Florida Government and Politics Weekly Update

07 February 2011 Publication
Authors: Robert H. Hosay Thomas J. Maida

Public Policy News Alert

Politics

Governor Scott rescinds 154 appointees recommended by former Governor Crist. Last Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott withdrew the nominations of 154 appointees submitted by former Gov. Charlie Crist, none of whom had been confirmed by the Senate. Among the nominations withdrawn were the appointments for the secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and the Department of Elder Affairs.

Florida returns funds designated for implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Shortly after U.S. District Court Judge Vinson’s ruling last week finding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) unconstitutional, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty rescinded acceptance of a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant was provided to Florida to improve its rate-review process for health insurance premiums. Commissioner McCarty indicated his decision was based in part on Judge Vinson’s ruling, as well as potential intrusion by the federal government in the rate-review process. Meanwhile, Gov. Scott indicated that, based on the ruling, that his administration would not invest significant effort in implementing PPACA.

Attorney General Pam Bondi proposes new measures to fight pill mills. Last Thursday, Attorney General Bondi unveiled several recommendations to address illegal prescription drug activity at pain clinics, otherwise known as “pill mills.” Her recommendations include a mandatory six-month suspension and $10,000 fine for physicians who violate standards of care in prescribing controlled substances; criminal penalties for individuals who fraudulently register as pain clinics, as well as for physicians who fail to conduct a physical examination of the patient prior to dispensing controlled substances; and additional enforcement and criminal prosecution. Lawmakers in the House and Senate also are proposing measures to address pain clinics. Sen. Mike Fasano has filed S.B. 810, which establishes standards of practice (such as requiring physical examinations) for pain clinics, while Rep. Patrick Rooney has filed H.B. 497, which prohibits an individual from owning a pharmacy within a 10-mile radius of a pain clinic that the individual owns or operates.

Redistricting

Federal litigation filed to contest withdrawal of redistricting amendments by Gov. Scott. Two weeks ago, Gov. Scott rescinded a request to the federal Department of Justice to review, or “preclear,” two redistricting amendments (known as Amendments 5 and 6) adopted by the voters in last fall’s general election. Collectively, the amendments require the Legislature, in drawing boundaries for congressional and legislative districts, to draw compact districts that are not drawn for the benefit of any political party. Preclearance is required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires certain states to seek a review by the Attorney General of the United States prior to making changes in election laws, to determine that changes have neither a discriminatory purpose nor effect. Florida is one of those states, as five Florida counties are subject to this review process: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough, and Monroe counties. Last Thursday, a coalition of supporters of the amendments filed a lawsuit in federal district court to force Gov. Scott to submit the redistricting amendments to the Department of Justice for review. This new lawsuit stands in contrast to a recently filed lawsuit filed by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Mario Diaz-Balart, challenging the constitutionality of the amendments on the grounds that the amendments impermissibly limit the redistricting discretion delegated by the United States Constitution to the Florida Legislature.

Economy

Gov. Scott releases additional proposed budget details, aiming to cut spending by $5 billion. While Gov. Scott’s proposed budget will not be fully revealed until 4:00 p.m. today, the governor provided additional details last week regarding the broad outlines of his proposal. The proposal would purportedly save nearly $3 billion over two years by significantly altering retirement benefits for state workers by requiring all workers to contribute five percent of their salary toward their retirement, placing all new workers into a defined contribution plan, eliminating the Deferred Retirement Option Program and eliminating the fixed cost-of-living adjustments provided to retirees receiving pension benefits. Earlier last week, Gov. Scott proposed transferring a number of government functions among various agencies to save nearly $1 billion annually. In total, the governor is aiming to reduce the state budget by approximately $5 billion, while providing nearly $2 billion in tax relief by reducing the state-imposed required local effort, or RLE, property tax rate for schools and reducing the corporate income tax rate. Throughout this week, the governor’s staff will present his budget proposal in various House and Senate appropriations committees.

