CONTACT: Katie Betta, (850) 487-5229
SENATOR DON GAETZ REPORTS: MARCH 18, 2013
While the work of each legislative session begins in November with reorganization of the Senate and a series of “committee weeks,” the Senate meets on the floor to cast final votes on issues beginning the first week of March. The time we spend voting on the floor is limited by the State Constitution to 60 days. This report to you comes after six committee weeks and two weeks of floor votes.
Observers of past sessions say this year the Senate is off to a good start. I’m encouraged that senators have filed fewer bills than in previous years — 879 bills for 2013 which is about a third less than in 2012. More laws and more regulations don’t necessarily mean a better Florida. I’m also pleased that this year proposed bills are being referred to committees in record time so that our Senate committee chairs can schedule proposals for consideration.
Keeping our focus on important issues that matter to senators and their constituents and moving the process forward efficiently and fairly is a priority of mine as Senate President.
No to Medicaid Expansion Under Obamacare, Senate Seeks a Private Sector Alternative
As you may have read, Governor Scott has recommended that the State of Florida expand the federally-prescribed Medicaid system to place another 900,000 Floridians on taxpayer-funded traditional Medicaid. This is a feature of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare or PPACA) where the states do have some flexibility. This past week the Senate Select Committee on PPACA, chaired by Senator Joe Negron, recommended to me that the Senate join the House of Representatives in saying “No” to this expansion. The same committee already agreed unanimously in a bi-partisan vote to reject establishment of a state exchange.
Click here to read the Select Committee’s report.
I have accepted the PPACA Committee’s recommendation to not expand Medicaid as we know it, but to seek a private sector alternative that would be better for patients, providers and taxpayers.
Senator Negron is developing legislation which would create some assistance for uninsured, low income Floridians to obtain private health insurance at less cost to the taxpayers than Medicaid expansion. Unlike conventional Medicaid, the Negron proposal would require folks to take some personal responsibility (based on their income) for their health care choices and costs instead of foisting the entire cost on the state’s taxpayers.
My hope is that Governor Scott will modify his position and be willing to accept something different than a vast, melancholy expansion of an expensive, failed Medicaid program.
The PPACA Committee will meet on Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
to discuss what I consider to be one of the most important and troubling, yet largely unreported, impacts of Obamacare, which relates to Florida’s insurance code. I am concerned that as insurance companies are forced to comply with provisions of PPACA, the cost of private employer and individual health insurance policies will rise.
At the same time consumer protections from drastic rate increases could be decreased or eliminated as the federal government assumes responsibility for insurance regulation – a function traditionally reserved for the states. As critical decisions continue to be made, I encourage you to remain engaged in the process and visit the Senate’s PPACA website at http://www.flsenate.gov/topics/ppaca.
Lt. Governor Resigns, Ban on Internet Cafes Proposed
At about 11 pm this past Tuesday night, I received a call from the Governor’s Chief of Staff to inform me that Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll had resigned. Apparently, Ms. Carroll owned a public relations company which had become involved with a group known as Allied Veterans of the World, whose leadership is now being charged with numerous state and federal crimes.
Allied Veterans operates about 50 internet cafes where slot machine-like gambling takes place. The crimes this group is charged with include racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and possession of slot machines. The organization, which claimed to donate 70 to 100 percent of its proceeds to charity, really only gave approximately 2 percent of its money to veterans organizations. The rest of the money, which comes largely from elderly or vulnerable people, was apparently skimmed off in the millions and pocketed by cynical, predatory criminals.
To my knowledge, the former Lt. Governor has not been charged with a crime, but resigned in order not to be a distraction to Governor Scott and his work on behalf of our state. Lt. Governor Carroll has had no involvement with the Senate or the legislative process so our work will continue uninterrupted.
However, I believe that the multi-million dollar scope of this scam provides a tailwind for the Legislature to do what should have been done previously — ban these internet cafes which are currently unregulated and operating in, at best, a gray area outside the law.
Consequently, I have asked the Senate Gaming Committee to meet Monday to consider legislation to outlaw internet cafes in Florida.
