Today's Top Story

Florida House panel OKs congressional map despite criticism posted on 8/14/15

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE — Despite sharp criticism from a Florida congresswoman that it would disenfranchise black voters, the Florida House is moving ahead with a substantial overhaul of the state's 27 congressional districts.

A House panel split along party lines on Thursday and approved a proposed map that would substantially alter the state's political landscape and which could lead to the defeat of several incumbents now in office. The Legislature is holding a rare August special...

Breaking News

  • Gov. Scott orders inspections of Planned Parenthoods posted on 7/30/15

    by kelli kennedy | ap

    planned parenthoodTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered state health officials to inspect Planned Parenthood offices that perform abortions, saying he is troubled by videos describing the organization's procedures for providing tissue from aborted fetuses for research.

    The Republican governor said Wednesday the state will take quick legal and regulatory action if any of the 16 facilities in Florida are found in violation of the law.

    "The videos coming out about Planned Parenthood are deeply troubling to say the least. It is against the law for any organization to sell body parts," Scott said in a statement.

    Planned Parenthood has come under congressional scrutiny after the release of two stealthily recorded videos that showed officials discussing how they provide aborted fetal organs for research. Abortion opponents say the videos show the organization is illegally harvesting and selling organs.

    Three congressional committees are making inquiries and a proposed Senate bill that would cut off federal funding for the organization.

    Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates Executive Director Laura Goodhue said the organization will cooperate fully, but warned that important medical issues should not be politicized.

    "These political attacks claiming that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation are simply not true. While we do not have donations programs in Florida, some Planned Parenthood organizations in other states do, and they follow all laws and ethical guidelines," Goodhue said in a statement.

    Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, has said the group has done nothing illegal and is the target of a political smear campaign. The videos were part of longer discussions, and Richards said the longer videos showed doctors repeatedly saying that Planned Parenthood does not profit from the tissue donations and it receives only reimbursements for costs of providing tissue donated by women.

    » Read more

  • Florida gambling regulators make concessions to industry posted on 7/30/15

    by dara kam | news service of florida

    Florida gambling regulators have backed down on a number of proposed changes to the state’s pari-mutuel rules after a legislative oversight panel and industry representatives challenged the Department of Business and Professional Regulations’ authority to issue the mandates.

    The agency’s Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering on Tuesday published the latest modifications, which deal with issues such as jockey requirements, track sizes and jai alai frontons. The division folded on a number of issues raised by industry operators at a hearing last week.

    But the proposal may not go far enough to prevent legal challenges.

    The proposed rule changes were originally published last month, but the revised version includes a number of concessions to the controversial barrel-racing industry. Gambling regulators in 2011 granted a pari-mutuel license to Gretna Racing in Gadsden County for the rodeo-style matches, which, in turn, allowed the facility open a more lucrative card room. An appeals court later ruled that the state erred in granting the barrel-racing license —- the first of its kind in the nation. The state and Gretna Racing entered a settlement agreement authorizing “flag drop” races in which two riders compete against each other but without any obstacles in the arena.

    Tuesday’s changes do away with a requirement in the original proposed rule that would have forced all tracks to have starting gates, an expensive addition that Donna Blanton, a lawyer for the association representing the barrel racers, at last week’s meeting said was too .

    » Read more

  • Univita Health Losing Medicaid Contracts posted on 7/30/15

    by carol gentry | health news florida

    Univita Health, which gained control of the entire Florida Medicaid home-care market a year ago, has suddenly lost all of its HMO contracts.

    The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration made the announcement in an e-mail blast late Tuesday afternoon.

    Univita, based in Miramar, stopped processing requests for home health-care services, durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs, and intravenous therapy “effective immediately,” AHCA said.

    AHCA provided no reasons for its announcement, but released a statement this morning.

    “We will continue to focus on ensuring Floridians have access to quality health care – this includes working to prevent any lapses in service for MMA health plan enrollees,” a spokeswoman said.

    AHCA released a list of phone numbers for Medicaid providers, physician offices and health plan members to call in order to get authorization for equipment and services.

    Earlier, United Healthcare of Florida and Sunshine Health had already announced their contracts with Univita were ending as of Aug. 1.

    Several owners of mom-and-pop suppliers, who had regarded Univita as their nemesis, began celebrating as early as Monday, when rumors about what was happening began to leak.

    As sole authorizer of home services for most Medicaid plan members, several suppliers said, Univita cut their Medicaid payments in half and redirected some of their business to its own home-care affiliate. Many said they had trouble getting paid at all.

    » Read more

  • No clear roadmap yet on Senate districts posted on 7/30/15

    by BRANDON LARRABEE | News Service of Florida

    THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 29, 2015.......... After reaching an agreement this week with voting-rights groups, Florida lawmakers face the chore of going into special session in October to redraw Senate districts.

    But the agreement with the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause Florida and others that legally challenged the Senate's current map doesn't list the districts that have to be changed. And the opponents' objections have encompassed 28 districts --- fully 70 percent of the districts represented in the 40-member Senate.

    "The Senate has indicated that it's going to redraw the map," said David King, a lawyer for the groups that were fighting the plan. "I would assume that they will address the challenged districts. If they don't, they're going to have to justify those decisions in the remedial (legal) process."

    Lawmakers also will hold a special session Aug. 10 to redraw the state's congressional map. But during that session, lawmakers have to comply with a relatively specific Florida Supreme Court decision spelling out the eight districts that need to be changed, as well as swapping populations to make sure the reconfigured seats serve the same number of residents.

    The roadmap for redrawing the Senate districts later in the year, however, is not so clear. A joint memo issued Tuesday by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, didn't give many specifics. It simply said the Legislature's staff will draw a map "that complies with the Florida Supreme Court's ruling (on the congressional districts) and all other relevant legal standards."

    But here are some of the major areas that King's clients have focused on:

    » Read more

  • Price tag of politics keeps rising posted on 7/14/15

    by zac anderson | herald-tribune

    Last week a state House candidate from Sarasota raised more in one month than the average House candidate collected for an entire campaign four years ago, and a leading presidential contender from Florida posted an initial fundraising figure described as unprecedented.

    Welcome to American politics, where the price tag keeps rising to be competitive in political races at all levels.

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush drew a lot of attention when his presidential campaign and an affiliated political committee announced a combined haul of $114 million over the last six months.

    Bush’s fundraising is remarkable for this stage in the presidential race, and speaks to the growing influence of the mega-rich in the age of unlimited Super PAC contributions.

    The story was the same at the local level, where Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters reported a one-month fundraising total of $87,394 in his first campaign finance report since declaring his intention to run for the House. That may not seem like much compared to the Bush war chest, but it’s an enormous amount to collect in one month for a legislative campaign. The average state House candidate raised $81,813 total in 2012, according to an analysis by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

    Gruters wasn’t alone among local House candidates posting strong initial fundraising reports. Sarasota Democrat Edward James III raised $12,375 for a separate House race, and a political committee supporting his campaign collected another $12,800 thanks to a big donor who kicked in $10,000.

    » Read more

  • NASA's Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto Reaches Historic Encounter posted on 7/14/15

    by nasa

    NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is at Pluto.

    After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface -- roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

    “I’m delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA's multifaceted journey of discovery continues."

    “The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”

    Per the plan, the spacecraft currently is in data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physical Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons “phones home,” transmitting to Earth a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. The “call” is expected shortly after 9 p.m. tonight.

    The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world.

    » Read more

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