Legislature

Significant unemployment compensation reform headed for a hearing in the Senate. Sen. Nancy Detert has filed S.B. 728, which expands the bases for disqualification from receiving benefits, requires claimants to prove their activities in seeking work, and raises the maximum tax rate to 6.4 percent (retroactive to January 1, 2011). The weak economy and resultant declines in employers and employees has had a significant impact on the state’s unemployment compensation program. During the fall of 2009, the state exhausted funds paid into the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund and has since borrowed nearly $2 billion from the federal government. The bill is scheduled to be heard today in the Committee on Commerce and Tourism. The House will be taking up similar legislation in the form of a proposed committee bill on Thursday in the Economic Development and Tourism subcommittee.

Bills regulating cellular phone use continue to emerge. Last Monday, Sen. Larcenia Bullard filed S.B. 724, which bans the use of a cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle in a school zone. Sen. Bullard’s bill joins several other proposals restricting cellular phone use that have been filed for the upcoming 2011 regular session, including S.B. 644 by Sen. Nan Rich, prohibiting the use of a cellular phone while operating a motor vehicle, and H.B. 79 by Rep. Ari Porth and S.B. 158 by Sen. Nancy Detert, prohibiting texting while operating a motor vehicle. Currently, eight states ban handheld use of cellular phones while driving, while 30 states ban text messaging by all drivers, and an additional eight states ban text messaging for novice drivers.

Senator proposes Department of Gaming Control. Sen. Jeremy Ring has filed S.B. 666, which creates the Department of Gaming Control. According to Sen. Ring, the purpose of the bill is to consolidate oversight of existing gaming activities, not to expand gaming within the state. Among other provisions, the bill transfers the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to the newly created Department of Gaming Control. The bill also creates a “Gaming Commission,” composed of the governor and the cabinet to serve as the head of the department. The bill has not been referenced to any committees and does not have a companion in the House.

House Speaker forms select committee to streamline government. Last Thursday, Florida Speaker of the House Dean Cannon created the Select Committee on Government Reorganization, tasking the committee with two primary activities: first, review government programs that purport to promote or regulate the private sector and second, review government programs involved with health and human services delivery systems. The Speaker advised the committee to consider changes to the Florida Constitution, in addition to statutory changes, in order to focus the work of government and eliminate “extraneous tasks.” Speaker Pro Tempore John Legg will chair the committee, while Rep. Gary Aubochon will serve as the vice chair. The committee’s proposal will ultimately be referred solely to the Appropriations Committee, and then moved to the floor for full consideration by the House.

Teacher quality legislation filed in the Senate. Late last week, Sen. Stephen Wise, chair of the Committee on Education Pre-K – 12, introduced S.B. 736, a comprehensive reform of teacher and administrator contracts, evaluations, and pay. The bill requires teachers and administrators to be evaluated based on at least four levels of performance, requires at least 50 percent of a teacher’s or administrator’s annual evaluation to be based on student learning growth, and requires new teachers to be hired on annual contracts and paid based upon student performance. The bill will be discussed during two meetings of the Committee on Education Pre-K – 12 this week on Wednesday and Thursday. The House has not released its proposed reform package, but will instead continue a discussion on teacher quality this week. Notably, Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system, will appear before House and Senate Education committees this week to discuss teacher quality issues.


Public Policy News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this alert or would like to discuss these topics further, please contact your Foley attorney or any of the following individuals:

G. Donovan Brown
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3362
gbrown@foley.com

Marnie George
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3398
marnie@thegeorgegroup.com

Michael P. Harrell
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3373
mharrell@foley.com

Robert H. Hosay
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3382
rhosay@foley.com

Jonathan P. Kilman
Orlando, Florida
407.244.3256
jkilman@foley.com

Paul W. Lowell
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3380
plowell@foley.com

Thomas J. Maida
Tallahassee, Florida
850.513.3377
tmaida@foley.com

Marnie George of The George Group assists Foley on a variety of government and public policy matters as a consultant.

 

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