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Medicaid: Benefit Cuts Vs. Savings

March 31st, 2011 by flanews

Three million Floridians receiving Medicaid benefits could be forced into managed care programs by state lawmakers. GOP leaders say privatizing Medicaid management would save the state a billion dollars a year. As Whitney Ray tells us, opponents of the plan say the savings will deprive children, seniors, and the disabled of quality care.

Since early January protesters have been begging lawmakers to leave Medicaid alone. They’ve carried signs and pleaded with lawmakers… But their cries have been muffled by the 3.8 billion dollar budget deficit.

House Republicans say they can save a billion dollars by putting Florida’s three million Medicaid recipients in HMOs or other managed care programs.

“I think that the leadership has the right concept and they are going in the right direction,” said Representative Jimmie Smith.

The governor’s onboard.

“We’ve got to make sure we spend the money better,” said Rick Scott.

But Democrats say quality will suffer.

“By privatizing it we are taking and putting the care of these patients into the hands of those private companies and we know those private companies priority is to make a profit,” said Rep. Mia Jones.

With a GOP supermajority in the legislature and a Republican governor no one expects the bill to fail, but passing the reform legislation is just the first obstacle. The state will still have to get a waiver from the federal government to make the changes.

The state will have until December to get the waiver. Supports of the bill say if the feds won’t sign off, Florida will do something no state has ever done, start its own, scaled back Medicaid program.

Social service advocates say that would be, “Devastating, not only to the people it serves, remember the majority of people on Medicaid are children and behind that we have frail elderly people,” said Karen Woodall.

If the state pulled out of the entitlement program, It would lose 13 billion federal matching dollars. The state House began debating the Medicaid Reform Bill at 3:00. They’re expected to pass it before 5:00 EST. Next week the Senate is expected to take up the reform bill.

Posted in Health, Legislature, Rick Scott, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

Special Olympics Torch Run

March 31st, 2011 by flanews

Governor Rick Scott ran 1.6 miles today with Special Olympians and about three hundred cops, who’s pensions he wants to scale back. The event was friendly. It’s part of the 29th annual law enforcement torch run to kick off the Florida Special Olympics. The run ended at the capitol where Scott was joined by other high ranking elected officials to thank law enforcement officers for their sacrifice.

“I can speak for Attorney General Bondi, for Senate President Haridopolos, for Speaker Cannon, all of us will do anything we can so our state knows the risk that law enforcement takes every day in keeping our state safe. I did run too fast,” said Scott.

Scott and the state legislature want to raise the retirement age for police officers from 55 to 62. They also want all state workers to begin contributing to their retirement plans which could cost police officers as much as five percent of their salaries.

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

RNs Rally to Lower Patient Ratios

March 31st, 2011 by flanews

More than a hundred nurses from around the state rallied in Tallahassee today for support of legislation that would lighten their workloads. The nurses say there is an average on one nurse from every eight patients at Florida hospitals. A bill would lower the ratio to one in five. Lieutenant Superville, a registered nurse from Fort Lauderdale, say it’s not about the workload; it’s about the quality of care.

“The bill would insure us that we could get those ratios and we could take care of our patients and we would be putting patient safety first. That’s what we want to do. That’s why we are here. We love our patients. We want to take care of them, but we want to do it with safety first,” said Superville.

At one point the nurses surrounded Governor Rick Scott asking him if he’d support a lower patient to nurse ratio. Scott didn’t answer their questions.

Posted in Health, State News | 1 Comment »

Drug Testing on the Move

March 31st, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation to require drug testing for anyone receiving public assistance passed it’s third legislative committee today in Tallahassee. The measure would require testing to receive benefits, but even the legislature’s own staff says the bill could un constitutional.

Welfare recipients could soon have to be drug tested as a condition of receiving public assistance. Sponsor Jimmy Smith says its an idea that is overdue.

“Basically, what we hope to accomplish with this” says Smith “is to ensure that people who are using tax dollars are using them for the right cause, feeding their families, taking care of their homes”.

Governor Rick Scott is on board.

“Knowing that you are going to be drug tested hopefully will give you another incentive to not use drugs,”  says Scott.

But a host of advocates, including Karen Woodall from the Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, aren’t so sure.

“What’s the point. If you are doing really counseling with these people and you identify they have a substance abuse problem, then you should work with them and get them into treatment,” says Woodall.

Under the plan, assistance money would go to relatives to care for children if someone tests positive. The legislation says welfare recipients needed to be tested once a year…and pay for it themselves.

