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In a year of budget plenty, waiting lists for elderly, disabled trimmed only a little

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Despite a year of plenty for state lawmakers, with overall spending almost certain to hit record levels, relatively meager increases proposed for elderly and disabled programs do little to scale back the massive backlog of Floridians seeking aid.

The state’s waiting lists for elderly long-term health services, community care, Alzheimer’s Disease assistance and help for people with disabilities would shrink by only modest percentages, despite a $1.2 billion surplus of state revenue fueling rival $75 billion House and Senate budget proposals.

Lawmakers are touting this year’s plan to spend roughly $37 million to reduce the number of elderly Floridians awaiting services. But legislators acknowledge the line won’t really be shortened by much.

With the nation’s largest number of people over age 65, Florida has a 9,000-person waiting list for community care services that help keep the elderly in their homes. Advocates say the number of people seeking services could actually be more than three times that.

But in its budget, House is looking to take 751 people off the waiting list; the Senate would add 601 Floridians for care.

Either way, less than 10 percent of those seeking coverage will gain services.

“This is penny-wise and pound-foolish not to spend more,” said David Bruns, spokesman for AARP-Florida. “The cost of people going into nursing homes is so much more. But (legislators) are taking such a small step.”

Full story here:  bit.ly/1kUJURa

 

Scott signs G.I. Bill in military-rich Panhandle

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida’s Republican-ruled Legislature made a priority of approving the state’s so-called G.I. Bill this spring, and Gov. Rick Scott followed suit Monday by signing the measure into law in Panama City, the heart of the military-rich Panhandle.

“We are working to be the most military-friendly state in the nation, and this is another step to support our brave men and women who serve our nation,” Scott said.

The legislation (HB 7015) makes veterans eligible for in-state tuition and also provides scholarships for members of the state’s National Guard. Scott was joined by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and several GOP lawmakers in the bill-signing.

The in-state tuition breaks granted veterans are expected to cost taxpayers $11.7 million in 2014-15.

More than 1.5 million veterans live in Florida, including 61,000 active duty personnel, state officials said. The Florida National Guard has 12,000 active members.

Florida’s military presence has a $73 billion annual economic impact, accounting for 758,000 jobs, and represents the third largest piece of the state’s economy, following agriculture and tourism, officials said.

The bill also provides $12.5 million for renovating armories around the state. Another $7.5 million is set aside for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to acquire land needed near military bases around the state to prevent the encroachment of other industries.

Who wrecked the economy? Crist-Scott trade shots with internet ads

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Democrat Charlie Crist fired back at Rick Scott on Monday with a new social media ad  that ties the Republican governor to the economic collapse that occurred five years ago.

The spot uses the theme “Guys like Rick Scott,” in accusing the former health care executive as being among those who triggered the global collapse.

Looking directly at the camera, Crist in the ad says the problems were caused by “greedy Wall Street bankers and corporate takeover artists. In other words, guys like Rick Scott.”

Scott made a portion of his vast wealth as head of Columbia/HCA, the hospital chain which later paid $1.7 billion in fines as part of a federal settlement for fraudulent health care billing. Columbia/HCA’s settlement came three years after Scott left the company and the governor has said he had nothing to do with the billing issues.

Crist, however, has been reviving the focus on Scott’s corporate role and has repeatedly questioned the governor’s ethics in stump speeches around the state.

Crist’s ad also amounts to a response to a Florida Republican Party social media buy last week that accuses the former governor of abandoning the state when the economic woes hardened. Crist unsuccessfully auditioned as John McCain’s vice-presidential candidate in 2008 before running a failed U.S. Senate campaign two years later, first as a Republican and later as an independent.

While Crist was busy politicking, the state’s economy cratered, Republicans say. Now a Democrat, Crist is leading Scott by 8 percentage points in a poll released last week by Quinnipiac University.

In their spot, Republicans found their own theme for Crist: “Slick politician, lousy governor.”

“Which governor took Florida to the bottom?” an announcer asks in the GOP ad. “Charlie Crist. What’s worse, he didn’t stay to fix the mess. He ran away. Tried to go to Washington instead. Charlie Crist — slick politician, lousy governor.”

Signs emerge that logjam at unemployment site may be ending

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 by John Kennedy

The arrival in Tallahassee of a team of U.S. Labor Department officials is apparently breaking the logjam for thousands of jobless Floridians unable to get their benefits through the state’s troubled unemployment compensation website.

