State senators began to mull plans for immigration reform, holding their first of at least three information-gathering meetings on the topic.
Some lawmakers, as well as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, cast doubt on the prospects of an Arizona-style law, with Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, suggesting there would be an immigration-enforcement bill of some kind presented during the upcoming session, but that it would not allow for racial profiling.
One law professor explained why some immigration enforcement measures at the state level may not be constitutional.
Several lawmakers expressed their frustration with the limitations of the E-Verify system, while Gov. Rick Scott stood by his support for it.
Lawmakers pressed ahead with their still-developing plans to reform the state’s Mediciad system. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said one of his goals is to free up funding for other parts of the state budget.
The Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee he chairs also heard the latest round of projections from legislative economist Amy Baker, who said demand for Medicaid services has continued to rise, in part because the recession has driven down incomes and unemployment remains high.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, asked Baker if she had done any studies on “induced demand.” Was the state luring more patients into its Medicaid program by providing “optional” services like vision care? Many private-sector employees earning, say, $50,000 a year don’t get coverage for that kind of care in their health plans, he noted.
Was the state discouraging people from looking for work?
Gaetz’s question builds on earlier work by the panel, which is comparing the program that provides health care for low-income families and the disabled with private-sector health insurance plans.
Lawmakers learned Wednesday that staff is still trying to figure out how the legislature will handle the new requirement created by House Bill 1565 that lawmakers approve rules passed by state agencies that are projected to cost the state $1 million in economic growth over five years:
Florida politicians’ campaign theme of reining in government regulation could wind up being a breathless endeavor in the Capitol a while.
State legislators were told Wednesday morning that a bill they pushed through in special session last November requiring agencies to re-submit rules to lawmakers for approval would require the Legislature to annually ratify around 1,700 rules during the 60-day lawmaking session.
To be clear, 1,700 is the number of rules passed by state agencies each year. It’s still not certain how many will trigger the need for a vote by the legislature. It will be up to agencies to decide whether a rule meets the threshold and bring it to lawmakers for approval.
So far, only one rule, a licensing requirement for physicians, is slated for legislative approval. An executive order by Gov. Scott freezing new regulations will likely limit the number of rules expected to come up during this year’s session.
The St. Petersburg Times reports:
The order dumped 900 rules on Scott’s newly-created Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform. As of Thursday, five of those rules had been approved. One allows lottery officials to create new scratch-off games each week. Another amends rules regarding installation of utilities on state roads. The others involve purchasing, Medicaid reimbursements and prescription drug coverage.
Among the hundreds still on hold: Rules that would allow the state to better monitor pain clinics and require nursing home workers to undergo rigorous background checks.
Members of the legislative staff are still wrestling with the law’s implications: can lawmakers approve all the rules at once, in a giant omnibus bill, or do they have approve them one-by-one?
+ The same order that froze regulations also temporarily froze hundreds of government contracts, including Orlando’s SunRail project and road work planned by the Department of Transportation.
Scott told a gathering of Senate Republicans on Tuesday that like any CEO taking over a company, he needed a little time to get a handle on who was doing what.
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich called on Scott to lift the freeze on transportation projects, saying it could kill jobs. The governor defended his decision again Wednesday, and started releasing dozens of contracts late in the week.
+ Lawmakers learned Wednesday that the state could save hundreds of millions of dollars by reforming the way it buys prescription drugs:
“This is incredible,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.
“Hopefully somebody from the governor’s office is in here. If they’re not I would recommend somebody hand carry this down to the first floor right now,” Thrasher said, waving a copy of the presentation.
+ Senate President Mike Haridopolos officially launched his U.S. Senate bid, complete with a website and plans for a fundraiser-cum-”strategy meeting” promoted by former Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist fundraiser Meredith O’Rourke. He then picked up an endorsement from outgoing Republican Party of Florida chairman (and fellow state senator) John Thrasher at the party’s annual meeting this weekend.
+ Sen. Negron objected to the use of the term “foreclosure mills” to describe law firms under investigation by the attorney general’s office:
“It could also be called a very busy law firm because you provide very good service to your clients,” suggested Negron, R-Stuart, a lawyer with the West Palm Beach-based Gunster law firm.
He also didn’t like the finding by Scott Palmer, the head of the AG’s mortgage fraud investigation, that banks aren’t using loan modifications enough to avoid foreclosure.
“Where does … the government have the right to tell the bank what’s in your best interest?” he wanted to know.
+ Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, filed a bill proposing a constitutional amendment that would extend state senators’ terms from four years to six, and representatives’ terms from two years to four, capping terms for both at 12 years. From his statement:
“To change the culture in Tallahassee, a place where lobbyists have increasingly gained more power and knowledge than legislators, and where fundraisers are as frequent as committee meetings, we must revisit the issue of term limits,” said Representative Kriseman. “Less campaigning allows for lawmakers to focus solely on policies which move Florida forward, and to address issues in the long-term, while still honoring the wishes of the voters who sought to place sensible limits on our length of time in office.”
Senator Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has filed similar legislation in the state Senate.
+ Paul Hawkes, the judge behind the infamous “Taj Mahal” courthouse, was again hauled in front of a Senate panel for a dressing-down led by Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Hawkes “made multiple statements at odds with the facts” during his testimony.
+ House Speaker Dean Cannon ordered an investigation into the oil spill claims process.
+ Haridopolos joined Gov. Scott in questioning the use of state money for the planned high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, while other lawmakers from both parties, along with the business group Associated Industries of Florida, continued to rally behind the project.
The debate seems to hinge on how much of the state’s $280 million share of funding can be extracted from the private sector. (The federal government has already pledged nearly $2.4 billion for the $2.7 billion project.) Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said that Haridopolos’ public skepticism could have a chilling effect on private investors.
Scott and Haridopolos both seemed interested in courting companies to foot the bill:
“I think that 90 percent being paid for by Washington D.C. should be more than commercially viable, not only for the short term, but also in the operation and maintenance relm,” said Haridopolos.
+ Haridopolos also expressed doubts about Scott’s tax cut plans, in light of the state’s ever-darkening budget picture.
+ The House Select Committee on Water Policy began weighing plans to change oversight of water management districts.
+ Another newly created House panel, on federal affairs, lashed out against what some Republican members saw as the Obama Administration’s encroachment on states’ rights. Democrats argued the subcommittee had been created for “political reasons.”
+ The Senate criminal justice committee considered plans to enforce a ban on synthetic marijuana products, which one expert described as “considerably more dangerous than the real stuff.”
+ Lawmakers began looking into ways to require state employees to contribute to their pensions.