by Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel
TALLAHASSEE – Florida taxpayers are likely to shell out an additional $156,000 this year as a result of the gridlock between the House and the Senate, at least if recent history is a good measure.
For the last 14 years, special sessions have cost an average of $156,411, according to numbers released by the Office of Legislative Services, which weren’t adjusted for inflation. Those figures do not include two special sessions in 2003, for which records were not available, and a special session in November 2010, when lawmakers were already in Tallahassee for an organizational session and opted to override some of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s vetoes.
The costs come mainly from travel and per diem food and lodging reimbursements for 160 lawmakers. Lawmakers receive a per diem allowance of $80 for food for the duration of the session, or can opt to have a $36 meal allowance per day and have their lodging reimbursed during their stay in the capital. Travel by road is reimbursed at a rate of $0.445 per mile, or by the lowest economy fare for air travel.
The precise cost of the session won't be known until after it ends, but the length of the special session adds to the cost and since the session will address the budget and likely be two weeks at least, it could cost more than the average in recent years.
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by gina jordan | WLRN
The Seminole Tribe of Florida wants to keep its exclusive rights to blackjack and other banked card games, but the Legislature's abrupt adjournment this year might have dealt the tribe a bad hand.
Florida House and Senate leaders were talking with tribal lawyers about a renewal. Then, the House suddenly adjourned three days before the official end of the legislative session because of a budget stalemate.
The current agreement with the tribe covers five Indian casinos and gives the state at least $1 billion in payments over five years. The deal expires at the end of July.
So, the tribe sent a letter to lawmakers citing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The federal law requires the state to negotiate with the tribe in good faith.
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by Sascha Cordner | WFSU
While one body cameras-related bill was sent to the Governor, another died amid the budget impasse between the House and Senate. But, the bill’s main sponsor says he’ll be back again next year.
Florida Police Benevolent Association Executive Director Matt Puckett was a proponent for a measure making sure law enforcement using body cameras have set guidelines in place.
“It's one of the many casualties of the last few days of session it seems like…we’re disappointed that that policy guidelines piece did not pass,” said Puckett. “We think there needs to be uniform guidelines.”
He says he’s especially not happy because of a provision in that bill that would have protected officers using the cameras from Florida’s two-party consent rule.
And, while he too is sad the measure did not pass, Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-West Park) says he’s still grateful the full Legislature passed a bill providing a public records exemption for body camera recordings done by law enforcement aimed at protecting the public’s privacy. He says upon the bill becoming law, it would apply to current agencies using the cameras.
“Right, if the Governor does sign it, those agencies would still have to abide by that public records exemption,” said Jones.
Still, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, who was opposed to that bill from the start, says she’s not too happy.
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by wfsu news
The search for university presidents will still be conducted in the sunshine, at least for another year. The Legislature failed to exempt the process from public records laws.
The bill would have protected applicants’ names, credentials and salaries. Supporters worry the best candidates don’t apply because they don’t want their bosses to know they’re looking elsewhere.
First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen says the bill would have set a bad precedent.
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by JIM SAUNDERS | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
A federal judge last week rejected the state's latest attempt to end a decade-long lawsuit that contends Florida has not properly provided care to children in the Medicaid program.
Attorneys for the state pointed to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Idaho case to argue that Judge Adalberto Jordan should dismiss claims that Florida has failed to adequately provide care such as check-ups and screenings to low-income children.
But Jordan, in a brief order issued Thursday, dismissed only one of three counts in the case, which has been spearheaded by the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The dismissed count dealt with arguments that Florida has not paid adequate reimbursement rates to doctors and dentists and, as a result, has limited the amount of care available in the Medicaid program.
In a court document filed last month, plaintiffs in the case acknowledged that the Supreme Court ruling in the Idaho case required that the reimbursement-related count be dismissed. But Jordan agreed with the plaintiffs that two other counts --- which include allegations such as care not being available with "reasonable promptness" and outreach to Medicaid-eligible children being inadequate --- should continue forward.
Jordan, who began hearing the case as a U.S. district judge but is now an appeals-court judge, held a trial in the case in 2012 and issued a 153-page decision in December that found widespread problems in the way the Medicaid program has provided care to children. The ruling included findings about the effects of low reimbursement rates but also dealt with other issues.
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by John pacenti | palm beach post
TALLAHASSEE — Kathleen Zagaros’ tale about professional guardianship is like many others. She wanted to protect her aging mother from a predatory neighbor only to find herself fighting the court-appointed guardian who was set on draining the estate.