Labor officials have given the state permission to pay unemployment claims to anyone whose case has been under review for seven days or longer, said Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the state’s Department of Employment Opportunity.

“This step should serve as a great relief for claimants who have faced hardships due to technical problems with the system,” Panuccio said. “Some claimants have suffered and DEO and USDOL are committed to helping them through all legal and available means.”

Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who pushed the Labor Department to intercede in the state’s trouble praised the federal action.

“The secretary of labor promised me that he would send his folks to Florida to fix the mess the state has made of its unemployment benefits system, and it seems he’s doing exactly that,” Nelson said.

DEO has been flooded with complaints about the CONNECT website since system for applying for benefits was launched in mid-October.  Social media is filled with posts from Floridians who say they have endured a computer hell as they try to file claims and are alternately kicked off the site or forced to wait hours on helplines.

Panuccio last week told a state Senate committee that 73 percent of claims are being paid within a week. But he acknowledged that as many as 60,000 Floridians may be in the “adjudication” status awaiting a determination of their claims.

Labor’s action should accelerate payments for many, officials said.

Testifying to the Senate panel last week, Panuccio placed blame for the $63 million website on Deloitte Consulting LLP.

The technology giant, which has had problems developing similar websites in Massachusetts and California, has been fined $15,000 daily by the state economic opportunity department since Dec. 23 for failing to deliver what the state calls a “fully functioning” system. The state also withheld a $3 million payment to the company last month.

Deloitte has responed that many of the problems are rooted in the state system – and “beyond Deloitte’s control.”

The federal attention is not the first time the U.S. Labor Department has weighed in on Florida’s handling of jobless benefits.

After a workers advocacy organization, the National Employment Law Project, filed a complaint in 2012, the federal agency slapped Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over a 2011 law enacted by the Republican-led Legislature, which requires that all benefit applications be filed online. U.S. officials said the requirement discriminates against minorities and the disabled who may have trouble accessing computers.

Federal officials are still negotiating with the state over possible remedies to the 2011 law – although some Florida Democrats in the Legislature said Wednesday that the online-only system should be revamped to help those without easy access.

The National Employment Law Project meanwhile said jobless Floridians may have lost more than $22 million in benefits during October and November because of problems with CONNECT.

While the initial problems with CONNECT mostly involved faulty PIN numbers and applicants having trouble submitting claims for specific weeks, the bulk of the hold-up now stems from cases being “adjudicated.”

State’s jobless office staffs up amid continuing problems with website

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Already battling with a consulting giant over a flawed website, the state’s unemployment agency is adding 330 more staffers over the next three months to deal with long waits and disputed claims.

Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the Florida Department of Employment Opportunity, announced the extraordinary action in an email Thursday.

“We are dedicated to making sure that every claim is processed quickly and we will continue to work until every claimant is served,” Panuccio wrote.

DEO will add 100 ‘adjudicators’ this month to help resolve unemployment claims disputes, another 100 in February and 50 more in March, doubling the size of the unit. While left unsaid, the staffing-up may be a sign that the agency expects a long siege with Deloitte Consulting LLP, which designed the CONNECT website that has proved problematic.

Panuccio last month said the state would withhold a $3 million payment and fining the company $15,000-a-day over the site’s performance. Deloitte shot back by suggesting that any lingering problems may be the state’s fault.

While problems with Florida’s CONNECT site initially involved users having trouble entering PIN numbers and data for the weeks they were seeking payment, Panuccio said delays now occur chiefly when an applicant’s eligibility for benefits is questioned.

The state last month also announced it was then adding 192 temporary workers to assist with claims and has extended the hours of call centers established to assist those filing.

 

With tax receipts rising, Florida’s treasury a little fatter for election year

Friday, December 6th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Tax collections are flowing into the state treasury at a faster clip than expected, giving Florida lawmakers an extra $321.4 million to spend next year, economists said Friday.

After six years of budget-cutting, this year’s $74.1 billion blueprint was the first where Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature didn’t face a shortfall.

But sales tax receipts have spiked over the past few months, powering the extra cash heading into a 2014 election year where the state of Florida’s economy looms as a central campaign theme.

Still, economists were cautious with their praise.

“It’s very modest, but it’s definitely positive,” said Amy Baker, coordinator for the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research and part of the panel that made Fridays’ forecast.