The legislatures own staff and the ACLU say the bill is likely unconstitutional.

“You mention the Michigan case” says Ronald Bilbao. “It did pass and it was ruled unconstitutional when applied universally or randomly without reasonable suspicion of drug use.”

But the testimony did nothing to sway committee members like Dennis Baxley.

“We are becoming enablers and participants in this sick little relationship about substance abuse” says Baxley.

The bill has two more committee stops, which could make time its worst enemy.

One GOP House member tried to shift the cost of the testing to the state but withdrew the amendment. Anyone testing positive would be ineligible for public assistance for a year.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Murder Victims Families Say Cuts Will Cost Lives

March 29th, 2011 by flanews

The parents of two slain girls were at the state capitol today asking lawmakers to save the Cybercrimes unit from budget cuts. Governor Rick Scott is asking lawmakers to cut the unit that tracks online predators from 34 employees to 15. As Whitney Ray tells us, opponents say a cut that deep will mean more Florida kids are raped and killed.

Diena Thompson couldn’t hold back the tears as she recounted the 2009 rape and murder of her daughter Somer.

“To all who plan to harm our children, we will not stand for it anymore,“ said Thompson.

Somer’s accused killer was being investigated by Florida’s Cybercrime Unit when investigators say he raped and killed the seven year old in Clay County. But investigators were too late.

The unit only has 34 employees and just 15 are investigators… The US Department of Justice has identified 34-thousand computers in Florida that may have been used to download child pornography… Which means there are just too many leads for 15 investigators to track them all down.

And the situation could get worse. Governor Rick Scott wants to scale the unit back to just six investigators. Diena says if investigators couldn’t save her daughter with 15 investigators, then having just six will mean more kids are raped and killed.

“It’s a huge mistake with disastrous endings to it,” said Diena.

Mark Lunsford, the father of Jessica Lunsford who was abducted and killed in 2005, says child predators welcome the cuts.

“The predators will laugh at you because of the weakness that you show. We can’t show them weakness. They have no heart,” said Lunsford.

The parents hope their stories will help sway the legislature to fund the Cybercrime Unit, so more families don’t have to share their nightmare. Lawmakers are still working out their budgets. They’re willing to listen to the families pleas, but with a 3.75 billion dollars deficit, they say everything is on the table.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Legislature, State News | 1 Comment »

School Choice Expansion

March 29th, 2011 by flanews

Legislation expanding the school choice program received unanimous approval in a house committee this morning. Right now Students at “failing” public schools can get money from the state to attend a better school. The legislation passed out of committee this morning changes the definition of a failing school to allow more students to qualify for vouchers. State Senator Nancy Deter opposes the legislation because it takes money away from schools that arguable need it the most.

“In a year when we are cutting K-12 by anywhere between three to six percent, it’s probably not a good year to institute any new programs,” said Deter.

The School voucher program has been under fire since its inception in 1999 because it initially allowed students to use the money to attend private schools. In 2006 the Florida Supreme Court said the vouchers couldn’t be used for that purpose. Even though it’s not in practice, this year’s legislation removed the private school language.

Posted in Children, Education, State Budget, State News | No Comments »

National Guard Day at the Capitol

March 29th, 2011 by flanews

Helicopters, spy robots and missile launchers invaded the state capitol today. The war machines were there in honor of the Florida National Guard. The state has 12-thousand National Guardsmen and women. The soldiers have recently been called to duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in clean up efforts after major storms here in Florida. Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll spoke to the guardsmen. Carroll says the state needs to do more to help those returning from war.

“We need to ban together with all organizations and families to let our veterans feel welcome when they come back, and to provide the needed services so they can be assimilated into our community as whole,” said Carroll.

Defense related spending accounts for 55 billion dollars a year in Florida.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Gov. Scott Unpopular and Doesn’t Give a Damn

March 29th, 2011 by flanews

A large majority of Florida voters don’t like Governor Rick Scott and Scott doesn’t care. According to a poll released today by the Public Policy Polling Firm, 55 percent of voters disapprove of the new governor’s actions, compared to just 32 percent who approve. Scotts says he didn’t come to Tallahassee to make friends.

“As I said in my State of the State address, I didn’t come here to be the most popular. This state will be the most likely to succeed, have a great day everybody,” said Scott.

The poll also claims that if Scott were running for governor today he would lose to his former opponent Democrat Alex Sink, by a 19 point margin.