“When the guardian came on, my mother had more than a $1 million. Three years later, she has virtually nothing,” said the Tampa woman, who eventually got the guardian replaced.
The Palm Beach Post investigated local allegations about court-appointed professional guardians in stories that ran April 3.
And the Florida Legislature this year took notice of the plight of seniors who are taken advantage of by unscrupulous court-appointed professional guardians and the attorneys who orbit around them, exacting fees.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called professional guardians “cockroaches” in a committee meeting. Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, called for criminal penalties.
In the end, a bill sponsored by Passidomo became law, while Detert’s proposal died and will have to wait until 2016.
“The best thing about Passidomo’s bill is that it gives the victims’ voices credibility — that the surreal world of guardianship abuse really does exist,” said Julie London-Ferguson of Sarasota, who has also fought the guardianship in her mother’s case and is an outspoken critic of the process.
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by Jeffrey S. Solochek and Kathleen McGrory | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
The early end to this year's legislative session, without an approved budget, has put Florida school district leaders on edge.
Even in normal circumstances, school boards often struggle to craft spending plans largely dictated by state funding formulas. This year, they face the task without any hard numbers as a starting point.
"It's exceedingly difficult," Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego said. "We're not a for-profit company with excess reserves" to rely upon.
School districts begin their fiscal year July 1, although they don't have to adopt a budget until September. That means they regularly operate each fall on tentative plans, using money carried over from the previous year.
Districts also routinely face changes in their state revenue, as their enrollments ebb and flow between official student counts.
The difference now is that lawmakers have not settled issues such as how much money schools will get per student and whether districts will share tax money dedicated to construction and renovation costs with charter schools.
Usually, school boards spend May and June writing their line-by-line spending plans, using legislative budgets as a guide. State law requires them to get the heavy lifting done in time to publish their proposed tax rates within 29 days of receiving a taxable value certification from property appraisers, which comes no later than July 1.
Yet, the Legislature appears unlikely to convene a budget special session until June. The disrupted timetable is less of a concern for county and municipal governments, which start their new fiscal years Oct. 1.
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by Steve Bousquet | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday reappointed the heads of 14 state agencies after the Senate adjourned sine die without confirming any of them, and the status of two others was not immediately clear.
Scott's office issued a statement announcing the reappointments of state technology officer Jason Allison; surgeon general John Armstrong; transportation secretary James Boxold; children and families secretary Mike Carroll; juvenile justice secretary Christy Daly; AHCA secretary Liz Dudek; Secretary of State Ken Detzner; corrections secretary Julie Jones; business and professional regulation secretary Ken Lawson; lottery secretary Cynthia O'Connell; director Barbara Palmer of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities; employment opportunity secretary Jesse Panuccio; management services director Barbara Palmer; and elder affairs secretary Samuel Verghese.
Two other agency heads were not reappointed Monday and both require approval of the Cabinet as well. They are Jon Steverson, executive director of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Rick Swearingen, executive director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
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by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau
In a major defeat for Gov. Rick Scott, a California judge on Thursday ordered Google to turn over the computer IP addresses for all correspondence to and from the governor’s private Google email account since Jan. 15, 2011, and the accounts of two of his staff members.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mary E. Arand ruled that the governor’s attempt to quash a request by Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews to Google to withhold the information was not valid.
“The subscriber information and IP addresses will assist Andrews in determining whether a public official created the accounts, which, in turn, could establish that official agency business may have been transacted from those accounts,’’ Arand wrote in a four-page ruling filed on the court’s website.
Andrews wants the computer company to give him the subscriber identities and IP addresses to help him prove his claim that the governor attempted to use the firstname.lastname@example.org account to shield his communications from the state’s public records laws. When the governor refused to turn over the information about the accounts last year, Andrews persuaded a Tallahassee court to approve a subpoena to seek the information from Google. Circuit Court Judge Charles A. Francis also ordered the governor to stop fighting the request.
The governor then filed the lawsuit in September in a Santa Clara County court in an attempt to prevent Google from releasing information on who and when the private G-mail accounts used by Scott and two staff aides were created.
Andrews is also seeking information for the Google email accounts of Sarah Hansford, the former assistant to First Lady Ann Scott, and Brad Piepenbrink, the governor’s former travel aide and now deputy chief of staff.
The court rejected arguments from the governor’s attorney that disclosing the information would invade their privacy and the privacy of third parties because it could identify the location of any computer used to log onto the email accounts.
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