Full story here:   http://bit.ly/19nkiFV

 

Nelson wants feds to probe Scott’s rollout of jobless website

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked federal officials Wednesday to examine problems involving the rollout of Florida’s new Connect system for those seeking unemployment benefits.

The move comes even as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was being grilled by congressional Republicans for the similarly balky start of enrollment in new federal health exchanges. Nelson said that Floridians seeking jobless benefits they have earned are entitled to better from their government.

“The main purpose behind this federal-state program is to help stabilize the economy during recessions,” Nelson said in his letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.  “But it certainly won’t be of much help in my state if those who have lost their jobs face protracted delays in seeking or receiving benefits.”

The Florida unemployment compensation system’s new, $63 million website left a trail of frustrated users who filled Facebook and Twitter with tales of online malfunctions and help lines that don’t work when it debuted earlier this month.

Officials with the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the site, said Wednesday that 230,000 claims have been processed so far on the new system. Calls to technical help desks are down more than 60 percent since last week, officials said.

“DEO continues to work around the clock to ensure the needs of every claimant are addressed,” said Jesse Panuccio, DEO’s executive director. “We welcome any assistance and input Senator Nelson and the federal government can provide as we identify and fix website problems where they arise.”

CONNECT was developed by Deloitte Consulting, which has had problems in recent years with technology contracts in California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, where last summer it fell two years behind and $6 million over-budget in delivering a similar, unemployment claims system.

New York-based Deloitte LLP is one of the nation’s largest management and information-technology consulting firms. It’s among a handful of corporate giants providing information technology services to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Internal Revenue Service, as part of the Oct. 1 rollout of health exchanges.

Scott unveils three-point budget agenda for election year

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott put out a three-point plan Tuesday that he says will guide his state budget proposals heading into next spring, an election year.

Scott’s top item was unveiled earlier this summer — a $500 million reduction in state taxes and fees. But the Republican governor is following that up with a pledge to continue reducing the state’s debt and the size of government.

Scott dubbed the outline the “It’s Your Money Tax Cut” agenda. The narrative that stretches the three bullet points across six pages includes plenty of pronouncements that fit neatly into next year’s campaign.

“Since taking office, Gov. Scott has insisted on a new way of doing business: the government of the state of Florida must make decisions with Floridians’ tax dollars the way Florida families would if they were sitting around their own kitchen tables,” the agenda reads. “Just as families would do, Gov. Scott has made decisions that respect the difficulty of earning a living.”

The aspirational goals Scott settles on are largely built on steps he has taken his first three years in office.

Scott has reduced state borrowing by slowing environmental land purchases and school maintenance projects, reducing debt by $3.5 billion from a record high $28.2 billion in 2010. Tax and fee cutting also has been a central part of every one of Scott’s budget proposals, although lawmakers have scaled back each year’s recommendation.

One element of Scott’s outline that may be fresh: He wants state agencies to reduce their spending by $100 million in the coming year. Since last October, the governor’s office says state agencies already have identified $146.3 million in cost savings, mostly through renegotiating contracts.

“In business, Gov. Scott knew that companies had to become more efficient and reduce costs for better services by 2 to 3 percent each year to remain competitive,” the agenda states. “Taxpayers deserve no different from the government that they fund.”

Fast food industry carries supersized cost for Fla taxpayers, report says

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A new study shows that the fast-food industry costs Florida taxpayers $348 million-a-year because low-wages paid workers and their families qualify for a range of public assistance programs.

The University of California-Berkeley findings show low wages in the burger-and-fries trade contribute to $7 billion in public costs nationwide. Florida ranks fifth in the nation in public costs behind California, Texas, New York and Illinois.

According to Berkeley researchers, 55 percent of Florida’s 115,000 fast-food workers participate in such programs as Medicaid, food stamps and the federal earned income tax credit.

“The taxpayer costs we discovered were staggering,” said Ken Jacobs, chair of UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education and coauthor of the report. “People who work in fast-food jobs are paid so little that having to rely on public assistance is the rule, rather than the exception, even for those working 40 hours or more a week.”

Researchers found the median wage for front-line workers at fast-food restaurants nationally is $8.69 an hour. Only 13 percent of the jobs provide health benefits.

Florida has the nation’s second largest uninsured population — roughly 3.8 million people. Many of Florida’s uninsured are low-income workers in the state’s tourism, health care and other service industries.