Posted in Rick Scott, State News | No Comments »

Death by a Thousand Cuts

March 28th, 2011 by flanews

Educators, seniors and state workers are offering a warning tonight. They say budget cuts proposed by the legislature and the governor would leave the state’s most vulnerable with no where to turn. Lawmakers are looking at cutting nearly four billion dollars from the state budget, but as Whitney Ray tells us opponents of the spending plans says lawmakers can balance the budget without cutting a thing.

Students, seniors, and service men and women will likely absorb the blunt of the blow from the state budget axe. Florida has 3.75 billion fewer dollars this year than it did last. Lawmakers want to cut spending to fill the gap.

A group of students, seniors and state workers say there’s a better way. They’ve found five billion dollars in tax breaks given year after year to corporations, investors, and sports teams.

“Do you see them here justifying why they need to continue to have those subsidies? No you do not. They are done in the name of economic development, let me suggest to you that when we spend money on our Medicaid program it’s the largest economic development program we have in our budget,” said Karen Woodall.

State lawmakers are looking to cut a billion dollars out of the Medicaid program, a billion from the state pension plan, and more than a billion from education.

“The proposed cuts in education come after three straight years of reductions. The last two years stimulus dollars protected the basic tools students needed to learn, but now schools say they can’t bend their budgets any more and if theses cuts go through they’ll break the bank.”

In two separate rallies last week students and education advocates begged lawmakers to spare schools.

“I understand the budget situation however it’s about priorities,” said Linda Kobert, with FundEducationNow.org.

Social Service advocates say their plan simply closes tax loopholes that favor the rich. But Republicans say it’s a tax increase, which leaves little chance any of the ideas will be explored. There’s also talk about streamlining the state sales tax code so the state can start collecting sales tax on internet purchases. That plan could bring in as much as two billion dollars a year.

Posted in Business, Children, Education, Health, Legislature, State Budget, State News | 1 Comment »

Drug Strike Force

March 28th, 2011 by flanews

The state is intensifying the fight against prescription drug abuse. Today Governor Rick Scott announced the formation of the Statewide Drug Strike Force. The force brings state agencies like the Department of Health and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement together with local law enforcement officers. FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey says the groups will work together with the Attorney General’s office to gather intelligence and evidence on pill mills and doctor shoppers.

“You’re not going to see by the end of the week, you’re not going to see us breaking down doors to do this because again it’s a process and we’re starting that process tomorrow. We’re going to construct a very well thought out plan and then within the next few days we’ll start with the targets,” said Bailey.

Scott is giving the strike force 800-thousand unused grant dollars and will look for more funds fuel the force as it attempts to stop the largest prescription drug abuse problem in the nation. The strike force is meeting tomorrow in Orlando for the first time.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | 1 Comment »

Abortions Bills

March 28th, 2011 by flanews

Florida law may soon require women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound before they receive an abortion. That’s just one of 18 bills making it through the legislative process in an effort to cut down on the number of abortions in the state. The ultrasound bill was vetoed last year by then Governor Charlie Crist. Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign off on the measure if it reaches his desk. Barbara DeVane, a spokeswoman with the National Organization for Women says the GOP lead effort goes against their campaign message of less government.

“These are the same people that want to limit government as I heard someone say the other day, they want to make government so small they can get under my bedroom door, into my bed, down my throat, and into my uterus,” said DeVane.

The number puts Florida among the top five states in the country for anti-abortion bills, West Viginia is leading the way with 30.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Senior Scams

March 28th, 2011 by flanews

A warning tonight for Seniors… Beware of who is on the other end of the telephone. Attorney General Pam Bondi says scam artists are targeting Florida seniors… using the names of their grandkids and asking for cash and bank account information.

“Here’s what they’re doing, they’re calling their homes saying I’m your grandson. They know the name, they have done extensive research, they know details about the family,” said Bondi.

The scammers are using technology that identifies them on caller ID as the family member they claim to be…. They’re reportedly getting information about the victim and the family members on social networking sights. There’s no word yet on the extensiveness of the scam, but Bondi is hoping to head off the problem before if too many seniors become victims.

Posted in Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Sansom Cleared of All Charges

March 25th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom is a free man tonight. The prosecution’s case, alleging Sansom conspired to steal a six million dollar appropriation, collapsed today after the judge ruled no evidence of a conspiracy existed. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the once-prominent politician says his life is in the hands of God.

The end to the week-long trial came quickly.

