Today's Top Story

Scott proposes nearly $77 billion state budget posted on 1/29/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

US Dollar puzzleTALLAHASSEE — Flush with a significant budget surplus, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday called on legislators to slash taxes, boost spending on schools, while also spending more on the state's troubled prisons system.

Many of the key recommendations in Scott's nearly $77 billion proposal had been released over the past few weeks — and reflected much of what the Republican promised during his hard-fought re-election campaign.

Scott, however, put...

Breaking News

  • House, Senate Remain Divided On Medicaid Expansion posted on 1/29/15

    by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

    The Senate says it would consider expanding Florida's Medicaid program to nearly a million more low-income Floridians. The House is continuing to say no.

    The federal government’s deal with Indiana to expand that state’s Medicaid program could boost the prospect of expansion in Florida. Indiana’s Medicaid expansion program includes co-pays and premiums for low-income people—something popular among republicans. Senate President Andy Gardiner says Indiana has caught his chamber’s attention.

    “Recently we just saw where Indiana received some flexibility and we’re monitoring that, but we’re also realists and we realize we need a partner in this," he said.

    That partner is the Florida House—which has consistently opposed allowing nearly a million more low-income people into the program. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says his chamber has no plans for an expansion.

    "I am a never-say-never kind of guy, and certainly anything can come about that provides opportunity, but at this time we do not plan to hear Medicaid expansion," Crisafulli said, describing the health insurance for the poor as, "a broken system."

    Still, groups that previously opposed using federal dollars to expand the state's Medicaid rolls to more mostly low-income adults, are increasingly saying they would support an expansion.

    » Read more

  • Study: Drug Costs Point to Discrimination posted on 1/29/15

    by AP

    Insurance companies, perhaps more than previously thought, may be charging the sickest patients extra for drugs under the federal health law, in an effort to discourage them from choosing certain plans, according to a study released Wednesday.

    One of the cornerstones of President Obama's signature health law forbids insurance companies from turning away people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or cancer. Yet hundreds of patient advocacy groups say insurance companies have found a way to discriminate against these people, who are more expensive to cover because they require life-long treatments.

    The companies do this by putting all of their medications in a special category where the patient is required to pay a percentage of the cost of the drug, rather than a flat co-pay. Some are as high as 50 percent, leaving people on the hook for thousands of dollars. That compares to the average $10 to $40 per-medication co-pay that most pay.

    A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine only examined HIV drugs, but noted the problem applies to mental illness, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Patient advocates have complained that prescriptions for these patients were virtually unaffordable in some plans offered on HealthCare.gov.

    The AIDS Institute even filed a formal complaint with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials last summer about four plans in Florida. Georgia plans to file a similar complaint, but the scope of the problem has been difficult to gauge as many of the complaints have been anecdotal.

    The researchers studied 48 plans in 12 states using the federal marketplace: Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina, Utah, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

    » Read more

  • Debate heats up over Amendment 1 funds posted on 1/29/15

    by sean rossman | tallahassee democrat

    Wrangling has already begun over how to spend the billions of dollars that will be raised following the passage of Amendment 1 last fall.

    In November, 75 percent of voters passed the constitutional amendment, which was pushed by the group, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. As a result, billions of dollars will be directed toward acquiring, improving land and water, including wetlands, forests and fish and wildlife habitat.

    However, others have a different view of just how the money should be allocated. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday that a portion of Amendment 1 funds would be better spent on improving municipal water and waste-water systems in some areas, but supporters who successfully pushed the amendment say that is not what voters approved.

    “There is an appropriate limited role for using some Amendment 1 funds to upgrade failed systems,” Putnam said. “It should be considered as part of a small portion of that conservation program where that is the best solution for that watershed.”

    Pegeen Hanrahan, of the Trust for Public Lands, said those projects should be paid for by other state revenues and not be taken out of Amendment 1 funds.

    “Those are good and worthy projects to pursue, but they are not the focus of Amendment 1,” said Hanrahan, the former mayor of Gainesville. “That really wasn’t the intended focus.”

    The goal of the amendment, she said, is to support existing land and water conservation projects like Florida Forever and the restoration of Florida’s springs and the Everglades.

    “We would like to see these dollars really cleaning water at the source,” added Hanrahan.

    Eric Draper, executive director of Florida Audubon, said the money should not be used for local water projects.

    “The voters didn’t think they were voting to bail out development projects,” he said.

    » Read more

  • Sunshine Law Complaint In Bailey Lawsuit posted on 1/29/15

    by KETA BROWNING | WFSU

    A South Florida attorney has filed a complaint against the state, seeking a criminal investigation into the firing of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. Bailey’s termination was also a topic of conversation during a media day at the Capitol Wednesday.

    St. Petersburg Attorney Matthew Weidner is asking State Attourney Willie Meggs to investigate whether Bailey was “forced out” of the job by Governor Rick Scott. Weidner also wants Meggs to look into how much the rest of the cabinet members knew.

    » Read more

  • New shots fired in battle over voting districts posted on 1/28/15

    by matt dixon | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

    In documents filed with the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, attorneys for the Legislature say groups suing the state over its congressional districts submitted “politically corrupt” maps as part of the challenge.

    It’s the latest in a lengthy and high-profile legal battle after a coalition of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, filed a lawsuit in 2012 arguing the congressional districts were drawn to favor the GOP.

    This summer, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found the state’s congressional maps were drawn to favor Republicans.

    Lawmakers redrew those maps, which received Lewis’ approval in August. Oral arguments in the plaintiffs’ appeal of that decision are set to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court early next month.

    The lawsuit has featured reams of legal documents dotted with colorfully disparaging comments as both sides have attacked the other’s credibility to cast them as being influenced by political operatives.

    Florida’s constitution includes anti-gerrymandering provisions that ban drawing districts to favor a political party.

    » Read more

  • FPL proposes to almost double Florida's solar power by end of 2016 posted on 1/28/15

    by Ivan Penn | Tampa Bay Times

    Florida's largest investor owned utility announced plans Monday to build three new solar farms that would nearly double the state's solar capacity.

    In its announcement, Florida Power & Light said it had found a "cost-effective" way to expand solar power in Florida and proposed to install the systems at three sites in its service area. The utility proposes to add 225 megawatts of solar to the state's current 229 megawatts by the end of next year in Manatee, DeSoto and Charlotte counties.

    FPL is still refining the details of the project so the utility did not provide cost estimates. But the company said there would be no significant impact on customer rates.

    "Over the past decade, we have continuously focused on advancing reliable, affordable, clean energy for our customers," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "In particular, we have been working especially hard to find ways to advance solar energy in Florida without increasing electricity costs, and we have developed what we believe will be a cost-effective plan.

    But FPL utility noted in a news release that "solar power — even the most economical large-scale installation — is generally not yet cost effective in FPL's service area."

    That refrain has been part of Duke Energy Florida's argument against any immediate deployment of solar power in its service area, though the utility also has been exploring possible sites in Pinellas County for a solar farm.

    » Read more

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