Health care activists and advocates for low-income Floridians have been pushing Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to expand Medicaid, an option under the Affordable Care Act that would cover an additional 1.1 million Floridians. But the effort seems to have lost momentum, with Florida among 26 states refusing to expand.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has led the opposition, saying Florida can’t rely on federal promises to pay the bulk of the expansion cost.

The Berkeley report is here: http://bit.ly/1cpewa2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senate Republicans want more reserves, talk less about tax cuts

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Senate Republican leaders downplayed Gov. Rick Scott’s call for $500 million in tax and fee cuts Thursday, saying it’s more important for Florida to have robust budget reserves heading into next year’s elections.

Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said lawmakers should first pledge to set aside $1.5 billion in reserves — up from the $1 billion now proposed — before going through the budget and finding cash for other needs.

Negron already wants at least $100 million dedicated to a range of work needed to ease environmental problems stemming from Lake Okeechobee, but he’s not saying ‘no’ to Scott’s election-year tax-and-fee-cut proposal.

“I think that’s a very good marker that the governor has set,” Negron said. “But…to achieve that, we’d have to go through the budget and make reductions and use that money to deploy for those fee-and-tax cuts and other spending.”

The state is expecting an $845.7 million budget surplus next year. But about have the cash is one-time money flowing into the treasury, making it tough to use on cuts that would be a recurring expense, economist Amy Baker told the budget panel.

Scott earlier this month promoted his giveaway plan on a four-day swing across five cities, kicking off the tour in West Palm Beach. Scott hasn’t specified what cuts he’s considering. But the tour gave business leaders a chance to pitch him on a host of ideas, including cutting the state’s sales tax on rental property to lowering utility taxes.

Women voters and business groups urge another look at Medicaid expansion

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Even as Gov. Rick Scott is setting up what critics call obstacles in the path of the Affordable Care Act, some advocates Tuesday began a push for Florida lawmakers to revisit the idea of expanding Medicaid coverage for the state’s poorest residents.

The League of Women Voters of Florida joined with Tampa-area companies and business associations to urge legislators to consider the economic benefits of providing health insurance to the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who still may not qualify or be able to pay for coverage when the federal plan takes effect Jan. 1.

“This makes good business sense for our hospitals by reducing the amount of emergency care they would need to provide for the unisured and it would also help stabilize business health insurance premiums by reducing the need to pass along those costs,” said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Scott, who earlier this year endorsed the Medicaid expansion, but stood by as the Florida House rejected the approach, has lately raised alarms about the work by “navigators” informing Floridians of their health care options when online marketplaces begin offering insurance Oct. 1.

But Deirdre Macnab, president of the league, said her organization is looking to push more business supporters forward in coming months. She wants the Legislature to revisit expansion next spring.

“No doubt, there will be many bumps on the road,” when it comes to implementing the Affordable Care Act, Mcnab said. “But hopefully, the Florida Legislature will pay attention to the business community and the citizens of this state.”

Scott touts Fla’s turnaround, but his inbox tells another tale

Monday, August 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Rick Scott’s early-stage reelection campaign is pivoting almost exclusively around Florida’s economy, with the governor finding ways big and small this summer to tout what he calls the state’s “turnaround.”

Scott last week promoted job growth before corporate titans, addressing a Wal-Mart manufacturing summit in Orlando and later, business leaders gathered at The Breakers in Palm Beach.

But while he was out stumping, Scott’s email in-box told another story.

Several voters sent terse replies to the thousands of electronic newsletters his office blasts out highlighting the state’s economy under the theme, “It’s Working.”

“Really? I’m not. Thanks to you,” wrote Angela Hawkes, 40, of Brandon, who last year lost her $73,000-a-year job as an account executive for a credit union and is still looking for work.

Hawkes later told The Palm Beach Post that anger and frustration finally prompted her to write the governor.

“I think the rebound is overplayed,” she said. “Things are getting slightly better. But too many people are still underemployed and underpaid.”

Long plagued by lousy approval ratings, Scott will win re-election only if, unlike Hawkes, Floridians feel warmed by the state’s recovering economy and credit him with providing the spark, analysts said.

Mileposts like the state’s monthly consumer-confidence survey point to a wary public. The latest report is due Tuesday.

Full story here:  http://bit.ly/13T1Ac2

 

Scott high on getting Colorado companies to move here

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has reached out to another Democratic-led state with a pitch to business owners in Colorado that they move to Florida to bask in what he called the state’s “incredible economic turnaround.”