“The state and the defense have reached an agreement in this case, and at this point in time, there is no further action being taken,” prosocuter Willie Meggs said.

After a long lunch break, prosecutor Willie Meggs dropped the charges against Sansom and co-defendant Jay Odom. Both agreed to pay 103 thousand dollars to the state. That amount is what the state spent from a six million dollar appropriation that Sansom engineered for his home town college. The appropriation was for a building described as both an airplane hanger for Odom and classroom space for the school.

Afterwards Sansom was breathless.

“This is what Mr. Dobson and Mr. Smith told me the first time I met with them,” Sansom said. “The truth will set you free. We have a great justice system. The constitution is still a living, breathing document, and when we get a chance to present our case to a jury, to a jude, we will walk out of here like we are today. No charges, not guilty.”

Attorney Steve Dobson says he was convinced of victory from the beginning.

“There was absolutely no case. When the legislature creates their rules, they pass a bill, that’s the bill they pass,” Dobson said. “No legislator should be subject to what Mr. Sansom has gone through in this case.”

Sansom and his family left the courthouse, with the now-free man saying he would trust his future, just as he had the outcome of the trial, with his God.

Posted in Ethics, Sansom, State News | No Comments »

House Passes Union-Busting Legislation

March 25th, 2011 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida House has passed legislation prohibiting governments from deducting union dues from public employees. The legislation passed along party lines, with, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Democrats saying the legislation was political payback for union support of Democrats.

Police, firefighters, teachers, and many other public employees will no longer have their union dues deducted from their paychecks if legislation approved by the Florida House becomes law.

This remark,“Unions are great”, from Republican Rick Workman brought laughter from union members in the House gallery. Republicans who defended the bill say government has no business collecting union dues.

“We just had an election, unless you were not paying attention, the people spoke loud and clear: they want government out of their business,” Rep. Mike Horner (R-Kissimmee) said. “This gets government out of their way.”

Union members say the legislation singles them out because of support for Democratic candidates. The bill still permits deductions for 300 other organizations.

“What we’ve found were dozens [of organizations] that made direct political contributions in the 2010 political cycle, and those contributions dwarfed anything that any unions spent in the state of Florida,” Rich Templin, with Florida AFL-CIO, said.

The legislature’s own analysis says it will likely be more difficult to get union members to write a check for their dues.

Despite the language in the analysis, sponsor Chris Dorworth (R-Seminole County) says the bill has nothing to do with union busting.

“This bill very clearly promotes the rights of members of the unions,” Dorworth said.

Reporter: How so?

“By granting them the authority over their decision,” Dorworth said.

If the legislation becomes law, and that’s still a big if, it is likely to be challenged under the Federal labor law.

The legislation was approved with just one Republican voting “no” and seven others taking a walk.

Posted in Legislature, Politics, State News, Unions | No Comments »

Unemployment Rate Drops to 11.4 Percent

March 25th, 2011 by flanews

The state unemployment rate has fallen .4 percentage points from a month ago at 11.9 percent to 11.5. But there are still more than a million people looking for work. As Whitney Ray tells us, even as the economy improves, the rate is likely to stay high as people who previously stopped looking for jobs reenter the workforce.

After a year of searching, Georgia Mills Ferrel finally found a job as a nanny.

“With two young kids, they’re wonderful kids and it’s working out very well,” said Georgia.

Georgia met Governor Rick Scott Friday, the man who promises to get a huge chunk of the state’s one million jobseekers back to work.

“He’s trying his best. As long as he’s trying, and can hear all the people, fine with me, but I’m taken care of because I have faith,” said Georgia.

Florida’s unemployment rate has fallen from about 12 percent to 11.5 percent, but that’s not the whole story.

The unemployment rate could have dropped even more, but what happens is as the economy improves and jobs start to be created, people who previously stopped looking for work reenter the workforce and strangely enough that can drive the unemployment rate up.

If all eligible Floridians who didn’t have a job began looking for work right now, the unemployment rate would be around 20 percent

Still, Governor Rick Scott calls the 22 thousand jobs created last month encouraging.

“I am very focused on getting everybody back to work,” said Scott.

And as the economy turns around, Scott says he can speed up the process if lawmakers will just pass his jobs budget, but support for his plan, even among his own party, is low.

Florida has been adding jobs now for five straight months. The latest numbers mark the largest job growth the state has seen since 2007.

Posted in Business, Economy, Legislature, State News, Unemployment | No Comments »

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