Beginning in November of 2011, I began challenging claims from those who encouraged me to support internet cafes on the grounds that they contribute to charitable organizations. Despite my questioning, I never received any credible information from any Internet cafe proponent indicating that these facilities were providing any meaningful contributions to charitable or veterans causes. For that reason and others, I have consistently opposed Internet cafes, including co-introducing Senate Bill 428, the Simulated Gambling Prohibition and Community Protection Act during the 2012 Legislative Session. Unfortunately, that bill didn’t pass last year.
I have a practice of not accepting contributions to my own campaigns from gaming entities, and I did not knowingly accept campaign contributions from any Internet cafes for my own campaign or on behalf of the Republican Senate Majority. However, in light of recent allegations that the Allied Veterans organization was operating with upwards of 40 subsidiary entities and under different and perhaps misleading names, I asked for a top to bottom review of my own campaign contributions. That review showed that my campaign never solicited or accepted a single dollar from the internet cafe front groups which the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has identified.
Over the weekend, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry announced that some of these front groups, with misleading names, had contributed approximately $271,000 to House and Senate campaigns and to the general party. I applaud Chairman Curry for reporting his findings to the public and for his decision to donate $300,000 to legitimate veterans causes.
Of course, a very substantial amount of money from internet cafe front groups also found its way into the accounts of the Florida Democratic Party and Democratic candidates, including local officials. My hope is that the Democratic Party will follow the lead of the Republican Party and cleanse its accounts of internet cafe money and donate the funds to real veterans groups.
I encourage you to watch Monday’s Senate Gaming Committee meeting on The Florida Channel. To find out more go tohttp://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/GM/.
Legislation Will “Lash Education to the Realities of the Economy”
This past Wednesday, Senate Bill 1076, expanding on Florida’s Career and Professional Education Act (CAPE), unanimously passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. One of my top priorities is lashing education to the realities of the job market and giving our Florida high school, college and university graduates a better chance to use their diplomas and degrees to get real jobs. The CAPE bill will do just that.
By providing incentives to schools who offer industry certifications and alternative degree pathways, Florida can ensure students have skills that go beyond the classroom and into the workforce. For more information on SB 1076, please visit http://flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/AED/.
Always Glad To See Folks From Home
During last week I was privileged to meet with many groups and individuals who came to Tallahassee from Northwest Florida to advocate for causes and concerns that matter in our communities.
Holmes County Clerk of Court Kyle Hudson, Fort Walton Beach insurance agent Larry Patrick, longtime educator and former OCEA President Champee Kemp, a group of independent insurance agents from Pensacola, Bay Medical Center officials from Panama City, UWF President Judy Bense and Trustee Lewis Bear Jr., Preston McDonald and pharmacists from Escambia County, Walton Superintendent of Schools Carlene Anderson and Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, Valparaiso City Commissioner Heyward Strong and Fort Walton Beach City Manager Michael Beedie, Gulf Coast College leader Melissa Hagen, Suzanne Wilson and Walton County 4-H members and leaders, Emerald Coast Boys and Girls Club, upcoming leaders in the Destin Chamber of Commerce, and others all took time to personally share their questions, concerns and ideas with me.
Budget Allocations Scheduled To Be Released Early Next Week
House Speaker Will Weatherford and I will be releasing our respective chambers’ tentative budget allocations early this coming week. These allocations provide a general outline of the needs of major sectors of the budget such as K-12 education, higher education, health care, criminal justice, tourism/transportation/economic development and other governmental operations.
With these allocations in mind, our appropriations subcommittees can then build proposed budgets for public discussion and committee consideration.
Check Out Our WUWF Weekly Radio Report
For more information regarding the second week of the 2013 session, please listen to my Week #2 Update from WUWF 88.1FM viahttp://wuwf.org/news/On%20Air/audio/2013%20Audio/Gaetz-Session%20Week%202.mp3.
Please Stay In Touch
Your visits, emails, telephone calls, and letters mean so much to me. When you let me know your views and share your criticisms and suggestions, I can do a better job as your senator.
Senator Don Gaetz