Scott touted Florida’s reduction of $3 billion in debt, rising housing starts and the creation of 330,000 jobs on his watch in a recent “Dear Colorado Business Owner” letter, urging companies to leave the Rockies for the Sunshine State.

Colorado is led by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. He shares party affiliation with leaders of such states as Connecticut, California, Illinois, Maryland and Minnesota, where Scott has already targeted his “one-way ticket” campaign toward business leaders.

Scott added Colorado after Chief Executive magazine recently wrote that ”anti-business forces won 2012 elections and are delivering on promises.”  The magazine said Colorado is getting worse for business, and its ranking as a business friendly state dropped two places from last year.

Tampa-area may be in line for Amazon site

Thursday, June 13th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and internet retailer Amazon aren’t saying much about where a company distribution warehouse could locate in Florida, part of a push to bring 3,000 jobs here by the end of 2016.

A centrally located site, with easy access to Florida highways, rail and air makes sense. So how about the Tampa area?

The Hillsborough County Commission has a June 19 agenda item dubbed the “Amazon proposal,” which is described as having “potential to create 1,000 jobs.” The item goes on to detail that Amazon, through an affiliate, is looking to establish a “wholesale trade fulfillment center” in Florida and is considering the Hillsborough site, along with others.

The Hillsborough location in South Shore Corporate Park, near Interstate 75.

 

Scott and Amazon reach deal, bringing jobs, investment and taxes to Floridians

Thursday, June 13th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and online retail giant Amazon announced a deal Thursday in which the company will open a Florida distribution warehouse bringing 3,000 jobs and $300 million in investment to the state.

Florida taxpayers would have to start paying 6 percent state sales tax on their internet purchases through Amazon, once the warehouse is housed in the state.

Scott said the deal, in discussion for more than a year — but which looked dead a month ago — was a sign that “we’ve turned our economy around.”

“Amazon will continue to work with Enterprise Florida on its ongoing projects which will include a return on any taxpayer investment, and we look forward to the company’s announcements as it chooses locations and creates jobs in Florida,” Scott said.

In the framework of the agreement unveiled Thursday, Scott and Amazon vice-president Paul Misener said the company will have the distribution facility open by the end of 2016. Under state law, once an online retailer has a physical presence in Florida, it must start collecting and remitting sales taxes.

Any potential political blowback on Scott — for hoisting an internet sales tax on Floridians — would apparently be pushed off until following next year’s governor’s race. Scott, who is seeking reelection, committed in 2010 to create 700,000 jobs over seven years and recently claimed to be almost half-way to that goal.

Enterprise Florida, the state’s business marketing arm, told the Palm Beach Post on Thursday that incentive money is likely to flow to Amazon as part of the deal. But those terms are still to be worked out, officials said.

Congress has been debating whether to allow states to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases their residents make with out-of-state companies. Currently, Floridians are supposed to pay taxes for online purchases, but practically the standard is not enforced unless a retailer has a physical presence in the state.

Seattle-based Amazon has made similar deals to open distribution centers in several other states, allowing governments to begin collecting sales taxes. Organizations representing traditional, brick-and-mortar retailers have been pressuring states to reach such agreements to blunt the rising influence of big, online sellers.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, hailed the Amazon deal as a “tremendous boost to our economy.”

Weatherford, who has sparred with Scott over health care, university tuition, and economic incentives, credited the governor with “tremendous leadership on this issue.”

“He has helped prove that Florida is open for business and our job creation climate continues to improve,” Weatherford said.

Scott soon to be wheels up for Paris air show

Thursday, June 13th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott is heading to Paris next week on another trade mission — this one pegged to the 50th International Paris Air Show.

Scott is back only a few weeks from a mission to Chile. And he’s been stepping-up his efforts to bring more jobs to Florida by sending letters to hundreds of business leaders in Connecticut, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland and California urging they relocate their companies to the Sunshine State — a move one business leader tarred as “pretty blatant.”

The Paris Air Show is considered one of the world’s leading aviation and aerospace trade fair. The last air show held in 2011 attracted more than 350,000 attendees.

While there, Scott said he and Florida Commerce Secretary Gray Swope plan to meet with representatives of 40 leading aerospace and aviation companies. Florida is fourth in the nation in the number of aviation and aerospace employees.

Scott last year attended a major international air show held in Great Britain. The governor is scheduled to leave Sunday and be in Paris through Thursday.

