powerball tickets) with the right change to get his tickets. See?

-- Many hopeful Times Powerball players

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