 

Scott says deal-making hot in Chile

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that the Chilean company, Crystal Lagoons Corp., maker of the world’s largest swimming pool, is moving its worldwide headquarters to Miami.

Nearing the end of a four-day trade mission to Chile, Scott said the agreement with the Santiago-based company, which makes exotic water bodies used in resorts across the world, was among several sealed on the Enterprise Florida trip.

Scott also announced Wednesday a joint venture between Florida’s Advanced Magnet Lab and several Chilean companies that is expected to yield work within the state on wind turbine generators, aero-propulsion and space exploration products.

In a phone call to the Palm Beach Post, Scott said the tour also has promoted Florida ports to Chilean salmon producers and fruit exporters.

“We can help connect people,” Scott said. “We’ve got about 100 Florida business people with us. The message we can convey is that ‘you should be doing more business with Florida.”

Scott also said Crystal Lagoons Corp.’s move underscores his recurring sales pitch.

“If you want to be a worldwide player, and do business especially in the U.S. and the Latin America market, then Miami is the perfect

 

Budget debate marks Legislature’s move toward the exits

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida House and Senate began making their first moves toward the exit Friday, debating a $74.5 billion state budget set to be approved on the 60-day session’s final scheduled day.

The budget for the year beginning July 1 is poised to be the largest in state history. In House closing speeches, there was plenty of praise for $1 billion increase in school spending, pay raises for state employees for the first time in seven years, and dozens of hometown projects scattered throughout the budget.

There was also a measure of relief. Legislators were helped by the first budget surplus since before the recession.

“Because of fiscally sound management and making hard decision, today we can celebrate a great time of restoration,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

Most of the outnumbered Democratic caucus, which fought unsuccessfully to expand health care to uninsured Floridians, sided with ruling Republicans on the spending plan.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not another train,” said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach.

But several Democrats called for Gov. Rick Scott to veto the budget and call lawmakers back into a later special session. Scott had allied with Democrats and the Republican-led Senate in looking to position Florida to draw $51 billion in federal Medicaid money to cover more than 1 million uninsured Floridians.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, was among those who indicated they will vote against the measure.

“The budget is not plugged into the reality that exists outside this chamber,” Pafford said.

Florida’s 2011 unemployment law hurts minorities, disabled, Labor Dept. finds

Thursday, April 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s 2011 unemployment compensation law, which makes those seeking benefits file online and complete a skills test, is run so poorly it effectively discriminates against minorities and the disabled, the U.S. Department of Labor has found.

The National Employment Law Project, Florida Legal Services and Miami Workers Center challenged Florida’s law in 2011, charging that sweeping changes to how Florida workers must file claims have denied unemployment checks to thousands of eligible Floridians.

Critics also said that frustration with the system may be aiding Scott’s goal of reducing unemployment. Some workers may abandon their job search or just leave the state, falling out of Florida’s labor market.

Florida’s unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent last month, its lowest point in three years.

“The decision by the USDOL Civil Rights Center is a victory for Florida’s unemployed workers with disabilities or limited English proficiency, who have been shut out of the system by the onerous online requirements,” the workers’ organizations said Thursday in a statement.

They said the state has entered into negotiations with the federal government to reach voluntary compliance with the ruling, and put in place remedies to make unemployment insurance available to job-seekers unable to complete online claim requirements.

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the unemployment compensation program, said this:

“DOL was aware of the legislative changes to the reemployment system before its passage in 2011 and provided no objection. Now a different division within DOL, in response to questionable allegations by a special interest group, is challenging those very same laws.

“ Nevertheless we are committed to working with our federal partner to ensure that Florida’s economy continues to grow.”

Scott woos Illinois companies to Florida

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

After earlier taunting Texas and attempting to tempt New York businesses to move to Florida, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday shifted his focus toward Illinois — urging businesses to buy a one-way ticket to the Sunshine State.

“My number one priority is to continue to make Florida the number one destination for business so we can continue to create jobs and opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said after sending an open letter to Illinois business. “My ‘One Way’ campaign is a great way to let businesses in Illinois, and around the world, know that they are welcome in Florida.”

In his “Dear Illinois Business Owner” letter,  Scott touted Florida’s “incredible economic turnaround.” He also said Illinois companies should look to leave home to flee high taxes and unemployment.

Here’s what Scott wrote:  Illinois letter

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